Our free speech is under attack, in the UK and across the world, and we need to fight to protect it
15 Jun 2020

Credit: Singlespeedfahrer/Petr Vodicka/Amy Fenton/Executive Office of the President/ Philip Halling/Isac Nóbrega/The White House

George Floyd. Dr Li Wenliang. Amy Fenton. JK Rowling. Edward Colston. Jair Bolsonaro. Donald Trump.

Love or loathe these people, the actions of each have opened a new debate in 2020. From the Black Lives Matter movement to the debate on sexuality, to the freedom of the press in the UK, to the role of Government and state actors hiding details of a public health emergency from their citizens.

If we have learnt anything at all from the turmoil that 2020 has given the world, it’s that free speech is vital; free expression is central to who we are and; that journalistic freedom is integral to the type of global society we aspire to live in.

Today, I’m joining the team at Index on Censorship as its new CEO. Index has spent the last half century providing a voice for the voiceless. Giving those who live under repressive regimes a platform to tell the world of their experiences and enabling artists to share their work with the world when they can’t share it with their neighbours.

Our work has never been more important.  There have been over 200 attacks on media freedom across the globe, since the end of March this year, related to Covid-19. In the US alone there have been over 400 press freedom ‘incidents’ since the murder of George Floyd, including 58 arrests of journalists, 86 physical attacks and 52 tear gassings.  In the UK, this weekend, on the streets of London we saw journalists attacked while reporting on a far-right demo in our capital.

My role in the months ahead is to highlight the threats to free speech, both in the UK and further afield, to celebrate free speech, to open a debate on what free speech should look like in the 21st century and most importantly to keep providing a platform for those people who can’t have one in their own country.

The editorial in the first edition of Index on Censorship in 1972, stated:  There is a real danger… of a journal like INDEX turning into a bulletin of frustration. But then, on the other hand, there is the magnificent resilience and inexhaustible resourcefulness of the human spirit in adversity.

With you, the team at Index will continue to fight against the frustration while celebrating the magnificent resilience of the human spirit.  And I can’t wait to get stuck in.


PS Join us to protect and promote freedom of speech in the UK and across the world by making a donation.

7 responses to “Our free speech is under attack, in the UK and across the world, and we need to fight to protect it”

  1. Richard Wall says:

    Hi Ruth,
    Welcome. I’m a life long (reddish) tory voter. I was a member and would value a robust support of freedom of speech which I felt was reducing from Index.

    There needs to be a line drawn for freedom of expression but I rather feel that freedom from offense is not where the line should be.

  2. Ms G Gillon says:

    If there is any person deserving of the CEO position of this organisation, for just a time as this (Queen Esthers fathers wise words in the Torah) it’s you Ruth. Don’t hold your peace, save freedom of eXspression from destruction. Speak up for young Jewish woman like us we are particularly vulnerable during lockdown from the men in the state..Do get stuck in, Well done sweetheart !

  3. Helen Lewarne says:

    I totally agree that we need free speech. To do without it cripples comedy and satire, for a start, both of which have vital functions in democracy. I would also like to know if Ruth Smeeth intends to continue finding ways of stopping people expressing concern for the oppression of Palestine by the Israeli regime, without labelling it as antisemitism as a means to end discourse.

  4. Dan says:

    Totally agree. Good faith will win in the end. Forever free thinkers!

  5. Andy Coombes says:

    Hi Ruth,

    “Giving those who live under repressive regimes a platform to tell the world of their experiences”

    You should start with Palestine – and Gaza in particular. When can we expect action from you on this?

  6. Kevin Yates says:

    If people have the right to espouse hate, legal or otherwise, and use their platform to do it or just be plain nasty, then people have the right to respond without censor also.

  7. Piers Taylor says:

    Disappointed to see you already censoring yourself. Avoided mentioning that Journalists were attacked at the BLM protests last week. This is getting incredibly Orwellian.

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