The Dept of Internal Affairs is proposing a new regulator of online content who can censor and penalise according to ill defined/subjective criteria. It’s a Ministry of Truth and it’s chilling for free speech and thought in New Zealand.
George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 is so pertinent to our current times that I’m almost reluctant to draw the analogy. His work is co-opted by all manner of groups in an effort to bolster their argument and often with no inkling of irony or reflection on views that haven’t aged well.
Only a few short years ago those on the left of politics pointed to Orwell and the need for censorship as their fears of the Donald Trump presidency spiralled up and out of control. What set them off? Trump’s talk of “alternate facts,” which challenged their accepted truths as perpetuated by a legacy media. The prime example being his on-going assertion he wasn’t guilty of Russian Collusion. Turns out Trump’s alternate facts were indeed the facts (according to the John Durham Report) and the allegations of collusion were the lies. Those pushing a narrative of guilt built on lies wanted Trump’s rights as a citizen removed, the facts suppressed and they pointed to 1984 as a cautionary work in an attempt to justify their desire to silence through censorship.
They were right to point to Orwell but not in the manner they thought. The above is a great contemporary example of Orwell’s doublethink. In his essay on the parallels to 1984 and our growing surveillance state, Jack Bragen writes:
Orwell created this insightful “negative utopia” by closely examining the erosion of individual freedom, governmental surveillance and enforced conformity that were already well advanced in his own time. Orwell’s novel remains a fascinating indictment of a future where human rights and the individual conscience are crushed underfoot by the national security state. A central component of the plot was the surveillance of the novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, whose every waking hour was spied upon by the nameless, faceless bureaucrats of the tyrannical regime.
Go down the list of Orwell’s most memorable quotes, and you’ll find ample that informs our current situation. Orwell is perennial because he wrote about human nature, power and human social structures with all their fallibilities. I’ve peppered this post with many that speak to me. Like the reason our understanding of history (such as The Treaty of Waitangi) is being reimagined:
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
Or how language is being changed and so is our sense of what is real:
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
And a man can be a woman and a woman can be a man…apparently.
Or how about this quote, which speaks to the real motivations for keeping the citizenry in the dark through censorship:
The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.
And pertinent to the topic of this post:
The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.
Orwell’s Ministry of Truth is finding contemporary expression yet again throughout the West as transparently desperate Governments try to steer the narrative, avoid criticism or accountability and maintain control (power). They’re proposing non-democratically accountable bodies with the power to censor speech that is vaguely and subjectively defined as ‘harmful’. That might include alternative and inconvenient facts or anything else our “one source of truth” Governments deem contrary to their agenda.
It’s chilling and it’s happening here in New Zealand too. Cast your mind back to all the things our Governments have told us in recent years that turned out to be untrue. That the jab would stop you getting and transmitting the virus…That the clinical trials were robust and didn’t have missing safety data…The awkward truth is that they knew none of that was true in early 2021 yet by the end of 2021 into 2022 proceeded to implement mandates and persecute anyone resisting as if it were true.
There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.
Now imagine this same Government with the power to stop you knowing how badly they’ve lied? How about the sly push for co-governance that was never democratically taken to the people of New Zealand? This current Government might have backed off on this, but only because there was public outcry and it was too close to an election. If Labour are given another 3 years would we see it implemented, this time aided by censorship?
All they have to do is deem certain knowledge ‘harmful’ to the well-being and cohesion of the country and voila…We would be the Hermit Kingdom of the South Pacific. I have had to clarify to someone that this isn’t a compliment. The Hermit Kingdom is the moniker applied to Kim Jong Un’s North Korea; a closed off and secretive country where the people only know what they’re permitted to know, and indeed many North Koreans don’t know how oppressed they are. The opposite of freedom.
Other commentators have covered the new proposal to censor online speech (that’s any digital content), well. Firstly, read the Free Speech Union’s piece (linked here) on the proposal for a Regulator of online content. Keep in mind we already have legislation in place to stop harmful content such as child exploitation, incitement to violence etc. Not that this stopped some seemingly protected individuals from using language that incited violence against Posey Parker just recently. They weren’t censured but applauded and lauded for setting off an unhinged mob that violently attacked Parker, a woman’s rights advocate.
If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
The Free Speech Union notes the following:
We have never opposed the Chief Censor’s role of removing patently objectionable content like terrorist activity. We’re not talking about the extreme material that is already illegal and is already regulated by the Chief Censor’s Office. We’re talking about the expression of your beliefs, opinions, and experiences that others dislike or disagree with.
New Zealand already has significant laws in this area, such as the Harmful Digital Communications Act (which already goes too far). While there are problems with the way minors interact online, or the material they consume, is regulation really the answer?
The FSU conclude:
The implications for the ability for the public to debate major questions will be seriously undermined by a Regulator empowered to silence voices online. This is not the free and open internet so many have imagined, that has led to greater democracy. This is not the Kiwi way, to simply suppress views we dislike.
I highly recommend you read Dr. Guy Hatchard’s article linked here. He writes:
The proposals include the appointment of a chief regulator who will be empowered to decide whether online content (including social media posts) is ‘harmful’. To do so, he will be empowered to make up his own ‘guidelines’ without the input of parliament. The proposals will also allow fines exceeding $200,000 to be levied on those who don’t comply with his ideas.
So what exactly will the regulator’s draconian powers replace? Well of course free speech—the right to speak your mind—will be off the table. In other words, the ordinary process of discourse will be muted by the fear of arbitrary punishment.
This will supersede the NZ Bill of Rights, which was designed to guarantee our freedom of thought, conscience, expression, and religion.
The proposals will compromise the right to remain innocent until proven guilty. In other words, a person we have never met in a remote bureaucratic office can pronounce us guilty and silence us, regardless of circumstances and truth. It will be the rule of little minds.
It will replace the process of science and the gathering of evidence with the vagaries of uninformed opinion.
It will remove our right to cross examine any accusers.
It will replace the rule of specific laws passed by an elected parliament after due discussion, which set out the limits to behaviour in writing, with the capricious decisions of an individual subject to all the usual individual failings including vulnerability to influence, money, power, and mistaken ideas.
These are all principles which have underpinned our way of life for centuries. The proposed censorship threatens to take us back to the Middle Ages when you could find out whether the wise woman village herbalist was a witch or not by asking your local misogynist wizard.
The power to supersede our human rights currently protected in our Bill of Rights. Read again the quote from Orwell in the title image. What is being proposed is utterly chilling and we cannot walk blindly into this future!
Sean Plunket has a good interview with ACT’s David Seymour outlining what the proposals are and how dangerous this would be for an open, free country. If you don’t click any other links, watch this short interview to know what is afoot and what is at stake!
We’re around 5 months out from an election and this is possibly the most important issue citizens should be voting on because this is about our freedom of speech and therefore thought – the necessary precursor of transparency on which our democracy is based. The economy and cost of living are important but without freedom they mean nothing. You might as well be living in CCP controlled China or North Korea!
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.