PUBLIC RELATIONS, AUCKLAND: Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack came tumbling down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after. This nursery rhythm is about the beheading (by a mob) of the unpopular monarchs King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. It is a salient lesson about the dangers of exercising your right to freedom of speech by saying unpopular things in New Zealand in 2021.
I can’t help but be perplexed by the number of people – often in positions of authority or influence – who ‘stick their necks out by saying things or posting memes on social media without any thought to the consequences of their words. You might argue that we enjoy the freedom of speech in New Zealand and that it is their right, but this is the harsh reality – we do NOT enjoy the freedom of speech in New Zealand.
By the same token, I’m amazed by the failure of so many to recognise which way the wind is blowing. Right now, there are several social and political trends – or movements – (some good, some bad) that have media and social media momentum.
This week a Tapawera Area School principal found himself in the news for posting content against the Covid-19 vaccination. He was labelled an anti-vaxxer, reported to the Ministry of Education, and one wonders if his career hangs in the balance. Being anti-vaccinations is considered lunatic fringe and dangerous – I happen to be pro-vaccination and agree with the latter position. However, being anti-Covid-19 vaccinations and anti-vaccinations, I believe, are two different things. Unfortunately, some journalists (not all) and those in authority are not making the distinction.
You may believe that not only is it our right to exercise freedom of speech but to speak up and make a stand when we deem it necessary. For example, you may think the Covid-19 vaccination is rushed and therefore dangerous – personally, I don’t think we have any choice if we’re to beat the pandemic – but I accept others feel differently. But would you throw your career, friendships, relationships or business under the bus to make a point? Frankly, if you do, you may well find yourself standing alone on top of ‘Jack’s’ proverbial hill.
At the very least, you will be labelled – often spuriously – as, for example, an anti-vaxxer. At worst, you will lose your job or get cancelled.
Power, prestige and success are no protection either. For example, Harry Potter author JK Rowling has been cancelled for taking a stance that many believe was anti-transgender. Was she guilty of hate speech against the transgender community or speaking out to protect women as she claims? Without proper debate and in-depth exploration of the various points of view, we’ll never know. Whatever happens, JK Rowling will survive financially but, for some, like the Tapawera school principal, speaking up may be financially devastating.
Unfortunately, some of these people do not have the means to hire public relations advisors who can help defend them in the courts of public opinion. They are easy meat for the ravenous.
Think before you speak. Pause before you post. Ask yourself, is it necessary to say these things? What ideal or values am I defending or promoting? Are they worth my livelihood? Will they hurt or heal? Is there another way? And finally, please, make sure you articulate exactly what you mean clearly and succinctly because once it’s out there, heads may roll.