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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 137

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 137

Contents: --------- * Free speech not under threat: Yeah Right

* Roadside crosses reality reminder

* Public service on the rise

* Success beyond our control?

* Timaru Seminar - Godzone: The Decent Society or Social Laboratory?

Free speech not under threat: Yeah Right

The Advertising Standard's Complaints Board has upheld a complaint against the DB Breweries billboard, "There's nothing wrong with Miriam: Yeah Right". The controversial ruling has sparked debate about the extent of 'political correctness' and the limits of satire in advertising. It does, however, deserve further consideration in light of the current government inquiry into 'hate speech'.

Whilst freedom of expression is protected by the Bill of Rights Act, such freedom is subject to reasonable and justified limitations. The inquiry into 'hate speech' will examine, among other things, whether censorship law needs to be extended to cover that which maligns certain groups. Concern over the impact of this billboard on transgender people as a group was arguably the leading factor behind the Board's decision to uphold the complaint.

Unlike broadcasting, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standard's Authority, advertising is not governed by a specific statute - it is a self-regulating body. Therefore the ruling by the Complaints Board carries no legal weight to force the billboards to be taken down; instead it represents public disapproval, and herein lies an important point. Civil society is well able to monitor free expression; not by forcing prohibition or invoking punishment, but through the judgment of that expression - public applause or condemnation. The fear of a bad reputation is felt no more strongly than by those who depend on their good name.

This week's ruling only adds further weight to the question: what gap in our legal or social landscape would 'hate speech' law be filling?

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=137.1

Roadside crosses reality reminder

The decision by Transit New Zealand to enforce its policy of removing roadside crosses erected on motorways has raised anger, particularly in the Auckland region. Transit says people stopping to erect and maintain the crosses pose a hazard on the busy motorways, and a distraction to others.

The AA believes Transit is not being consistent, as there is often a greater danger when people stop on rural roads which do not have adequate shoulders. It says the simple white cross has proved to be effective, allowing a family to acknowledge they have lost a person at that site.

The appearance of these crosses in recent years illustrates an important point about civil society. They are a genuine expression of a family's grief at losing a member and a pertinent way of expressing it.

Over the last few decades, we have sanitised death in western culture. As columnist Rosemary McLeod notes, modern cemeteries may be clean and tidy, but they're impersonal. The roadside crosses place death in the middle of life, where it belongs. They are also a vivid reminder that life is fragile, and danger constantly confronts us. The answer is not to strive ceaselessly to remove all dangers, but to respect the condition in which we find ourselves.

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=137.2

Public service on the rise

State Services Minister Trevor Mallard is hailing a six percent increase in public servants as a success in delivering on a commitment to strong public services. He claims the increase in permanent staff (excluding teachers and police) will help ensure New Zealanders are well served by a strong and stable public service. "A high performing public service is important to New Zealand’s success as a society," says Mr Mallard.

Of course we need a public service. But performance has no direct relationship to size. The most obvious reason for an increasing bureaucracy has to be the increasing power of government in our lives.

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=137.3

Success beyond our control?

A new book by John Micklewait and Adrian Woolridge, 'The Right Nation: Why America is Different', makes this revealing statement: "The percentage of Americans who believe that success is determined by forces outside their control has fallen from 41% in 1988 to 32% today. By contrast in Germany the percentage has gone from 59% in 1991 to 68% today." How much does Germany's, and indeed Europe's, dependency culture have to do with this? And what would the indicators reveal in New Zealand, particularly in light of Mr Mallard’s comment above?

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=137.4

Timaru Seminar - Godzone: The Decent Society or Social Laboratory?

seminar in Timaru next Monday evening to stimulate discussion on the direction of New Zealand society. Maxim directors Bruce Logan and Greg Fleming will address issues such as: political correctness, the social welfare burden, dumbing-down of education, and the growing gap between rich and poor. The seminar is on Monday, 22 November, 7.30pm at the Benvenue Hotel Conference Centre, Evans St, Timaru.

For more details visit: http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/whatson_page/whatson.html

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Hubert H. Humphrey ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate.


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