Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF) – new Portsmouth branch formed!

University of Portsmouth members: if you would like to join the newly formed Portsmouth branch of Academics For Academic Freedom please sign the pledge here and email them at [email protected]. You can find out more at the group’s new website (here). Their Twitter page is here.

Sharron Davies MBE book launch – book now!

Of all the issues thrown up by the rise of gender ideology, safety and fairness in women’s sport is probably the one that has grabbed most mainstream attention. And yet, too often, the debate has been shut down, with those raising questions accused of ‘transphobia’. One of the most stalwart defenders of the integrity of women’s sports is the British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE.

We are therefore delighted to be hosting the official launch of Sharron’s new book, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport, on Wednesday 5th July. Join us online or in-person in central London to hear from Sharron about why she wrote the book and the struggles she’s faced to get her arguments heard.

We have brought together a superb panel to discuss the issues with Sharron, including Dr Emma Hilton, the award-winning development biologist who has advised various sporting bodies on transgender policy, including World Rugby, as well as Cathy Devine, an independent researcher who has published widely in the areas of sport policy, equality and human rights for girls and women.

In the chair will be the FSU’s Education and Events Director Dr Jan Macvarish.

There will be an audience Q&A and plenty of time to socialise afterwards over a complimentary glass of wine, courtesy of Swift Press. The book will also be on sale on the night and Sharron will be signing copies.

In-person tickets with a discount price for FSU members can be purchased here. Members who prefer to watch the event online can register here. And non-FSU members who want to watch online can pay £5 to register here.

FSU Summer Speakeasies – tickets now available!

If you can get to Edinburgh on Wednesday 19th July, do please join us for our Summer Speakeasy on a particularly timely subject: ‘Can the Arts Survive and Thrive in Scotland?’ Taking place just weeks before the Edinburgh Festival, where comedian Jerry Sadowitz will return with his show in defiance of last year’s cancellation, and with our Scottish Advisory Council member Joanna Cherry MP due to speak after an unsuccessful attempt to no-platform her, our guest speakers – poet Jenny Lindsay, actress Kirstin McLean and author Ewan Morrison – will take us through the free speech issues faced by artists, writers and performers, and discuss how we can stand up for the right of audiences to judge for themselves. Get your tickets here.

On Thursday 20th July, we’ll be in Manchester with what looks set to be a fascinating event entitled ‘Free Speech: A Radical History’ which will focus on the city’s historic political struggles. We’ve invited two local historians – Michael Herbert of Red Flag Walks and Jonathan Schofield, tour guide and editor of Manchester Confidential – to share their knowledge and they’ll be joined by historian of US political history, Dr Cheryl Hudson. Tickets are available here.

Latest episode of the FSU’s podcast is out now!

Oxfam is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. Hosts Ben and Tom begin the latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast wondering why the charity keeps stepping on unexploded bombs in the culture wars.

The case of an Oxfam employee who felt she had no choice but to resign due to the hostile environment she faced after expressing perfectly reasonable support for JK Rowling leads us into more general discussion of employee speech codes.

There’s now hardly a workplace without a speech code (often disguised as an ‘EDI Policy’), and we ponder how a single individual can now be subject to several codes at the same time, yet none of them ever seems to be applied in an even-handed way. It’s also very rare to stumble upon a speech code that challenges fashionable opinion rather than reflecting it.

Listen in full – and for free – by clicking here.

The FSU is hiring!

The FSU is currently hiring for two new roles.

We’re looking for a Legal Officer to assist our Chief Legal Counsel and pro-bono lawyers with legal research, casework, drafting and preparation of documents.

This role will involve working closely with our teams of lawyers on free speech disputes in the workplace, universities, professional associations and voluntary organisations. It will give you an opportunity to work with solicitors and barristers on free speech cases, to assist members in need of help, and to advocate for changes to policy and the law.

The deadline is midnight on Friday 16th June – details are available here.

We’re also looking for an Events and Mactaggart Programme Assistant. This role is an excellent opportunity to develop skills in organising a wide range of events for diverse audiences around the UK; to acquire expertise and build contacts across the free speech landscape; and to understand how free speech is situated within the broader political context. You will engage with hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds and have plenty of opportunities to contribute ideas to the development of FSU Events and the Ian Mactaggart Programme, which is administered by the FSU and exists to provide grants to individuals, societies and other groups that wish to provide opportunities for debate, open discussion and intellectual exploration.

