An odd story unfolded today: Buzzfeed News were disinvited from a Rochdale hustings event after the Labour candidate Simon Danczuk said he would refuse to attend if a BuzzFeed reporter was there. I was asked to comment on behalf of English PEN:
The move to ban BuzzFeed was also criticised by the freedom of expression group English PEN, which said: “One reason why free speech is so important to a democracy is that it ensures diversity of voices and opinion in our political discussion. When organisations limit media access, they limit that diversity and go against the spirit of free speech.” …
Robert Sharp, spokesperson for English PEN, the writers’ organisation that campaigns for freedom of expression, also criticised the decision to ban BuzzFeed News from the event.
“These reports are very worrying”, he said. “Political events should be open to all journalists, not just those who file positive stories about a candidate.
“It is odd that this should be happening during a general election, when the political parties are surely seeking to broadcast their message to as many people as possible.
“Candidates for political office need to reassure voters that they are open to scrutiny. Selectively refusing journalists access to events is not the way to build public trust.
He added: “If a politician thinks they have been unfairly treated by one outlet, then a better response would be to invite a greater range of journalists to cover future events.”
I think this idea of the ‘spirit’ of free speech is an important one (an idea I spoke about during my Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics speech and which I refer to a lot in my Quora answers). Mr Danczuk and the event organisers have violated no law – they can invite who they wish to an event. However, the decision is still antithetical to the idea of freedom of expression because it reduces media diversity at the event.
Meanwhile, kudos to Rochdale Online. They made a decision to not attend the event while other journalists were barred:
Rochdale Online Editor Pauline Journeaux said: “Rochdale Online was attending but has now taken the decision not to do so in light of the ban on Buzzfeed. A stand has to be taken against this sort of anti-democratic behaviour.”
It appears that the pushback from media outlets has resulted in a change of policy by the event organisers, who have now extended an invitation to Buzzfeed News.
— #RochdaleHour (@RochdaleHour) May 22, 2017