Discussing defamation in The Bookseller

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.

How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist

“My nephew Luke has no memory of a white male president” says Melissa Ryan.  “Hillary Clinton just made history but for millions of children she won’t be the first woman president. She’ll just be the president.”

This is exactly right, I responded.

I was born right before Margaret Thatcher became the British Prime Minister and she remained so until I was nearly 11 years old. In my head, the word ‘Prime Minister’ was inherently gendered female and whenever, in fiction or historical context, the Prime Minister was referred to with the male pronouns he/him, it felt odd. Continue reading “How Margaret Thatcher Hacked My Brain And Made Me Slightly Less Sexist”

I Felt The Need To Write to the Chilcot Inquiry

The report should be made available in HTML but the Inquiry Team aren’t going to bother with that.

Earlier this week I wrote to the Iraq Inquiry team about the forthcoming report.

I note that the Inquiry report will be published in July. May I ask in what format the report will be published? I assume that physical paper copies will be available, and also a PDF.

However, neither of these are optimal for public discussion and citation. May I recommend that the report is also published in an HTML format?

I draw your attention to my project The Leveson Report (As It Should Be) at leveson.robertsharp.co.uk.

This is not a rewriting of Lord Justice Leveson’s report but instead a re-setting of the report in HMTL, a format that is far more convenient for students, journalists, policy makers and the public. Each paragraph and chapter carries its own anchor link for easy citation.

It is imperative that Sir John Chilcot’s report is published in a similar format. Ideally, transcripts of and written evidence that the Inquiry makes public should be presented in that format too.

An organisation that has has done significant work in this area is MySociety. I urge the Inquiry team consult with MySociety and other organisations who work in this area ahead of (not after) the report publication, to ensure that modern web design and coding/markup techniques and ‘best practice’ are applied.

The report of the Inquiry is of huge historical, constitutional and political significance and the actual formats in which the report is made available should reflect that. The medium is part of the message of transparency and clarity that is at the heart of the Inquiry.

Continue reading “I Felt The Need To Write to the Chilcot Inquiry”

The Homophobic Jehovah’s Witness Video Teaches Us Lessons in Parenting and Pluralism

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”

(My) Fiction Becomes Reality?

This is the exact technology that I imagined and described in ‘The Good Shabti’

OMG:

But what if we could restart the body after it shuts down?

The ReAnima Project, a project to assess the possibility of regenerating the brains of dead people, has just received approval from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India.

Bioquark Inc., the brains behind ReAnima (sorry, bad pun), was given the go-ahead to work with 20 patients already declared clinically dead from traumatic brain injury to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life.

Through the use of different therapies, the company will try to revive patients who are only kept alive through life support. These therapies include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques that have been shown to bring patients out of comas.

Continue reading “(My) Fiction Becomes Reality?”

Zac Goldsmith: Unprepared Even to Pander

He didn’t need to lie.

There’s a video of Zac Goldsmith doing the rounds, where he claims to be ‘a Bollywood fan’ and then fails to name a single Bollywood film or actor that he likes.  As I remarked on Twitter yesterday, his floundering interview was evocative of the Sarah Palin calamity in 2008 when she could not think of a single newspaper or magazine that she read regularly.  Thanks to Sunny Hundal for providing this illustration. Continue reading “Zac Goldsmith: Unprepared Even to Pander”

Adinkra Symbols

In the local church hall, the Girl Guides have put up a display of strange symbols.

In the local church hall, the Girl Guides have put up a display of strange symbols.  A short tour of Google reveals them to be Adinkra Symbols from West Africa – specifically Ghana.

I’ve pasted some images below, but there are more on www.adinkra.org. My favourite is WO NSA DA MU A “If your hands are in the dish”, a symbol of participatory government, democracy and pluralism. Continue reading “Adinkra Symbols”

Briefing Notes: Free Speech at Universities

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”

No Plan, No Funds, No Staff

Conservative manifesto only says that hospitals will be ‘properly staffed’, and nowhere does it say that this will be achieved by making junior doctors work anti-social hours for less pay

Junior doctors have been on strike this week, an astonishing thing to happen that, in itself, demonstrates the terrible political diplomacy that Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, has demonstrated as he attempted to push through his agenda.

Mr Hunt’s central talking point is that the policy he is pursuing is a manifesto commitment.  In interviews he suggests that the British Medical Association (BMA) is attempting to block the manifesto commitment, and therefore the will of the British people.

That is not quite true, for several reasons.  First, the manifesto pledge is for a so-called “7 day NHS”, the idea being that routine clinics and elective procedures should also take place at the weekends, when its more convenient for many people.  The manifesto pledge only says that hospitals will be ‘properly staffed’, and nowhere does it say that this will be achieved by reducing the out-of-hours pay for doctors (achieved by re-defining late evening and Saturday work as normal working hours).  It would have been an odd sort of voter who assumed that would be the case. Continue reading “No Plan, No Funds, No Staff”

Mass Murderer Wins Human Rights Case and That’s A Good Thing

Anders Bering Breivik may have won a court case, but when it comes to his racist political project, he has lost completely.

Anders Bering Breivik, the far-right terrorist who murdered dozens of people in the Utoeya massacre in 2011 has won a human rights case.

He was being kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, which the Norwegian court ruled was inhuman.

The judge in the case made a succinct point about human rights:

In her ruling, judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic said the right not to be subjected to inhuman treatment represented “a fundamental value in a democratic society” and also applied to “terrorists and killers”.

Continue reading “Mass Murderer Wins Human Rights Case and That’s A Good Thing”