Thursday 25 October 2018

Is free speech under threat?

The BBC's Reality Check has a piece by Rachel Schraer and Ben Butcher headlined Universities: Is free speech under threat?, and the answer they give is a pretty emphatic 'No'. 

Indeed, it's clearly an attempted debunking of the kind of fears you find expressed by the likes of Brendan O'Neill and spiked, and also by many on the political Right.  

Naturally, the good folk at spiked have responded, and I have to say that I found their reality checking of the BBC's Reality Check rather convincing - especially as they give large numbers of links which back up their claims (which I've added to this post).


CAMPUS CENSORSHIP THREAD: This BBC piece is being enthusiastically shared by lecturers and students' union officers who want to pretend Free Speech isn't under attack on campus. It is. And here's why this BBC research is so shoddy 1/10

spiked's Free Speech University Rankings has for four years assessed policies that limit speech as well as bans on speakers, events and materials by both unis and students’ unions (SUs). In 2018, we found 55% placed explicit restrictions on speech 2/10

The BBC focuses on different (and very limited) metrics, and breezes over the role played by policies -- policies that, for eg, ban 'transphobic' material outright, as some unis do. Hey ho. But putting those huge oversights aside, its claims still don't stack up 3/10

It claims only six universities have banned speakers since 2010. This is incredibly misleading. The majority of speaker bans are imposed by SUs. Everyone knows this. But it seems because SUs aren't subject to freedom of information requests, they haven't been included. 4/10

We at spiked actually bother to check. We analyse news reports, contact SUs directly and pore over publicly published SU documents. But frankly, an hour on Google would make clear that six speaker bans since 2010 is a big underestimate 5/10

Only 6 speakers banned since 2010? Here's 6 to start with (Unis & SUs):

Here's 6 more (Unis & SUs):

I could go on

The BBC also pretty much dodges No Platform, despite the fact No Platform policies (held by 37% of SUs) are blanket, pre-emptive bans on speakers/groups. Events featuring speakers from those groups don't have to be cancelled because they're never approved in the first place 9/10

Measuring campus censorship is tricky. So much of it is cultural, rather than institutional. Events are disrupted by protests. People self-censor. But even if you're just looking at black-and-white policies and bans, the 'it's barely a thing' conclusion is just plain wrong 10/10


A BBC Reality Check that is just plain wrong? Well, blow me down with a feather!


Incidentally, it's only a very few years since BBC Online journalist Rachel Schraer, who co-wrote this piece, was writing pieces for The New Statesman - such as this during the 2015 general election, subsequently reposted at her own blog
The Conservatives want you to think that their programme is nasty but necessary. They’re half right.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks shouting at middle-aged white men. They are very keen to reassure me I’ll come round to their side once I grow up a bit, get a fatter pay packet and stop being so young, naïve and female.
Because, this much we know to be true – the left-leaning among us might have the bleeding hearts, but it’s the centre-right, cynical but pragmatic, who make the necessary hard decisions to fix the economy – because they used to be like you, you know, until they got real. You can accuse the Nasty party of a lot of things, but naïve idealism is not usually one them.
There’s a persistent narrative here that needs interrogating, not least so I can stop getting into arguments with old Tories. It’s become so ingrained that even people who stand against Conservative policies have internalised the belief they are based in hard-nosed, sensible economics.
I presume she wasn't a BBC journalist three years ago, but fresh out of uni maybe? Where, as a "left-leaning" student, she'd have been regularly "shouting at middle-aged white men" perchance? Was she the very kind of student union activist that she's defending here?


  1. Spiked are a great outfit. Left of centre populists. We need more of them. Incidentally I saw some idiot at the BBC referred to them as "libertarian" - the teenager concerned probably doesn't even know what it means.

    Anyway, that is a perfect, well researched filleting of the BBC's attack on free speech, by way of a "Reality Check". We all know about how very biased and sloppy the BBC Reality Checks are. This simply confirms it from another source.

    I would add that there is structural bias within academia in that no one who is not at a minimum a left wing establishment Conservative in the Clarkeian mould has any chance of forging an academic career these days. So there are simply not the right wing,traditionalist, nationalist (except Celtic nationalists of course)or populist academics who might invite non-left wing speakers on to campus in any number. It would be good for students (and lecturers) to be exposed to a range of ideas. That no longer happens and so they leave uni with their snowflakery completely intact.

    Rachel should spend less time shouting at Tories and more time interrogating her own assumptions.

  2. This is extremely concerning - the Police coming round in the middle of the night in pursuit of what is in reality a completely trivial complaint. We aren't talking knife crime, major drug dealing, human trafficking, grooming gangs, acid attacks or anything like that. We are talking about someone finding her journalism "offensive". I find
    plenty of the BBC's journalism offensive. I'm not expecting the Police to investigate the BBC's reporters...and I am certainly not asking the Police to break into Mark Easton's house in the middle of the night.

    It appears the CPS immediately decided not to pursue a prosecution...

    Wise decision from CPS!

    You know what is the worst thing about this? There isn't a single MP who will raise this in Parliament. Not one! That's how weak our defence of free speech is in this country.

    1. What happened to Jonaya's compatriot livestreamer Based Amy is very very similar
      The pretext being that Amy had said "Have a gay day" to a supermarket security guard after a minor tiff

  3. Spiked has been doing research and publishing its report on speech in universities for a few years now. Tom Slater knows what he's talking about. For my money he's one of the sharpest at Spiked, always well argued, clear, quick and concise when he appears on the press review, as in his written articles.

  4. And then there's this:

    Our politicians will be straight on this, enshrining it in UK law...well in fact I think it might be there already in effect by our Human Rights legislation.

    1. This case has been on the go for about eight years and started with an undercover journalist at seminars at a Freedom Party institute. There have been other cases at the ECtHR about freedom of expression cited in this case, some of them involving the UK.

      The HRA brought in the ECHR to be applied in our courts but we also brought domestic laws on religious / racial discrimination, hate, incitement and whatnot, so there's scope here too for similar findings in cases. Mind, there's been criticism here of using the ECHR and the government wanted to bring in our own Bill of Rights instead of the HRA. But Lib Dems...but pending Brexit...

    2. I don't know how it squares up with the ECHR's previous declaration that Sharia Law was incompatible with European Convention on Human Rights. Times change, judges change. We are presumably now getting the full on PC multiculturalist no-borders crowd coming through.

  5. I feel sure Dimbleby will be polishing his rebuttals and party piece rabbit out of hat in preparation for Any Questions tonight with Gerard Batten
    'Jonathan Dimbleby hosts political debate from Middlesbrough Town Hall with a panel including the leader of UKIP Gerard Batten MEP, the Labour MP Caroline Flint, Tim Roache from the GMB trade union and the Conservative Party MP Anna Soubry'

    1. Sorry, I posted this in the wrong place, forgetting that it wasn't the Open Thread.

    2. Should be interesting. Batten has done very well in refusing to be cowed by the media bullies. No doubt Jonathan will have a go with a few prepared quotes to throw back at him. I think Batten was right the other day when fending off Coburn the Barbarian to mention Savile. It unsettled her. He should use that weapon straight off if Dimbleby goes after him - and ask Jonathan Dimbleby if he was aware of the rumours, as a BBC insider...


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