The Dim-Post

June 30, 2011

Free speech revisited

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 1:58 pm

Lew at Kiwipolitico has a post up on why the decision of some booksellers not to stock Ian Wishart’s book about Macsyna King does not constitute a ban, and I think he’s right. This is essentially the same argument we heard about Paul Henry – that free speech means some people can say or print whatever horrible, offensive things they like and everyone else just has to silently accept it, because exercising our own right to free speech for public disagreement or protesting or boycotts of things we find offensive, actually threatens free speech, somehow, in ways that are never clearly articulated but always associated with witches and Nazis.

And here’s a related question: Ian Wishart insists that Macsyna King won’t profit from the publication of the book. Okay. What I’d like to know is if he’s already paid her any money. If so, then that’s an operating cost from the writing of this book that Wishart intends to recoup via profits from its publication and sale.

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80 Comments »

  1. “…Ian Wishart insists that Macsyna King won’t profit from the publication of the book…”

    Typical Wishartism. You can be sure he will, and he will give/has given her some money.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 30, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  2. just so, there is no “ban” – people are free to buy the book or not, shops are free to stock it or not, I can’t see any problem.

    Comment by deemac — June 30, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

  3. I won’t be buying this book. I would rather that people were not making money out of one of the worst examples of cruelty and depavity towards children in this country’s history.
    But heres the thing. Almost all the electronic and print media that are running stories on the “banning” of this book are commercial operations and doing so because they know readers are voyeristic enough to want to follow the story. That means they sell more copies or get more listeners / viewers. That means they make more money. So who are the amoral mercenaries here?

    Comment by Bob — June 30, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

  4. The distinction between a ban and a boycott that is an effective ban all gets a bit academic and amorphous when you really think about it, and particularly in this instance (spare me talk of purchasing over the internet). A lobby group has effectively banned this book through implied threat of reprisals, but no ban has been enacted it is true.

    Comment by DT — June 30, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  5. Just left a comment over there further to what Graeme said… I am coming to the idea that fostering free speech is something rather more that not supressing it, and that makes ingoring, mocking or (as a last resort) debating better than shouting down. (But, since the not-supressing is all we’re actually obliged to do, that doesn’t mean Wishart is wronged here.)

    Comment by lyndon — June 30, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  6. I agree there’s no ban, and the book will be available through other channels but I do dislike the step of actively boycotting (and encouraging boycott from all others) entire chains because of their decisions to make certain views available. It is a pretty direct threat and attempt to shut down availability of that view, which goes beyond just expressing displeasure at the view itself.

    Comment by garethw — June 30, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  7. A lobby group has effectively banned this book through implied threat of reprisals

    How exactly is it “effectively banned”? The fact of the book’s existence has been very well publicized, and anyone who hears of it and wishes to read it can easily obtain a copy. Doesn’t seem like much of a ban to me.

    Comment by James Butler — June 30, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  8. If this is a “ban” then why has there been no outcry over the years about big-box book shops “banning” poetry, philosophy, manuscript music, or just about any book reviewed in the London Review of Books or the NY Times Book Review these many, many years?

    Comment by James Norcliffe — June 30, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  9. James Butler: The problem comes with viewing this in black and white terms, when it is really grey. Bookshops will be villified if they stock it to the point where it would be commercially harmful to do so. I don’t disagree that if someone has a burning desire to obtain the book they can via an internet order, but the reality is that people buy these sorts of books as a lazy purchase when dawdling in the book store, after flicking through a few pages to see if it suits their taste. They can’t do that now. No huge loss I agree, but I personally find it a bit disturbing that a group of people don’t want someone else to have that opportunity. Lets not beat about the bush, that is the only rational intention that this group can have.

    Comment by DT — June 30, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

  10. DT, I don’t think that’s the protesters’ intention, though I’m sure you’re right that it’s the practical consequence of the protest. I think the intention is mostly around sending an ‘up yours’ message to Ian Wishart.

    Comment by Kahikatea — June 30, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  11. That hadn’t occurred to me Kahikatea. On browsing through the facebook page for about five minutes, it actually seems to me now as if there are a whole heap of diverse reasons why people are joining the group, many of which don’t seem to be too well aligned with the intent of boycotting the bookshop. But these are justifiably emotive issues.

    Based on the comments, a good many seem to be joining the site to vent their outrage at child abuse generally. A large amount want to vent their anger at the family of Chris and Crew specifically at what happened. A very large amount seem to want to send a message to Macsyna King personally, and some are wanting to vent their protest that no person has yet been convicted of the murder or manslaughter of the twins. Very very few comments are directed at the bookshops. I now suspect that few who joined the facebook group would actually not go to a bookstore that stocks the book. However it seems that the headline number of 40,000 members of the group is enough for the people who run the chain stores to pull the plug on it.

