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The law of defamation in Scotland is woefully out of date.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
In an enlightening article on Little Atoms about ‘safe spaces’ and free speech, Marie Le Conte writes:
While discussions of identity and privilege online haven’t always been constructive in recent times, it’s hard to deny that this isn’t something cis straight white men will ever get. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they never get picked on, or that their lives must therefore be perfect; it’s just that they’ll never know what it feels like to be continuously attacked for what they represent, not who they are.
The phrase “its just that they’ll never know what its like” jumped out at me, because in its absolutist form I think its very wrong. Cis straight white men might not know what its like; and they will certainly never know what it is to be picked on in this way; but it is certainly possible that they can know what it is like to be picked on… because those who have experienced it can describe it to them! Continue reading Do cis white straight men know what its like?
The news about the Bahar Mustafa prosecution meant that this week I was reviewing the old reports about the #KillAllWhiteMen controversy. I noticed something about many of the articles that I think is noteworthy.
All the reports I saw noted that Ms Mustafa sought to ban cis-white men from attending an event that she was organising (indeed, it was this that brought down so much opprobrium on her). In each story, the following Facebook message was quoted:
Invite loads of BME Women and non-binary people!! Also, if you’ve been invited and you’re a man and/or white PLEASE DON’T COME just cos I invited a bunch of people and hope you will be responsible enough to respect this is a BME Women and non-binary event only.
In the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the International Business Times, the BBC Newsbeat, the Daily Express, the quote was reproduced exactly as above.
However, the actual message was posted as a screen grab, and did include a crucial further line: Continue reading A quick case study in how the media misleads us through selective editing
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
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
Free speech includes the right to not say – or sing – something that you do not believe. Jeremy Corbyn exercised that right during the Battle of Britain memorial service earlier this week, when he stood in silence during the national anthem.
Patriotism and monarchism are not mutually exclusive. Patriotism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive either. Declining to sing ‘God Save The Queen’ does not make one a traitor or unpatriotic. Instead, it signals that you think our country would be better if it didn’t have God (an Established Church) and it didn’t have a Queen (the monarchy). These are entirely reasonable beliefs. Continue reading Free speech and the national anthem
English PEN today received formal confirmation that all charges against the Syrian journalist and writer Mazen Darwish have been dropped. He is a free man.
Darwish is the founder of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), an organisation that has fearlessly campaigned for free speech in Syria despite the appalling civil war and associated human rights abuses. Darwish, along with his colleagues Hussein Gharir and Hani Al-Zitani, were detained in 2012 and held without trial until earlier this year. Continue reading Mazen Darwish is Free
An extremely odd and disconcerting story was reported in the Guardian this week, regarding a National Youth Theatre play that has abruptly cancelled, just two weeks before its opening night. There are fears that ‘Homegrown’ was pulled due to the sensitive subject matter: young people drawn to ISIS.
I spoke to the Huffington Post about the issues raised for English PEN: Continue reading Quoted in the Huffington Post discussing ‘Homegrown’