Boom, just like that, the debate over freedom of speech versus hate speech has reignited over a column penned by the notoriously controversial Sir Bob Jones.
And when I say ‘notoriously controversial’ - I’m hoping he doesn’t sue me for saying that. Freedom of speech and all.
Anyway, the upshot is, we have a petition, a petition to strip him of his knighthood. It’s been signed by 40,000 odd people, or as Sir Bob would call them, “losers”.
His knighthood was awarded to him for services to business management and community in 1989.
30 years ago.
And now ‘tens of thousands of people’ want that taken off him.
Well, it’s just not going to happen.
Petitions are a good way of venting your spleen or exercising your outrage all the way into a signature, but they don’t affect any real change.
They didn’t save Campbell Live and they didn’t get Mike Hosking axed from hosting the election, and they won’t take Bob Jones’ knighthood off him.
And it doesn’t matter how diverse the signatories are, Maori, Pakeha, it’s irrelevant, it won’t work.
Petitions don’t work because they’re just noise. I could literally pick an issue tomorrow and start a petition and campaign for signatures and when I had enough, tout for media coverage, saying “tens of thousands of people agree with me” and then ask the Prime Minister to look at it.
And then what? Nothing. Crickets chirping.
The most effective way to regulate speech is to hold the platforms who peddle it accountable. Stripping a man of a 30-year-old title awarded for business, just because you didn’t like his ‘satire’, doesn’t actually change anything.
It’s just petty. Don’t like him, take his award off him. It’s our knee-jerk tall poppy reaction to all things. Get offended, smack down the hand of whoever offended you.
And let’s look at the offence. ‘Satirical’ as its alleged, comments which appeared to demean and offend Maori.
Satire is good when it’s funny, this wasn’t.
The fact Sir Bob thought it was, is up to him, but NBR publishing it? That’s where the responsibility lies.
The media has a duty to act responsibly. The column was taken down from its online platform and pulling it showed that maybe the NBR worked out the publication of it in the first place, was a bad idea.
But perhaps it would’ve saved everyone a lot of money in the lawyer’s offices if they’d worked that out a bit sooner. Like before it went to print.
But back to the petition. It’s going nowhere.
We’ll do far better as a nation when we get beyond the notion of revenge, and payback, and stripping people of stuff, and move to a more mature approach of just demanding basic standards.
When we can spend more time on that, and less time on signing petitions to take people’s awards off them, we’ll truly start to move forward.