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Not an adherent of Voltaire then, Mr Little

March 4, 2014

Last year there was an awful lot of metaphorical  frothing at the mouth by journalists and others over what was labelled a major attack on the rights of the Fourth Estate. This was of course the media firestorm around the Dunne/Vance issue at the heart of the leaking of the Kittredge Report. Much was made of how in a free and democratic society the media had a right, nay duty, to report upon the doings of elected and unelected officials in power. Allied to this is the oft quoted right to protest, invoked for example when Green activists invaded a Russian oil platform, breaking Russian law in the process or when drilling ships off the NZ coast have their legitimate business impeded. Indeed there should be a right to protest in a free society and the right to report what officialdom is doing without undue constraint being placed upon those who do. This should encompass the freedom to do this even when the majority may well disagree with what is being said or done.

Many journalists are apt to write at length, as noted above, on how free speech, protest and the like is an essential bulwark against state oppression.

These freedoms and their defence are not new, indeed writing in the eighteenth century Voltaire, the French philosopher, writer, dramatist and political activist in 1770 in a letter wrote  “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”.  Thus it can be seen that Voltaire with this and other writings was a significant contributor to the development of freedom of thought and expression; particularly with regard to the written word .

Therefore it was with some surprise that Adam read in last Saturday’s NZ Herald a column under the by-line of Paul Little, one of the Herald’s stable of left leaning hacks. Little, Adam assumes it was he, wrote:-

It’s time to shut down – or rather shut up – the ragtag bunch of malcontents who are giving their lives meaning by hounding silly old Len Brown every time he appears in public. These shrieking, self-righteous harpies are one length of rope away from full-blown vigilantism.

Really! They are asserting their right to protest, nothing more or less. They may well be annoying, but that is the price of democracy. As far as Adam knows they are not proposing to lynch Brown, so the use of the phrase ‘one length of rope’ is pathetic at best and outrageous in reality conjuring up images of people hanging from lamp posts. It raises as well just how Mr Little proposes to shut down or shut up these people. Is Mr Little suggesting that we should treat these people like Putin’s stooges did Pussy Riot? Is he suggesting that New Zealand should act like an oppressive police state so that Mr Brown should not have to face up to his transgressions.

As is often the case with high-visibility critics, the fault they most lament is one they display themselves – in this case letting a wild passion overcome the better counsel of reason.

Would Mr Little have said the same about the Greenham Common protestors in the UK? Would he have said the same about those who protested the Springbok Tour of 1981? The right to protest is not one where you get to pick and choose who can or cannot protest, and for how long. Voltaire for example went into exile in England because of his writings running afoul of rich and powerful interests.

Then just when Adam thought the comments could not get any worse, we reached the nadir with this:-

More importantly they are disrupting the democratic process by trying to prevent an elected official from getting on with his job. The rest of Auckland is over it. The city and the mayor have more important things to worry about.

These protesters are not disrupting the democratic process. They are part of the freedoms we enjoy in a functioning democracy. Freedoms which people like Brown are elected to protect. Just because Mr Little abhors the continuing protests does not mean they should stop. Just because many might find them irritating does not mean they should cease. Indeed, Adam might take the view that because he disagrees with what Mr Little writes that the NZ Herald should be compelled to stop publishing his columns. However, Adam is capable of accepting that is not acceptable in a democratic society and that plurality of views and means of expression is a good thing, even if often uncomfortable.

What was most concerning about Mr Little’s comments was his desire to muzzle free speech and freedom of assembly just because he did not agree with the protests. Clearly he would never have joined Voltaire on the barricades.

It no longer surprises Adam that those from the left espouse the principles of freedom, but practice them only when it relates to issues supporting their point of view.

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