No such thing as free speech

Published in The New Zealand Herald 30 April 2018

There’s no such thing as free speech, and it’s a good thing too.

There is nothing original about that sentence. It was the title of an essay by an American legal scholar named Stanley Fish. In it he argued that speech cannot be free because it is never free of consequences and responsibilities.

He is right. For several decades, as a journalist and editor on this newspaper and later as an academic, I have championed free expression. At no stage, however, was I under any illusion that speech was entirely free of consequence and responsibility. I knew that it had limits. Continue reading

My last class

Last week I finished teaching my last course at the University of Auckland. It was a Summer School paper titled “Journalism in Practice” in which the theories of journalism and media were contrasted with the realities of producing journalism. Eight prominent journalists and an eminent media lawyer gave lectures in the course. What follows is my sign-off to the class…. Continue reading

Communicating truth in a post-truth world

An address to the Australasian Catholic Press Association annual conference in Auckland 24 August 2017

President Donald Trump may be blamed for many things but you can’t hold him responsible for creating the post-truth environment. It existed, in one form or another, even before Julius Caesar justified the annexation of Gaul by bad-mouthing the neighbouring Germanic tribes. Perhaps it existed even before Pericles, to borrow from the Tony Blair songbook, sexed-up the need for the Peloponnesian Wars.

Continue reading

Fake News and the 2017 General Election

This commentary appeared in the New Zealand Herald on 1 June 2017

The question is not whether New Zealand will be confronted by fake news in September’s general election but what form it will take.

The recent track record of falsehood is too seductive for it to be ignored here. Brexit, the U.S. and French presidential elections (and no doubt the forthcoming German federal election campaign that coincides with our own) shows fake news has a ready audience among those who would like it to be true. Continue reading