Government struggles to explain proposed ‘hate speech’ laws in the face of growing opposition
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has championed her government’s controversial hate speech reforms as opposition rises against the claimed criminalization of “insulting” speech.
Ardern and Justice Minister Kris Faafoi have struggled to explain the kind of “extreme” speech he has proposed targeting with law changes in recent days, leading both the National Party and ACT to harass the government for not understanding its own proposal.
Both political parties have vowed to categorically oppose the reforms, paving the way for a politically tense battle over efforts to strengthen laws that would criminalize the incitement and normalization of hatred.
âWe do not support anything that criminalizes speech that is less than incitement to violence. It is already in law, it is a criminal offense to incite violence, âNational Party leader Judith Collins said on Monday.
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âThose who just because they make stupid statements and stupid jokes and all the rest of it, don’t actually make other people commit violent offenses.
“We believe that in a liberal democracy, that people should have the ability to make fun of themselves from time to time, that doesn’t mean that they are criminals.”
Collins said she saw no need to strengthen the law or expand the groups covered by existing protections.
Faafoi, when announcing the proposed reforms on Friday, said the government wanted to criminalize “extreme speech” and not “mean” or “stupid” comments. He said “political opinion” was one of the new category of groups proposed for protection by law.
Ardern’s comments on Monday complicated the matter even further. Speaking to Morning show, she said that political opinion was not included in the change in the law, and that the change in the law was aimed at “inciting abuse and violence.”
However, the discussion paper released by the Justice Department indicated that the proposed law change would include political opinion groups as protected.
And a new provision in the Crimes Act would criminalize not incitement to violence, but cases where people “intentionally incite / incite, maintain or normalize hatred”.
“Hate speech is abusive or threatening speech that stirs hostility towards a group of people (rather than being directed against a single person) on the basis of a common characteristic they share “, says the document.
Ardern sought to clarify his comments at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting on Monday afternoon.
“It is in the extreme … incitement to violence is one example, but it must also be intentional, and it is extreme hostility.”
The current law was unclear, she said, and applied in cases where people “stirred up hostility” by “ridiculing” a group.
âMaintain or Normalize Hateâ captured instances of people speaking hatefully to a group that shared the same belief.
“If you’re a white supremacist group and you engage with a white supremacist group, say at a rally, it might be a group that is already being made to behave in a certain way … C this is exactly the kind of zone to be used with.
Despite Faafoi’s comments and the ministry’s discussion paper, Ardern said Cabinet had removed the idea of ââprotected “political opinion” from the proposal. It was not a âstarting pointâ, but she hoped to hear the public’s perspective on it.