Cancel Culture Pencil erasing out person via Getty
Cancel Culture Pencil erasing out person via Getty

Peter Williams: Should you be allowed to express an unpopular opinion and not suffer consequences?

Peter Williams 07/07/2021

OPINION: It's time we pushed back against personal opinions being mob lynched.

Here’s the really important question of the day. Should you be allowed to express an unpopular opinion and not suffer consequences? When I say an unpopular opinion I mean just that. It is one that not many people agree with. It is one not advocating violence. Yet in this country, because a young man had the temerity to express an opinion on something as trivial as rugby, he lost a job pretty much before he even started it. And this is just one of several incidents of people suffering consequences, some serious some not - just because of something they said which others did not agree with.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter. We have known for some time that this awful movement known as cancel culture is gathering momentum. If a mob of people don’t like someone’s opinion, no matter where it is expressed, the mob will go after the opinion giver and expect consequences. And far, far too often the mob wins. And it’s got to stop. Otherwise this country will become a nation of timid little sheep cowered in the corner and offering nothing other than groupspeak.

And the mainstream media are among the worst perpetrators of it, as we have seen with the way alternative viewpoints on matters regarding Covid 19 are just completely removed from the mainstream media, even going so far to say that many an eminent scientist and medical professional  are spreading “misinformation” without any contestable or provable evidence that that is the case.

But back to the events of the last few days. A young rugby journalist writes a piece on women’s rugby for a rugby publication called, Rugby News. Sam Casey’s essential take is that when New Zealand Rugby was struggling under the restrictions of Covid last year, it shouldn’t have spent money on a loss making exercise like the Farah Palmer Cup, the national women’s interprovincial competition. Now, that’s his opinion, and he’s entitled to it. He was trying to make a point about the economics of rugby. And surely it’s a fair enough question to raise in a rugby magazine.

Sam Casey also made some claims, which of course cannot be substantiated, that many a top male rugby player holds views not dissimilar to his. But the outpouring of vitriol against Sam Casey is something I haven’t seen in sports journalism for a while. The upshot is that he’s lost a job at a new sports radio station that he had hardly started and isn’t even on air, and that Rugby News have now apologised for publishing the piece in the first place. The power of the mob.

Whatever happened to free speech? The ability to express an opinion without consequences? Are we losing that in this country and should we be worried about it?  I think we are, and it’s about time some of the country’s leaders put a stake in the ground on the nonsense being perpetrated far too often.

Also this week, a woman named Rachel Stewart, a rural dweller from near Whanganui who has been active in Federated Farmers and was formerly an award columnist for the New Zealand Herald and a firearms safety advocate, had a visit from police after she made what was obviously a satirical comment on Twitter about hunting down transgender activists. What’s worse, a woman with an unblemished record of gun safety, has had her firearms license taken away. Rachel Stewart expressed political opinion and has been punished for it.Are people so dumb now we don’t understand satire?

Then there’s the case of Lee Williams. He’s rung this radio station after expressing on video some pretty weird opinions on race relations, which cannot be construed as violent or inciting violence. They’re not mainstream views I wouldn’t have thought, but he seems to strike a chord with some people. But the Twitter mob petitioned his employer. Like Sam Casey he lost his job for having an opinion that the mob disagreed with. Even worse, Westpac won’t let him have a bank account to crowd fund for his employment dispute.

The same Westpac which is happy to open accounts for recently released prisoners to help them start again in life. And then there’s a couple of temporary cancellations of New Zealanders by multinational social media outfits. First Michael Laws, former MP and Otago Regional Councillor,  is banned from Facebook for 24 hours for writing just this, and I quote ”China. If Nazi Germany had been our prime trading partner would we have ever said anything about the Jews.” Unquote. Obviously that’s a reference to New Zealand walking on broken glass in its relationship with China and not offering much in the way of a rebuke for China’s actions with the Uighurs. As Laws said himself, what were the offending words - China? Nazi Germany? The Jews? Facebook closed him down for a day. No big deal but it’s the principle of the matter.

And then Anne- Marie Brady, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and a woman I admire greatly was banned from Twitter for 24 hours for saying on the occasion of the CCP’s centenary last week, “Xi, It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” Pretty innocent stuff. But mysteriously her account was shut down. Twitter says it wasn’t them. But they would say that, wouldn’t they. So there you have 5 incidents in about a week in this country where opinion has been suppressed.

Isn’t it time we pushed back against that? More importantly, shouldn’t more of the mainstream media start taking a stand on these matters. The motto of the Christchurch Press, which is still engraved on the footpath in Cathedral Square where the Press building used to be, is Nihil utile quod non-honestum. That translates from Latin to “nothing is useful that is not honest.” And opinion is always honest. There is no such thing as a wrong opinion.

We must always retain the right to be honest in our opinions. If people are offended by our opinions, then tough. The censorship by Facebook and Twitter and social media in general is really worrying, but I doubt we can do much about that. But we can do something about the local offenderati and their action against a rugby journalist who dared offer an opinion, and about a police visit to a woman who indulged in a little bit of satire and about a pommy immigrant who can’t open a bank account because Westpac doesn’t like his thinking. Can we not keep a sense of proportion? A sense of perspective? And not be continually outraged? And not threaten people’s livelihoods?

How worried are you about free speech and opinion in this country? Have you been a victim of cancel culture? How do we stop it before it gets completely out of hand? Or is the battle already lost?

Listen to Peter Williams eery weekday from 9am on Magic Talk.