Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Gerry Eckhoff: Freedom of expression

It is a privilege and a pleasure to read the erudite columnist Gina Barreca – the American humourist, academic and distinguished professor of English literature.  Her writings just percolate that most elusive of all human conditions -common sense – which is far removed from being, well, common. She writes of the essential role of newspapers upholding the freedoms and traditions of a free press with special reference to cartoons, especially of a political nature. The brilliance of a particularly insightful cartoon can help defuse a smoldering issue or the rage of the righteous.

This past decade has seen, as never before in peace time, a continuous attempt to sanitize the media on whom we rely to offer freedom of speech, if this essential element in a democracy is to mean anything. That is why the opinion pages of a newspaper are so important to those who “only stand and wait”. The Australian PM Scott Morrison calls such people the “quiet Australians.” Here in NZ, the clatter and the cry of the few demand futile declarations of a “Climate Emergency” which shows just how simple it is to cry wolf and be heard -  if you are against something – anything.

To mock or to satirize those aspects of NZ culture, protected by self-proclaimed defenders of the newly energized left, is almost a life - threatening condition especially over where NZs default position (constitutionally) is heading.  Political parties and their representatives still seem to be fair game but for how long as politically correct tentacles intrude into mature debate on important issues that must only be debated in open forums. Genetic modification, abortion, euthanasia, fresh water, Treaty of Waitangi relevance - all are polarizing with little or no respect shown for alternative points of view. Very little debate has occurred over allowing non-elected Maori to councils for fear of being branded racist.  It’s a condition called terminal immaturity.

So why is it that we are still “allowed” to tell jokes about Irish intelligence and the English arrogance - not to mention the Scots’ alleged meanness. Could it be that these countries and their people are mature and comfortable enough in their own skin that they can laugh at them-selves? Indeed, they appear to enjoy nothing more than the self-indulgent opportunity to lampoon the foibles they are so famous for. Dad’s Army, Faulty Towers and Blackadder are but three examples of exquisite ridiculing of the English by the English who seem to possess in abundance, that rare commodity of being able to laugh at themselves. Contrast that with one of NZs finest comedians, the late Billy T James who was vilified by many within Maoridom for James’s ability to recognize humour was more about culture than race. Is the stereotyping of some Maori any different from portrayal of some Australians as beer swilling okkers? All farmers these days are portrayed as rapers and pillagers of the environment to the point where little defense is offered, for to do so, results in a torrent of personal abuse in the media. It is a legitimate question to ask whether the media are now too inclined to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive (to misuse the words of a song).

The risk of giving offence to a minority negates the proud traditions of a free press to “publish and be damned”. Here in Otago, reporting the anti-everything brigade dominates the positive and the productive to such an extent that there is a real fear factor of repercussions from speaking your mind or discriminating against the virtue signalers.   We all however discriminate in virtually everything we do, from shopping, to choice of friends, to what TV channel we watch, to our value system.

In a recent decision in the High Court in the UK, three judges stated that the holding and expressing of an opinion is not discrimination against those with an alternative point of view.

A very former MP once received a particularly descriptive email outlining his considerable faults and failings, comparing him to everyone from the Genghis Khan in a foul mood - to being the cause of every disaster – natural or otherwise,  as well as confirming a spot in hell which the devil himself had reserved for him. The response by return email was -  “so….. other than these very minor criticisms - you clearly feel I’m doing a good job. Thankyou”.  He emailed back saying – “well I laughed out loud at your response”.  We went on to have a good discussion; so yes, Gina Barreca is entirely correct when she wrote “humour is created and appreciated when people are free”.

Gerry Eckhoff is a former MP and councillor on the Otago Regional Council.


Brian said...

