Tuesday, May 21

Voyage of the banned

Back in March, I checked out on Facebook the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, and the top result turned out to be ‘New Zealand Centre for Political Research is Just a Rant Group for Racists’. This page had been set up about a month earlier – by whom, I don’t know – but its coming first in my search told me that I’d been banned from the page of the actual organisation. 

The NZCPR was the last of several right-wing pages to have banned me in recent times. It has all happened in the context of an ongoing debate about free speech, in which right-wing orientated pages tend to bang the drum about this principle quite loudly. Were I a rightie (rather than a Labour member), anecdotal evidence suggests that I could well be blocked by left-leaning pages. Some lefties can come out with the boilerplate blather about encouraging diversity and inclusion, and then block people. Hypocrisy should be called out. But I’m getting rather fed up with the actual free speech warriors. 

The salient figures in the NZCPR are former ACT MP Dr Muriel Newman and her husband Frank. They are very against the current government, to the extent that when Jacinda Ardern left politics, Dr Newman wrote a piece trashing her. But it was in an odd way a compliment, since the picture that fronts all Dr Newman’s pieces has her looking more Ardern’s age – or David Seymour’s age – than the age suggested by the National Library site, which has Dr N. born in 1950. But perhaps the National Library is in collusion with the IRD, which recently tried to persuade a 79-year-old woman that she was really 123. 

What the NZCPR focuses on, rather than ‘Political Research’, is denying the human input into climate change, and attacking any initiatives by Māori – to judge from the website, which I can still access. According to Dr N. we are at risk of a ‘toxic race-based abyss currently being planned by the Māori Party and their allies’. (Some of the NZCPR’s Best Friends are of course Māori, notably the safely dead Apirana Ngata). The outfit is on about free speech too – there’s a link saying ‘Support Free Speech’, which takes you to a campaign against ‘Coastal Claims’, claims made primarily by Māori. 

But it was the Facebook page as I recall it which went full-on anti-Māori, generally under the moniker of the doctorate-free hubby Frank. Especially troubling was a news story about an altercation in the Auckland suburb of Beachhaven that concentrated on local efforts to save a young man apparently attacked by two teenagers from Northland. The focus of the original story was on the locals’ desperate interventions, but the NZCPR just did a dog-whistle which was taken up by their commenters – that the teenagers were obviously Māori. (The pair have since been charged with murder, without their ethnicities being mentioned.) 

I was careful what I said about that one, since in cases of death, it’s easy to sound disrespectful. But soon afterwards Frank featured a story that pointed out that nearly half the finalists for the Ockham Book Awards were Māori. He was very grumpy about that, and so were the commenters. I wrote that the page catered to racist whingers, and I was gone….

Sometime earlier, I’d been blocked by the Spectator Australia, which is a variant of the long-established (1828) British right-wing magazine. The latter features many good writers, but the Oz segment – which deals sometimes with New Zealand as well – really hasn’t got over the exit from Parliament of former ultra-conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, especially at the hands of the Green-leaning woman to whom he lost his seat. The Speccie Oz has a free speech line going as well, to do with proposed hate-speech legislation coming from the Labor government in Oz. You know it’s a free speech pitch because it leads off with ‘1984’…

Autopilot references to Orwell are to me a sign of imaginative poverty in the free speech debate. (Dr N. also has a column invoking ‘Big Brother’.) I once tussled online with the anti-vax candidate for Mayor of Wellington, who told me I really had to ‘READ 1984’. Well, yeah, I had in fact done that – it comes with the territory of being a Professor of English. If Wellywood had elected this specimen as Mayor, she’d have lost every available plot without consuming a drop of alcohol…

But why did the Speccie Oz block me? No idea. Too much class, perhaps. One of their regular commenters repeatedly put up a meme of two male clowns rogering each other. 

And finally, the return of the repressed, my local MP, Simon O’Connor. He is of course standing again for Tamaki, opposed not only by a Labour candidate, but also by ACT’s Brooke Van Velden who at 30 is younger even than Dr Newman looks. Simon is a free speech warrior too – it’s one of the topics he holds forth about regularly. I do respect his work on behalf of people silenced and worse by oppressive regimes, such as those in China and Afghanistan, cases where our government could be more active. Simon and I are both supporters of Amnesty International.

But O’Connor blocked me on his Facebook page, apparently because of tasteless comments about a rather embarrassing National candidate for the 2020 election (one of several). This was the married MP who sent dick-pics to several women and had to stand down. The problem was mine, Simon, not the candidates?

All this notwithstanding, you lot, I’m down but not out. If you really want some jollies, I can tell you that Big Sister Is Watching You. She is 66, by the way.