Members and Media Muzzled
Late Thursday, I received a copy of an email written by David Seymour, MP in the New Zealand parliament, and meant to be distributed widely.
In essence, Seymour had responded to a fellow MP who had said, “it is vital that the public is involved in a conversation about what speech meets the threshold for being regulated, and what mix of enforcement tools should be used.” Seymour said that he thought his fellow MP was a “menace to freedom”.
In consequence, Seymour has been beaten up by the Speaker, other MP’s, establishment figures, activist groups, and the media. He quotes from the movie Thank You for Smoking, that “Let it be known, the public beating has not gone out of fashion.”
Seymour adds, “Imagine if the state had even greater powers to punish speech at its disposal.” – meaning more restrictions and enforcement tools than it already has.
At the same time, on the other side of the world, the Trump administration acted to limit the freedom of the press. In the USA, the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the historical record reveals unquestioned, unassailable protection for those who speak. For example, no American media outlet has ever been prosecuted for publishing secret government documents given to them. The charges have always been against the person who provided the documents.
Julian Assange, an Australian journalist who founded WikiLeaks, was recently expelled from his exile at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, England, and arrested. The UK quickly sentenced him to 50 weeks for a bail violation, but the real story is American.
The Americans had commenced extradition proceedings some time ago. They wanted Assange for helping Chelsea Manning hack into US government systems to steal secrets which were later given to WikiLeaks and published online – ironically, to support the Trump presidential campaign. As of Thursday, the Justice Department of the Trump administration has added 17 additional charges under their espionage laws because WikiLeaks published the secrets – and also because the UK was unlikely to extradite Assange for hacking.
This is the first such case in US history where a media outlet has been charged for ‘speaking’. This is a direct assault on the First Amendment. Trump has called the media an enemy of the people and has now taken extraordinary formal steps to silence them – today Assange, tomorrow the New York Times, next week the ODN.
Shouldn’t happen here, should it? Couldn’t happen here, could it?