    Comment by DT — June 30, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  12. Wishart gave King no money. He paid for a pizza for a lunch together. Thus the Facebook page (and hence much of the uproar) is based on a lie. Besides, no one commenting has actually read the book — so it is all conjecture.

    Comment by DavidW — June 30, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  13. This is essentially the same argument we heard about Paul Henry – that free speech means some people can say or print whatever horrible, offensive things they like and everyone else just has to silently accept it, because exercising our own right to free speech for public disagreement or protesting or boycotts of things we find offensive, actually threatens free speech, somehow, in ways that are never clearly articulated but always associated with witches and Nazis.

    Protest in this way can threaten free speech. In response to the question “But if we are going to accept the notion of corporate sponsorship, why should we in the least worry about sponsors being told that their money is not yielding the result they wanted?” I said this at the time of the Paul Henry Saga:

    Because of the other ways this can be used. Because punishing Heritage Hotels for something Paul Henry said over which they had no control (and shouldn’t have control) isn’t fundamentally different from arranging a boycott on Canwest/TV3/C4 for airing an episode of South Park about the abuse by Catholic clergy, or someone else for airing pro-homosexual something propaganda something like Queer Nation or The L Word.

    We have ad-supported television. While there might be a place for a real public broadcaster, most of the television we have will continue to be ad-supported. I like that there is a variety of things to watch (most of which I don’t). If we really start holding advertisers to account for the content of programmes or channels on which their ads appear, then they will be more circumspect about placing ads, and some voices may be lost.

    I think liberal non-racists outraged about Paul Henry should be able to call for a boycott of him, and all of TVNZ, and the advertisers who support TVNZ. I think Christians should be able to call for a boycott of The L Word, and the channel it appeared on, and every advertiser who supports that channel. But I think if they do, despite being an exercise of free speech, it will be bad for free speech.

    I remain of that opinion. Threats of consumer boycotts force companies to be more conservative, leaving out voices. Those voices may still be able to get through, but in some circumstances they may not.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — June 30, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  14. Oh, and because there is so much unsubstantiated content on the Interwebs, I’ll add that the source is Ian Wishart, in comments he made on Kiwiblog yesterday.

    Comment by DavidW — June 30, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  15. Wishart gave King no money. He paid for a pizza for a lunch together.

    Really? She spilled her guts for a pizza?
    I’m glad the source is Wishart. At least we then know it’s the truth.

    Comment by Gregor W — June 30, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  16. If the book chains don’t ‘stock’ the book, does it follow that you cannot order a copy through them…?

    Comment by Sam — June 30, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

  17. James Norcliffe, you win that argument instantly. Well said.

    L

    Comment by Lew — June 30, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

  18. “James Norcliffe, you win that argument instantly”

    I agree. It’s not about free speech it’s about whose free speech gets amplified by media distribution channels…

    Comment by nommopilot — June 30, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  19. Live question time on the NZ Herald with Ian Wishart at 4pm today ….

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10735464

    But he just wants to “break the silence” ….. :/

    Comment by Steve — June 30, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

  20. Wishart gave King no money. He paid for a pizza for a lunch together.
    Really? She spilled her guts for a pizza?

    Distastefully sexist comment:
    There’s a material number of women who’ll put-out for a nice dinner… just sayin’

    Comment by Phil — June 30, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  21. Even if a free speech issue, surely it’s not Whitcoulls or whatever book store’s responsibility to ensure freedom of speech. They’re not a government department, ensuring freedom of speech is not their job. If someone was preventing it from being printed maybe.

    As for large groups shutting down the opinions of minorities, if this wasn’t Wishart with a documented history of, well, being Wishart, it would be concerning and the book stores could then play the protecting the minority speech card and probably end up selling the book quite well. It is though and I can’t imagine many booksellers who don’t have any legal requirement to protect free speech or freedom of the press willing to go to the mat for someone with his history publishing yet another book purporting to be factual when they don’t have to.

    Comment by Ben — June 30, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

  22. I think there are some fair and interesting comments being made about boycotts/consumer activism here, even if I tend towards the “oh well, it’s a commercial decision for the bookstores at the end of the day” argument.
    I’m curious though… what do you propose we/they/somebody do about this? How do you regulate or squash consumer activism without “suppressing free speech” even further?

    Comment by kim — June 30, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

  23. (said arrogantly) perhaps nothing need be done, except that the bookstore chain owners realise that those who signed up to the facebook page in the main don’t read books anyway, making the decision to not stock the book pointless.

