Speaking at last night’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, Chief Executive
John Kampfner outlined the plans, opportunities and challenges for Index on Censorship in the year ahead.
Two and a half decades in journalism took me to Berlin for the fall of the wall, to Russia for the collapse of Communism, to Rwanda for the terrible genocide. They also took me to Westminster for the likes of Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, and, yes, Damian McBride. One of the frustrations of that profession is that you talk about what other people do, but you rarely have the chance to do it yourself.
Free expression is under threat as never before. It goes to the core of civil liberties and to the health of civil society around the world.
Index on Censorship is a wonderful organisation, as many will attest. When Index on Censorship was founded the issue was much more black and white. Some states and systems were identified as abusers of free speech, others as promoters. Now the concerns are more variegated. Free speech is seen by some not as a bedrock of human rights, but as a challenge to them, for example on so-called ‘hate speech’. Restrictions are being imposed not just by authoritarian states but through self-censorship and democracies too.
Our international and UK projects are led by Rohan Jayasekera with funding from different branches of the UN and EU, along with the foreign ministries and UK-based trusts, continue to be the benchmark for the most professional hands-on work to be found in the sector. A number of media lawyers have been doing invaluable campaigning with us on our current project, in conjunction with English PEN, to highlight the odious nature of libel law in this country.
Rohan and I will also be representing Index on Censorship at the Global Forum on Free Expression in Oslo in June and I have agreed with Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty that we will host a joint event in the autumn.
I’d like to pay tribute to Jonathan Dimbleby, who brought me onto Index on Censorship in September, and has shared our plans to modernise the organisation and increase its profile. We have an inspirational board of trustees, who do so much work behind the scenes. I’m delighted that the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald QC, has agreed to join us.
Our website relaunches in May and is already attracting contributors like Bernard-Henri Levy, and Orlando Figes , among others. We invite contributions from people committed to civil liberties and free expression on all sides of the political spectrum. It is journalism, but it is much more than journalism.
Our ambition is clear: we want to ensure that Index on Censorship becomes, through the new website, magazine, events and other advocacy, the number one place, the hub, where people around the world turn to for intelligent, incisive work on free expression.