Freedom of Expression

Freedom of expression is the right of artists to say what they want to say – in the manner they want to say it – without worrying about losing their livelihoods, or worse. It is not just a right enjoyed by fine artists, but authors, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, songwriters, comedians, dancers and actors. Without it, Britain would soon lose its status as a global superpower when it comes to art and culture.

British artists have only enjoyed untrammelled freedom of expression for a relatively short period. Until 1968, plays had to be licensed by the Lord Chamberlain, and playwright Howard Brenton was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1980, the same crime Oscar Wilde was convicted of in 1895.

After a brief period of liberty, the right to freedom of expression is under threat again. Not from the state this time, but from self-appointed censors on social media. Theatre boards dare not risk putting on controversial plays – such as Terry Gilliam’s production of Into the Woods – for fear of being ‘called out’ by the online morality police. Publishers now employ ‘sensitivity readers’ to comb through manuscripts and remove any content that’s likely to upset Witchfinder-Generals on Twitter. The Tate Britain cannot put on an exhibition of the art of William Hogarth without apologising for slavery and colonialism.

Freedom of expression is protected from state censorship by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights; it now needs protecting from outrage mobs.

Introducing the Writers’ Advisory Council

Since we launched in February 2020, a growing number of writers have come to us for advice and support – Gillian Philip, Julie Burchill, Helen Joyce, Allison Pearson, Holly Lawford-Smith – and over 250 authors have joined as members.

It has become increasingly clear to us that freedom of expression is under severe pressure within the literary world, with publishers and literary agents often failing to defend their authors when their speech rights come under attack.

The threats that our writer members have flagged up include:

  • Morality clauses being included in publishing contracts
  • Manuscripts being vetted by sensitivity readers
  • Editors removing content to avoid giving offence, e.g. ‘cultural appropriation’
  • Publishers reneging on a contract, e.g. after a book has provoked controversy before publication
  • Publishers refusing to properly distribute or promote books because they’re judged to be ‘difficult’
  • Grant-giving bodies withholding or withdrawing funding after an author has said something of which they disapprove, e.g. defended sex-based women’s rights
  • Publishers recalling books after they’ve provoked controversy and insisting their authors make changes, or simply pulping the books
  • Amazon refusing to stock books, or reorder them when out of stock
  • Bookshops refusing to stock books or, if they do, their staff refusing to display them properly
  • Authors being no-platformed from speaking events, e.g. literary festivals, at the behest of other authors, sponsors or venue staff
  • Malicious reviews being posted online by anonymous trolls
  • False and defamatory things being said about authors on social media by people who disapprove of their views
  • Successful authors being dropped by their publishers and agents after they’ve engaged in ‘hate speech’, e.g. tweeted #IStandWithJKRowling
  • Authors being removed from judging panels after saying something ‘problematic’ (see above)

These issues are of great concern to the Free Speech Union and not just because they directly affect our writer members. The freedom of authors to express themselves and of people to read their work without interference or mediation by self-appointed censors is a fundamental human right.

To ensure these issues are given a proper airing in the public square and our writer members are protected, as well as authors more generally, we have set up a specialist Writers’ Advisory Council. (You can read about it in the Telegraph here.)  Our hope is that this will lend the FSU’s voice authority when it speaks out in defence of freedom of expression and comes to the aid of beleaguered authors.

To better support our writer members, the FSU will make sure that a member of our case team specialises in the kind of issues listed above and is always available on the phone. We will also develop relationships with third party providers of specialist advice to authors regarding contracts, tax and insurance. All of these services will be provided either pro bono or at below market rate.

In addition, any writers who join the FSU will have access to all our usual benefits, such as invitations to members-only events with people like Kathleen Stock, Jack Dee, Andrew Doyle, Graham Linehan and Helen Joyce, discounted tickets to parties and comedy nights, and, should they need it, individual advice from our two full-time case officers, two full-time legal officers and specialist media advisors. They’ll also have access to paywalled content on our website – such as FAQ guides on what to do if you’re asked to declare your gender pronouns in the workplace or take an unconscious bias training course – and you’ll receive our weekly and monthly newsletters.

We hope that as many authors as possible will join the FSU, whether to protect themselves, to defend their peers or build a public voice capable of putting the case for freedom of expression as robustly as possible.

Alex Marwood

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Alex’s Biography

Alex Marwood spent a decade as a features writer and columnist for the UK press before her first crime novel, The Wicked Girls, won an Edgar Allen Poe award and became a word of mouth international bestseller. Her second, The Killer Next Door, won the Macavity award for best mystery novel, 2015. Of her novel The Darkest Secret, Stephen King said: “If there has been a better mystery-suspense story written in this decade, I can’t think of it.” Her latest, The Island of Lost Girls, was The Times’s Crime Book Of The Month in July, 2023.

Lionel Shriver

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Lionel’s Biography

Lionel Shriver is an American author and journalist who lives in the United Kingdom. Her novel We Need to Talk About Kevin won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005. Her most recent book is Abominations.

Jack Dee

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Jack’s Biography

Jack Dee is a comedian, actor, scriptwriter, radio and television presenter and author. He co-wrote and starred in the sitcom Lead Balloon and has published two books, Thanks for Nothing and What is Your Problem?

