The trouble with never giving offence is that we must be hugely respectful – even to Morris dancers

Alf was drawn today to an article by one Joanna Norris, chair of the New Zealand Media Freedom Committee and editor of the Press.

Her subject was freedom of expression and the things that threaten it.

She discussed freedom of expression in terms Alf thoroughly supports.

At its very simplest, freedom of expression gives people the right to express themselves in a manner of their choosing. Whether you want to write a letter to an editor, write a column, dance in a park, or even burn a flag, your freedom to express yourself is protected by law (unless your flag burning results in public disorder).

The Bill of Rights Act gives New Zealanders these rights. Specifically it says this: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.” There are of course limits, for example your right to express yourself must not result in a crime, but generally our courts have erred towards freedom of expression when balancing competing principles.

But from time to time, Norris went on, issues arise that quietly threaten the rights of New Zealanders to express themselves.

She quite rightly identified the rising tide of offence-taking and indignation, particularly in social media where a discussion can move swiftly and viciously, influencing views and actions.

She then brought an Aussie into considerations, which was challenging to Alf who reckons Aussies are incapable of saying anything sensible and should never be believed.

Fair to say, she cited the one Aussie who is the exception to this rule, which is important, because all rules need exemptions.

Smart young Australian philosopher Richard King, author of On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, says increasingly people are claiming it is their right not to be offended. People are not seeking freedom from offence but the freedom to ensure their view prevails, ie, they are arguing their right not to be offended overrides the free speech of others.

The echo-chamber of a platform such as Twitter, meanwhile, can silence dissenting views in the face of a vicious mob attack on those viewed to have erred from a “right-thinking” view in the minds of the mob. The, at times, sanctimonious Twittersphere can be quick to condemn and swift to move on.

But even this presents a conundrum, because members of the mob are themselves exercising their rights to freedom of expression.

The solutions lie at the heart of the issue itself. Freedom of expression, which underpins media freedom, should be valued and protected. People need to know they are free to state their views, while also respecting the rights of others to express theirs, even when those views are not mainstream, or are offensive to a great many people.

Alf doesn’t have to dip too far into his memory banks to come up with an example of Kiwis being much too easily offended.

Too often these offended Kiwis are able to extract apologies from those who – they maintain – caused them offence.

An example:

Newstalk ZB presenter Rachel Smalley has apologised for calling New Zealand women “heifers” and “a bunch of lardos” on air when she thought her microphone was switched off.

Smalley made the comment shortly before 6am today after she had been discussing a story that said an emergency contraceptive pill was less effective in women weighing more than 70 kilograms.

According to Bloomberg, the average weight of New Zealand women is 74.6kg.

Alf is bound to say he knows many women of Rubenesque proportions.

Before he is torn apart by the storm-troopers they are likely to despatch to sort him out, he hastens to provide this definition of RUBENESQUE

: of, relating to, or suggestive of the painter Rubens or his works; especially : plump or rounded usually in a pleasing or attractive way.

See. He thinks of these ladies as pleasing and attractive as well as being – ahem, largish.

But poor old Rachel could not or would not muster a defence.

“I deeply regret the comments. They were offensive,” Smalley said.

“I left my microphone on and a conversation meant for off-air, went on-air and the audience only heard one side of that conversation.

“That said, my comments were offensive. I’m sorry. It was a genuine mistake.”

Offensive to whom?

Ah.

Offensive to people like an Auckland woman by name of Jill Smith who is reported to have heard the slip-up

…and was appalled. She planned to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Sad to say, Alf’s National colleague, Scott Simpson, got in on the act to say the comments were bound to upset many people.

Simpson said it was probably “just a case of sloppy button pushing” rather than an intentional desire to broadcast the comments.

However it was not a good idea to make light of serious matters, he said.

Not a good idea to make light of serious matters?

Where the fuck would this leave the country’s satirists, cartoonists and comedians?

Another broadcaster to say sorry for taking the piss was the CNN reporter who apologised for her story – titled “The Royal Bummer” – which poked fun at the Maori welcome for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge earlier this week.

The apology came after a New Zealander made an official complaint.

This suggested just one person made an official complaint.

Nevertheless:

CNN reporter Jeanne Moos is well known for her satirical take on news stories, but her wrap of the royals’ New Zealand welcome has backfired here.

In her report, she called the powhiri a “royal bummer” and mocked Maori tradition.

“Technically the only one bumming was the warrior with his decorated buns exposed,” she said. “Is that anyway to welcome the future king and queen?”

Dunno if readers remember the welcome in question.

But fair to say, an indigenous person waving a stick of some sort did the welcoming wearing not much more than Alf wears when he takes a bath.

Fair to say, furthermore, this person had a very handsome bum, according to Mrs Grumble.

You can judge for yourself in the account of what happened.

She would be happy to be often welcomed in this fashion although she is not fond of blokes – even those with handsome bums – sticking their tongues out at her.

But the CNN satirist wasn’t finished.

Ms Moos then ridiculed the haka that welcomed the wife of former US president George Bush to a New Zealand contingent serving in Afghanistan.

“Slapping and thrusting, it was a welcome we described at the time as a cross between a Chippendale lap dance and the mating dance of the emu,” she said.

Ms Moos said she wasn’t the only one who saw the humour in the situation…

Alf is sure she is right.

He often struggles to keep a straight face on these ceremonial occasions.

But others don’t share his sense of absurdity and fail to see the funny side.

Not only do they take offence.

They want to make damned sure they get an apology.

In this case a petition was launched.

“This sort of bigotry and uneducated satire is not welcome in the progressive society that we have here,” says petition organiser Jayden Evett.

The petition started yesterday, calling for CNN to apologise, already has more than 10,000 signatures.

Ms Moos, of course, apologised for the tone of the story.

She said she wasn’t making fun of Maori traditions but was having fun with the image of a duchess meeting someone she described as a “bare-bottomed warrior in a thong”.

Nice try, lady.

But not good enough.

When we Kiwis take offence we want more than that and Evett said Ms Moos’ apology wasn’t directed at the people she offended.

He wanted a public apology from the broadcaster.

Alf does not know if he got it.

Meanwhile he has phoned Mrs Grumble during question time to chat and ensure all is well on the home front.

It is.

Mrs Grumble happened to be watching something she dearly loves – Morris dancing.

Alf shares her admiration for this form of dancing, among other reasons because the dancers are well clad and do not give a hint of showing their naughty bits.

An invtation is hereby sent to Jayden Evett to come and watch.

We are sure he will do his watching with profound respect for the culture in which this stuff originates and show not one hint of a smile at the dancers’ antics.

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