Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter. This newsletter is a brief round-up of the free speech news of the week.
The FSU has published a report on non-crime hate incidents by director of research Dr Radomir Tylecote. An Orwellian Society: Non Crime Hate Incidents and the policing of speech argues that the recording of these non-crimes against people’s names on the police’s national database – and which show up on people criminal records when employers carry out enhanced DBS checks – has a chilling effect on free speech. Radomir had made a video summarising his report and written a piece for Spiked in which he concludes that the police “should have no role in policing speech”.
Also this week, ex-policeman Harry Miller was in the Court of Appeal in London challenging the High Court’s decision not to declare the recording of non-crime hate incidents unlawful in a case he brought against Humberside Police and the College of Policing last year. Miller’s lawyers argued that this practice “violates the right to freedom of expression” and affords a “heckler’s veto” to anyone wanting to silence an opposing view.
The FSU had pledged to help Harry with his legal costs should he be unsuccessful. You can contribute to the FSU’s litigation fund here.
Hate Crime Bill
After a heated debate in Holyrood, the Scottish Hate Crime Bill was passed last night. During the debate, a reference to Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which “allows for the expression of information or ideas that offend, shock or disturb” was added to the Bill, but other amendments, concerning the definition of “male” and “female”, the removal of protections for “cross-dressers” and the inclusion of sex as a protected characteristic, failed.
FSU assistant director of research Emma Webb has written a piece for The Critic tying together the Harry Miller case and the Scottish Hate Crime Bill. A society without freedom of speech, she says, is one “with the life crushed out of it. This is why, historically, free speech is the canary in the coal mine when darker days are looming”.
Toby Young, the FSU’s General Secretary, said last night: “This is a dark day for Scotland and reveals the Scottish government’s ugly authoritarian streak. How long before being a member of the SNP becomes a ‘protected characteristic’ and any criticism of the party is punishable by seven years in jail?”
Cancel Culture Reaches Critical Mass
Ofcom tweeted that by Tuesday afternoon it had received 41,015 complaints about Piers Morgan’s comments on Monday’s episode of Good Morning Britain and had launched an investigation under its ‘harm and offence’ rules. Morgan faced criticism for his remarks about the Duchess of Sussex’s mental health revelations during her and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, and dramatically walked off the set of GMB on Tuesday, mid-broadcast, for the last time, after the programme’s weatherman, Alex Beresford, criticised him and defended the Duchess.
CNN reported that Meghan Markle herself complained to ITV about Morgan’s remarks, leading ITV to demand an apology, which Morgan refused, opting to quit instead. Morgan told journalists on Wednesday that he believes in freedom of speech, and tweeted: “On Monday, I said I didn’t believe Meghan Markle in her Oprah interview. I’ve had time to reflect on this opinion, and I still don’t. If you did, OK. Freedom of speech is a hill I’m happy to die on. Thanks for all the love, and hate. I’m off to spend more time with my opinions.”
Toby has written to the CEO of ITV, Dame Carolyn McCall, to request clarification on the reported facts, and how, if the reports are true, the broadcaster’s behaviour is “consistent with ITV’s duties under section 5 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code”.
Morgan’s wasn’t the only scalp claimed by the Duchess. Ian Murray was forced to resign as executive director of the Society of Editors after issuing a statement on Monday on behalf of the Society headlined: “UK media not bigoted.” He claimed Meghan’s branding of the British press as “racist” was “not acceptable” and lacked “supporting evidence”. More than 160 “journalists of colour” signed an open letter to the Society written by Guardian journalist Haroon Siddique criticising the statement. Following the letter, nominees in the forthcoming National Press Awards, an event organised by the Society of Editors, began to drop out and Murray lost the support of his Board.
Winston Marshall is reportedly taking a break from the band Mumford & Sons, for which he played the banjo, after praising Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy, a book by the journalist Andy Ngo. In a tweet, which was quickly removed, he wrote: “Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man.” Following a tsunami of criticism on Twitter, Marshall apologised and said he’d use his time away from the band “to examine my blind spots”. Ngo’s book can be purchased here.
