Friday, May 22, 2015

195 Freedom of speech

The following amended letter was submitted to the Christchurch Press in response to an article dealing with 'Freedom of Speech' dated 19 May 2015:

"The article by the chief editor Joanna Norris (19/05) got me rather confused. In 2009 I filed a complaint with the New Zealand Press Council on exactly the same grounds as quoted by Ms Norris which is enshrined in the Bill of Rights and relating to "freedom of Speech' Ms Norris obviously referred to Art 19 of the International Covenant of Civil Rights and Political Rights (ICCPR) and specifically sub 2, which states unambiguously:
Every one should have the freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of his choice "
The issue I raised in my complaint to the Press Council was the fact that references to alternative sources of information, usually added in brackets, were consistently excised from my letters.  This in my opinion is inconsistent with the stated right 'to receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers etc'.
It becomes very clear from Article 19 sub 2 grants the public the right to seek, receive and impart information from alternative sources !
However the Press Council accepted the then editor's argument that Art 19 sub 2 of  the  ICCPR  relate exclusively to (quote) "actions between government and its people" and the aforementioned Covenant has nothing to do with "freedom of  speech" when applied  to letters from the public submitted for publication in a news paper."

Letter submitted 25/05/2015

A Privilege, Not a Right !
In my unpublished letter in response to Joanna Norris' article (19/05) in which she asserted that 'freedom of speech/expression' is a universally accepted right in a democratic society,  I expressed my disagreement.  The former editor of the Christchurch Press and the New Zealand Press Council in adjudication 2094 (Van Meurs v. The Press; November 2009) stated that the article mentioned relate to 'actions between a government and its people' and does not apply to a person wanting to express opinions or 'seek, receive and impart information' via the media. The Press Council in agreement with the previous editor also stated that it is the 'prerogative' of the editor to accept and reject letters and references to alternative sources of information. These two irreconcilable views are difficult to explain. However, I accept an editor's responsibility to select those letters for publication which in his judgement are suitable for publication and in my experience editors have always been fair and lenient in this respect. So one must conclude that publications of letters are a privilege for which one should be grateful, not a right and should be appreciated by the letter writer.

So on the one hand we have the present editor of the 'The Press', Joanna Norris, who in a lengthy article went out of her way to assure her readers that freedom of speech/expression as formulated in the aforementioned Act (Art 19 sub 2) is a fundamental right and on the other hand  The New Zealand Press Council supporting a former editor, who ruled that the "ICCPR and New Zealand Bill of Rights Act "relate only to actions between a government and its people" !

How does one explain this enormous discrepancy in the two views ? Where is the evidence ?
Why would Joanna Norris go out of her way to stress this right to the readers of The Press (as she did once before) if the Act is not relevant ? 
Who has been hoodwinked here and taken for a ride ? The readers of the Press or I ?
These are the questions that should be answered with integrity and without resorting to evasions and subterfuge.

Reply from the editor Ms Norris:
"The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act affirms the right of individuals to express themselves. It does not oblige any entity to publish those expressions and views. My interpretation of BORA is entirely consistent with the previous editor of The Press and The Press Council as articulated in that adjudication".

Reply Van Meurs:
"Thank you for your reply which is certainly much appreciated. However looked at it from the letter writer's perspective the Act is meaningless and merely a dead letter. My belief as expressed in my second letter that the publication of a letter is a privilege and not an absolute right is therefore probably the right one. So it's good to know where one stands here in this respect".

My comments:
The Act BORA (Art 19 sub 2) still makes strange reading. It unambigously states that imparting information is (quote): "regardless of frontiers"; "in writing and in print" and most importantly of all "through any other media of his choice".
1) There is no evidence provided that the Act applies to the "individual and his government" only, which would have been a limitation of its "frontiers".
2) If the Act is not "relevant" or applicable where it concern the individual and the media, why then does the editor goes to great length to devote a whole article quoting excerpts of the Act, without providing evidence of its limitations ?
3) Earlier this year I submitted an advertisement for publication of my blog, for which I was prepared to pay. My advert was turned down by the editor.
To be sure I am not claiming that letter writers should have an unlimited right of access to the letter pages. This in all fairness and for practical reasons would not be feasible.
However, once a letter is accepted for publication and complies with all the editor's rules, then in that case the editor has to accept the provisions as set out in the Act as quoted afore and should publish the letter without limitations i.e: "regardless of frontiers".
Reply HRC (abridged)
"the HRC is not in a position to provide anwers on this matter, as it does not fall within its jurisdiction".
Van Meurs (abridged)
When back in 2009 I filed my complaint against the New Zealand Press Council, it was the HRC who advised me to base my case on Art 19 sub 2 of the Act and sent me the entire text. I am not asking the HRC to enforce the Act or to take any action what ever. I am simply asking how the assertion that the aforementioned Act applies only to (quote): actions between a government and its people" can be reconciled with that which is quite unambiguously laid down in the Act. Do I not have a right to have that discrepancy explained ? Apparently  not .So in the absence of any explanation the only conclusion one can derive at is that the quoted assertion is
 false as it can nowhere be found in any legal document. Its simply an invention and subterfuge that makes no sense.
Freedom of speech is a fundamental democratic right, but however sadly missing in to-days biased news media. That is what makes Art 19 sub 2 so important. One cannot maintain that the occasionally published letter to the news paper constitutes "freedom of speech". Consistently barring references to other/alternative sources of information contravenes what is implicitly laid down in the Act and amounts to censorship. That should be of concern to the Human Rights Commission and anyone who takes freedom of speech seriously!
Reply HRC 13 July 2015
Section 3 of the NZBORA
"This Bill of Rights applies only to Acts done:
a) by the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of the Government of New Zealand; or
b) by any person or body in the performance of any public function, power or duty conferred and imposed on that person of body by or pursuant to law"
e-Mail to Editor of The Press 13/7/2015
"I finally received word from the HRC explaining the Bill of Rights Act. The former editor of The Press and The Press Council in its adjudication 2094 (2009) were absolutely right.
Part 1 of the Act under "General Provisions" sub 3, effectively blocks any right of freedom of speech as laid down in Art 19 sub 2, i.e. at least in context with the news media".