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Review of offensive email issue released

Review of offensive email issue released

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres has released a review of the response to a racially offensive email sent by MP Hone Harawira last year.

The email resulted in public controversy and a record number of complaints to the Human Rights Commission. In response to the issues raised, the Race Relations Commissioner has prepared a review that sets out the sequence of events and outlines and responds to the issues raised by complaints, in particular:

• what the law says about what can and can not be done when an MP or public figure uses language that is racially offensive

• the accountability mechanisms for an MP and political party

• the perception of a double standard with different expectations for Māori and Pākehā politicians and public figures.

The review says the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act protects freedom of speech, and the limitations on it in the Human Rights Act relate to words that incite but not to words that offend. Mr de Bres says, “While there is no legal sanction against racially offensive language specifically, this does not make it acceptable.”

He said MPs and political parties are accountable to the electorate and the public at large, and political parties should have policies and codes of conduct that do not tolerate racially offensive comments.

Mr de Bres said the issue brought to light the need for further public discussion about how racially offensive language can be dealt with without unnecessarily fettering freedom of expression.

Download a copy of the Commissioner’s review (Word 222Kb).


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