Freedom Of Speech

 I am struggling to find a way of making this post interesting. Political essays on any subject do not make good internet reading. My university major was political science. I like the subject. However I also accept the writings of John Stuart Mill and Aristotle do not make as riveting reading as “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Da Vinci Code”. My argument might struggle though when I see that the Bible and Quotations from Chairman Mao are the world’s most read books. I suspect few would take either of them to the beach for some light holiday reading.

So perhaps there is an interest in the dusty pages of political theory. Certainly our lives are better as a result of philosophers who introduced the world to concepts such as freedom, democracy, socialism and capitalism. And so at the risk of activating one hundred “Return” buttons this post will discuss freedom of speech as it applies – or perhaps does not apply – in the world of swimming administration.

It seems the average swimming administrator cares little for personal liberty. I have several emails from the CEO of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ), Steve Johns, chastising me for exercising the right to freedom of speech. Indeed his organisation has a Code of Conduct that says none of us will “speak to any media in a negative way regarding Swimming New Zealand.”

Here is an example of a recent Steve Johns’ outburst.

It’s too easy just to put pen to paper, write whatever pops into your head and not be interested in the negative impact that you have on people’s lives.  If you think your little blogs and constant attacks are helping swimming in NZ, then you are seriously mistaken – or is it just a fun little game you like to play?

This week, in the United States, the New England Swimming LSC voted on a rule that said, “no coach shall write demeaning things about a member of New England Swimming or New England Swimming itself on any social media platform.”

It does make you wonder who these people think they are. How are their rules any different from countries that provide their citizens with written free speech protection but in practice ignore the law. Many countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Egypt and Turkey, use the threat of jail to crack down on bloggers or use internet security laws or even kill journalists who speak out against those in power. It seems that Steve Johns and the New England Swimming LSC would feel right at home comparing notes on press freedom with Mohammad bin Salman.

Donald Trump would also be a kindred spirit of Steve Johns and the New England LSC Chairman – I think his name is Matt Craven. Trump is forever screaming that the American press is, “the enemy of the people.” How is that any different from SNZ writing this about me in their Annual Report?

A lowlight was the attempt by bloggers and media commentators to discredit Lauren’s 1500m freestyle record by claiming the pool was too shallow. The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.

Like all good autocrats SNZ attack and discredit the messenger regardless of the truth. Democracy was abandoned when SNZ adopted the 2011 Constitution. Since then it seems they have taken up the other trappings of autocracy including limiting free speech.

But you would think the New England Swimming LSC and Matt Craven would know better. After all they live in the United States where the First Amendment to their Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Now I’m no constitutional lawyer but it seems to me that a rule that says,” no coach shall write demeaning things about a member of New England Swimming or New England Swimming itself” is going to struggle to pass the test of the First Amendment – especially the bit that says “abridging the freedom of speech”.

SNZ is no better. Freedom of expression in New Zealand is protected by section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 which states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.” It is a mystery to me how that democratic protection is compatible in any way with the SNZ rule that no one will, “speak to any media in a negative way regarding Swimming New Zealand.”

But of course in both New England and New Zealand these swimming rules are meaningless babble. No court in the United States is going to question the First Amendment no matter how loud New England swimming administrators scream.  No court in New Zealand is going to rule against the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 no matter how many emails Steve Johns types.

Everyone knows the swimming administrators in New England and New Zealand are an expensive waste of space; surplus to requirements. But Steve Johns and Matt Craven fortunately can do bugger all about that honestly held opinion.

Political theory may be dull – but its protections are important. In this case they serve to guard us from rogue American and New Zealand swimming administrators with an unfortunate lust for autocratic power.

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