If publishers are spending money on libel, they’re not spending on new stuff
The Scottish Law Commission’s consultation on the law of defamation closes this week. If you want take a stand for free speech in Scotland, then an easy but important thing you can do is co-sign the Libel Reform Campaign’s letter to Lord Pentland, the chair of the commission.
Last month I spoke to the Bookseller about defamation reform, after the incoming president of the Publishers’ Association, Simon Barr, said that it was important that it was important to close the “loophole” caused by the different defamation regimes in England & Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Long-time readers of this blog will recall that while the Westminster parliament has legislated, the parliaments at Holyrood and Stormont have not yet done so.
There are many reasons to reform defamation, but to my mind the one that should motivate publishers in particular is this:
Another consequence is the possibility legal costs will dent budgets for breaking new authors. “If publishers are spending money on libel, they’re not spending on new stuff,” Sharp said. And the books that get binned, it won’t be the mainstream commercial titles, it’s going to be the experimental stuff – the first time authors, the challenging and the quirky things that are a bit of a risk.”
You can read Katherine Cowdrey’s full report on the Bookseller website.
The theology of the cartoon is clearly homophobic. On social media people are calling it disturbing, bigoted, creepy and hateful. But I think the parenting depicted in the video is to be applauded and encouraged, for several reasons.
First published on the Huffington Post. After this was published I received some challenging, passionate and extremely useful discussions about it on Facebook. I will add some more thoughts about the video and my article in a separate post.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are going viral. Social media users have discovered ‘One Man One Woman‘, a short animation about same-sex marriage.
In the clip, a mother tells her daughter, Sophia, that only straight marriage is in Jehovah’s ‘plan’ and that people should abide by those rules if they want to reach paradise. The sequence ends with the little girl revising bible quotes so she can explain to Carrie, her school-friend with two Moms, the true path to paradise. Continue reading “The Homophobic Jehovah’s Witness Video Teaches Us Lessons in Parenting and Pluralism”
Campaigners will not succeed in changing minds and changing students’ union policies unless they better understand why anti-free speech policies have developed, and until they offer students alternatives to the banning of offensive speech.
Commissioned by and first published on the Free Word Centre blog
In recent months there has been a great deal of discussion and debate on the subject of free speech at universities. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign at Oxford, and the protests over controversial speakers like Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, have kept the issue in the headlines, and the publication of Sp!ked Magazine’s Free Speech University Rankings seems to have emboldened free speech advocates to push back against campus censorship. A new campaign, Right2Debate, targets the National Union of Students (NUS) and its No Platform policies that prevent controversial speaker events from going ahead.
As a campaigner with English PEN, I support the campaigns to expand free speech at universities. But in recent weeks I have become increasingly frustrated with the way the debate is evolving. Each side talks over the other, and some of the fundamental questions at the heart of the issue remain unresolved. Campaigners will not succeed in changing minds and changing students’ union policies unless they better understand why anti-free speech policies have developed, and until they offer students alternatives to the banning of offensive speech. Continue reading “Briefing Notes: Free Speech at Universities”
A practical and targeted form of international intervention that avoids being patrimonious
There was another free speech skirmish on a UK university campus this week, when the ex-Muslim activist Maryam Namazie was heckled by students at an event at Goldsmiths College.
East London Lines, a online newspaper run by students including many from Goldsmiths, reported the incident after it happened, and have written a follow up in which I am quoted for English PEN.
I want to say a little more in a personal capacity.
The video of the event is available online. Continue reading “Why Are Goldsmiths’ Feminists Applauding the Silencing of Women?”
Do extremists continue to preach underground when they get banned?
Earlier this week I sat down with the author N Quentin Woolf, host of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, to talk about free speech, its value and its limits.
The audio of our discussion has just been published. You can listen via the Acast player below, and there are download and iTunes links on the Londonist website. Continue reading “Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist”
Earlier this week I spoke to journalist Kapil Summan on behalf of English PEN and the Libel Reform Campaign, on the issue of reforming the UK defamation laws.
The Defamation Act 2013, you will recall, reformed the law in England & Wales. But MSPs at Holyrood and MLAs at Stormont have yet to legislate for their jurisdictions.
I extemporised on why reform in required in both places! Kapil wrote up two versions of the interview, for Scottish Legal News and Irish Legal News.
The fact the Defamation Act seems to be working as Parliament intended is precisely what we were after so we’re going into this … with confidence that the Defamation Act is a very strong blueprint for reform in other jurisdictions.
English PEN is working with Scottish PEN on a campaign to reform the law of defamation in Scotland. I wrote an opinion piece for the Herald’s ‘Agenda’ slot, which was published in the paper yesterday. There was also a news report about it, giving more information about corporations that sue.
The law of defamation in Scotland is woefully out of date.
It has not been reviewed since 1996, before the Scottish Parliament was re-established.
During this time, the internet has evolved from a hobbyist’s plaything into the centre of public discourse, and yet defamation law has failed to adapt to digital communication. Continue reading “Let’s ban corporations from using law to silence their critics”
A better law would mean that in this case the investigation could have been closed earlier.
Bahar Mustafa is the Goldsmiths College Students Union Officer who allegedly tweeted #KillAllWhiteMen. She was charged with ‘sending a communication conveying a threatening message’. However, it emerged on Tuesday that the charges against her have been dropped. The Guardian‘s news reporter Jessica Elgot broke the story and asked me to comment on behalf of English PEN:
“The tweets were never a credible threat and while Ms Mustafa might have offended some people, that alone should never be enough for prosecution,” he said.
“It’s a shame this investigation took so long to conclude, but the police are working with laws that are no longer fit for purpose. These charges were brought under communications legislation that was written for fax machines, not social media. The law needs an urgent update.”
Continue reading “Discussing #KillAllWhiteMen in the Guardian and the Evening Standard”
Later in the show, the Saudi panellists also suggested that the campaign to free Badawi might actually be hampering the chances of his release. This is an extremely difficult thing to hear when English PEN has invested so much into campaigning on Raif Badawi’s behalf.
On Wednesday I was invited onto the BBC World Service programme ‘BBC World Have Your Say’ to discuss Raif Badawi’s PEN Pinter Prize and the issues experienced by bloggers in Saudi Arabia. Also on the show were Evelyne Abitbol, Chief Execuitve of the Free Raif Badawi Foundation and Saudi Arabian journalists Essam Al Ghalib, Eman Al Nafjan of Saudi Woman, and Abeer Mishkas.
You can hear our segment via the player below or on SoundCloud. The entire programme can be heard on the BBC website or BBC iPlayer. Continue reading “Debating Saudi ‘Red Lines’ on the BBC”