I have to disagree with my friend Wallace, who claims that Paul Henry is defensible in terms of freedom of speech. Paul Henry has not been locked up, beaten or gagged. He’s lost his job. He lost his job by behaving in a way that would cause me to lose my job, if I said similarly offensive things in the execution of my job. I expect that most New Zealanders would be in a position to be given verbal warnings, written warnings and dismissal if they were similarly offensive.

If Henry had told a Fijian-Indian coworker that they “didn’t look like a New Zealander” and then repeatedly pressed the point, there would have been consequences. If he had mocked the facial hair of a female coworker, there would have been consequences. If he had, bizarrely, told an Indian coworker that her name should be “Dick-in-Shit” because she’s Indian, there would have been consequences.

If TVNZ’s response had been based on these principles of conduct, he would have been given a verbal warning, written warning and dismissal in due course. Instead, they acted as little as possible at each step, with Henry only resigning because of public pressure, not due to simple breaches of acceptable conduct.

Paul Henry can continue to express his bigotry as much as he like, and he will not be arrested.

If you are employed to gather elderly extras together for a big film shoot, you can be fired for producing a collection of young-20s nudists. That’s not a breach of freedom of assembly; you just weren’t doing your job right.

2 Comments Consistency

    1. Ryan Sproull

      Maybe. Keith gives the impression that he's responding to the suggestion that the state step in and stop people from calling Paul Henry a cunt. He says, "Calling someone a cunt for what they said does not interfere with their freedom of speech." True, but then, I haven't seen anyone claiming that it does – certainly not Wallace.

      They're suggesting, if anything, that freedom of speech should require that the state protect Henry from losing his job as a consequence of his speech. Keith's most relevant response is this: "[Freedom of speech] is not a guarantee of employment – especially when the substance of the employment *is* speech."

      That does raise questions, though. If I was explicitly employed as a right-wing pundit, should I lose my job for repeatedly expressing left-wing ideals? If I was explicitly employed as an atheist pundit, should I lose my job for repeatedly expressing theistic beliefs? There just has to be a line drawn between the protection from interference for what you say, and clear job requirements when speech is integral to the job.


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