    Comment by DT — June 30, 2011 @ 8:37 pm

  24. Also, as as a devout library geek, I have to say that public/university libraries will order this book if they get enough requests, considering it’s not actually banned.
    If more people end up in libraries because they want to read some Wishart drivel, well, that’s a silver lining as far as I can see ;)

    Comment by kim — June 30, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

  25. I wonder how many Facebook “friends” actually buy books.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — June 30, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

  26. “How do you regulate or squash consumer activism without “suppressing free speech” even further?”

    Counter-protest. Demand it be stocked. Demand that booksellers state their reasons for not stocking it. Are they saying they don’t like the book, that it won’t sell, or are they cowering in the face of mob.

    What would happen if a facebook mob threw a big hullabaloo about King’s History of NZ, (to pick a randomish example), demanding that it was biased against settlers and that the works of those celtic NZ people should be stocked instead? I’m picking there would be a counter hullabaloo saying that the initial mob are a bunch of racists who are trying to whitewash history and replace it with nonsense, or whatever. And so what you’d have would be a discussion, and we’d sort things out one way or the other.

    In the same way that people just don’t say “nigger” today. It’s not illegal, it’s a social convention. Most people would defend someone’s right to say it, but they wouldn’t think that they should be immune from social consequences.

    I’m not saying that the social convention is always right, but I do think that if we have freedom of speech, then this is what it looks like.

    People actually burning down shops, or even threatening to, could face legal action of course. But other than that, have fucking at it I say.

    Coz what is the alternative?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — June 30, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  27. I wonder how many Facebook “friends” actually buy books.

    That’s right up with the kind of sneers that were doing the rounds back in ’81 about the personal hygiene of anti-tour protesters.

    Comment by Joe W — June 30, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  28. Coz what is the alternative?

    Wishart making his book freely available for download as a public service. After all, he’s not making any money out of it, right?

    Comment by Joe W — June 30, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

  29. Is it Joe? I think Peter has a point. Whether you agree with Wisharts views or not a modern society does not enforce censorship of retarded political views that are not illegal. If you did enforce such censorship there’d be some big holes in the political landscape of the left and the right.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

  30. Why shouldn’t he turn a dime on a book, one way or another?

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 9:30 pm

  31. Whether you agree with Wisharts views or not a modern society does not enforce censorship of retarded political views that are not illegal. If you did enforce such censorship there’d be some big holes in the political landscape of the left and the right.

    Abel, on this issue Facebook is simply a channel of protest, and one that happens to reflect a considerable level of public disquiet about the kind of thing that happens when you have a dysfunctional justice system. All the snobbery in the world re. those awful Facebookers doesn’t change a thing.

    Why shouldn’t he turn a dime on a book, one way or another?
    I simply noted that he claims not to be turning a buck, and am suggesting that he make good on the claim.

    Comment by Joe W — June 30, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

  32. No snobbery just the point that free speech concepts apply both ways – facebook groupies don’t have the franchise on opinion forming activities.

    Yeah, I was wondering why Wishart would deny turning a dime on the book when his profession is publishing, weird.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

  33. Perhaps those who are raising free speech/Facebook hypotheticals might like to actually start their own Facebook pages in order to test their theories.
    BTW, I notice that the Facebook call to stage the world’s biggest group hug here in Christchurch had no takers whatsoever.

    Comment by Joe W — June 30, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

  34. Not one is ‘enforcing censorship’ though Abel. We’ve got a seemingly large group of people saying that it’s outrageous that this book exists, and a smaller group saying that it’s outrageous that they think that.

    I’ve not seen anyone say that Wishart face legal consequences for publishing the book, and I’ve not seen anyone say that the booksellers should be forced to sell it. So it’s all just speech, getting exercised.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — June 30, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

  35. Exactly my point, it is all just speech and that’s great however to assume that the facebook/twitter campaign is an actual representation of public opinion and that this campaign warrants the defacto censorship of anothers free speech is naive or misguided. I never managed to finish reading Absolute Power because it was so shit but that doesn’t mean Wisharts’ views and the message of those he represents should be prevented from being published.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

  36. Dear god, I never realised Jose Barbosa was so Hisute-Farrar like in appearance.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

  37. Just watching Media7.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  38. And if we are all railing for free speech and consumer choice then would probably make a larger contribution to the general population than Wisharts’ fairy tales being censored.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

  39. Wishart can release this thing free onto the internet at any time, and there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop him, and I’ve not seen anyone say that there should be a way to stop him. Right?

    If that is true, then he is not being censored. There is nothing preventing him from publishing. Nothing. at. all.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — June 30, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

  40. No, it’s not a ban. But I think there are still grounds to feel queasy at two of the three chains that dominate the book trade in NZ (and I’ve heard that Whitcoulls/Borders will be joining them) have outsourced their judgement to Facebook.

