Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter. This newsletter is a brief round-up of the free speech news of the week.

Advertising boycott of GB News condemned

On the night of its launch, Andrew Neil vowed that GB News will “puncture the pomposity of our elites and politics, business, media and academia and expose their growing promotion of cancel culture for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is”. A review in the Times said GB News’ model of “unwoke TV may yet bite”. We certainly look forward to seeing it grow. The regular Woke Watch segment will be must-watch viewing. Allison Pearson in the Telegraph says the channel is a welcome new voice. Congratulations to Inaya Folarin Iman, our former director, on her Sunday night debut.

The new channel has already sparked fury among the perpetually-offended, with a campaign to pressure companies into withdrawing their ads. Kopparberg, Grolsch, Nivea, IKEA, the Open University and Pinterest have all pulled their adverts – although Vodafone seems to be having second thoughts. Top marks to the Co-op for refusing to go along with the boycott. It told a complainant on Twitter, “We will not seek to affect the editorial independence of publications or channels.”

The Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said to the Daily Mail, “One of the cornerstones of our liberties is our robust, free and diverse media and GB News is a welcome addition to that diversity. It is up to brands to advertise where they wish, but it would be worrying if they allow themselves to succumb to pressure groups.” Also in the Mail, Mick Hume said the meek submission of corporate giants to a small number of protestors and the “grossly misnamed lobbying group Stop Funding Hate” was the slow and painful death of free speech. But there’s plenty of fight left in free speech defenders. Tom Slater slammed IKEA’s hypocrisy in Spiked, pointing out that calls for inclusion “never seem to include those who just so happen to hold a different opinion to the great and good”. In ConservativeHome Charlotte Gill condemned the “appalling but unsurprising” attempt to cancel GB News – and criticism of the boycott kept on coming: Allister Heath in the Telegraph warned businesses to drop their woke campaigning or face a consumer backlash, and Jawad Iqbal in the Times said the sabotage was an exercise in “spineless stupidity”. Writing in the Express, Leo McKinstry said the boycott was simple bullying, amid a mood of “aggressive intolerance” sweeping across the UK.

We are writing to all the companies that have suspended their advertising on GB News urging them to reconsider.

Honours for free speech campaigners

Many congratulations to Professor Nigel Biggar, Chair of the FSU, who was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours, and Dr Arif Ahmed, who was made an MBE. We’re delighted for them both.

Report + Support shows why we need the new Free Speech Bill

We have written to the Russell Group of top universities about their use of ‘Report + Support’, an online system for reporting “microaggressions”, among other things. Almost all of these websites omit key safeguards set out in law for the protection of free speech. If you are a student or an academic at a Russell Group university and have been investigated as a result of Report + Support please get in touch by emailing help@freespeechunion.org. Taxpayers have been unwittingly funding this sinister scheme.

FSU General Secretary Toby Young has written a piece for Politics.co.uk defending the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill and rebutting some of the misinformation and misconceptions being pushed about the proposed legislation.

We’d hoped to go one week without a case of censorship at Cambridge, but it wasn’t to be: Sir Noel Malcolm has accused the University of failing to publish a sympathetic article about Brexit on its website, despite including pro-Remain articles by other academics. Our Director Douglas Murray has written an eviscerating piece about Professor Stephen Toope, the Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, in the Spectator.

Members and supporters will recall that we supported Dr Neil Thin in his battle against student witchfinders at Edinburgh. He was cleared after a stressful investigation, but the students who’ve abused him online have faced no action. He doesn’t want his student accusers punished, but he does want his university to acknowledge that their behaviour was unacceptable.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay on “obscene” cancel culture went viral this week. “We have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the wrong opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow,” she wrote. Definitely worth a read.

Meanwhile, Oxford academics have been told to “leave their personal political views at home” by Lord Wharton, Chair of the Office for Students, following the news that 150 dons and graduate students are refusing to teach undergraduates at Oriel College until it pulls down its statue of Cecil Rhodes.

While we welcome the Free Speech Bill, we’re not so keen on the Online Safety Bill. Ruth Smeeth of Index on Censorship writes in the Times that the legislation “creates tiers of free speech akin to an autocratic regime – giving special protections to politicos and journalists to speak freely, while the rest of us are censored”. Members attended our FSU In-Depth event on the Online Safety Bill this week – if you want to come along to our talks, sign-up as a member here. Students can join for as little as £2.49 a month.

History lessons condemned as “terrorism”

Prevent was set-up to counter terrorism – now it’s being used to rewrite the history curriculum because it’s too white and too male, according to the Telegraph. We’ve come across other examples of Prevent being misused in this way and are worried it’s becoming a serious problem. If you’ve experienced this, please contact us.

