Free expression – weekend roundup

In an interview in the Irish Times on Saturday, comic Dara O’Briain had some harsh words for Ireland’s new blasphemy law:

“I think it is a ludicrous notion that you can sue people for blasphemy,” he says. “I think it is an absolutely abhorrent idea that religion in and of itself must remain without question and cannot be insulted and cannot be attacked. I don’t say this in a childish, petty way. I am not going to rush to become a challenge or a test case for it, but it is insane in this day and age that a quasi-medieval church-and-state symbiosis should exist and that somebody will step in.”

O’Briain also voiced his support for the libel reform campaign:

“It is not that I think that comedians are going to be hit with this, I don’t think we are,” he says. “A company would look ridiculous for suing a comedian for a joke about a brand of shampoo, or a set of razor blades, but it is worrying that cardiologists can be sued for making quite justifiable and fair comments about medical equipment on Canadian TV in a British court.”

Read the full interview here.

Index on Censorship chief executive John Kampfner updated Observer readers on the campaign’s progress:

Just before Christmas, the justice secretary responded to the flurry of activity around our campaign by announcing his own inquiry. He asked our two groups, Index on Censorship and English PEN, to nominate one among our number to sit on his group.

When I found out that they had invited Carter-Ruck and Schillings, two major law firms which feast on chilling the free speech of scientists, authors, NGOs and journalists, I suggested to Straw’s people that the two authors of the libel report, Index’s editor, Jo Glanville, and PEN’s director, Jonathan Heawood, should both be members of the inquiry team. As it stood, the composition ran against Straw’s “apparent desire to be seen as a reformer”, I suggested. They quickly relented, arguing that my term “apparent” was unfair. We shall see. This Labour government, after all, has form, creating commissions with the purpose of delaying or diluting change or delivering whitewashes. Perhaps this time Straw may deliver positive change. If he doesn’t, we won’t be bashful in our response.


Read more here.

And in the same paper, David Mitchell defended the right to be offensive in the light of Islam4UK’s proposed demonstration in Wootton Bassett:

The thing about freedom of speech is that people are allowed to say offensive, indefensible things; that we needn’t fear that because we’re sure that wiser counsels are more likely to convince. “Let the idiots and bullies speak openly and they will be revealed for what they are!” is the idea. It’s a brilliant one and, in confident, educated societies, it almost always works — certainly much more often than any of the alternatives. Why has Alan Johnson lost confidence in this principle? Why have the 700,000 signatories of a Facebook petition calling for the event to be banned?

Read the full article here