    So you don’t like Ian Wishart – neither do I.

    Think Macsyna King is a ghastly bitch who isn’t fit to own goldfish, and must be guilty of something? Maybe, maybe not.

    But while I absolutely support the right of retailers to determine their own stock as they see fit (and people to express their views to use consumer boycotts), is it OK if I exercise my free speech to say they’re fools?

    Because here’s the simple reality: Destiny Church and Family First can throw up a FB boycott to pressure booksellers into refusing to stock books that offend their religious and political sensibilities.

    Ditto for climate change deniers, the Insensible Sentencing Trust and various other people I don’t want passive-aggressively determining what I should be able to buy. Or borrow from public libraries.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — June 30, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

  41. I think that sums it up pretty well Craig.

    Comment by DT — June 30, 2011 @ 11:13 pm

  42. Pascal. de.fac.to censorship. And I’m not supporting Wishart but I believe a democracy at it’s heart is about free speech and that manipulation of free speech by interest groups that in turn sets precedence about corporate morals is dangerous and wrong.

    Comment by abel the amish — June 30, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

  43. I believe a democracy at it’s heart is about free speech and that manipulation of free speech by interest groups that in turn sets precedence about corporate morals is dangerous and wrong.

    Sounds a lot like the old Muldoon line about the separation of sport and politics. How dare people take to the streets to indulge their pretension to moral revulsion.

    Comment by Joe W — June 30, 2011 @ 11:27 pm

  44. Because here’s the simple reality: Destiny Church and Family First can throw up a FB boycott to pressure booksellers into refusing to stock books that offend their religious and political sensibilities.

    I honestly wouldn’t care if they did that, but I guess that’s because I think bookstores are a dying business and it doesn’t really matter what they do, so I’m probably not looking at the deeper issues at work.

    Comment by danylmc — June 30, 2011 @ 11:34 pm

  45. I really hope that Wishart (or whatever pseudo charity he supports) doesn’t end up profiting because more people buy the book (direct from him on the internet) owing to the extra publicity it gets from the refusals to stock it.

    Comment by Will Truth — June 30, 2011 @ 11:42 pm

  46. “Because here’s the simple reality: Destiny Church and Family First can throw up a FB boycott to pressure booksellers into refusing to stock books that offend their religious and political sensibilities.”

    True. So what? Should Martin Luther King have held off marching through Selma, Alabama on the basis that one day neo-Nazis might want to march through Skokie, Illinois? Should the 1981 Springbok protestors have sat at home because one day, maybe there’d be mass street demonstrations against the visiting Ukranian Gay Men’s Choir? If the claim is “don’t protest because one day someone you don’t like might do it too”, then no-one will ever protest anything!

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 1, 2011 @ 12:09 am

  47. I think that the difference with the examples you have come up with Andrew is in scale and importance. Your examples relate to serious moral/ethical issues. Human rights. Now, I don’t mean to belittle the concerns of the people who want this book not available in bookstores (ah what the heck, yes I do!) but these guys are trying to silence someone over much less black and white things. So far as I can tell from reading the facebook page, the people there basically dislike Macsyna King and don’t want her thoughts as expressed in the book on parenthood, disadvantage, or criminality (or whatever is in the book) to be listened to.

    Now I do get why they don’t want that. They don’t like Macsyna King. They possibly have reason to feel repulsed by her, or think that she is a bad mother, or even culpable for the death of her twin boys. Probably in their black and white worlds, she is `evil’. So sure, try to boycott the book if they want, its not really a huge deal. But personally I just think that it is narrow minded and reactionary of them to do so. I class that kind of thought process with the sensible sentencing trust bods. Just what I think. Did I mention it is late and I am grumpy?

    Comment by DT — July 1, 2011 @ 12:57 am

  48. Should Martin Luther King have held off marching through Selma, Alabama on the basis that one day neo-Nazis might want to march through Skokie, Illinois? Should the 1981 Springbok protestors have sat at home because one day, maybe there’d be mass street demonstrations against the visiting Ukranian Gay Men’s Choir? If the claim is “don’t protest because one day someone you don’t like might do it too”, then no-one will ever protest anything!

    If that’s the claim. I imagine it isn’t.

    My claim is: don’t protest in a way designed to diminish the free speech of others because one day you may wish to rely on that free speech.

    Should Martin Luther King Jr. have called for the banning of pro-segregation marches? What if, one day, he wanted to march against segregation?

