Monday, November 19, 2007

What's All the Fuss About?

Politics is almost as absurd as blogging. Odd opinions being shared by people often completely unqualified to hold the opinions that they do! Present company excepted of course!

So what's the beef with Peter Davis writing a letter to the Editor of the NZ Herald? Apart from it being a little cynical and a lot selective. He's entitled to his opinion you'd think...its certainly ironic that those protesting his utterances are presently clothing themselves with the rhetoric of free speech!

Of course he's quite wrong in his analysis - as satisfying as it must have been to poke the borax at the Herald for its stance on tobacco advertising, that was hardly a free speech issue. And he like so many (some deliberately) are confusing the two quite separate issues. In ranting against the purchasing of free speech, he really does have a point. I see no difficulty with setting sensible limits on the advertising budgets of political parties in proximity to elections (so maybe they need to change the timeframes they're suggesting just a little). If other organisations want to publicise their points of view then fine - the legislation just needs to make sure they can't do that in an overtly politicised way close to elections (otherwise the purpose of the bill is subverted).

BUT the real issue is the hypocrisy of the Labour party (and its allies) in taking a stand against purchased free speech on the one hand and then dipping its hands into government coffers to advertise successful government policies (that just happen to be those policies they want to fight an election over). I used to be a dyed in the wool Labour supporter. But the cynical disregard of Labour for (a) majority viewpoints (b) its traditional support base (c) Christian viewpoints which could otherwise be so supportive of its welfare policies, is once again mirrored in the approach being taken here. The calculated dismantling of our social fabric reminds me very much of what I saw in the Methodist Church of New Zealand - progressively changing the culture through legislation and procedure...but that's another story!

So Professor Davies misses the real point when he only addresses the first issue and not the second.

And here is the letter under question for the 2 people that might be interested:

The last time I saw the Herald so exercised about "free" speech was when it unsuccessfully opposed restrictions on tobacco advertising.

We are the better for the tobacco companies losing the right to advertise their products.
The Electoral Finance Bill does not diminish "free" speech. It restricts speech that is "purchased" through advertising - and only in an environment that is electorally sensitive.
I would be concerned if "free" speech was being constrained, but limits on the rights to "purchase" speech are justified to protect our democracy from money politics, although I can see it might hurt the Herald's bottom line.

Peter Davis, Sociology Department, Auckland University.

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