Dear Mike Buchanan,
Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.
Ipso’s ‘sexism’ ruling on Clarkson column “tramples” freedom of the press
Press regulator Ipso upheld complaints brought by feminist campaign groups The Fawcett Society and the WILDE Foundation, that a joke Jeremy Clarkson made about Meghan Markle in his Sun newspaper column last year was ‘sexist’ (Press Gazette, Scotsman, Spiked, Telegraph, Times).
At first glance, that might seem fairly unexceptional – after all, the Sun newspaper has long since expunged the offending article from its website, while Clarkson himself has apologised multiple times over his Game of Thrones-style fantasy, in which the Duchess, whom he professes to hate “on a cellular level”, is described “parad[ing] naked through the streets of every town in Britian” as crowds “throw lumps of excrement at her”.
And yet, through this judgement a bridge has been crossed, a vitally important centuries old defence of press freedom trampled, says Spectator editor Fraser Nelson.
In a free press, he continues, no outside organisation is supposed to establish the boundaries of morality and decency. The law stipulates what is illegal, and press regulators insist upon factual accuracy. But opinions? They haven’t been regulated in this country for 300 years.
That’s why up until now a joke by Jeremy Clarkson would have been a matter between the newspaper and its readers. Put simply, if you didn’t like it, you needn’t bother buying it again. In this way, the repercussions of bad taste were left to the market. True, the digital age has whipped-up a certain informal pressure, where screengrabs allow maladjusted twitchfork mobs to vent their spittle-flecked rage and demand regulators punish and censure whichever heretic currently stands as the receptacle for their Freudian projections.
But Ipso’s Editors’ Code was designed to withstand that type of activist-led neuroticism: first, it didn’t regulate opinions; and second, you couldn’t complain to it on someone else’s behalf about opinions. “Our regulations do not allow us to take forward complaints about issues other than accuracy from third parties,” the Code stated. That made perfect sense: no code could ever sensibly claim to act as a neutral arbiter on matters of opinion or taste.
In other words, if previously you had been sitting at home, idly channeling the spirit of Mary Whitehouse, and suddenly realised that you found one of Jeremy Clarkson’s jokes offensive, sexist, misogynistic, appalling, or whatever else, the message would have been clear: don’t waste your time complaining to Ipso. Yes, the regulator would investigate complaints received from ‘injured parties’, thus protecting individuals; but no, it wouldn’t do the bidding of third-party activists purporting to speak on behalf of others.
So far so liberal, you might say – and it’s true that up until this point in the narrative, even as notorious a stickler for the proprieties as John Stuart Mill would find little to cavil at in Ipso’s approach to safeguarding a free press.
However, in deeming Clarkson sexist, Ipso has for the first time “imposed on newspaper columnists a line drawn by others (usually those who hate the newspaper)”, Fraser Nelson says.
Writing in Spiked, Mick Hume concurs. The Clarkson ruling changes the rules, he says. Ipso has effectively declared that “it is now in the business of policing not only factual accuracy, but also personal opinions – of protecting not just journalistic standards, but also hurt feelings”.
So, is the regulator now in grave danger of “rebranding bad taste as bigotry”, as a strong leader in the Times suggests?
Part of the problem is that the organisation’s complaints committee decided that “the complainants represented groups of people who had been affected” by Clarkson’s alleged sexism. “Represented groups of people”. That’s a fairly low threshold for Ipso to have set for all subsequent investigations. Because there will of course now be plenty of them for the committee to assess – as Mick Hume points out, “any little activist group can now declare itself representative of any section of society and demand action against a news outlet it objects to”.
If the ruling is allowed to stand (and a judicial review is perhaps the only tool left to strike it down), Fraser Nelson thinks it will have “chilling new implications for every Ipso-regulated publication”.
“Chilling” is right – in every sense of that word. Faced with the prospect of Ipso imposed sanctions for publishing perfectly lawful opinions that “representative” activist groups happen not to like, the most obvious editorial response will be to pursue the course involving least risk: if in doubt, don’t commission it. A new era of intensive press self-censorship surely beckons.
Sharron Davies MBE book launch – full event video available now!