Gordon Beattie, founder of PR company Beattie Communications, has resigned as Chairman for a post on LinkedIn that read: “At Beattie Communications, we don’t hire blacks, gays or Catholics. We sign talented people and we don’t care about the colour of their skin, sexual orientation or religion. That’s the way it should be with every company – only hire people for their talent, experience, knowledge and wisdom.” After the first line of the post was taken out of context by people claiming to be offended by it, Beattie apologised, saying he was being “deliberately controversial” to draw attention to his company’s meritocratic hiring policy. But the criticism continued, forcing him to resign. “It’s a wrench to step down as chair but I feel I have no alternative,” he said. “The time is right to go.”
James Moore lost his position working for NHS Wales for a social media post comparing the attitude of Welsh nationalists towards people in Wales who don’t speak Welsh to the treatment of black people in apartheid South Africa. Writing in UnHerd, Paul Embery said Moore’s defenestration was depressingly familiar: “Moore’s case follows a well-worn pattern. First, the miscreant must apologise profusely for his foul deed. Then his employer must fire him (or at least issue a strongly-worded statement distancing itself from his views and assuring the world that they do not reflect the organisation’s own values). And, finally, in cases where the target has any sort of public standing, Media companies must deny him a platform in the future. And all too often, all three – the offender, the employer and elements of the media – will duly oblige.”
Brian Monteith, editor of ThinkScotland.org and member of the FSU, whose ads were banned by Facebook, ostensibly for “vaccine discouragement” – despite none of the articles in question discouraging vaccines – credits the FSU with helping him uncover “the disturbing truth about what was going on”. He explains in the Mail on Sunday: “Political opponents, almost certainly Scottish Nationalists, were abusing Facebook’s anonymous complaint system to trigger an automatic ban.”
The FSU organised a letter, signed by numerous MPs and peers, and sent it to Facebook’s Oversight Board, which led a few days later to a “rare apology” from Facebook. Monteith goes on to denounce censorship and cancel culture, concluding: “I believe free expression and opposing views are an essential part of discovering the truth. But those that believe in control have no such scruples, while big tech overlords in Silicon Valley sit back and collect their vast, ever-swelling revenues.”
Following the intervention of the FSU, Calvin Robinson has been reinvited as an external speaker at an educational event after being no-platformed two weeks ago. Jan Macvarish, the FSU’s Education and Events Director who played a pivotal role in getting Calvin reinvited, said: “I am delighted to say that Calvin Robinson’s invitation to speak at an event for school teachers has been restored following fruitful dialogue with the organisers. They had felt under pressure to cancel his proposed presentation on the lack of viewpoint diversity in education, when a few other speakers and attendees raised objections. Following productive and thoughtful discussions amongst the broader group of teachers involved, many of whom were keen to hear from Calvin, it was decided that the event should go ahead as originally planned.”
Professor Gregory Clark
The FSU has pulled together a letter, signed by over 70 academics, objecting to the cancellation of a seminar by Professor Gregory Clark at Glasgow University’s Adam Smith Business School. The seminar, entitled “For Whom the Bell Curve Tolls: a lineage of 400,000 individuals 1750-2020 shows genetics determines most social outcomes”, was due to be given last month, but was “postponed” after more than 100 Glasgow academics wrote to the Vice-Chancellor urging him to cancel it.
Our letter in support of Professor Clark points out that section 26 of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 imposes a legal duty on higher education providers to uphold academic free speech. In addition, Glasgow University issued a statement on academic freedom in 2018 saying it supports the right of “individuals, groups and societies to arrange events, conferences, lectures and seminars on challenging topics with speakers who may be controversial”.
The signatories of the letter include the current executive director and president of the Economic History Association, as well as 15 ex-presidents, and some of the leading economic historians in the field, including Niall Ferguson and Deirdre McCloskey.
You can read a story in the Scottish Times about the letter here.
