Libertywatch September 2015

A round-up of civil liberties related news from September 2015.



Banning of Children's book

An award-winning book for teenagers, Into The River, has been made the subject of the first interim restriction order on a book under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993.  The book has been banned from sale or supply under the order issued by the president of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Dr Don Mathieson, QC.

The order took effect when it was issued on September 3 and applies until the full board meets to decide on a permanent classification for the book.  In the meantime, it is illegal to supply the book even to a friend.

The ban came about after the lobby group, Family First, demanded the R14 restriction be reinstated after it was rescinded on 14 August, making it totally unrestricted. Bob McCoskrie, the head of Family First insisted he never demanded the book be banned, merely wanting the restriction renewed.

Bernard Beckett, who was chief judge of the Book Awards the year Into the River was named Book of the Year, said the rating Family First wanted was an "incredibly unhelpful precedent".

Labour's arts and culture spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern says those responsible for classifying books need to be very careful before censoring books in New Zealand and should err on the side of freedom of speech over a ban.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson says the Government should consider reviewing the law around the classification of books after the interim ban on the novel.

Finlayson said the decision to ban the sale and supply of the book for teenagers until a review of its classification was done seemed an "extreme step."  As Attorney-General, Finlayson is charged with Bill of Rights Act vetting of legislation. He said banning a book risked have a "chilling effect" on freedom of expression.

The NZ Booksellers Association has placed a notice on its website warning bookshops that they face fines of up to $3000 for an individual or $10,000 for a business if they supply the book, however the book is still on sale on the Amazon website.

New Zealand Herald 7/9/15 & 8/9/15


Illegal downloaders escape punishment.

Just one complaint about illegal downloading has been laid, and upheld, with the Copyright Tribunal this year, compared with four last year and 18 in 2013.

The recording industry says the process, which takes too long and costs too much, is stopping them from holding people accountable.

To be prosecuted for illegally downloading, rights holders, such as film studios or record labels, have to identify an illegal downloader and file a notice with their Internet Service Provider (ISP).  The ISP then passes the notice to the account holder with each notice costing $25. Three notices are required within a 12-month period before a complaint can be laid with the tribunal.  At that point, the complainant has to pay $200 to formally lodge it.

Tech Liberty spokesman Thomas Beagle said the industry had more or less given up on filing complaints because of the cost. 13/9/15


Deaf community lodge human rights complaint to get RWC captions

New Zealand's deaf community has gone to the Human Rights Commission to try to get captions for televised Rugby World Cup matches.  Deaf Aotearoa and the National Foundation for the Deaf (NFD) say Sky TV told them that the games would not be captioned on either Sky or the Sky-owned Prime channel, after two years of negotiation with the deaf organisations.

The NFD chief executive said the decision would exclude hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with impaired hearing from the event.

"We are talking a huge quality of life issue," she said. "Marginalisation leads to lack of social status.

"We didn't have access in the last Rugby World Cup. We said to them we need captioning. This time round they still haven't done it. It's quite unbelievable that they would even think it's okay this time round."

The deaf groups have asked the Human Rights Commission to investigate the issue.  They have also called on Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams to "address this matter with extreme urgency".

Sky TV government relations manager Chris Major told the groups that it had proved impossible to build a connection with the agency that provides captioning for TVNZ, Able, in time for the cup.

"Captions are not being provided by the host broadcaster on the global RWC feed, so would need to be created in NZ," Ms Major said.

"There is currently no facility between Able and Sky to create a live captioned feed, Able is currently only funded to do live captioning for one broadcaster, TVNZ.

Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams said the level of captioning for free-to-air programmes had more than tripled over the last decade.

"NZ on Air funds Able to the tune of $2.8 million per year to caption TV and audio programmes and currently 100 per cent of prime time TV programmes are captioned," she said.

"However I understand the technology required to caption live television is not readily available in New Zealand…I encourage broadcasters and other providers of content to continue to their work to overcome these technical difficulties so we can improve accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing people."

New Zealand Herald 1/9/15

No to Online Voting a Major Blow for Disabled People

Clive Lansink, National President of Blind Citizens NZ, has expressed his concerns after Christchurch and Dunedin Councils pulled out of a trial of on line voting in the 2016 Local Elections.

Lansink said, "It would be a major blow for disabled people if New Zealand rejects the chance to trial online voting at next year’s local government elections."

Blind Citizens NZ have expressed their hopes people will objectively assess and compare any risks associated with online voting and urge New Zealanders to embrace the chance to move towards a more inclusive society in which there are new ways to cast your vote with confidence, which meet the needs of blind people and others who are shut out.

Eight councils including Wellington, Porirua and Palmerston North have agreed to pursue the trial at next year's local body elections. 11/9/15


Doctor threatened with disciplinary action after protest

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) has called for the threat of disciplinary action against Whanganui doctor Chris Cresswell to be retracted following his arrest during a Trans-Pacific Partnership protest.

Dr Cresswell, in scrubs and a stethoscope, sat on the roof of the car of Whanganui MP Chester Borrows during a visit to Whanganui by Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.  Police arrested him but let him off with a warning.

Cresswell told the Wanganui Chronicle he was in his work clothes to emphasise that doctors were concerned about how the TPP would affect the price of medicine.

He later received a letter from the Whanganui District Health Board expressing concern at his "recent views" as reported in the Chronicle, and asking him to attend a meeting.

Chief Medical Officer Frank Rawlinson said he respected Dr Cresswell's rights to engage in public debate on a topic relevant to his profession. "I do, however, reserve the right to discuss with Dr Cresswell the effects that his very public behaviour may have on the DHB," Dr Rawlinson said.

