The racist far right group Britain First have been banned from Facebook. BBC South East reported the story and interviewed yrstrly for English PEN. Here’s what I said:
We abhor what Britain First stands for, but nevertheless there are some unintended consequences with this move. Shutting down speech you don’t like is deeply problematic—It means that countries around the world can use it as an excuse to shut down speech they don’t like. And it also alienates certain sections of the British population, [with whom] we really need to have a dialogue…
Obviously this is just a small excerpt from a longer interview I gave to the news team. There is a lot more to say about this issue, in particular about how we appear to have ceded most of our political discourse to private companies running social media platforms. There is also a real issue surrounding the efficacy of counter-speech, and what both social media and the traditional broadcasters might do in order to give better, bigger platforms to the kind of options that can counter and neutralise the far right threat. I will post more on this soon.
In the meantime, the entire South East Today programme for 14th March is currently available on the BBC iPlayer.
On Sunday morning, I was delighted to be invited on to Jumoké Fashola’s BBC Radio London Breakfast show, to discuss free speech.
This week, the Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn caused outrage with a typically controversial column. Olympic diver Tom Daly had shared an ultrasound image on social media – he and his partner Dustin Lance Black are expecting a baby via a surrogate mother.
“Pass the sick bag, Alice” wrote Littlejohn. “I still cling to the belief that children benefit most from being brought up by a man and a woman.”
Continue reading “Discussing Free Speech and Richard Littlejohn on BBC Radio London”
I was on BBC Radio London this morning, talking to presenter Nikki Bedi about free speech. It’s a topic of conversation today because Universities Minister Jo Johnson is about to make a speech in which (apparently) he will suggest that higher education institutions should be fined if they fail to protect freedom of expression. He has taken aim at the practice of no-platform policies before.
You can listen to the discussion on the BBC London website. My contribution is 1 hour and 17 minutes into the show, at about 8:20AM. Continue reading “Discussing Free Speech on BBC Radio London, again”
By chance, I heard Andrew Sullivan’s radio essay about Donald Trump and tribalism in America on BBC Radio 4 yesterday evening.
Following the shock presidential election result last year, I had heard many of the insights that Sullivan set out in the monologue. But the particular format of this piece, coupled with Sullivan’s great writing, makes it a particularly powerful iteration.
Crushingly, Sullivan offers no road-map for how this American (and therefore, global) crisis might be reversed, other than the hope that another ‘Lincoln’ might appear to save the country from itself. But isn’t a faith in saviours what has put America into this position in the first place? Obama and Trump are very different characters, but both took on a definite totemic status for their supporters. What is needed, it seems to me, is for the resolution to take place not within a single unifying figurehead at the top, but with a million acts of reconciliation among the citizenry. And we’re all out of ideas for how to bring that about. There is a chance things might get worse before they get better.
A Point Of View episodes are available indefinitely as a podcast. Visit the BBC website to listen again.
This blog is useful for many things: a jotter where I can experiment with half formed ideas; an outlet to vent my frustration at some form of shoddy public thinking; to impart advice or recommendations; or simply a place to marvel at the wonderful things that humanity or nature has created.
Today, however, it serves the useful purpose of providing l’espirit d’escalier—an opportunity to add to a conversation, after it has concluded!
The new Labour MP for Kensington & Chelsea is Emma Dent Coad, and she has caused controversy at the Labour Party conference by being rude about the royal family. Some of the things she said about Prince Harry have turned out to be false, but she also made some pertinent points about how they spend taxpayers money. This has prompted a conversation about the limits of civil and respectable speech, and echoes some of the discussion in the USA right now, about whether athletes who #TakeAKnee during the national anthem are showing this respect, and if so, to whom.
All this is ripe for discussion on a call-in radio show. Eddie Nestor was leading the debate on his BBC drive time show yesterday, and I went on air to make an uncompromising case for free speech. You can listen to the entire show again on the BBC iPlayer, either on the web or on the app, for the next thirty days. You can also listen to my contribution on SoundCloud, or via the player below. Continue reading “Discussing the Royals, Hate Speech and Free Speech on the BBC London Drive Time Show with Eddie Nestor”
Kwame Anthony Appiah’s series of Reith Lectures is called ‘Mistaken Identities‘. I really enjoyed listening to the first lecture on ‘Creed‘ and am looking forward to the rest: ‘Country’, ‘Colour’ and ‘Culture’.
In the first lecture, Appiah walked us through the idea that religious practices and doctrines are far more fluid and open to interpretation and change, than the fundamentalists would have us believe. This is a good thing in my view, as it offers hope that illiberal ideas spread under the guise of religion can eventually be abandoned.
But I found myself wondering whether the Internet and digital technology may actually stifle that process. Continue reading “Religious Doctrine and the Internet”
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”
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”
There was some controversy last month surrounding free speech group Index on Censorship. They’ve appointed Steve Coogan as a patron, but he is famously a part of the Hacked Off campaign which supports press regulation policies that Index does not. Both Nick Cohen in the Spectator and Richard Pendlebury in the Daily Mail have written angry responses to the manoevre.
I’ve heard a couple of people express dismay that Hacked Off are being described in such reports as a “pro-censorship lobby”. Through my work at English PEN 1, I’ve met three of the people who run the group—Brian Cathcart, Martin Moore, and Dr Evan Harris. If you have read their countless articles, heard any their speeches, or read their tweets on the issue, I do not think one can seriously suggest that they are in favour of “censorship” as the word is commonly understood. They are at pains to point out that they do not endorse any kind of pre-publication curbs on the press.
Continue reading “Hacked Off: Unwitting support for self-censorship?”
I promised a comment on what form political intimidation of the press might take, under the new system of regulation.
The provisions in the Royal Charter for press regulation, and the associated sections of the Crime & Courts Act 2013, are complex and layered. There are buffers between the politicians (and the wider ‘establishment’) and the press. There are plans for an arbitration service and a body that oversees the regulator, which in turn will try to keep the press both strong and honest.
Supporters of these provisions have emphasised that the politicians will not be able to censor the newspapers or stop stories from being published.
But free expression issues do not begin and end with formal state censorship that we see in hideous regimes like China, Iran or Zimbabwe. There are much subtler ways of exerting pressure on publishers, that nevertheless ‘chill’ (i.e. discourage) the exercise of free speech. Continue reading “How British politicians might chill the press”