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.

Calls to ban RT amid warnings of reciprocal Russian ban of the BBC

Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has opened a series of investigations in to RT, previously known as Russia Today, following a letter from Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries demanding action amid wider calls to ban the Kremlin propaganda channel from the UK.Dorries described culture as “the third front in the Ukrainian war” in an article for the Telegraph. The channel was removed from Sky, and has already vanished from all TV platforms in the UK following EU sanctions of the satellite companies in Luxembourg and France which “provided the RT feed to Sky, Freesat and Freeview”.

RT has also disappeared from YouTube, which also took down Sputnik. Facebook owner Meta has pledged to do likewise. Both have also been removed from the App store. But Fraser Myers warned in Spiked that banning RT would almost certainly mean reciprocal censorship of the BBC in Russia. The BBC Press Office said millions of Russians are turning to BBC News for independent, factual reporting about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A ban on Russian state media “goes flatly against the liberal principles” the West should be upholding, argued Laurie Wastell. Ella Whelan wrote:

Unlike Russia, Western liberal democracies are supposed to trust their citizens to have access to alternative and even controversial news outlets. Unlike the Kremlin, we do not ban or penalise journalism that does not fit with our worldview. And unlike Putin, we do not sequester ourselves away from difficult or conflictual information. Press freedom is never easy to defend, but it is what differentiates us from the oppressive regime we find ourselves coming face to face with today.

Toby Young, our founder, made much the same point on Twitter:

Suppressing free speech to show our solidarity with a country fighting to uphold the right to free speech, among other democratic rights, is illogical and self-defeating; and Putin will retaliate by banning the BBC in Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia is to punish the circulation of so-called “fake news” with 15 years in jail.

The University of Milan-Bicocca has announced that a course on Dostoevsky will now no longer be taught, in order to “avoid any controversy… during a time of strong tensions”. Valery Gergiev, conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, has been sacked for refusing to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He is a “close friend” of the Russian president, the Guardian reported. Meanwhile, a councillor in Tunbridge Wells is calling for the cancellation of a show by the Russian State Opera.

Journalist Tom Burgis has triumphed in court after an attempt by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation to sue him for libel. His book Kleptopia (which can be bought here) exposes the dirty money of Russian oligarchs, among others. Speaking after his victory, Burgis said: ‘I wrote a book about what I believe is the greatest threat to freedom today: the rise of kleptocracy. I’m delighted this attempt to censor Kleptopia has failed.’ He still faces a second libel action, however, this time related to an article he wrote in the Financial Times. His publisher HarperCollins has said the attempt to silence him is “lawfare”.

Cardiff fails to act despite months of harassment targeting academics

An open letter from academics at institutions across the UK has strongly rebuked Cardiff University for its failure to defend academics against a months-long campaign of harassment and intimidation for having dared to oppose Cardiff’s continued affiliation with Stonewall. We’ve been working with the beleaguered Cardiff staff and if you’re an academic, please contact us to add your signature.

According to the Daily Mail, Cardiff claims they “have found insufficient evidence to link Cardiff University staff or students to any actions that would breach our internal disciplinary codes” – despite the academics supplying ample documentary evidence. Our general secretary Toby Young told the paper that the institution needs to launch a full investigation: “Cardiff University has completely failed to intervene while militant trans activists have created a culture of abject fear, with anyone who opposes their ideology afraid to speak out.” This was also reported by the Christian Institute.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez wrote for the Daily Mail about her experience of being targeted by trans activists at Bristol University, and Bristol’s failure to protect her rights: “While I wasn’t naive about the extent to which cancel culture had started to exert its grip here, I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, and at a university that apparently prides itself on being open-minded and welcoming.”

Online Speakeasy with Andrew Doyle

Join us on Tuesday, March 22 for our next Online Speakeasy, when Toby will be joined by comedian, author, and GB News presenter Andrew Doyle. The event is exclusive to FSU members and free to attend. Register here.

Woke institutions

Rakib Ehsan wrote in Spiked about the capture of the security services by woke ideology.  Shortly after the Russian invasion began, MI6 chief Richard Moore, who helpfully displays his preferred gender pronouns on his Twitter profile, tweeted: “We should remember the values and hard won [sic] freedoms that distinguish us from Putin, none more than LGBT+ rights. So let’s resume our series of tweets to mark #LGBTHM2022.” In response, Charles Moore wrote in the Telegraph:

The central point about Western freedom is that it is a condition of all living. It cannot be boiled down to sexuality, sex, race, region, age, religion etc.: it is not a list of specific rights granted to designated minorities, but freedom for everyone. It follows that the most important defences of freedom are general, too – the rule of law, habeas corpus, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech. It is a serious mistake to exalt group rights over the rights of each person.

The request to share one’s pronouns, common on university campuses, is really a “test” of “fealty to a fashionable ideology”, wrote Andrew Doyle.

Ministers have been told to pull their departments out of Stonewall’s censorious Diversity Champions scheme, the Times reported.

Zoe Strimpel said the trans activists’ censorship is putting women’s health in jeopardy. How did the word “woman” become taboo, asked Julie Burchill in the Spectator.

Government rejects call to eliminate the word “chairman”

The British Chambers of Commerce has asked Companies House to remove the word “chairman” from its documentation, arguing the term produces sexual inequality. The move would require a vote in the House of Commons, but the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the Government had other priorities.

Large corporations have big incentives to embrace “woke capitalism”. But the pursuit of one particular type of “equality and diversity” in the workplace – at almost any cost – is driving out dissenting opinions. Ultimately this will do huge damage, wrote William Malcolmson (a pseudonym) in Quillette.

Ceramic artist cancelled for her views on the trans debate

Artist Claudia Clare has been cancelled by Ceramic Art London, the show where she was to exhibit her work. She was told her presence there would “put the show itself under threat” because of the reaction to her gender-critical views. Women continue to bear the brunt of woke censorship, said Jo Bartosch in Spiked.

Teacher suspended after bin Laden picture used to illustrate Muhammad in class

A religious studies teacher has been suspended for having used a picture of Osama bin Laden to represent the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson. It is unclear how this came to happen. All Saints Academy in Dunstable apologised for the “deep insult”. Joanna Rossiter wrote about several recent similar cases in schools, most significantly at Batley Grammar. She also noted the case of the trainee teacher at Manchester Metropolitan University, who we assisted after he was made to attend a “fitness to practice cause for concern meeting” for having defended the right to show a Muhammad cartoon in the context of a relevant classroom discussion.

Legislative updates

Lord Frost has urged the Government to rethink the Online Safety Bill. He told the Telegraph: “The Government would be wise to take a fresh look at the Online Safety Bill before beginning discussion in Parliament. Aspects of it present a real risk to freedom of expression in this country.” Joanna Rossiter noted our concern about the loose definition of “harm” in the bill.

Feminist groups plan to take the Scottish government to court over draft legislation to introduce gender self-identification, despite widespread opposition and calls to pause the legislative process to resolve concerns raised by women about preserving same-sex spaces.

A UK Supreme Court ruling has “held that there must be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly”.

The chiefs of six police forces have criticised Home Secretary Priti Patel for not having made misogyny a hate crime.

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 the promo code FSUmember. Founder Members should email [email protected] if they would like a complimentary ticket.

Reminder: You can 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 in the UK. If you’d like to submit a response, we’ve published some FAQs to guide you.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones


Case Officer