CTU secretary Sam Huggard said the DHB must retract its threat. "Gagging anyone from raising genuine concerns about the TPPA is unacceptable."

Wanganui Chronicle 18/9/15


New Zealanders have high awareness of gender inequality

New Zealanders have high awareness that more needs to be done to get equality for women, research released by the National Council of Women of New Zealand says.

The survey of 500 people found only 32 per cent of New Zealanders believe men and women are ‘treated equally’ in business, while 46 per cent felt there was equal treatment in the workplace.

Health (72 per cent) and education (68 per cent) systems were seen to have the most gender equality, followed by the courts and the justice system (59 per cent), social settings (57 per cent) and government policies and programmes (54 per cent).

Just over one-half (55 per cent) said New Zealand does ‘better on gender equality’ than most other developed countries. Yet there is still an underlying belief that men have ‘more opportunities’ than women in a range of settings, including the armed forces, politics, professional sport, the workplace and in senior management. 18/9/15

Number of women holding top roles in top companies declines

A Human Rights Commission 'Tracking Equality at Work' report has found the number of women in senior management positions in the private sector has declined in this country from 31 per cent, to 19 per cent in the last year. 29/9/15

Human Rights Tribunal

Tribunal rules in favour of dental technician who refused HIV patient

The Human Rights Tribunal has cleared a dental technician, who refused to treat an HIV positive patient, of any wrongdoing.

New Plymouth's Aarron Jacobsen lost his claim that his rights were breached when technician Tom Zhou turned down a denture consultation based on his medical history.

The tribunal decision explains that when Jacobsen visited the business, he was asked how long his teeth had been out and whether he had any serious health problems, it was at this point he disclosed he was HIV positive.

Jacobsen told the tribunal Zhou's attitude changed instantly, and he was then told "I can't do any work with you with HIV".

In the decision released this week, the tribunal said Zhou's belief he was not skilled or experienced enough to take on the case, due to his limited clinical experience, was a significant factor.

The Tribunal said, "On the simple and straightforward facts we have concluded Zhou properly recognised there was a real risk that if he took on Jacobsen as a client, he would be acting well beyond his then experience and skill levels, thereby exposing Jacobsen to potential harm.

"In his evidence, Zhou also referred to his training which taught that it was best, initially, for a clinical dental technician to treat patients who did not have health problems.

"We take this to be a reflection of the consumer's right to have services provided in a manner that minimises the potential harm to, and optimises the quality of life of, that consumer.

Jacobsen declined to comment as he planned to appeal the decision.

Taranaki Daily News 9/9/15


Facebook page sharing police activity

A Palmerston North mother is defending her right to post information online heard on a police scanner, despite police saying they are assessing the Facebook page. 

The page was created to share information about police activity obtained using police websites, news articles, information supplied from the public and a police scanner. 

However, the legality of the page is unclear, with the woman who created it saying the page isn't doing anything wrong by reporting on information said over a scanner, and that, "Listening to a scanner is legal… but it's illegal to act upon the information…I only share what I hear and what anyone with a spare couple hundred [dollars] who can afford to purchase a scanner could hear, too."

According to the Radiocommunications Act 1989, it is an offence to reproduce radiocommunication or information derived from that radiocommunication, knowing that the radiocommunication was not intended for that person.

This includes making use of the information, reproducing it, or disclosing the existence of the radio communication.

A police spokesperson said Central Police were aware of the page and were assessing its content. 

They noted it contained information from a variety of public sources.

"The legality or otherwise depends on a wide range of circumstances.

NetSafe operations manager Lee Chisholm said, "We do see quite a bit of this sort of thing, there have been pages that warn people of police radar spotting…and that's certainly not illegal."

The page did not seem like it would breach Facebook's own terms and conditions, and Chisholm said it would be up to police to decide if this was indeed illegal activity or not. 

Manawatu Standard 9/9/15


New Zealand is to take extra 600 Syrian refugees

The Government relented in the face of public pressure and has agreed to open the borders to an extra 600 people fleeing war in Syria.  A further 150 Syrians will be welcomed as part of an existing annual intake of 750 refugees.

The emergency package comes in response to a tide of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa and will cost around $50m.  Prime Minister John Key says that's about all the country can cope with, for the time being.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the emergency package. A review of the quota – which hasn't lifted in three decades – will still take place in mid-2016.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees screens and selects refugees. Immigration New Zealand officials will travel to Lebanon next month and then again in December. The first 100 refugees will begin arriving in January next year, and then again in March and May.

Amnesty welcomed the "life-saving" step that will make a "genuine difference" to 750 people, however, executive director Grant Bayldon called on the Government to immediately bring forward a review of the quota of refugees New Zealand currently admits.

"At 90th in the world on per capita intake of refugees, New Zealand is well out of step with all its major allies. As well as the emergency intake the government has announced, we need to see a permanent increase," he said.

"The government should be asking how much, not how little, we can do to help save innocent lives. Doubling our refugee quota is the least we can do after 28 years without an increase." 7/9/15

Call for NZ to up residency quota for Pacific climate victims

75 Kiribati citizens are granted New Zealand residency every year under the Pacific Access Category, but New Zealand's Human Rights Commission says New Zealand has a moral responsibility to increase the quota of Kiribati people granted residency each year in the face of climate change.

An i-Kiribati man, Ioane Teitiota, was recently deported from New Zealand after he lost an appeal to be declared a climate change refugee, leading to the Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, saying that more I-Kiribati, Tuvaluans and other environmentally threatened Pacific Islanders should be given residency, and that this is a way for New Zealand to show leadership, empathy and humanity as a developed Pacific nation. 25/9/15