We need to end the abuse around discussions of feminism and trans rights

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Free speech is difficult. It should be difficult. After all it protects our right to say things contrary to popular opinion. It protects the minority view. It facilitates debate. It provides the legal framework for protest. It allows people to tell their own stories. Most importantly it moves society on.

It’s why we so desperately need to protect our right to free speech, to cherish it and fight for everybody to be able to use it.

Index was founded to do just that. To cherish the concept of free speech. To expose repressive regimes who were censoring their citizenry and, when necessary, stand up against restrictive practices in our own countries. And for the last 50 years that’s exactly what we’ve done.

What we weren’t established to do was to pick a side on any individual issue that is currently being debated in society. It will surprise none of you that I have quite strong personal opinions on most issues and so does every member of our team, but Index’s job is solely to make sure that other people’s voices can and should be heard if they are being silenced. In the words of Stephen Spender, one of our co-founders, to be a voice for the persecuted.

Which brings me to the current discourse on gender and trans rights. I think we can all agree that this has become increasingly toxic. There is limited constructive dialogue, a huge amount of hate and little meeting in the middle ground to discuss practical ways to come together. Far too many exchanges are now less about the issues themselves, and more about whose side you are on – or even worse, about who has the right to participate in the conversation. The discussion has now switched from one embracing free speech to one of informal censorship.

When we talk about a chilling effect in the public space it is embodied by this issue. Some are genuinely scared to engage in any of the issues for fear of abuse. Members of the trans community, who face daily intimidation and persecution, are rarely being heard at all, as others silence them by claiming to speak for them. This is helping no one.

Index will be launching a new work stream in 2021 to build spaces for dialogue on this subject and others so that people can come together to air issues and find constructive ways forward. But in the interim I want to make it clear what our position is.

All women, whether a successful novelist like JK Rowling or a struggling blogger expressing their gender identity, have a right to their opinions and a right to have those opinions heard.

Death threats, online bullying and attempts to undermine people’s careers are unacceptable. We stand against this censorship. We stand in solidarity with the targets of this abuse and we will fight for their right to be heard.

Trans people face daily persecution and are subject to some of the most appalling abuse in society.  Their voices, apart from a few limited exceptions, are not being heard. They have stories to tell but they are being largely censored. We stand in solidarity with them and we will ensure they too have a platform.

These positions aren’t contradictory and they shouldn’t be controversial in the UK in the twenty-first century. As ever Index does and will always stand against censorship.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also like to read” category_id=”581″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Interview with Nadine Strossen: “People should feel free to engage in respectful but robust and highly critical debate”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship’s editor in chief Rachael Jolley speaks with Professor Nadine Strossen of New York Law School and a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union. Strossen is one of 150 writers and academics who have signed a letter to Harpers magazine saying that the free exchange of information and ideas is becoming more constricted.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/GkMpZqeXN8s”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might like to read” category_id=”581″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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

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.

Celebrities' privacy under the spotlight at Leveson Inquiry

A litany of complaints and revelations at the Leveson Inquiry today concentrated on the contentious issue of the level of privacy those in the public eye can reasonably maintain.

It was a marathon session, and in a sobering testimony that took up much of the afternoon, Harry Potter author JK Rowling said she felt “under siege” by the press, listing a slew of incidents in which she and her family had been covertly photographed and followed by reporters.

She accused the press of putting her family under surveillance for their “amusement”, noting how photographers had camped outside her home. After a photo had been published of her house number and street name, Rowling was forced to move, saying it was “untenable” to stay at that address.

Rowling said protecting her children’s privacy was crucial. “A child, no matter who their parents are, deserves privacy”, she said, adding that she and her husband had gone to great lengths to prevent their children from being photographed or targeted.

She spoke of feeling “invaded” having found a note in her daughter’s schoolbag addressed to her from a journalist. On another occasion, a reporter had contacted her daughter’s school, telling the headmaster the girl had upset other pupils by telling them Harry Potter dies in the final book. Rowling said her daughter had not done so, and was made out to be a “bully”. Photographs of her daughter, then aged eight, in a swimming costume also appeared in OK! magazine.

Rowling passionately defended the occasions when she had spoken openly about her personal life. “Our cultural life would be greatly diminished if creative people not allowed to say where they received inspiration,” she said, noting that she had openly discussed having suffered from depression, and had received letters of support in return.

Ex-Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who sued the News of the World in 2009 for breach of privacy, also gave evidence today, reiterating his staunch campaign for reform in celebrity privacy laws.

Mosley was at the centre of a 2008 News of the World splash which falsely reported him taking part in a “sick Nazi orgy” with five prostitutes.

He said that when he challenged the story, “the entire resources of News International were deployed to destroy me.” He described that, when he took the paper to court, their response to send a film of him taking part in an alleged sado-masochistic orgy to the governing body of world motorsport, the FIA. He then launched legal action against the tabloid, receiving £60,000 in damages for breach of privacy.

During his lengthy account, he dismissed the Sun headline ‘The Day Freedom Got Spanked’ in response to his case as “typical of gutter press.” Responding to Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre’s accusation of Mosley being “guilty of unimaginable depravity,” the ex-motorsport boss said “it reflects badly on his [Dacre’s] imagination.”

Mosley reaffirmed his case for newspapers adopting a prior-notification policy to warn people before publishing stories exposing their private lives. “Once information is made public, it can never be made private again,” he said. “The only effective remedy is to stop it becoming public.” In May 2011, Mosley lost his bid impose a legal duty of prior notification, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling that such a system would have a “chilling effect” on the press.

Mosley also veered into the contentious territory of policing content online, noting that search engines such as Google “could stop a story appearing, but don’t or won’t as a matter of principle.”

“The really dangerous thing is the search engines,” he said, to which Leveson responded: “That’s part of the problem.”

Mosley is currently taking litigation action in 22 countries and suing Google in France and Germany. He added he is considering bringing proceedings against the search engine in California in an attempt to remove certain search results.

Also appearing today was actress Sienna Miller, who described how she had been verbally abused and spat at by photographers, who had on occasion chased her down the street. “I felt like I was living in some sort of video game,” she said, noting that the press intrusion and surveillance left her in a state of “complete anxiety and paranoia.”

Miller, who has taken out a court order against the paparazzi, revealed she had accused friends and family of having leaked stories to the press. She later learned she and her friends had been victims of phone (and in Miller’s own case, email) hacking, and that private investigator Glenn Mulcaire had “created a project” under her name. “It’s unfathomable to feel like they [the press] can justify doing this,” she said.

Her lawyer, Mark Thomson, was also in the witness box today, primarily discussing regulation. He accused the Press Complaints Commission of wearing “too many hats”, and that an improved body “with a few extra teeth” would not work.

He said an effective regulator would need to deal with all news gatherers, including freelance photographers. As for the grey area of regulating content online, Thomson said: “bloggers are best ignored until they reach a critical mass of attention in the newspapers.”

He added that redtops and tabloids do not want the PCC to be effective. “As long as it exists, this kind of activity will go on, he said.”

The Inquiry will continue on Monday, with evidence from Chris Jefferies, Anne Diamond, Charlotte Church, Jane Winter and Ian Hurst.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson.