Disturbing public order in the name of protest

Last year’s TIME Magazine Person of the Year was the protester. Public protest actions brought down dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The Occupy movement put economic inequality and financial reform on the agenda.

This is the opening of media law barrister Steven Price’s article on the website NZLawyer online (here).  The article discusses the value of protest speech and looks at the difference between what is considered protest, and what is deemed abuse, in the context of the UK and New Zealand. A particularly interesting part is Steven Price’s list of his top ten reasons why protest speech is undervalued. Number 10 reads:

10. Protesters are annoying: Might this be the biggest factor? Protesters are often self-righteous, disrespectful, combative, tunnel-visioned, and whiny. They dress badly. Some are crackpots. I suspect the police and judges find it difficult to see them as social critics with something important to say.

He concludes with the following:

We have come a long way from the lofty constitutional principles I described at the outset. And that is really my point. The grubby daily business of the law is much more closely related to these factors, I think, than the free speech ones. And that’s disturbing, because we can’t tell in advance which of these protesters will turn out to be our age’s anti-slavery campaigners or suffragettes.

A good read.