Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week.

Mixed bag in new report on Online Safety Bill

The cross-party Joint Committee on the Online Safety Bill has published its report on the legislation. We’ve welcomed proposals for new free speech protections, the committee’s defence of online anonymity, and its call for a stricter definition of the “psychological harm” that the Bill is seeking to prohibit. But we are strongly opposed to the incorporation of the Law Commission’s recommendations concerning ‘stirring up’ offences and the proposed extension of the scope of the Equality Act.

Toby wrote about the Committee’s findings in the Spectator:

Conspicuous by its absence in this report is any sense that social media can be a huge amount of fun, providing people with hours of harmless entertainment. Rather, it’s the Wild West as envisaged by Sam Peckinpah – a perilous landscape in which malevolent outlaws lurk round ever corner. Perhaps if the authors spent a little more time on Twitter and Facebook, and less time being lobbied by people claiming to be speaking on behalf of victim groups, they might place a higher value on the free exchange of opinions and ideas.

An online petition entitled Do not restrict our right to freedom of expression online is “calling on the Government to remove provisions within the Bill that specifically target lawful expression”. If you agree that “the Government has a duty under human rights law to protect free speech” we encourage you to sign the petition.

Spate of legal challenges fighting back against imposition of trans doctrine

The fundraiser for Rosie Kay, the choreographer and FSU member forced out of her own dance company after questioning trans ideology at a dinner party, raised nearly £30,000 in a week. You can still donate to help her fight her legal battles. Julie Bindel said Rosie was “the latest in a long line of women being harassed, hounded and psychologically tortured for standing up to misogynists and their handmaidens”. Her case was also noted by Raquel Rosario Sanchez in Spiked.

Justin Welby said last week in the House of Lords that he was very disturbed by the abuse of gender-critical feminists such as JK Rowling. The author appeared only in minute small print this week in the trailer for the new Fantastic Beasts film she helped to write. But the author is uncancellable, said Suzanne Moore in the Telegraph; and according to Joan Smith in UnHerd, Rowling remains a formidable adversary of the radical demand for “self-ID” being pushed by trans activists and the Scottish Government. Sarah Vine said that JK Rowling was her woman of the year.

Comedian, GB News presenter and FSU Advisory Council member Andrew Doyle spoke to Professor Jo Phoenix following her resignation from the Open University. She is taking her former employer to an employment tribunal.

A ban on “conversion therapy” is not as simple as it appears, wrote Kathleen Stock, as an overly broad ban could criminalise the referral of children who present as trans or non-binary to psychotherapists, even if they have a history of mental illness. James Esses was summarily expelled from his training course for making that point. You can help him fight his legal battle here. Meanwhile, the terms “men” and “women” have been removed from the sex education curriculum in Wales.

Lisa Keogh is continuing to fundraise for her lawsuit against Abertay University. Lisa is the FSU member whose case became a cause célèbre earlier this year after she was subjected to an investigation during the last months of her law degree for challenging trans dogma.

Durham academics “whipping up mob” against Professor Luckhurst

Durham students have threatened a rent strike unless Professor Tim Luckhurst is ousted for having invited Rod Liddle to speak earlier this month. They’ve said “nothing is off the table” in terms of their tactics. One strategy demonstrators have mooted is to submit mass requests to transfer out of South College unless Luckhurst, who is the Principal, is fired. One student said: “Students aren’t giving up this fight because they are yet to feel safe again in South College. We won’t rest until we feel safe in our homes.” Spiked editor Tom Slater said the student revolt was, “in a word, pathetic”.

The Mail on Sunday reported that at least 13 of Durham University’s college principals had issued statements expressing sympathy with the student protestors. One principal told students she stood in “solidarity with all those targeted in Rod Liddle’s speech”. The paper reported that four departments have backed student demonstrators. Our founder Toby Young was quoted in the report:

The fact that senior members of the University are whipping up a mob of censorious student activists against a colleague is shocking. They appear not to have read Durham’s freedom of expression policy. Not only should the College Principals be upholding these values, they also have a legal duty to secure freedom of speech within the law on campus. Something has gone very wrong at Durham.

Lord Wharton of the Office for Students has said about this incident that a “robust and tolerant” exchange of views is essential to the purpose of higher education. We wrote to the OfS urging the university regulator to monitor the situation at Durham closely.

An entire generation seems puzzled by the concept of free speech, wrote Peter Hitchens in connection with this episode, but Andrew Doyle said: “We’re not hearing from those students who think it’s a great idea to hear alternative views, even and especially if they disagree with them. As ever, it’s the noisiest ones we hear.” He also warned of the danger of “safetyism”. Celia Walden interviewed students pushing back against the censorious climate on UK campuses.

Meanwhile, Rod Liddle thanked us for our support in an article in the Sun: “less than two years ago [Toby] set up the Free Speech Union. It has been a huge success, fighting the cancel culture. And sticking up for people persecuted by the woke brigade.”