    DT – I have no problem with people boycotting the book. My problem is that the protest isn’t just about boycotting the book, but boycotting people and organisations that don’t want to be involved in a boycott.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 1:07 am

  49. Heh, I just wrote something on this and then read The Dim-Post. Probably should have done it the other way around.

    But anyway, you know your time is up when The Dim-Post and Kiwiblog (http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2011/06/macsyna_king_and_that_book.html) agree that you’re moronic and delusional.

    Comment by AHD — July 1, 2011 @ 6:32 am

  50. Graeme: Yeah of course, that was implied in my criticism.

    Comment by DT — July 1, 2011 @ 7:07 am

  51. @Abel 42. Pascal. de.fac.to censorship.

    But there is no ‘defacto censorship’ here.

    Again; Wishart can make his speech freely available to all who want to hear it. There is nothing stopping him from putting it on the internet, mailing copies to people who ask for one, delivering it direct to every mailbox in the country. If there was a defacto censorship in place, he would not be able to do that.

    I’m not saying I’m for the boycott, I’m frankly agnostic about the whole thing, but neither side is having their free speech diminished. What we are seeing is an outcome of free speech. If people were asking the govt to ban it, I’d be objecting to that, but they are not. They are making arguments about what we should do, not demanding what we must do. Where they step over the line and make threats, I oppose that. But guess what? Threats, AFAIK, aren’t legal speech!

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — July 1, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  52. “My claim is: don’t protest in a way designed to diminish the free speech of others because one day you may wish to rely on that free speech.”

    So … all those people who decried Alaisdair Thompson’s comments about women in the workforce and called for his sacking were wrong to do so? The Nothern EMA would be wrong to sack him for his use of his free speech rights over those few days? Spokespeople should be able to say whatever they want without concern for how the public responds to those statements, because the public may not do anything about it that imposes a penalty on you for your speech (least they one-day be penalised for something they say)?

    I have to say, Graeme, that your vision of civil society (“don’t impose any penalty on anyone else based on what they say for fear that one day others will impose a penalty on you for what you say”) may be one in which anyone can say anything … but it’s a pretty impoverished one. There is no room for real response and consequence, wherein the complete rejection of an idea/viewpoint is allowed for. Because just as a person may be free to say something, I am free to reject it (and to refuse to have nothing to do with them). Why is that last freedom to be removed from me?

    Now – it may be true as a PRUDENTIAL matter that we should be cautious about launching boycotts, because if everyone boycotts everything then nothing gets said … or, more likely, if you try to get people to boycott everything then they just start ignoring you. (Which is why I don’t see the Family First threat as that scarey – they want just about everything stopped and so no-one really listens to them.) But that then is a question of “is this book really bad enough to justify the moral outrage expressed towards it?” Which can’t be answered by reference to “free speech” alone.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 1, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  53. Abel sez: “de.fac.to censorship”

    I sez: Bingo!

    L

    Comment by Lew — July 1, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  54. A Facebook page based on a wildly inaccurate premise (that Macsyna will get money from a book about her babies’ murder) and comments by people who have not read the book, is no way to make a marketing decision.

    By stocking the book, Whitcoulls can demonstrate that they decide based on logic — not mob rule. And that they wish their customers to make their own purchasing decisions.

    Comment by DavidW — July 1, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  55. If boycotts were an ongoing problem then there might be a valid argument here. But just last week attempts to prevent the sale of ‘Go the Fuck to Sleep’ failed. The protests were probably just good publicity for the product. I think this is a very rare instance where Booksellers just don’t want this book on their shelves, moreso than they want to make some money.

    Comment by danylmc — July 1, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  56. Yes I was thinking something similar Danyl. I mean, perhaps it was a marginal business proposition to stock the Wishart book anyway. Plus, there is probably the odd staff member who can’t think very well that wants the book not stocked at the place where they work, and paper plus doesn’t want to hurt staff morale.

    Comment by DT — July 1, 2011 @ 10:43 am

  57. There is no room for real response and consequence, wherein the complete rejection of an idea/viewpoint is allowed for. Because just as a person may be free to say something, I am free to reject it (and to refuse to have nothing to do with them). Why is that last freedom to be removed from me?

    It’s not.

    I’m just asking that you recognise that in exercising your free speech that you recognise that exercising that freedom in that way may reduce free speech overall, so should not be a course of action lightly entered into. It’s a minority rights thing. It is better that, in exercising our rights, we don’t diminish the rights of currently unpopular minorities.

    I’m not calling for free speech without consequences. I’m not saying Alasdair Thompson shouldn’t be sacked. I’m no saying that People should call for Alasdair Thomspon to be sacked. I’m saying that – even though you can if you want to – people shouldn’t call for consequences against people because they don’t support calls for the sacking of Alasdair Thompson.

