COMMENT:

Every editor of a newspaper or other public platform can sympathise with the Mayor of Auckland when he decided to close council venues to speakers whose views he considered hurtful to ethnic and religious minorities.

He is accused of interfering with free speech, which invokes the freedom to hear and read as well as express an honestly held view.

Free speech is an inherent right and vital in a democracy. It can also hurt and offend people criticised in debates that will often be "divisive". If Mayor Phil Goff closed council-owned venues to all divisive meetings, democracy would be in trouble. Ethnicity and religion are subjects that appear to cause him difficulty, and he is not alone.

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The mayor — and editors — do need to give people a fair hearing before barring them from public halls or websites or newspaper pages.

Many people base their judgments on material found in cursory research. Anyone making decisions about giving people a platform to broadcast a message need to ensure that deliberations and research are considered, thorough and reasonable.

In this instance, Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, who had been booked to speak at the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna, would be as challenging for editors as they are for Goff. Some of their views are nauseating and inflammatory.

For instance, Southern clearly hates Islam's view of women as unintentional temptresses and all that follows from that. She disagrees with the liberal view that this attitude to women should be tolerated for the sake of Muslims' acceptance in the West, or that if it is challenged it must be done respectfully. Southern does not respect Islamic law and mores and it is difficult to insist she should, even if one disagrees. She has also supported missions trying to hamper the rescue of shipwrecked refugees and was banned from the UK, deemed to be not "conducive to the public good".

If people have a right to be angry, hurtful and offensive on their own online platforms, they have no right to insist that others give them another. Some editors would be happy to publish that sort of material, others would require a more respectful tone, not just for the sake of people's feelings but also because calm, reasoned, respectful argument is usually more intelligent and therefore interesting.

Interest is always a test in news media. Editors do not refuse to run material because they disagree with it. Editors run a great deal of opinion they do not personally share. They run it if it is well expressed and they think it will interest a good number of readers and, hopefully, add to sensible debate and understanding and public discourse.

But even interesting material is sometimes unacceptable.

Molyneux holds a view that ethnic groups differ in their average IQ.

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Others would argue that IQ tests are not a culturally neutral measure.

But that is not a debate Goff wants on a council platform and that is understandable.

These days all viewpoints can be found online. Not all, however, have a right to room on other platforms that try to serve the public interest.