Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’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 us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Cardiff academics hounded for eight months by trans activists with kneecapping threat

We’ve written to Jeremy Miles MS, Welsh Minister for Education, urging him to intervene in the situation at Cardiff University, where several of our members and their colleagues (all academic staff) have been targeted by trans activists in a long-running campaign of intimidation.

It began in June 2021, when the academics urged Cardiff to reconsider its continuing participation in the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. Following this, a leaflet was distributed on campus picturing a woman holding a gun, the names and photos of the signatories, and the caption “ACT NOW”. A student whistleblower then revealed violent threats being made on the Facebook page of the Cardiff LGBT+ Society. This evidence was all presented to the University and the police, but neither responded robustly to protect the academics. The University misplaced evidence, and failed to conduct a thorough investigation in a timely manner. It defended messages referring to an academic as an “ignorant fuckface” and a call to kneecap them as legitimate expressions of free speech, even after one of the signatories had his car window smashed. You can read our letter here. Ella Whelan wrote in Spiked that the case demonstrated—yet again—trans ideology’s complete capture of the universities.

According to a new study, two thirds of academics believe academic freedom is threatened in the UK, and 40% don’t feel free to select teaching material. Our founder Toby Young told the Mail:

The people who deny there’s a free speech crisis in British universities often point to the fact that only a handful of academics are no-platformed each year. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. As George Orwell pointed out in the introduction to Animal Farm, the most ubiquitous form of censorship is self-censorship, and we know from surveys and polls that a huge number of academics are self-censoring.

Student blocked from setting up free speech society after criticising SU’s intolerance of other views

We’ve been supporting student Sam Cowie, whose bid to launch a free speech society at The Open University has been blocked by its Students’ Association after he criticised its intolerance of dissenting views in the trans debate. We spoke to GB News about the case.

Meanwhile, Manchester University has been criticised for forcing out its museum director after UK Lawyers for Israel alleged his exhibition was “designed to provoke racial discord”.

Tell the Government to protect free speech

The Government is currently holding a consultation on proposals to reform the Human Rights Act 1998. This is an opportunity to push for the maintenance and strengthening of the right to freedom of expression within the UK – and if you’d like to help we’ve created these FAQs suggesting how you might respond.

Trans speech policing

Hadley Freeman wrote for UnHerd about the vilification of women who express concerns about trans ideology. The Times reported her comments about how left-wing media outlets silence women. Jo Bartosch wrote about the media’s uniform approach to respecting the “preferred pronouns” of male sex offenders who “identify as women”.

Maya Forstater, whose landmark case was a crucial victory for free speech, wrote for UnHerd about the three-year battle that ensued after she was sacked for “tweeting about the difference between sex and gender identity”.

JK Rowling was too big to cancel, so now the trans lobby are trying to pretend she never existed, wrote Suzanne Moore in the Telegraph, after pictures surfaced of a New York Times advertising campaign showing someone “Imagining Harry Potter without its creator”. Simon Evans said it would be “demented” to pretend Harry Potter could exist without JK Rowling.

Grace Lavery, a prominent trans activist, withdrew from a debate with Helen Joyce after pressure from the “trans community” not to take part in the event.

Former Green Party spokesman Shahrar Ali is bringing legal action against the party after he was sacked for his views about trans issues. A Green candidate stood down after he was perceived to be insufficiently hostile to Kathleen Stock, who was hounded out of her job at Sussex University.

Calls to ban Russia Today

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has urged Ofcom to take action against Russia Today. James Forsyth argued in the Spectator that this would be a mistake.

Culture war

Our Deputy Research Director Emma Webb spoke on GB News about the Government’s new guidance on political impartiality in schools, arguing that it doesn’t go far enough. Frank Furedi wrote about American parents’ ongoing rebellion against school indoctrination.

Our director Douglas Murray wrote in the Telegraph that UK conservatives have abandoned the battlefield in the culture wars. Thomas Prosser argued that the future of free speech increasingly rests with conservatives. Jacob Rees-Mogg said civil servants must be “completely apolitical” and not use hashtags such as #BLM. Frank Furedi said the British state is “institutionally woke”.

Professor Eric Kaufmann of our Advisory Council spoke to GB News about the meaning of “woke” and its implications for free speech, as well as about our work.

Karen Dunbar has backed the BBC’s practice of cutting “offensive” sketches from comedy repeats. Jack Dee has defended Jimmy Carr’s right to make offensive jokes. Russell Kane said speech restrictions on comedians were worse in the 1970s.

Michael Mosbacher wrote in the Spectator about the Tate’s “grubby” cancellation of Rex Whistler.

Legal updates

Ministers have rejected plans to make misogyny a hate crime. The Government has also reportedly decided against an outright ban on anonymous online accounts. Instead, social media users are to be given the ability “to prevent anonymous accounts from engaging with them online”, while social media companies will have the ability to track which accounts are unverified and anonymous, the Sun reported.

The Times warned that the Online Safety Bill threatens free expression. Fraser Nelson said the legislation would give censors more power than ever. Lord Frost wrote in the Telegraph:

So we must return to our long-established tradition of protecting free speech. When I was young, I often heard people say, of some doubtful opinion: “Well, it’s a free country.” I don’t hear that so much now. Indeed, during the pandemic, social media companies have prevented far too much perfectly legitimate debate; unfortunately, our Government has not always pushed back on this; and the Scottish Government seems to positively revel in it. Let’s recast the Online Safety Bill; let’s put more protection for free speech into law, and let’s make this a free country again.

Chris Mullin, who exposed the wrongful conviction of the Birmingham Six, is resisting a police attempt to gain access to his notebooks.

World news

Why is the Left silent on Justin Trudeau’s use of the Emergency Act to quell protests, asked Heydon Prowse. It is inconceivable that the response would have been the same if it happened in America under Trump, said Joanna Williams.

Ophélie Meunier, the French journalist who is living under police protection, has urged her country’s media to refrain from self-censorship when discussing Islamism.

Book now! Free speech from Socrates to social media

Join us in London for a live public lecture, discussion, and book launch on Thursday, March 17, as Jacob Mchangama introduces his new book, Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. Jacob is an author and lawyer, and the founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law.

Following a short lecture, Jacob will be joined in conversation by Dr Joanna Williams, writer and director of the think tank Cieo, and our general secretary Toby Young. The discussion will be chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas. There will then be a wine reception, hosted by Basic Books. Tickets are £10/£5, with special rates for FSU members using this link or enter the promo code FSUmember. 

Founder Members should email events@freespeechunion.org if they would like a complimentary ticket.

Sharing the newsletter

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 us turn the tide against cancel culture.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

@BenBarryJones

Case Officer