    If you de-friend all your facebook friends who won’t join the “Sack Alasdair Thompson” facebook page, you may find that the opportunities you have for meaningful debate on facebook diminish: not just for your benefit, but for theirs.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  58. I’m no saying that People should call for Alasdair Thomspon to be sacked.

    That was, naturally, intended to say:

    I’m not saying that people shouldn’t call for Alasdair Thomspon to be sacked.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 10:53 am

  59. Bur Graeme … in the Alasdair Thompson case, he is Wishart and the EMA are the booksellers … people were saying “if you, the EMA, keep this guy on after what he said, we will think less of you as an organisation”. Which equates to saying “if you, the booksellers, stock this guy’s book because of what it says, we will not buy from you.” Why is the first an acceptable part of the give-and-take of public discourse, but the other is a dangerous and illegitimate tactic? And where do you get the “de-friending of facebook friends” analogy from – exactly who is saying “if you buy a book from Whitcoulls, you will face consequences for doing so!”

    Of course, anyone who DOES say “I will only converse/associate with people who think exactly like me” will find themselves in a small cacoon – in the Exclusive Brethren or the like. So we constantly are involved in line-drawing in our daily lives as to what constitutes so objectionable a statement/position as to lead us to disassociate with a person/group. Which means any question of a boycott requires a couple of prior questions:
    (1) Is this book really so morally repugnant as to justify my changing my consumer habits based on its supply or otherwise?
    (2) Is my call for a boycott likely to actually work, or will it just give publicity to a work I dislike and so cause more people to read it?
    You may think those calling for a boycott are wrong in their assessment of one or the other of these questions (personally, I have my doubts that (1) is met). But that is a question that can only be answered with regard a specific situation – general recourse to “free speech” does not resolve it. And groups that get (1) and (2) wrong on a consistent basis risk being ignored altogether (the Family First situation). So there may be a prudential wisdom to being cautious in how the questions are answered. But again, recourse to “free speech” doesn’t give the answer to any particular problem here.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 1, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

  60. Thinking less of the EMA isn’t the same as we will try to run you out of business, which would be the ultimate aim of a boycott.

    I’d have thought the closer analogy for what I’m getting at is the business who are members of the EMA. i.e:

    the ‘baddies’ are Alasdair Thompson/Macsyna King/Paul Henry
    the person enabling them are EMA/Publisher or Wishart/TVNZ
    The people whose largely unrelated actions help that enabling occur are the members/booksellers/advertisers

    I would say that people calling on members of the EMA “if you don’t leave the EMA we won’t shop at your store/buy your manufactured goods” would have been going too far in seeking to limit others’ rights. They’d have a right to do it, but exercising their right in that way is overall bad for freedom of speech/freedom of association.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  61. I think that the analogies drawn by the like of Graeme Edgeler and Andrew Geddes aren’t that illuminating. Arguing this on free speech etc artificially elevates the issue and the work to a level that isn’t warranted. But I do like what Andrew Geddes said above:

    “(1) Is this book really so morally repugnant as to justify my changing my consumer habits based on its supply or otherwise?”

    And I would add to that “and to indirectly influence the potential choices of other consumers to buy this work”.

    And I don’t think that the choice of the people that are, in a very ill-informed (indeed, uninformed since we don’t really know what is in the book) way running this boycott, is justified. I don’t think that many people know what actually went on with the Kahuis. There are just a group of people who see Macsyna as part of an underclass, and hate her for it, and don’t want her work out there. Thats sad.

    Comment by DT — July 1, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

  62. “Thinking less of the EMA isn’t the same as we will try to run you out of business, which would be the ultimate aim of a boycott.”

    Yes it is. The EMA is a lobby group, whose reason for existence is to advocate its members’ interests in the public realm. A public response “we think less of you/will not listen to your views” is exactly the same as the public saying “we won’t buy from your store” – given that booksellers reason for existence is to sell books!

    Furthermore, even on your analogy, you are OK with people saying to Ian Wishart “because of your decision to write about King, we will not purchase any of the books you write”? That’s not “bad for freedom of speech”? Or, if the members of the EMA say to it “unless Thompson goes, we’re out of here” then that’s OK – freedom of association and all – but people can’t say to members of the EMA “you should get out of it, because we think less of you for your association with the organisation”? Aren’t the hairs getting split here becoming excessively thin?