Jordan Peterson spoke to the Telegraph about his experience of cancellation at the hands of the University of Cambridge. He said: “If you can’t say what you think, soon you won’t be able to think, because mostly we think in words.”

The Daily Express reported that 15 universities carry out “social media listening”. One student who organised a rent strike found that his university had 190 pages of records about his social media activity and his whereabouts on campus.

A “Palestinian liberation” meeting at Goldsmiths banned Jewish and white students from attending. The meeting was limited to students from “African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean and other black communities”.

Government says Human Rights Act reform will strengthen free speech

Dominic Raab has unveiled proposals to reform the Human Rights Act, with a consultation to be launched next week. The proposals will place free speech above the right to privacy, making it harder for wealthy celebrities to gag the press, reported the Times and Mail+.

The proposals were welcomed by the Telegraph, for whom the Attorney-General Suella Braverman wrote: “Our reforms would therefore strengthen the right to freedom of expression, preserving space for wide and vigorous democratic debate. We should make clear the utmost importance attached to this right.”

Nicola Sturgeon greatest foe of free speech in FSU members’ poll

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was named the greatest menace to free speech in the UK by Free Speech Union members at our Christmas Review last week.

Our Director of Case Management Fraser Hudghton said: “I [nominated] Nicola Sturgeon for the Hate Crime Act, which has yet to be put into practice because it’s so unworkable… If it is ever activated it will mean there’s less free speech permitted in Scotland than anywhere else in Europe.”

Cancel culture can be beaten

If you haven’t already, do pick up a copy of Nick Buckley’s new book Lessons in Courage: How I Fought Back Against Cancel Culture and Won. You can buy it here.

Terry Gilliam’s show, cancelled by the Old Vic over his supposedly problematic comments, will now be hosted at the Theatre Royal Bath. He revealed the “unspeakable crime” that ultimately led to his cancellation: recommending his Facebook followers watch a Dave Chapelle show. Jim Murray spoke to the Daily Mail about his experience of being cancelled, and his new war on woke.

Twitter to ban true claims about COVID vaccines under “misinformation” policy

Twitter has revealed new measures under its COVID “misleading information” policy. Users will now have a strike against them if they say “the vaccines will cause you to be sick, spread the virus, or would be more harmful than getting COVID-19” or spread “false or misleading claims that people who have received the vaccine can spread or shed the virus (or symptoms or immunity) to unvaccinated people”. The fact that that latter claim is true will be no defence.

A Dutch MP has been told by a court to delete social media posts comparing the treatment of people who haven’t been vaccinated to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. According to the BBC, the court judge ruled against him for “pointlessly offending Holocaust victims and their relatives”. Thierry Baudet MP called the ruling “incomprehensible” and “crazy”.

Woke watch

The armed forces are to get a new “inclusive language” guide produced by the MoD’s Diversity and Inclusion Directorate. The Telegraph reported that it recommended avoiding phrases such as “deaf to our pleas” in case they cause offence.

Is wokeness almost over, asked Scott McConnell in The American Conservative. Ed West mentioned McConnell’s article in his own piece asking whether the tide really has begun to turn. (He doesn’t think so.) Greg Lukianoff said we are now in the “second great age of political correctness”, and that to get out we must first grasp the “true depths of the problem”. Joel Kotkin said the “woke assault on Western civilisation” was tantamount to a new Dark Age.

The Oxford University Press has advised parents to centre children’s bedtime reading around “current and future societal issues” such as “diversity, homelessness and the need to care for the environment”, the Times reported.

The National Trust has appointed a new chairman, who is neither woke nor anti-woke. He is widely seen as a “safe pair of hands” and a non-political choice, the Telegraph reported.

A Louisiana judge has been placed on unplaced leave after video emerged of her using what the BBC called a “racial slur” while describing a burglar outside her house.

New Zealand FSU back academic probed for wanting science lessons to focus on science

The Mail Online reported on the case of Professor Garth Cooper and his colleagues, who signed an open letter opposing the introduction of Māori mythology into science lessons. He is being supported by our New Zealand affiliate. Rod Liddle said the case heralded a De-Enlightenment, while John Ross asked in an article for Times Higher Education if it was “legitimate for some leading scholars to criticize plans to add Māori knowledge to the school curriculum”. The Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University who initially said the letter had caused “caused considerable hurt and dismay among our staff, students and alumni” has now spoken up for free speech. You can read her latest announcement here.

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A final reminder: if you’re a working academic and haven’t yet joined the Free Speech Union, or if you know somebody who should, we’ve put a special offer in place whereby if you join you can claim a £10 rebate. To be eligible, you need to join for the full annual amount of £49.95 and select “Academic” in the dropdown menu asking what profession you’re in. Offer ends on 20 December.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones


Case Officer