GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Freedom of speech

One of the rules of my page is that you cannot name call, threaten or abuse people. Sometimes when I have to remind some readers who have posted such comments that continuing to do so will get them banned they reply that I am stifling freedom of speech.
Well, no.
A moment of reflection on the fact that we have laws about defamation and slander is proof, if proof were needed, that freedom of speech and opinion in everyday life has never been absolute and arises from the underlying principle that to have a civilized society requires being civil to each other.
With regard to online behaviour we also have the Harmful Communications Act 2015 the purpose of which it states is to:
(a) deter, prevent, and mitigate harm caused to individuals by digital communications; and
(b) provide victims of harmful digital communications with a quick and efficient means of redress.
For a documentary I am currently working on I am interested in how this law is working or not working. In terms of curbing hate and hate speech for example is it fit for purpose?
If anyone has had a personal experience of laying a complaint under the HCA I’d appreciate hearing from you via a personal communication.

Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.


  1. I think Bryan Brucw is wrong. The way interprets harmful communications as in so and so is a so and so or some vulgar word is not the same as publishing priviladged and personal information about someone been targeted.

  2. “…freedom of speech and opinion in everyday life has never been absolute and arises from the underlying principle that to have a civilized society requires being civil to each other.”

    Here’s a scenario:
    I live in a colourful neighbourhood and sometimes being the only “white looking” person available the police approach me for comment, because apparently whiteness=amenable to police. I say nothing useful, as I don’t like being expected to verbalise a culture I don’t live. Had I said anything, being exquistely civilised in word and expression, according to your ideal above, I would have been being hateful. Were the police being hateful in trying to encourage me to say what is expected of a white looking person? And where does their moral compass originate? Which civilised group do they represent?

    Words only annouce the existence of something. Take the words away, do you remove what exists?

  3. I concur with the view expressed by Mr Bruce.

    When I was a cop, anyone who said “fucK’ and was at that point in time a nuisance to police; was arrested.
    Obscene language was an arrestable office and in the same section of that law, “threatening, abusive and insulting” words also carried arrest.

    Cavalier use of arrests for “fuck” was later (late 80ies) moderated by Police general Instructions: “Repeated use of obscene language in a manner likely to encourage disorder’.

    Not sure what the rules are now, but if still the same as 1980 Summary Offences Act – Bomber could be in deep shit.

    Be interesting to do the stats on arrests for obscene language (i.e. fuck) now juxtaposed then 1970 -1980ies.

    Point I seek to make is: There was and (probably) still are restrictions on words we use.

    Defamation is another dimension of use of words which can attract penalty i.e. words in a manner that harms a person where the words are untrue.

    However, enforcing this CIVIL remedy is very much a pathway restricted to the rich.
    For example, who has the money to challenge TVZ or NZ Herald?

    Oops Almost forgot. I was party to a successful defamation case colloquially known as the Sampi Affair, against TVNZ and NZ Herald where substantial damages were paid to the plaintiff.

    However, freedom of speech includes e.g. Dr Don Brash and Dr Muriel Newman producing legal determinations that expose claims by some Maori that the Crown ceded Sovereignty to Maori. The law says that never happened and so when this false claim of sovereignty ceded corrected; that is justifiable freedom of speech.

    PS Mr Bruce! Re your enquiry re person HCA – I have a matter with lawyers at the moment. Too soon to discuss but my lawyers say a prima facie exists.

  4. I do like that Cartoon! There needs to be a level playing field if speech is to be anything approaching free. Try telling your boss; in detail, why you disagree with their grasping political shortsightedness, and see how free your speech is! I think it was Chomsky who said something like; we live the majority of our lives constrained by the unelected dictatorships of the workplace, and yet somehow still claim to be free.
    As for making complaints, if I were to do that every time I got grief for being NB (sometimes even from other trans people), then I’d never get anything else done! When some rando comes comes up to you in the street and says that “If I had my way, then they’d shoot every one of you”, what proof do you have that this ever happened?

  5. Hows this gonna work?
    1. Will Sir John Key or some other esteemed person decides what hate/hurtful speech is?
    2. Would “abuse” be saying someone is incompetent or negligent with no idea?
    3. If Andrew sends Paul at text calling him a skanky ho is that a hate text?
    4. Like whats the age limit -only outside the playground?
    5. Like if you said you hated immigration is that hate speech?
    6. Like if you were a politician and said someone deserved to not live what happens then (oh nothing actually)?
    7. Like whats this gonna cost to enforce?
    8. Like do we get issued a booklet with all the things you can say/cannot say?Perhaps night classes for boomers the worst offenders
    9. Would you get demerit points for weekly infringements?Like reprogram sessions in camps.
    10 Do we encourage people to report bad stuff people say. Perhaps dob in a mate or a bad speaking drunk uncle.
    Im sorry but what a load of utter tosh. You’d have to shut down every bowling club in the country cos if the speak police heard half the shite talked there after a few beers heaven help us. Free speech is a free society. Who wants to control peoples thoughts anyway-let them be human-let them be flawed. Once you start on this bollocks where do you stop? Educate people and provide a good future for them. I’d rather know what people think and have them identify themselves. (end of rant)

  6. Sure. The constant antisemitic nonsense hiding behind ‘anti Zionism’ spouted on the Daily Blog, and the appalling use of Nazi iconography to smear Israel, is a perfect example.

    You can start there.

    • In the long run no one is going to die to free Palestinians from Israeli apartheid except for Palestinians and I think that is correct. Palistinains from what I’v heard want to kill Israelis and if you want to kill then you have to do your own killing. Killing is a very messy business and if Palestinians want yo do that then they have to do it themselves. Killing Israelis is not for me to do but I will not deny freedom for palistine just because you Mr Grant feel appalled.

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