Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Road to Sedition

The blogs are alive with support for Tim Selwyn, who is the first person in over seventy years to go to court charged with sedition tomorrow. The heavyweights, I/S and DPF, have weighed in with more eloquence and evidence than I could ever muster. This case bothers me on a number of other fronts as well.

We have had some really strange decisions from police prosecutors in recent times. Apart from the Selwyn vs Vorlons thing, there was the midwife criminal prosecution. It was the wrong tool for the job in the whole unfortunate saga and should never have gone to court in the first place. I'm sure there were another couple of examples of vexacious prosecution but buggered if I can remember them at the moment.

On the other side of the coin, there have been cases which had prima facie evidence but never got a look in. The Labour pledge card fiasco is a prime example. Even the Nats GST bungle should have been cleared up in court, rather than considering any once-off retrospective legislation. It's not as if they can take back 12.5 percent of their election propaganda, is it?

But the sedition charge bugs me in a more disconcerting way. Maybe it's the timing. It can be viewed as a testing of the waters by a post-9/11 government on what free speech means. This could very well be the Kiwi version of the Patriot Act. The Mohammed cartoons business showed how little regard the right to publish is thought of by our alleged leaders.

Consider for a moment the example of CommunityNet Aotearoa. On the surface, it seems a genuine attempt to promote a civil society. Its mission is to "help all New Zealand community organisations by providing access to relevant, quality information, raising the profile of the community sector , [and] encouraging information sharing between organisations" . It's not until you get to the bottom of the page that you see the major qualification: " The Department of Internal Affairs Te Tari Taiwhenua maintains as a community service."

This makes all the difference. An Advisory Group actually decides what "all New Zealand community organisations" means. "All" actually means "approved". NORML was barred from being included on the site. The following email says why:

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, May 25, 2006 4:30 PM
Subject: Nomination of for linking

Dear Colin (note, no-one in NORML knows who Colin is)

Thank you for your nomination of the National Organisation Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc. website. I apologise for the delay in responding.

The editorial strategy of CommunityNet Aotearoa is set by our community Advisory Group, who's members have been nominated by community organisations (see ). The Advisory Group has set the selection criteria for material and links and decided to exclude links to material advocating or encouraging illegal acts.

Members of the Advisory Group are supportive of some aspects of the NORML website and work - for example the information on legal rights and a harm minimisation approach; however several of the Forums on your website (for example: the Cannabis Growing Forum) are clearly set up to advocate and encourage the growing, possession and use of Marijuana, which is currently illegal.

We have therefore decided not to link to NORML at this stage. Should the contents of the site change, please do not hesitate to resubmit it.

Best regards
Bill Dashfield

Project Manager, CommunityNet Aotearoa
Local Government and Community Operations Team
Department of Internal Affairs
DDI: (04) 495 7285 Mobile: 021 140 5422
Try CommunityNet Aotearoa - - NZ's online resource for community and voluntary organisations

OK, got that? Now imagine that the internet existed before the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed. Any site peacefully promoting an illegal act such as homosexuality would have also have been banned.
Either all ideas are OK, or none of them are. Give 'em hell, Tim.

(Originally posted 5/6/06)