A big thank you to everyone who attended the FSU-organised launch event for Sharron Davies’s new book, co-authored with Craig Lord, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport in London on Wednesday evening. It was a great night, with a fascinating on-stage discussion between Sharron and our expert panellists, Cathy Devine and Emma Hilton, and some terrific interventions from the floor. We’re delighted to say that the full recording of the event is now live over on our YouTube channel. You can access the video here – and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel while you’re there!
FSU Summer Speakeasies – tickets now available!
FSU member and former teacher, Ben Dybowski, will be in conversation with local group Free Speechers Wales and West in Cardiff on 13th July.
Mr Dybowski, who has an unblemished 20-year career in the profession, was sacked from a school for sharing his Christian beliefs at a staff-only diversity and inclusion training seminar run by Diverse Cymru, an organisation that trains teachers on “unconscious bias” and “trans, gender identity and gender expression awareness”. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday about his case, he said he had never discussed his views with pupils and was always respectful of those with different opinions. His dismissal was, he added, “an attack on Christianity” and “an affront to freedom of speech and freedom of thought”.
Tickets are available here. There will, of course, be plenty of time for discussion and for socialising with fellow free speech supporters. Doors open at 6.45pm, speaker and discussion starts at 7.30pm.
If you can get to Edinburgh on Wednesday 19th July, please come to our Summer Speakeasy on the timely subject, ‘Can the Arts Survive and Thrive in Scotland?’ Taking place just weeks before the Edinburgh Festival, where comedian Jerry Sadowitz will return with his show, in defiance of last year’s cancellation, and Joanna Cherry MP is due to speak after an attempted no-platforming. Our guest speakers, poet Jenny Lindsay, actress and producer Kirstin McLean and author Ewan Morrison, will take us through the free speech issues faced by artists, writers and performers north of the border, and discuss how we can stand up for the right of audiences to judge for themselves. Get your tickets here.
The following day, Thursday 20th July, we’ll be in Manchester with a fascinating event entitled ‘Free Speech: A Radical History’, with a particular focus on the city’s historic political struggles. We have two local historians, Michael Herbert of Red Flag Walks and Jonathan Schofield, tour guide and editor of Manchester Confidential, to share their knowledge. They’ll be joined by historian Dr Cheryl Hudson. Tickets are available here.
Cases of debanking mount as FSU awaits government consultation response
The issue of politically motivated financial censorship has flared up in recent weeks, after Nigel Farage revealed his long-standing account with Coutts had been closed, and former Brexit Party MEP Henrik Overgaard Nielsen was informed his account with MetroBank would be terminated (Mail, Telegraph, Times).
Banks are now facing further questions over their links to Stonewall, and the level of “discretionary power” given to activist staff, after a Telegraph investigation revealed that the majority of high street lenders are members of diversity schemes run by the controversial charity. Last year, the Information Commissioner found that Stonewall’s Equality Index – which measures employers on diversity and inclusion – along with its Diversity Champions’ Scheme – which includes guidance to employers on gender-neutral spaces and the use of pronouns – allowed the charity to exercise “a significant degree of influence over the policies that participating members operate”, and that “by associating themselves with Stonewall’s brand, employers are bound to chase its approval”.
As if on cue, a Church of England vicar – and FSU member – revealed that he was told by his building society that it would be closing his account after he responded to a request for feedback to complain about the bank’s promotion of Pride and what he considered a morally suspect trans agenda (GB News).
Elsewhere, MetroBank refused to open a new business account for Our Duty, a group of more than 2,000 parents who believe it is harmful for transgender children to undergo a medical transition – the group’s founder, Keith Jordan, claims that a manager told the group it could not open a business account because “the content of your website conflicts with the culture and ideas we are pushing” (Telegraph).
RBS was also in the spotlight this week, having de-banked the Equalities and Human Rights Commissioner for Scotland Prof Lesley Sawers without meaningful explanation (Times).
And a whistleblower at Santander alleged that the bank’s attempts to “police the views of their customers” were putting the UK’s sixth biggest bank on a “really toxic path”, after LGBT activist employees pressured managers to demonetise a customer who complained about Pride flags in branches and said banks shouldn’t support political causes. When senior managers reviewed the case and decided to issue the customer with a final warning, the LGBT activists were furious she hadn’t been de-banked (Mail).
