Auckland, March 30, 2020
The Free Speech Coalition is preparing to launch an urgent judicial review of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s decision to deem non-daily newspapers and publications not an essential service for the purposes of the COVID-19 Level-4 nationwide shutdown.
No High Court is going to uphold a bureaucrat deciding what media can and cannot operate. This decision was done without any consultation, and on the basis of only daily newspapers and broadcast media being deemed ‘essential.’
Assuming that the smaller publications can take the same distance and health measures as the ones currently publishing, there is no justification in shutting them down.
Even at a time of emergency, no civilised society can justify the Government deciding what parts of the media are important and not important.
The maxim ‘this is a dangerous precedent’ is overused, but in this case, it literally is.
Extent of ethnic media
Ethnic media, which have now been banned from publishing, reach audiences that the daily press does not. Similarly, in smaller or aged communities where online access is limited, local information is absolutely essential.
The decisions made by the Government in the last ten days are probably the most significant in our lifetime. Weekly and monthly publications like North and South, the Listener, and ethnic newspapers serve a vital role in the community’s conscience and holding our leaders to account.
That is just as important as daily news. These magazines are functionally no different to the likes of music radio or entertainment television, which is allowed to continue broadcasting.
Even at times of war censorship, the Government didn’t choose who could print and who couldn’t. The Government must rethink this, or face a judicial hearing to review this abuse of public power.
Jordan Williams is a well-known Constitutional and Commercial Lawyer and Spokesperson for Free Speech Coalition. Among its members are former National Party and ACT Party Leader and former Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Dr Don Brash.