    Let’s get right down to brass tacks. Do you think it is legitimate for a consumer to EVER make a decision on where she/he will shop for books based on the stock carried by that store … is a Catholic permitted to choose to purchase her or his copy of the Bible from the specialist Catholic Shop rather than from a store specialising in Gay and Lesbian pornography? If so, must the bookseller suffer that commercial consequence in ignorance, or can a consumer warn the bookseller of her/his decision? (And if the consumer cannot warn of their decision, isn’t that an odd reading of “free speech” … “free speech means you must not EVER communicate your views to booksellers!”) And if an individual consumer may warn a bookseller of her/his decision, why may a group of individuals not do so?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 1, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

  63. All of those things are legitimate.

    But is it bad for free speech if stores can’t stock gay and lesbian literature for fear of going out of business? I say it is.

    And I would like those considering boycotting Whitcoulls, should it choose to stock “Breaking Silence”, to weigh into their decision the effect it might have on overall free speech, and the possibility they may in the future not be able to readily buy books they might want (or even that fewer people will read books they think should be read if they aren’t readily available).

    I would welcome their considering the extent to which they are harmed by a decision by Whitcoulls to stock the book, and weigh that against the potential harm they, others and free speech overall could face, when reaching a decision over whether to enter into a boycott. In some cases – your pornographer, for example – they are likely to consider the harm greater, and the risks lower. In others – including I suggest, this one – the harm (only one book, which may not even be advertised or in their face when they’re in the store) is perhaps lower, and the risks perhaps greater.

    Yes, free speech has consequences. But the exercise of free speech in response also has consequences.

    In my assessment, calls for boycotts of this nature are an over-reaction to others’ exercise of free speech, with an admittedly low risk of damage, but a risk that still outweighs any harm. My assessment of the dangers of certain speech, and the risks of exercises of speech in response will differ from others’. I cannot expect my views to hold sway. But in formulating their response to free speech I ask that others at least consider the risks. Refusing or failing to do so is their right, but it’s something I’d prefer they didn’t do. Kinda like smoking.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

  64. Graeme,

    But why should I think my decision whether to participate in a public boycott of a particular book has ANY influence whatsoever on others’ decisions whether to participate in a public boycott of another kind of book? Or, what has the decision on Wishart’s book to do with (say) the Family First attempt to boycott “Go The Fuck To Sleep”? Won’t they keep on doing what they do, irrespective of what I (or anyone else) do?

    Point being, if your claim is “by participating in a public boycott of one particular book, you risk creating a world in which all controversial books will face a boycott”, then that’s an empirical one that may or may not be true. It’s not a logically necessary consequence. So it is not like smoking at all – there’s overwhelming real-world evidence that if you smoke, your risk factors for dying early massively increase. Where’s the equivalent real-world evidence that participating in the boycott of any given book leads to a world where controversial/unpopular/distasteful books generally get passed over by commercial booksellers?

    Now – all that said, I think the decision to call for a boycott on this book was a massive overreaction and wrong on substantive grounds (the book’s just not that bad). But that says nothing about the protest tactic of boycotting generally, or the “threat to free speech” it poses.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 1, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  65. Point being, if your claim is “by participating in a public boycott of one particular book, you risk creating a world in which all controversial books will face a boycott”, then that’s an empirical one that may or may not be true.

    It’s not (just) that other books may face a boycott (although I think it logically follows that if one succeeds, more will try). The concern is that some bookstores may simply become more conservative out of fear of bad publicity.

    In the US, some major theatre chains just won’t air films which receive an R rating from the MPAA (and some department stores won’t stock the DVDs). In some cases (“The King’s Speech” is a recent example) film-makers make PG-13 versions of their films. Sometimes they do not. It’s not that the theatres would have faced a boycott if they’d aired the R-rated version of “The King’s Speech”, they probably wouldn’t. But it didn’t even get that far.

    These boycotts follow from consumer action, but have the effect of basically stopping some people (e.g. in towns where the only cinema or cinemas are part of those chains) from seeing certain films. Of course, if they really want to, they can get the film out on DVD or whatever, but people who think “we should see a movie.” “What’s on?” “The King’s Speech.” “I heard that was good” will just miss out.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  66. Once again this looks like misdirected mammaries in a mangle.

    Wouldn’t it be good if all this passionate protestation and boycotting could be directed at something that really matters, like reducing child abuse.

    But hey, it should make people who may or may not have already abused kids think twice about writing a book, that’s something that’s allowed to happen far too much these days.

    Comment by Pete George — July 1, 2011 @ 2:58 pm

  67. It’s one thing to boycott. It’s quite another thing to burn books and incite hatred.

    Likewise, with Alasdair Thompson, calling for him to be sacked is different from saying he’s behind the times.

    Comment by DeepRed — July 1, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  68. @ Pascal’s bookie re: “Counter-protest. Demand it be stocked. Demand that booksellers state their reasons for not stocking it. Are they saying they don’t like the book, that it won’t sell, or are they cowering in the face of mob.”