The FSU has been lobbying the Government to change the UK Payment Services Regulations since we were de-banked by PayPal last year to make it impossible for banks and payment services providers to close customers’ accounts for purely political reasons and it looks as if those efforts may be about to bear fruit.
A recent HM Treasury ‘call for evidence’, undertaken as part of a review of the UK Payment Services Regulations, was designed to assess whether the current regulations strike the right balance between banks’ responsibilities to manage risk, and users’ rights to freedom of expression.
According to the FT, the results of a consultation on the subject – a consultation the FSU submitted evidence to – will be published within weeks.
We await with interest news of how the government is going to respond.
As a bare minimum, we want to see more rigorous enforcement of the 60-day notice period payment services providers are supposed to observe – PayPal closed our account with no notice – and a requirement for them to provide clear reasons to customers as to why they’re being de-banked.
That last point is particularly important, not least because the 2010 Equality Act makes belief discrimination illegal so if customers are de-banked because the payment services provider disapproves of their ‘protected’ beliefs (such as gender critical beliefs) the customer could sue (although organisations, like the FSU, couldn’t sue because the Equality Act only protects individuals).
In addition, we’ve been lobbying for the government to include a ‘principle’ in the Payment Services Regulations prohibiting providers from de-banking customers simply because they’ve exercised their right to lawful speech, something that would protect organisations from being de-banked, as well as individuals.
But is that what’s happening in these cases? (And there are many of them – a piece in the Times this week revealed that there are over 10,000 members in a Facebook group called ‘NatWest closed my account’.)
As FSU General Secretary Toby Young pointed out on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show this week, the problem at the moment is that banks don’t have to reveal why they’re closing accounts (you can listen to a clip here). All of the people contacting the FSU asking for help with this issue say the same thing: “our bank hasn’t told us why they’re closing our account.”
So if the Payment Services Regulations required providers to be more transparent about the decision-making processes involved during termination of an account – and they aren’t allowed to close accounts for purely political reasons – then any lenders wishing to de-bank customers for ideological reasons would be faced with a stark choice: stop engaging in politically motivated financial censorship, or prepare to be sued by your ex-customer.
If any of our members or supporters need to talk to someone about their own experiences of financial censorship, email our case team on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gillian Philip case – show your support here!
FSU member Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job.
Gillian brought an Employment Tribunal claim against publishers Working Partners and HarperCollins, arguing that she was unlawfully discriminated against when her contract to write children’s books was terminated because of her gender critical beliefs.
A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether Gillian’s claim had been filed in time and whether she had rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a worker or employee of Working Partners.
The judge at the Employment Tribunal described Gillian’s situation as unique. (The judgement can be found here.) Gillian won on the trickiest aspect of her case, delay in bringing a claim. The judge found that it was just and equitable to allow her case to be pleaded after the time limit because in the immediate aftermath of her sacking by Working Partners she was depressed following the death of her husband.
However, although Gillian won on the time question, she lost on the worker status question and so she is now appealing that part of the judgement to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
In launching her appeal, Gillian will once again need your help. You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.
The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast it out now!
The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now! This week on That’s Debatable! hosts Tom and Ben discuss: The rise of politically motivated financial censorship in the West, and how a Chinese-style social credit system appears to be taking root across our banking system; the case of the FSU member, Colonel Dr Kelvin Wright, who was forced to quit the Army for stating [gasp!] that “men can’t be women” and for doing so [splutter!] on his private Facebook page; and the headline statistics from the FSU’s recent cancel culture survey.
The link to download and listen in full – and for free! – is here. And don’t forget to search for That’s Debatable! on your favourite podcasting app and hit ‘subscribe’ so you don’t miss next week’s episode.
Sibyl Ruth fundraiser – join the fight!
FSU member Sibyl Ruth hopes to continue her fight for the free speech rights of those in the arts world at the Employment Tribunal in September – and she needs your support.
You can find out more about the case and pledge your support here.
Last year, Sibyl’s contract with her ex-employer, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, was effectively terminated after she dared express her gender critical beliefs on Twitter. Now Sibyl is seeking to bring a discrimination claim against Cornerstones.
Sibyl had been working for Cornerstones as one of their ‘Core Editors’ without issue for about a year when odd things started to happen. First, management told her a client she had been working for no longer required her services. Then she was removed from the editors’ page on the Cornerstones website. Finally, she was told it was “unlikely” that more projects would be fed her way.
