the race relations commissioner has reported back on the racially-charged email outburst from hone harawira last year, which you all probably remember seeing as how it called so much outrage. i wrote about it at the time here.
at the time, this is one of the points i made:
there's one point though, that these complainants may be missing. the impact of mr harawira's speech will, in actual fact, have little effect on them other than the emotional distress it causes them. no-one will hurl abuse at them in the streets as a result of that speech. they will not face barriers to employment, nor find it difficult when trying to get a rental house to live in. they won't face fear or restriction in their daily life....
what mr harawira said was wrong. but it's not the same. it's will never have the same effect as public speech that denigrates a minority group. and a minority group will never have the same ability to speak back in the way that the majority group does.
and this turns out to be one of the findings in the report:
Were the comments racially divisive; did they excite racial disharmony?
The comments provoked an angry response from many Pākehā, but they were also deplored by many Māori, including the Māori Party. They were potentially divisive in the sense that they were negative about Pākehā. Rather than provoke widespread hostility against Pākehā, however, they attracted criticism of the author and expressions of anti-Māori sentiment.
The relevant sections of the Human Rights Act, s61 and s131, which relate to racial disharmony and exciting racial disharmony, have a high threshold given the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. The effect of the comments was to attract hostility rather than to excite it against the group criticised. It is not a breach of the Human Rights Act to use offensive language.
it will be interesting to see the reaction, if any, to the whole report, and whether there is any pressure to change the laws around hate speech. i have to say that i'm secretly hoping there will be, because i'd love to see the greater protection for minorities that would result. but in the end, the report shows that for cases like this, changes to the law aren't required. there was public censure, there was action taken by the maori party, there was a futher apology from mr harawira.