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Q + A: How do universities find the balance between free speech and hate speech?


In the wake of several universities around New Zealand experiencing first-hand the issues surrounding free vs hate speech, one institution has solved the problem by introducing policies on the matters.

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ACT leader David Seymour and PHD student Anisha Sankar debated the ongoing issue. Source: Q+A

Last month, Students occupied Auckland University's ClockTower building, calling for Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon's resignation over alleged white supremacy activity on campus.

At the time, Mr McCutcheon told the University's student magazine Craccum, the group's posters were "unfortunate", but were protected by free speech.

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One official says the university has a responsibility to allow free speech, even when “abhorrent”. Source: 1 NEWS

Also last month, Massey University cancelled the controversial Feminism 2020 event due to "health, safety and wellbeing obligations" after a petition of 6,000 students objected to it.

The issue of free speech is again under the spotlight after Massey University this month released a policy on free speech as well as external speaker code of practice.

ACT leader, David Seymour, told TVNZ1's Q + A he personally gets "quite a lot" of hate speech but he'd rather people were allowed to speak up and identify themselves than "force them underground".

He spoke, debating the issue with University of Auckland PHD student Anisha Sankar, who said acts of hate speech come in a "context of inequitable power distribution".

"So the weight of certain kinds of speech have more violent consequences and effects than any kind of speech that might be offensive," she said.

Mr Seymour said people need to think carefully about how laws around free speech are formed.

"People don't want someone one day to come along and say 'you can't write that,' 'you can't say that,' because someone finds it offensive. 

Ms Sankar said other universities should follow in Massey's footsteps. 

"Especially with the white supremacist stuff that's happening at Auckland University," she said. 

"The Anti-Defamation League statistics tell us that the recruitment of white supremacist groups in 2017 spiked 200 per cent.

"I'm really worried and feel unsafe about the possibliity of that happening on our campus because of a refusal to de-platform white supremacist groups."

Q+A is on TVNZ1 on Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.