There is mounting evidence that British schools are becoming infected by the same ideological gobbledegook that has captured American high schools. Case in point: a call for primary school pupils to learn about “white privilege” as part of the religious studies curriculum.

The age of “no debate” is over

Maya Forstater has written about last week’s landmark court ruling in her favour in ConservativeHome. “The judgment states clearly that no one has the right to harass others at work and, importantly, protects everyone from discrimination based on their belief or lack of belief,” she wrote. “This means it protects people like me who think that the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ relate to sperm and eggs and the bodies built to deliver them. It also protects those who believe in innate-but-fluid gendered identities, and who prioritise ‘gender expression’ over anatomy.” Her lawyer, Peter Daly, was named lawyer of the week by the Times.

Murdo Fraser wrote about the Forstater case in the Scotsman, noting that “it was an important ruling for champions of free speech, and a serious blow to those who have maintained the extremist position that there is ‘no debate’ around the gender issue. In a time when we have seen feminists such as Germaine Greer and JK Rowling face ‘cancelling’ for stating their opinions, this is a very welcome development.” Iain Macwhirter also welcomed the judgment.

The fightback by gender critical feminists is in full-swing, write Rosa Freedman and Jo Phoenix in the Spectator. They were given a public apology by the University of Essex, which had no-platformed them for their gender critical views. Brian Monteith says our success in Lisa Keogh’s case is a “chink of light”. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are being sued by Natalie Bird, who was banned from the party office for 10 years and from standing as an MP for the LibDems because she wore a T-shirt saying: “Woman: Adult, Human, Female”.

Compelled speech isn’t free

Readers might laugh along with Liz Jones’s A-Z of woke in the Daily Mail, if only its ideology (and vocabulary) wasn’t enforced so vigilantly by our public bodies and institutions. NHS Scotland has been accused of Stasi-like behaviour for saying it will “monitor participation” in an LGBT Pride badge-wearing campaign. Not to be outdone, the National Trust is asking volunteers – many of them elderly – to wear rainbow face paint and glitter to celebrate Pride. Harry Miller reports on the National LGBT+ Police Network’s recent antics, which has told those who dissent from its nostrums, “We see you, we have reported you.” A welcome blast of common-sense then from Stephen Watson, the new Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, who says officers’ impartiality is being jeopardised by the police taking the knee or wearing rainbow shoelaces. “The public are getting a little bit fed up of virtue-signalling police officers when they’d really rather we just locked up burglars,” he told the Telegraph.

Priti Patel adopts the FSU’s position on “taking the knee”

The row over taking the knee continues to rumble on. Home Secretary Priti Patel says the England team is engaged in “gesture politics”, but that if players are allowed to take the knee then fans should be allowed to boo, echoing the FSU’s position on the issue. The Sun pointed out that we have defended a fan who was threatened with not being allowed back into the stadium of his local club after he booed. We explained: “He didn’t boo because he disapproves of BLM, but because he wants to keep politics out of football. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to express that view, provided he does so in a lawful and peaceful way?” It isn’t just an English phenomenon. France is divided on taking the knee, writes Gavin Mortimer in the Spectator. The campaign group Don’t Divide Us has written an open letter to the FA, urging it to tell players to stop indulging in this divisive virtue-signalling.

America

Composer Daniel Elder has been blacklisted for condemning arson during the BLM protests last summer. The classical music industry now won’t touch his work; he isn’t even allowed to sing in a choir.

North Korean defector Yeonmi Park has compared her time at Colombia University to her home country – and Colombia comes off worse. “I thought America was different but I saw so many similarities to what I saw in North Korea that I started worrying,” she writes.

State legislatures are banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools.

The New York Times has retracted a claim that satire site Babylon Bee is a “far-right misinformation site” that “traffics in misinformation under the guise of satire.” It’s actually very funny.

New free speech platform

Members may be interested in Ariuum, “the first free speech video debate platform where you can create your own channel to share your ideas and opinions live with other Ariuum Citizens, while voting for the topics that you believe in”. The creators promise that Ariuum “will also be hosting live debates and discussions from the important guests that you want to hear from”. They write: “In this age of mass censorship and digital totalitarianism, it is important that we all stand for something. What do you stand for? Make your voice heard today only on Ariuum.”

Debbie Hicks: handcuffed, arrested and charged after filming inside a hospital and posting the film on Facebook

Debbie Hicks, the anti-lockdown campaigner who was arrested after she filmed what appeared to be an empty hospital ward in December last year – and posted the film on Facebook – has been charged with a Public Order Offence. She is now raising funds for her defence. Whether you agree with Debbie’s views or not, this is an important free speech case – her legal team will be running an Article 10 defence – and she deserves our support.

Sharing the Newsletter

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer