Your rights when it comes to opinion

Monday October 16, 2017 Written by Published in Opinion

Have you noticed how uptight people get when someone or an organisation has an opinion published in the public arena asking questions about them that they don’t want discussed or exposed to the light of day regarding something to do with their behaviour?


They forget that perception is everything and people ask and want answers that will satisfy their curiosity.

Those in the spotlight get really worked up and emotional about it to the extent that they lose all semblance of professionalism and get downright personal.

It seems that they are the only ones who are allowed to voice an opinion and lord help you if you have one that is 180 degrees diametrically opposed. I notice the indignation, the bigotry and the downright uninformed attacks that are made against people who dare to write an opinion piece in the media.

If you write anonymously they will go to extraordinary lengths to out you so they can have a personal go at you and not your opinions. They can do this because the Constitution of our Cook Islands, allows them to respond and I have no issue with this.

However, they put so much energy into passing snide and unhelpful and, dare I say it, childish remarks against you that they miss the whole point of the opinion piece.

When they do write, they generally have very poor research skills and make a poor assessment of the opinion piece by missing vital snippets presented for them to comment. They get very selective in their responses. So what do they do? They turn to the thing they know best, and that is to throw a tantrum because they have learned that in this way they will get what they want - attention and notice. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

For those who have no idea what part of the law I am referring to, this is what the 1964 Constitution of the Cook Islands and its Amendments 2004 states. It is essentially the founding document of the Cook Islands:

[64. Fundamental human rights and freedoms - (1) It is hereby recognised and declared that in the Cook Islands there exist, and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion, opinion, belief, or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms:

(d) Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion;

(e) Freedom of speech and expression;

For brevity sake I have only included what the subject of this article refers to.

Let’s dissect what this means. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 2 (abbreviated) states: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Whilst the Cook Islands is not a member of the United Nations, something it is seriously considering, this is not the subject of this article. What is important is that people should recognise that there are fundamental universal human rights that we adhere to as humans in a global community. This is the glue or the standards that we all adhere to whether we are members of the UN or not.

This is what distinguishes us from totalitarian and despotic regimes. These are the standards that we as humans are measured or evaluated on as a sovereign nation. These rights enable us to express ourselves without fear of retaliation and or government sanction as long as we follow the rule of law.

This right to free speech and freedom of expression brings with it a number of caveats. What does this actually mean in summary?

• Thou shall not print libellous and untruthful criticism

• Incite hate and sedition

• Thou will be prepared to have your opinions dissected

• Your speech must not present a clear and present danger, such as inciting to riot

So what that means is you can write and express yourself under the Constitution as long as it does not infringe on other people’s rights and their rights to freedom of speech and expression and the laws of your country.

If we look at these expressions more closely:

Freedom of Speech - is a statements or ideas, which should be well supported by research, and logical and rational ideas and it should be able to be defended. Examples include many opinion pieces in the CI News which are generally well researched, topical, Cook Islands-centric and cause much debate in the community. They also highlight major issues we are facing and should be discussing as a concerned nation.

Freedom of Expression, on the other hand, may or may not be supported by logic or rational thinking, and can be just an expression or outburst of emotions, which can be subject to libellous action in law.

Most, if not many of the letters to the editor, fit under the definition of freedom of expression rather than freedom of speech.

So you can see how upset people get over articles that they believe impugn their integrity.

They get so upset that they run off and seek legal opinions and really all they are doing is creating another grievance industry. Just like our current land grievance issues as the only winners out of this are the lawyers. If you believe that someone is being untruthful about you, then prove them wrong, show the facts and evidence to support your argument and don’t run off like a baby cry. But - and there is a big but, you must admit that there is something not quite right in many people’s minds regarding what they see as double standards, hypocrisy and no accountability. That is why ordinary people write to the editor, because that is one of the outlets they have in which to express themselves because they have little faith that their words or grievances will be heard unless they can get it into the public arena anonymously.

The ordinary rikiriki do not generally voice their opinions on social media, do not have a blog, or twitter account or a communal notice board, they suffer in silence. They suffer because they know that if they voice an opinion in public, someone somewhere will orchestrate a personal attack on them and not their opinion. The other side of the coin is that they constantly raise their concerns with family and friends and whilst they get sympathy and congruence in their discussions, it is not quite enough in the overall scheme of things to get proper answers.

So back to the title of this opinion piece, do we have a constitutional right to an opinion in the Cook Islands? The answer is of course we do in law as long as we follow the law.

However, as we all know it is a constant battle to persuade people that one’s opinion under freedom of speech is not personal against them.

These are the ones who over-react and just lend more credence to the rest of the community to the fact that they may have something to hide and therefore expose themselves to public scrutiny.

Where it can get personal and we’ve seen this time and time again in the letters to the editor and responses from anonymous and named writers, freedom of expression is used to attack someone for having an opinion.

            - Unionist

Editor’s Note: Wilkie Rasmussen’s weekly Tropical Chronicles column was not available yesterday due to a technical issue. It will appear in Tuesday’s CINews.

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