The more astute may have noticed the title of this particular page does not use the term Brexit. Before we begin let me make one thing clear- I can’t condone combining two (or more) words to form a nonsense singular. Those that do might want to stop reading now. I’d certainly prefer it if they did.
But perhaps that’s somewhat judgmental and presumptuous. Some might even call it pompous, pigheaded or bigoted- the rejection of others simply because they think in another way. Which forms the crux of what follows.
The idea of ‘no platform’ policies is nothing new, but has made headlines again recently following the resurgent Germaine Greer debacle. If you missed it, the outspoken Australian academic and feminist writer was blacklisted from speaking at Cardiff University thanks to her well-known views on transgender women. Put simply, she doesn’t see them as women at all, and believes they have no right to regard themselves as such because they were born without the correct genitalia.
It’s easy to understand banning her from spouting such trite in public, but the real furore stems from the reaction to Peter Thatchell, a prominent gay rights activist who lays claim to half a century campaigning for equality. Fran Cowling- lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender representative of the National Union of Students- refused to share a stage with him because he openly supported Greer’s right to speak, based on his principles that free speech is a universal right.
If Greer’s gag notice didn’t, then Thatchell-gate certainly raises questions about when it’s appropriate to no platform someone, if at all? Where should the line be drawn?
There’s no denying Greer was likely to cause offense to some, and if you saw BBC Newsnight on 15th February hopefully you understand the damage that could cause to those suffering prejudice. Journalist, presenter and transgender activist Paris Lees joined Thatchell in the studio to debate the idea of no platforming. She explained how dangerous it is to allow someone to speak openly about beliefs that are almost definitely going to upset individuals in fragile positions, making them feel a lower sense of self worth, accentuating the notion that some of the population are unsympathetic, or even filled with hatred.
It could send them ‘over the edge’, she explained.
Yet it’s vital to take the other perspective into account too. Critics of no platforming would say it’s even more dangerous not to facilitate open debate on key issues, because it prevents revealing extreme views as extreme views in a public forum. When this doesn’t happen, changing the attitudes of those harbouring such extreme views becomes much more challenging, if not impossible.
This brings us to the NHS, which has been all over the news of late but somehow managed to miss out on the column inches and broadcast minutes it really deserves.
Part of the reason Jeremy Hunt is ‘officially’ the most hated man in the UK right now stems from his complete rejection of requests to engage in public debate with junior doctors. Had he done so, perhaps more people would be aware of the alarming realities this new contract brings about, wherein young doctors will be paid less per hour than many supermarket workers. To clarify, we’re talking about highly skilled professionals in a complex field who could well be responsible for saving the lives of each and every one of us. Including Hunt.
From one way of looking at things, this is unofficial, self-imposed no platforming. And, in removing himself from debate, the Health Secretary is simultaneously imposing a no platform policy on those working in medicine. By definition, if they have nobody willing to argue the toss with them, there is no argument, just two opinions.
It’s a worrying trend, and one that shows no sign of reversing. Figures were released recently suggesting campus silencing, AKA censorship at universities, had reached epidemic proportions in the UK, with 90% now restricting speech, and student unions more likely to action bans than the universities themselves. The worst culprits were Aberystwyth University, and the universities of Edinburgh and Leeds. All members of the Russell Group- which represents some of the most prestigious institutions in the land, including Edinburgh and Leeds- were particularly gag-happy. Or at least this is true if a survey by online mag Spiked can be taken as gospel.
According to the same website, though, there’s more to the situation. Government data apparently suggests 70 events were held at universities in 2015 involving people considered to be Islamist preachers. Needless to say, many would advocate no platforming them, which then raises a similar question over when bans should be imposed. If these events went ahead, which we’re told they did, then is this a situation wherein censorship failed its intended purpose? And if that’s the case, why has censorship been imposed in other instances involving perceived hate speech, but not here?
Some of the most outspoken critics of the British media today are those either in academia, or graduates. Research by YouGov claims that the UK now has the most right wing press in Europe, which is disturbing. This movement further from the left is in part made possible thanks to self-censorship, or at least omission. Just look at the lack of neutrality evident in many reports regarding last weekend’s anti-Trident demo in London. Clever camera angles and weighted questions suggested under-attendance. In reality, this was the biggest rally against nuclear arms since the Cold War (1983, to be exact).
The debate surrounding a potential Great British exit from the EU is a good place to leave things on. Not least as I’ve already waffled for almost 1,000 words. Whilst the ‘Out’ camp are armed to the teeth with the power of imagery, ‘In’ advocates don’t have that luxury. It’s very easy to re-appropriate pictures in a way that alarms, less simple is the task of finding a photo that makes people feel at ease with a particular situation.
So, if you’re hoping we stick with our continental allies intelligent arguments that convince those on the fence, and some of those who want to leave, are a necessity. For that you need fewer one-sided rants in the left-leaning media, and more balanced reporting that cannot be accused of bias. And by this I mean taking the time to get comment from each side. The misguided refusal to give a platform to both camps will surely only fuel opposition further.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.