    That would have been my thought. But the opponents of the bookstore decisions aren’t doing that, as far as I can see. They’re just moaning about censorship and effective bans.

    Saw a good tweet this morning:

    “bookshops have the right to sell or not sell what they want. Libraries have responsibility to offend everyone.”

    So, again… if you want to read Wishart, go to a library :)

    Comment by kim — July 1, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  69. And I think I’m still explaining my confusion badly…

    I just think DT and co have valid points, sure, but that the only solution I can see is for them to spend their time trying to educate the relevant decision-makers at said bookstores, instead of railing here and elsewhere about the illiteracy of facebook users, or hating on boycotts generally.

    Comment by kim — July 1, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

  70. Wouldn’t it be good if all this passionate protestation and boycotting could be directed at something that really matters, like reducing child abuse.

    And wouldn’t the fine minds currently arguing the hypothetical nuances of freedom of speech be better employed addressing that problem? When Starship Hospital’s director of child protection Dr. Patrick Kelly advocates for for some form of limitation on the right to silence in child abuse cases there’s barely any response from those who’d be expected to offer some kind of informed comment on the legal implications. The appearance is of an ongoing self-absorbed and dysfunctional legal culture with an institutionalised contempt for the public exasperation provoked by its abject failure to deal with the Kahui case.

    Comment by Joe W — July 1, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  71. OK everyone – we need to start expressing our deep, deep disapproval of Air NZ for the threat they pose to the right of aged men to make complete tits of themselves in public: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/5220792/Air-NZ-pulls-out-of-EMA-report

    I mean, if every business were to withdraw from the EMA because it disapproves of what its officers say in public, then the EMA’s officers won’t be able to say controversial things anymore. Time for a boycott of Air NZ until they rejoin the EMA!!!

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 1, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

  72. Air New Zealand is clearly just giving advanced notice that they are about to make a large number of lay-offs and will no longer qualify as an employer…

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 1, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

  73. They are two unrelated and not that similar events. One is quite obviously a stupid old fool who as a lobbying professional relies on credibility in circles of commerce & politics the other is some stupid woman who has been ensnared by Wishart.

    Comment by abel the amish — July 1, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

  74. It’s not just about free speech. It’s how we can best use our freedom to speak and to act.

    Are we wasting the energy of our anger on Macsyna King and on Ian Wishart? What to do Macsyna King?

    Comment by Pete George — July 3, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  75. We can speak too freely and act too little.

    Here’s someone who has acted and made a real difference in Hawkes Bay – Dr Russell Wills featured on Marae Investigates this morning. The interview should be available there soon.

    Early childhood abuse and dysfunctional families are one of our society’s biggest immediate and long term problems.

    http://yournz.org/2011/07/03/back-the-new-childrens-commissioner/Back the new Children’s Commissioner

    Comment by Pete George — July 3, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  76. We can speak too freely and act too little.

    Exactly. It’s the attempts to pimp Macsyna King as some kind of consultant on child abuse that has brought about the current wave of revulsion. First Ian Wishart, gloatingly abetted by the grotesque faux-celeb Christine Rankin, and now the Herald applying the first stages of a Jade Goodie-style makeover – Macsyna King is now a “mum” who cries real tears:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10736008

    It’s not about the wretched book, which is only a symptom. It’s about the fallout from a justice system in desperate need of reform, and a cynically amoral media that attempts to market the victims and perpetrators of tragedy as circus freaks.

    Comment by Joe Wylie — July 3, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

  77. It’s about the fallout from a justice system in desperate need of reform, and a cynically amoral media that attempts to market the victims and perpetrators of tragedy as circus freaks.

    Well, that’s nice Joe. Perhaps the FB folks should be directing their ire at the legislature. Crazy, I know.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — July 3, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

  78. Perhaps the FB folks should be directing their ire at the legislature. Crazy,

    Perhaps they do, in that parallel universe where Wishart takes his newfound evidence to the police, instead of rushing to them to protect his precious protege.

    Comment by Joe Wylie — July 3, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

  79. Perhaps they do, in that parallel universe where Wishart takes his newfound evidence to the police, instead of rushing to them to protect his precious protege.

    If the newfound evidence is against Chris Kahui it won’t help. The deaths were is 2006, the law change abolishing the rule against double jeopardy didn’t pass until 2008.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 3, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

  80. The deaths were in 2006, the law change abolishing the rule against double jeopardy didn’t pass until 2008.

    Which is pretty much always mentioned whenever the ongoing festering issue of culpability is raised. No doubt an encouraging factor in luring Ms King from under her rock.

    Comment by Joe Wylie — July 3, 2011 @ 3:40 pm


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