Effects of cancel culture
Vogue magazine has highlighted the negative effects of cancel culture on mental health, explaining: “A culture that encourages people to be quick to cancel and reluctant to forgive is dangerous. It creates an environment that doesn’t allow anyone to correct their behaviour (they should’ve known better), nor learn from their mistakes.” The article ends with some advice by psychologist and author Kimberley Wilson, including “get off social media” and “remember that cancelling is not actually about morality; it’s about dominance”.
Meanwhile, twenty employees at Teen Vogue have written a letter publicly criticising the newly appointed editor Alexi McCammond, 27, for tweets she sent as a teenager with pejorative references to Asian and gay people.
Julie Burchill is hopeful that the tide is turning on woke censorship, citing the recent establishment of the Free Speech Champions as well as the planned “replatforming” of previously cancelled speakers, including Maya Forstater, Kathleen Stock and Professor Selina Todd, by a new group called the Cambridge Radical Feminist Network. “The silencing comes from the intellectual inadequacy of the envious,” she says.
A new report for the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology by politics professor and FSU Advisory Council member Eric Kaufmann found that universities in Britain, the US and Canada are discriminating against conservatives. According to the data, which rely on eight surveys of academics and graduate students, “Seventy-five percent of conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities in the US and Britain say their departments are a hostile environment for their beliefs.” Kaufmann concludes: “Universities cannot reform themselves. Reform will require regulatory oversight from government, along the lines of new policies recently announced by Boris Johnson’s Conservative government in Britain, until things change.”
Writing in the Guardian, Barrister John Bowers QC and former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission David Isaac argue that the recently announced creation of a ‘Free Speech Champion’ by the Department for Education is unnecessary and misguided. The proposed legislation would further complicate an already complicated legal area and would have the effect of burdening universities with litigation. Existing ECHR Guidance is more than adequate, they argue, summing up: “We deplore the cancelling of any meetings which are lawful, but these issues will not be helped by further legislation or litigation.”
H.R. 1, a Bill recently passed by the United States Congress, will have the effect of censoring “more online political speech than anything those working in Big Tech have dreamed up”, according to Eric Peterson, writing in Reason. Any individual or organisation placing a political ad will be required to include within the ad their “name and give a means for the viewer to find the sponsor’s street address, telephone number, and website URL, and say that the ad is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee”. Furthermore, all platforms hosting political ads will have to maintain a database of all ads costing over $500 for each advertiser. Peterson argues that this would have a chilling effect on free speech because “these rules would be impractical for any small companies to comply with, leaving potentially only the largest and most profitable companies to run political ads”.
Heresy and moral loopholes
Making the case for heresy, which comes from the Greek for “choice of belief”, Mick Hume says that “free speech only needs defending for those deemed heretics and extremists. The mainstream and orthodox thought can look after itself”. Drawing on Socrates, Sir Edward Coke, John Milton, John Wilkes, and John Stuart Mill, Hume insists that “free speech for all is a virtuous end in itself, regardless of what is being said, because it is the living proof of our autonomy, equality and right to choose what we believe”.
Evolutionary psychologist and FSU member Chris Paley is the author of Beyond Bad: How Obsolete Morals Are Holding Us Back, released this week. In the book he describes cancel culture as a “loophole in morality”, explaining: “Condemning misbehaviour is a convincing signal of virtue: declaring your anger at those who engage in some misdeed improves hearers’ perception of you more than if you simply state that you don’t engage in the transgression yourself. To put it simply, virtue signalling is an easy way to improve your standing in society, and at no personal cost.” The book can be purchased here.
FSU member Will Knowland, the Eton teacher who was sacked for refusing to remove a video lecture from YouTube without being given a good reason to do so by the headmaster, is challenging his dismissal at an Employment Tribunal. He is looking for feedback from FSU members, especially teachers, on whether they felt his lecture, the Patriarchy Paradox, was offensive, either in content or delivery, in relation to any protected characteristics, particularly sex or sexual orientation. If you would like to help Will with his court case by testifying to that effect, you can reach him at [email protected].
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