• Liberate the Debate

To those responsible for the censorship of journalists

‘The idea to express views and ideas freely, without fear of interference or persecution, is an essential part of democracy’. I can think of few arenas where challenging ideas through debate, an exercise of our human rights, is more appropriate than in higher education. The recent censorship of Peter Hitchens, a prominent, controversial journalist and social commentator, who was due to speak at Portsmouth’s Students’ Union is a disgrace, and a direct attack on freedom of expression.


Never mind, the censors claim, the talk is only being delayed. What a precedent to set! That students should be unable to challenge journalists, as their opinions are incapable of co-existing with the current celebration at their university. So much for tolerance! In their efforts to promote respect and openness, they have in fact just enforced their own moral conservatism, of bigotry and prejudice to those who they view as ‘outsiders’.


Let us make no mistake, this journalist has been no-platformed on the basis that his opinions are so offensive, so disrespectful, so radical, that they are totally unsuitable. A minority of students have found that the consequence of Mr Hitchens exercising his human rights is far too insulting and disrespectful, and therefore he ought to be censored. Yet he was not even due to discuss any issues relating to the LGBT+ History Month; it must have been his sheer presence that was so overwhelmingly offensive as to warrant his censorship.

Apparently, the Union believe in freedom of expression only 11 months a year, provided that the content of speech is not at odds with whichever celebration is taking place at the time. If the Union really believes in freedom of expression, a human right as they claim they do, why didn’t they facilitate a protest, allowing those students who object to Mr Hitchens presence to scrutinise him, and to protest the event?


SO, WHAT ARE THE NEW FREEDOM OF SPEECH GUIDELINES FOR UNIVERSITIES?


The recent guidelines state the following:

1. Everyone has the right to free speech within the law.

2. Higher education providers should always work to widen debate and challenge, never to narrow it.

3. Any decision about speakers and events should seek to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression.

4. Peaceful protest is a protected form of expression; however, protest should not be allowed to shut down debate or infringe the rights of others.

5. Freedom of expression should not be abused for the purpose of unchallenged hatred or bigotry. Providers of higher education should always aim to encourage balanced and respectful debate.


Freedom of speech continues to be under attack. With speakers being silenced through loopholes, and a minority of radical students continuing to police campus thought, Liberate the Debate stands in opposition to this trend. These issues are affecting those from all over the political spectrum, who we are determined to continue working with in order to promote the human rights of all students across the country.


Sincerely,

A ‘free speech warrior’

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