Thanks to a Subject Access Request she subsequently discovered that a member of staff at Cornerstones had objected to Sibyl’s gender critical views. But by then it was too late. Cornerstone had halted all work she was doing for them, and effectively terminated her.
Sibyl’s case is that Cornerstones discriminated against her lawful gender critical beliefs and her age. The case of Forstater v CGD Europe UKEAT/0105/20/JOJ does of courseestablish that gender critical beliefs are protected under the 2010 Equality Act, and are therefore “worthy of respect” in a democratic society.
However, the first phase of Sibyl’s case will involve establishing that she is entitled to Equality Act protection in the first place. That’s because she was employed on a precarious contract with Cornerstones and labelled an ‘independent contractor’ rather than an employee. Whether contract writers are ‘employees’ is therefore an important question of law. Without such status, writers like Sibyl do not benefit from employment legislation preventing unfair dismissal or the protections of the Equality Act against unlawful discrimination.
That’s why it’s important we support Sibyl as she brings this case, which could be of ground-breaking importance for the arts world and beyond, signalling to de facto employers that they will be held accountable for any kind of behaviour that would breach Equality Act standards.
Once again, we need your help. Please join the fight and support Sibyl’s crowdfunder here.
Defence Secretary in free speech row over FSU member Colonel Wright
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has dismissed as “rubbish and untrue” reports that FSU member Colonel Kelvin Wright was investigated by the Army over a post stating “men cannot be women”.
But he was. Dr Wright has now responded in full to Mr Wallace’s claim that the investigation had “nothing to do with his views” (Telegraph).
Dr Wright, who served two tours in Afghanistan during his 14 years of unblemished service, felt he had no option but to resign having been hit with a transphobia complaint by the army’s “LGBT champions” and then dragged through a Kafkaesque investigation that he describes as “hellish” after reposting a Facebook post on his private Facebook account that stated: “men cannot be women” (Express, GB News, Mail, Reclaim the Net, Telegraph).
Mr Wallace, who last year was duped into taking a phone call from Russian state actors posing as the Ukrainian Prime Minister, tweeted: “His views are NOT contrary to Army policy. Col Wright’s administrative investigation stemmed from Army social media policy and had nothing to do with his views.”
It’s a nice, social media friendly story, of course, and no doubt whoever briefed Mr Wallace thought it just the sort of stuff to give to the troops, as it were. Yet emails to Dr Wright, seen by the Telegraph, show that the investigating officer in his case referred specifically to the transgender policy.
“I’m tasked simply to investigate and report on the Facebook post as a single matter, looking at the facts as found, considering potentially applicable regulations such as AGAI67 and JSP 889 (the latter cited by the complainant), and any relevant service principles, such as the Army’s values and standards and the service test,” said one message from the investigating officer.
JSP 889 is the policy for the recruitment and management of transgender personnel in the Armed Forces, which says “all employees should be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace irrespective of gender identity and/or reassignment”.
“At no point was the Army’s social media policy mentioned to me,” Dr Wright told the Telegraph. “But,” he added, “having reviewed that policy, I cannot see how I could be deemed to have breached it.”
“If the official line is now that I breached the social media policy, I await an explanation as to how I have done so. Every attempt I have made to see the complaint in its entirety and respond to it in full has been rebuffed.”
Dr Wright continued: “Having served my country for 14 years, to then be placed under investigation for a Facebook post defending women’s rights was in itself utterly intolerable. I therefore felt no choice but to resign. Now to have it claimed that reports of my account are ‘rubbish and untrue’ by the Defence Secretary sadly only confirms my decision.”
FSU General Secretary Toby Young is now calling on the Army to apologise over the incident. “The Defence Secretary should tell the Army to drop the ongoing investigation into him, to apologise for his shoddy treatment after 14 years of service and to thank him for risking his life for our country,” he said.
Our case team has been supporting Dr Wright since May. In addition to arranging for him to receive legal advice, we will be paying any legal bill.
We stand fully behind Dr Wright, and are ready, willing, and able to explore all available legal remedies as we support our member through this unconscionable ordeal.
If you can, then please donate to our legal fighting fund and help us to continue to support Dr Wright and others like him – the link to the donation page is here.