When does caution become censorship?

Chief Censor David Shank is defending his decision to classify the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto as objectionable :

. . .The Free Speech Coalition said the manifesto could be important for society to understand a dark part of New Zealand’s history.

“New Zealanders need to be able to understand the nature of evil and how it expresses itself,” coalition spokesperson and constitutional lawyer Stephen Franks said.

Free speech isn’t just about what we can express, it’s also about what we can hear and read.

Defending his decision, Chief Censor David Shanks told Morning Report a number of criteria were checked when assessing this sort of material.

“We look for exhortations to kill, exhortations to commit terrorism from someone who has influence and credibility in persuading others to do likewise,” he said.

These types of publications were not the place to go in search of reasons behind such events, because they were specifically aimed at a “vulnerable and susceptible “audience, “to incite them to do the same type of crime, he said.

“There is content in this publication that points to means by which you can conduct other terrorist atrocities … it could be seen as instructional.

“There is detail in there about potential targets for this type of atrocity and there are justifications for carrying out extreme acts of cruelty.”

Those who have the publication for legitimate purposes, such as reporters, researchers and academics to analyse and educate can apply for an exception. . .

I haven’t read the manifesto and have seen enough quotes from it to know I don’t want to but it wouldn’t be hard to find it online and the censor’s classification only applies to New Zealand.

It has already been widely distributed and will continue to be so.

Michael Reddell has been reading the Censorship Act and says:

. . . As many people have pointed out, by Shanks’s logic all manner of historical documents –  that are freely available –  would in fact be banned.   It serves the public good to be able to better understand Hitler or Mao or the Unabomber or the IRA, the PLO, or the Irgun Gang.  It won’t serve public confidence, or the public good more generally, to attempt to maintain some half-cocked ban on the Tarrant “manifesto”, in a world in which writings about it –  and quotes from it –  will be readily available in mainstream publications, serious and otherwise, internationally.  . . 

Meanwhile, Stuff has been reviewing its policy on on-line comments in light of the terror attacks and concluded:

. . . Too often, our comments section has allowed casual prejudice to seep in from the fringes.

Improvement begins with Stuff’s moderation rules and how we enforce them. Effective immediately, we’re making changes designed to cut out comment pollution. . . 

Comments made on-line, often under cover of a pseudonym, frequently fall well under the standard that would be accepted for a letter to the editor in print. A tightening up might be reasonable but Stuff’s new  rules include:

With rare exceptions, we will not usually enable comments on stories concerning:

  • 1080
  • allegations of criminality or misconduct
  • animal cruelty
  • beneficiaries
  • Christchurch mosque shootings of March 2019
  • court cases
  • domestic violence
  • fluoride
  • funerals
  • immigrants or refugees
  • Israel and Palestine
  • Kashmir
  • missing people
  • race
  • sexual orientation
  • suicide
  • Treaty of Waitangi
  • transgender issues
  • vaccination
  • vulnerable children

That’s 20 topics on which few if any comments will be permitted.

All media have the right to rules on what they will and will not allow whether it’s in print or on-line but this list of topics on which no comments will be enabled appears to be well over the top and cross the line from caution into censorship.

3 Responses to When does caution become censorship?

  1. Andrei says:

    We live in an interesting time

    A time where there is a technological revolution in communications far more profound than the industrial revolution

    A similar thing happened with the invention of the printing press – ideas diseminated far more quickly and were far harder to suppress than they had been before and it lead to the Renaiscence in Europe

    It was not without pain and bloodshed though nut the end result was the technological superiority of the West

    Ironically the printing press was a Chinese invention, as was paper and gunpowder incidentally but the flowering of these technolgies occurred in the West not the East – Why this was so would make for an interesting PHD thesis for someone

    Tarrant’s screed may be banned in New Zealand but it wont go away – it is far more wide ranging than the non original idea that the peoples of the European West are being supplanted by people from the “Global South” – a process that is quite clearly underway and accelarating

    New Zealand’s future is almost certainly going to be culturally East Asian rather than European or Polynesian.

    It would be good to be able to discuss this openly and rationally and develop strategies on how to preserve those things from our own personal heritages that we value while adapting to new realities of a changing world

  2. J Bloggs says:

    Stuff is a private business and is allowed to choose whatever it likes to publish. If they choose to not allow anyone to comment on news articles ON THEIR WEBSITE, that is wholly their prerogative.

    Additionally, the topics they have outlined are hot button topics that frequently lead to flame wars and abuse (several of these topics are protected from casual editing on Wikipedia for precisely that reason), and I can imagine that Stuff’s staff have better things to do with their time than clean up avoidable trash fires in comments sections.

    Stuff are not saying we won’t publish anything on these topics (which would be censorship), they are just saying to people “Take your arguments about these topics somewhere else”

  3. Roj Blake says:


    26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

    Jesusonapogostick, Andrei – why do you have to fight with god?

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