Applications will close on Friday 30th June with interviews to take place remotely thereafter. You can find out more here.

Gillian Philip case – show your support here!

FSU member Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job.

Gillian brought an Employment Tribunal claim against publishers Working Partners and HarperCollins, arguing that she was unlawfully discriminated against when her contract to write children’s books was terminated because of her gender critical beliefs.

A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether Gillian’s claim had been filed in time and whether she had rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a worker or employee of Working Partners.

The judge at the Employment Tribunal described Gillian’s situation as unique. (The judgement can be found here.) Gillian won on the trickiest aspect of her case, delay in bringing a claim. The judge found that it was just and equitable to allow her case to be pleaded after the time limit because in the immediate aftermath of her sacking by Working Partners she was depressed following the death of her husband.

However, although Gillian won on the time question, she lost on the worker status question and so she now seeks to appeal that part of the judgement to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In launching her appeal, Gillian will once again need your help. You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.

Gillian and the FSU are particularly keen to hear from ghost writers and journalists on stringer contracts about how they are controlled by their publishers, since that might be helpful in this case. This appeal could be of ground-breaking importance in the publishing industry, determining not only the freedom of speech rights for contract writers, but also pay and conditions. If Uber drivers can break free, so can authors. Please join the fight here.

Censorship Industrial Complex event – book your tickets here!

Twitter Files journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi will be joined by Russell Brand at Central Hall Westminster on Thursday 22nd June for an event about what they describe as ‘the Censorship Industrial Complex’, a system that consists of dozens of rich and powerful governmental and nongovernmental organisations around the world energetically working to suppress ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. You can find out more and purchase tickets here.

One particular aspect of that nascent industry which the FSU is monitoring is the rise of “disinformation trackers”, a new front in the battle for free speech online. Brands looking to expand their digital footprint by promoting products online through multiple websites and platforms are increasingly turning to these organisations for information on how to manage reputational risk, which, in turn, has given them considerable power to infringe upon the free speech rights of journalists and bloggers that dissent from woke orthodoxy.

Matt Taibbi has compiled a top-50 style ranking of the “main players” in the new anti-disinformation industry. At #37 in his list is the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a UK-based, government-funded organisation that, according to Taibbi, “announces openly that its strategy is to push major digital marketing clients to redirect their online ad spending”.

Taxpayers’ money is being funnelled through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to the GDI, which compiles a ‘dynamic exclusion list’ – or ‘blocklist’ – of mostly conservative publications and then feeds that list to advertising agencies with the aim of persuading them not to advertise in them.

One of the reasons the GDI poses such a threat to free speech is that its definition of ‘disinformation’ is unusually broad. It doesn’t just mean information that’s false and disseminated by people who know it’s false and have malevolent intentions. The GDI includes in its definition of disinformation what it calls “adversarial narratives… which create a risk of harm by undermining trust in science or targeting at-risk individuals or institutions”.

So, for instance, if a conservative publication like Breitbart decides to use the term ‘illegal alien’ in its crime reporting – rather than the more neutral ‘undocumented immigrant’ – the GDI classifies that as disinformation. Does that make Breitbart’s reporting inaccurate? Of course not. As the GDI’s Executive Director, Danny Rogers, cheerfully concedes, “each individual story would likely fact check to be technically correct, in that the crime did happen and the alleged perpetrator was likely an undocumented immigrant”. The problem, he says, is that such phrases are integral to an “adversarial narrative” that poses a “risk of harm to vulnerable populations”.

As Matt Taibbi puts it: “The GDI’s credibility/risk/trust scoring is built atop a series of subjective variables, among them the use of ‘targeting language’ that ‘demeans or belittles people or organisations’, or includes ‘hyperbolic’, ‘emotional’ and ‘alarmist’ language.”

On the basis of that credibility/risk/trust scoring system, the GDI has previously engaged in ‘risk’ scoring of news media organisations that down-ranked many conservative outlets including The American Spectator, The Federalist, The American Conservative, One America News, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, Real Clear Politics, Reason and the New York Post. “It should be noted,” Taibbi adds, “that two of the organisations deemed least trustworthy by the GDI are the New York Post, whose story about the Hunter Biden laptop was wrongly censored, and Reason magazine, one of the few prominent press critics of organised censorship.”