We are clearly living in interesting times. There are political moves afoot in the student union at City, University of London (where I lecture), to adopt the Stop Funding Hate approach (see post passim). That’s led to a student union resolution:

The students’ union of City University in London last night passed a motion apparently seeking to ban The Sun, Daily Mail and Express newspaper titles from the campus.

Two things to note:

  1. The Mail and The Sun are heavy employers of graduates from City’s journalism department
  2. The university does not have any outlets where the papers are on sale – so it is largely symbolic.

Reactions have been mixed. This was typical of many journalists:

This is pretty bloody embarrassing in a uni which hosts one of the best journalism schools in the country https://t.co/VtljFulyPh

— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) November 18, 2016

However, some current and former students took a more nuanced view:

Freedom of (hate) speech is not compatible with speech for everyone.

— Peter Yeung (@ptr_yeung) November 18, 2016

unpopular take: this sadly exposes how disconnected City's journalism dept is from the rest of the uni (mostly poc, Muslim, int'l students) https://t.co/uxisHvMK0s

— Laurie Chen 陳欣賢 (@lauriechenwords) November 18, 2016

I am, to some degree, uncomfortable with the situation. Freedom of speech is a hard thing to protect, because it means defending speech that you, personally, find offensive. 25 years ago I was arguing against various NUS policies on no-platform, not because I agreed with (say) fascists, but rather because suppressing speech tends to make it stronger in the underground, until it boils over and surprises you. On the other hand, these are difficult times when a rise in rhetoric some consider racist is leading to inarguable racists attacks.

I’m generally more in favour of promoting speech from those who are under-represented rather than directly censoring others, however much privilege they might have – but this is a complex issue, and needs more than a knee jerk reaction.