I’ve suggested to the Free Speech Union that they establish a Roll of Dishonour. This would consist of an “Enemies of Free Speech” list that could be updated as and when required (probably daily, given current trends).
I proposed that they start the ball rolling by naming and shaming the recently established sports broadcaster SENZ for firing a new recruit over an opinion piece he wrote before he even joined the station. Great start, SENZ.
Sam Casey (no, I hadn’t heard of him either, but then I’m no sports aficionado) upset a few people – including political journalist Barry Soper’s rugby-playing daughter Alice – with a column in Rugby News in which he criticised Rugby New Zealand for spending too much money on the women’s game. Casey also took a swipe at the Black Ferns for “always putting their hands out”.
Alice Soper, who was singled out in Casey’s piece as a vocal advocate for women's rugby, fired back on Twitter, as she’s entitled to do. She probably didn’t expect that Sports Entertainment Network NZ would oblige by terminating Casey’s contract only three weeks after he had joined the station.
SENZ’s justification consisted of the usual tiresome weasel words. The tone and language in Casey’s column, it said, “were inconsistent with the company’s values of equality, respect and inclusiveness among all sports and athletes”. This is the standard copout from companies that jump at the sight of their own shadow and cower in fear of social media witch hunts.
You’d think a media company’s values might also say something about commitment to freedom of expression, given that the media can't function without it; but no. Like Magic Talk, which dispensed with the services of Sean Plunket because he was prepared to swim against the prevailing ideological current, SENZ appears to have the spine of an earthworm.
I haven’t read Casey’s Rugby News piece. I don’t need to, because it’s irrelevant. The fact that it passed editorial scrutiny at Rugby News, a long-established publication, indicates that it conformed with Media Council principles covering legitimate expressions of opinion.
In any case, whether or not you agreed with the column is immaterial. Casey may have expressed bigoted, ignorant and oafish views, but in a free society people are allowed to be bigoted, ignorant and oafish. In other words you don’t have to agree with what he said to support his right to say it. You’d think this principle was settled and understood in 2021, but here we are fighting for it all over again.
Besides, big egos and loudmouths are not exactly unknown in that strange blokeish fraternity whose members earn their living talking and writing about sport. Good luck to SENZ if it thinks it can succeed without having at least a few of them on its payroll.
Footnote: Speaking of loudmouths and egos, Casey’s column was the subject of a sneering critique on The Spinoff by a rival sports broadcaster, Scotty Stevenson. But Stevenson didn’t confine himself to criticising Casey for his views; he went a step further by arguing that women’s rugby would be in a better state “if only opinions like [Casey’s] had the good grace to just fuck right off”.
The fragility of free speech is strikingly demonstrated right there. Stevenson wants to deny Casey a right that he asserts for himself. But that’s okay, you see, because Stevenson is right and Casey is not. His moral superiority would have ingratiated him with The Spinoff’s woke readers, but it’s just a form of bigotry and intolerance in disguise.