Last Saturday, as at least one half of Manchester had its eyes on Old Trafford, Index on Censorship co-hosted a debate with local gay arts festival Queer Up North at Manchester Central Library. Called ‘You Can’t Say That’, the debate promised to be a wide-ranging discussion on the nature of ‘offence’ and instances where offence is used to justify censorship.
Local councillor and gay activist Paul Fairweather kicked off the discussion. He pointed out that many gay young people suffer day to day abuse, not just in the playground, but on the airwaves, where radio DJs such as Chris Moyles use the word ‘gay’ as a term of abuse. Young gay people, he said, needed to be protected, by law if necessary.
Writer, broadcaster and Index on Censorship trustee Kenan Malik picked up on the idea that legislation is the best way to tackle hatred. The ten years after the introduction of the Race Relations Act, he said, were among the most overtly racist in the nation’s recent history, with the National Front marching on the streets and comedians such as Bernard Manning on television.
Feminist writer Julie Bindel explored the notion of who is to decide what is ‘offensive’. Telling the audience about a Hassidic Jewish wedding she attended with her gay partner, she pointed out that while the religious people present may have found her sexuality offensive, she found the arranged marriage and segregated wedding party offensive. So, if we are to legislate against offence, whose offence tops the scale?
Index on Censorship news editor Padraig Reidy focused on the damage done when we limit free expression. While the UK may seek to ban “hate preachers” from preaching that gay men should be executed, it is in places where there is more censorship, rather than less, that these views tend to gain most influence, as counter argument is not allowed. A progressing society is based on dialogue, not the closing down of opposing views.