Freedom, is hard to win and very hard to hold on too; but very easy to lose.
Yes laughter is the best medicine, and the lack of cartoonists, especially those with a political bent almost an extinct species. Well what do you expect, since we are bombarded every day by a bias NZ Media with only one sided comments. Just what has happened to our political debates on the T.V. and on Radio. They have virtually in essence, become a political platform dominated by the socialists with a selective audience. Chaired or compared by people whose knowledge of how to run such a gathering is non-existent and an selectively packed with young left wing idealists.
That great cartoonist Hogarth gave us wonderful insights in the political system of his time. His “Chairing the Candidate’, a political masterpiece, which infuriated the prospective politicians of the time. His graphic depiction of the absurdity, with his patently over-emphasized cutting humour of electioneering.
Here in one cartoon are the insincere promises, the razzmatazz, the cant and hype. With the thugs engaging in bitter animosity portrayed between the political factions; now becoming from the rabid left all too evident again in our day and age. It’s crowning glory however, being the depiction of the blind fiddler, surely a real stroke of genius!
We have had, and still have great cartoonists, but their complete doom is being spelt out with the significant implications of a Hate Speech Law; that when passed into law will end such compositions unless they conform to one political ideology. Then the question arises “Would we ever again be allowed the luxury in this day and age of Political Correctness, to depict such ridicule? Recently in Australia, an eminent cartoonist was so harassed and victimised by the political left over a cartoon, that he died of a heart attack!
Gerry you rightly point out, the lack of intestinal fortitude displayed by local government councillors over the introduction of the Maori only appointment system as because of being labelled racist!
Generated by the word racist, its connotations, its connection to colonialism and we have a future New Zealand fearful, instead of proud of its colonial past which lifted this country out of savagery and cannibalism.
However is this appointment system, a small example of a copycat of our present elected Parliament, with nearly half our “representatives being appointees”? Now it is accepted as “democratic” in this country. This signals not the end of our voting system; but an end of Parliament’s acceptance of the majority verdict by the people.(ie The Smacking Vote a prime example).
In the end the people of this country will have decided between a future Marxist Government, preceded by the soft partway of socialism; or a continuation of our democratic right to elect, by the vote of our representatives.

Anonymous said...

Freedom of conscience and expression is the best prophylactic against tyranny, and is the most important diversity of all.

Without intellectual diversity we have an intellectual monoculture initially enforced by the 'soft' tyranny of perceived collective moral suasion, and threats to the livelihood of dissenters.

The lesson of history is that at the foot of this slippery slope is the 'hard' tyranny of heavily-armed state goons kicking down doors in the middle of the night; the cellars of Prinz Albrectstrasse or the Lubyanka; and the Gulag or Sonderlager.

Radical [part-] Maori “brown necks” and their post-colonial-guilt-tripping white liberal enablers claim that most New Zealanders see nothing wrong with [part-] Maori privilege; and that it is only a handful of benighted “racists” who object.


Across more than 30 separate polls, around 20 % (one in five) New Zealanders think [part-] Maori should have special privileges. Around 80% (four in five) do not. This, of course, includes many New Zealanders of Maori descent.

But it is the 20% that have captured the public debate, with their false narrative of “victimhood” and “oppression,” their lying revisionist version of “history,” and their mob shouting down all opposition, no matter how reasoned and principled, as “racist” and “bigoted.”

Most of the 80% who privately disagree with Maori privilege won’t say so publicly, because all the noise in the public square leads them to believe a majority agrees with Maori privilege. They’re cowed into silence by fear of social marginalisation for not holding group-approved attitudes.

But they’re not alone. They’re a substantial majority, though they have yet to realise it. Some of us have been doing this a long time and we will help the silent majority to see that people are prepared to stand up and be counted. We will not be silenced, and we will eventually win the day.

As Edmund Burke reminds us: “Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.”

In social psychology, “pluralistic ignorance” describes a situation where a majority of group members privately reject a received norm, but wrongly assume it is widely held, and pretend conformity so as not to appear out of step with everyone else.

Most people, whatever their level of intelligence, want to hold “correct” beliefs and attitudes. Their overriding drive is to belong and conform. In order to do so, they will overwhelmingly internalise received dogma without applying intellectual scrutiny to it.

It's about time the silent majority barred up and got angry!

Allan said...

Who coined the phrase POLITICALLY CORRECT? Must have been a very cunning Socialist. Real meaning of P C ; POLITICAL CONTROL !!!!!!

Russ said...


“One opinion is as good as another and the opinion favoured by the majority wins”

100 Electorates
1 FPP-Elected Prime Minister
100 FPP-Elected M.P.’s

Political parties and MMP are the scourge of NZ and a violation of democracy.