Alf kicks off on a lofty note today: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Yep. Most of us are familiar with that libertarian quote that champions our freedom of speech.
Usually it is attributed to Voltaire, although it is reasonable to suppose he would have expressed himself in French. Anyway, it seems those words were first used by an Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G Tallentyre in The Friends of Voltaire (1906), as a summation of Voltaire’s beliefs on freedom of thought and expression.
Now let’s vary it: “I disapprove of what you sell in your bookshop, but I will defend to the death your right to decide.”
Maybe not to the death, on second thoughts.
But Alf is happy to support the proposition that book-sellers should be free to decide which books they sell and which they do not.
This idea is not much different – if at all – from the proposition that a book publisher should be entitled to publish what he or she wants to publish, and to reject the rest.
If things were otherwise, then publishers would be obliged to publish everything brought to them and book-sellers would be obliged to sell everything that is published.
Palpably, that is bollocks.
This being so, we know what to do with the claim that a book-shop boycott of a book by the Kahui twins’ mother, Macsyna King, amounts to the “death of free speech”.
Alf is sublimely indifferent to the fate of the book and to the news that the Paper Plus group and The Warehouse have said they would not stock Breaking Silence: The Kahui Case in response to an overwhelming outcry from the public.
A formidable number of people do not share his indifference.
Last night, 30,000 people had joined the Boycott the Macsyna King Book Facebook page.
Whitcoulls is expected today to make an announcement on whether it will join the boycott.
Author Ian Wishart has defended the book (we should be astonished if he did otherwise) and complains that the stores have given in to unfair public pressure.
“I am saddened that New Zealand booksellers, who have been going through a hard time in recent months, have fallen victim to a Facebook lynch mob campaign.
“It’s a sad day for the New Zealand media because if we can’t tell stories by going to both sides and getting people to speak up because it offends various groups in the community, then freedom of speech is being seriously threatened.
“And also the rights of New Zealanders to buy books.”
But has the book been banned?
Not so far as Alf is aware.
Has every book-shop in the country declined to stock it?
Anyway, copies could be made available by means other than through the book stores.
And who – precisely – has been denied their right to speak?
Wishart has his own magazine, for example.
And the mother of the twins has had many chances to tell all to the authorities.
As for the book-sellers, they are in business and must try to make a buck.
They obviously see signs they won’t make too many bucks from the Wishart book.
The Warehouse’s general manager of merchandise, Nick Tuck, said: “We have received significant comment from our customers today both directly and online with regards to this book.
“Overwhelmingly, they have told us that they do not wish to buy it or see it on the shelves.”
Paper Plus chief executive Rob Smith said: “The prevailing opinion is that our stores do not feel comfortable selling this book and our customers do not want to buy it.”
Wishart is editor of Investigate magazine and has relished controversy in the past.
Yet he says he had not expected the book to get the kind of reaction it has.
A great deal of public outrage followed the deaths of the Kahui twins, exacerbated by the family’s disinclination to help the cops and a failure of the justice system to lock up the culprit or culprits.
Publication of this book is a reminder of that failure.
Enough people have been riled to mount a protest – an effective one, by the sounds of it.
Yep. Protests can be ugly. But does Wishart want to have them banned?