Dr Andrew Doyle​

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Andrew’s Biography

Andrew Doyle is a writer, presenter, producer, stand-up comedian and the creator of Titania McGrath. He has a degree in English and a doctorate in Early Renaissance Poetry from Wadham College, Oxford. His most recent books are Free Speech and Why It Matters and The New Puritans: How the Religion of Social Justice Captured the Western World.

Matthew Hamilton

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Matthew’s Biography

Matthew Hamilton is a literary agent and the founder of the Hamilton Agency which represents non-fiction authors with a particular interest in politics, culture and current affairs, music, narrative non-fiction, memoir, biography, football and entertainment. Recent bestsellers by the Hamilton Agency’s authors include The War on the West by Douglas Murray, Ten Thousand Apologies by Adelle Stripe and Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamas O’Reilly.

Caroline Hardman​

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Caroline’s Biography

Caroline Hardman began her career in publishing as a bookseller. She started working in agenting in 2004 and co-founded literary agency Hardman & Swainson in 2012. She represents a range of genres in fiction, and non-fiction in the areas of popular science, history, popular culture, current affairs, and feminism (including notable bestsellers by Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce).

Roger Lewis

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Roger’s Biography

Roger Lewis was born in Wales and educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. He is the author of books about Laurence Olivier, Charles Hawtrey, Anthony Burgess and Peter Sellers, the latter adapted by HBO for an award-winning film. His work has been described as “the love-child of a gang bang in which James Joyce, M.C. Escher, Alf Garnett, Hieronymus Bosch and Ken Dodd got together with Marilyn Monroe”. Needless to say, he is having trouble with woke publishers and editors. His latest book is Erotic Vagrancy: Everything About Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Dr Helen Joyce​

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Helen’s Biography

Dr Helen Joyce is the author of the best-selling book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, named by The Spectator as one of the books of the year in 2021. Until 2022 she was the Britain editor of The Economist and now works as Director of Advocacy for Sex Matters, a human-rights organisation that campaigns for women’s rights.

Julie Bindel​

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Julie’s Biography

Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, broadcaster and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.

Bel Mooney

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Bel’s Biography

Bel Mooney has been a newspaper journalist for over 50 years and is the author of six novels, 35 children’s books, two memoirs and two collections of journalism. For many years she had a parallel career in broadcasting and now writes for The Daily Mail.

George Owers

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read George’s Biography

George Owers is the Editorial Director of Forum Press, an imprint which aims to promote free debate and challenge cultural and political groupthink. He was previously a Labour councillor in Cambridge and is writing a book on party politics in the era of Queen Anne for Little, Brown.

Anna Pasternak

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Anna’s Biography

Anna Pasternak is an author, broadcaster and journalist who currently writes for The Telegraph. Her most recent book is Lara: The Untold Love Story That Inspired Dr Zhivago.

Prof Andrew Roberts

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Andrew's Biography

Andrew Roberts is a Visiting Professor at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, a Roger and Martha Mertz Visiting Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New York Historical Society. His most recent book is Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare From 1945 to Ukraine, which he co-authored with David Patraeus.

Nina Power

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Nina’s Biography

Nina Power is a philosopher, critic and cultural theorist, and an editor and columnist at Compact. She is the author of What Do Men Want?: Masculinity and Its Discontents.

Gillian Philip

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Gillian’s Biography

Gillian Phillip is a writer of over 40 books for children and young people under the names Erin Hunter, Adam Blade and Gabriella Poole, as well as her own name. She has been nominated and shortlisted for awards including the Carnegie Medal, the Royal Mail Scottish Children’s Book Award and the David Gemmell Legend Award.

Rachel Rooney

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Rachel’s Biography

Rachel Rooney trained and worked as a teacher of children with special needs for many years before turning to writing poetry. Her collections of poetry for children and young people have won several awards and her rhyming picture books include The Fears You Fear, The Problem with Problems and My Body is Me! She has been a judge for both the CLiPPA and the Betjeman Poetry Prize.

Mary Harrington

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Mary's Biography

Mary Harrington is a writer whose work has appeared in The Spectator, The New Statesman, The Times, The Daily Mail, First Things, The Conservative Woman and UnHerd, where she’s a Contributing Editor. She recently published Feminism Against Progress.

Gareth Roberts

Writers’ Advisory Council

Read Gareth's Biography

Gareth Roberts is a writer and journalist. He has a weekly column for the Spectator and writes regularly for UnHerd and Spiked. His television writing credits include Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Doctor Who.

An invaluable support network

With You Every Step of The Way

At the Free Speech Union, we understand the challenges you might face and are committed to being by your side throughout. If you want to speak up about an issue that matters to you, you should be free to do so without fear of being penalised. We have helped over 2,000 people who found themselves in trouble merely for expressing a controversial opinion or for exercising their lawful right to free speech, whether at college or university, in the workplace or on social media.

If you’re looking for information and guidance, or are in need immediate help, know that our team of experts are here to provide assistance, resources, and unwavering support. You’re not alone; we’re in this together.