13th May 2022
The text of the CAC’s 2021 submission to the Government’s Video-on-Demand Services consultation is now available from Documents section of this website. The delay in publishing this was caused by a possible embargo by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
20th April 2022
An excellent article on Unherd from Professor Kathleen Stock about the Online Safety Bill. Despite being the victim of a barrage of online abuse and so someone who might be expected to support the Bill’s ostensible aim to remove “harmful communications” from the internet, she does not. Instead, she argues that the subjectivism and changing goal posts of the Bill will, “If implemented ... undoubtedly suppress desirable levels of freedom of expression on the internet, and cause more problems than they resolve.”
6th February 2022
The headline to Matthew Syed’s article in today’s Sunday Times (£) says it all: “The right to speak nonsense in public is a pillar of democracy”. As it goes on to say, “When we encounter an argument we don’t like, the worst thing we can do is try to shut it down”.
11th December 2021
A headline as sad as it is self-explanatory: Number of jailed journalists reached global high in 2021, at least 24 killed for their coverage.
5th November 2021
The CAC has submitted a response to the Government’s consultation on ‘Audience protection standards on Video-on-Demand Services’. We will publish the text of our submission after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has published its findings.
5th November 2021
CAC member Adam Scarborough appeared on BBC Radio Sheffield on the 16th September and BBC Radio Birmingham on the 23rd October about performances given—or not allowed to be given—by the controversial comedian, Roy “Chubby” Brown.
During the former, Adam responded to the BBC interviewer’s comment that “this is 2021!” by noting that anachronisms were not yet a crime and, for better or worse, Brown was a dying breed of British comedians who still appealed to much of the working class.
In the latter, Adam noted that he did not necessarily wish to support Brown’s approach to comedy. Nevertheless, from a civil liberties perspective, adults have a right to decide what makes them laugh. If the state becomes the arbiter of what we are permitted to see and hear, we forfeit our status as adults.
15th October 2021
We are sorry to learn of the death from cancer of Brian Micklethwait. Brian had previously been the Editor of the Libertarian Alliance before blogging at Samizdata and under his own name. Many will also know him as the host of countless talks at his bohemian flat in Pimlico. He was a fascinating man, a gifted writer, and an enthralling public speaker. He will be much missed.
17th September 2021
Private Internet Access is a business marketing a VPN (virtual private network). Nevertheless, their recent page 50 Key Stats About Freedom of the Internet Around the World makes for an interesting read.
26th July 2021
The CAC has repeatedly noted that the British public has a lukewarm attitude towards free speech.
New research for The Spectator magazine by Redfield & Wilton indicates, “A plurality (40%) of the British public would support the UK Government censoring books with content that it deems sexist, homophobic, or racist. Almost a third (30%) would oppose this prospect, and 24% would neither support nor oppose it.”
In short, less than a third of the British public robustly support freedom of expression.
And remember, whilst opposing sexism, homophobia and sexism might seem a self-evident “good thing”, the question is always “Who gets to define them?
26th April 2021
CAC Chair Edward Goodman has responded to Bristol City Council’s consultation on lap dancing:
LAP DANCING CONSULTATION
This is a perfectly lawful, harmless form of entertainment for consenting adults. You are, therefore, urged not to drive it underground.
Yours for freedom of expression (including for dancers)
E. Goodman, Chair of CAC
20th April 2021
Stephen Knight puts it well:
I think a lot of the problems with political/societal discourse comes down to an inability to distinguish between the following two demands:
1. A right to say what you think
2. A right to have everyone else affirm what you think
Freedom of speech means the right to say what you think. It does not mean that have you any right to be believed.
3rd April 2021
A new addition to the anti-censorship cause: Free Speech Champions. Any group that hosts (online for now) events featuring both Andrew Doyle and Vanity Von Glow has got to be interesting!
3rd April 2021
James Kirchick has written a sad article for Tablet on the decline of the American Civil Liberties Union. What was once a robust defender of free speech for all—most famously when Jewish ACLU attorneys defended the free speech rights of American neo-Nazis—has become a promoter of “progressive” politics, even to the extent of advocating censorship of, for example, those who question the “correct” views about the transgender issue.
Either one believes in free speech or one does not. This is why the CAC (i) sticks very closely to its narrow remit of combating censorship from whatever direction it comes and does not get involved in wider political debate and (ii) is proud that it has cross-party support amongst its Council and supporters.
19th March 2021
One of the CAC’s activities is responding to government consultations and similar processes. This requires more than shouting-in-print, “Down with censorship!” We have backfilled the Documents section of the website with the CAC’s detailed submissions to the Public Consultation on Obscene Publications Legal Guidance (2018) and the Online Harms White Paper (2019).
In recent years, there has been a growing misapprehension that censorship can only be enacted by the state. But in reality, social media platforms are the de facto public square, and the companies that run them are effectively the arbiters of a substantial proportion of political discourse. This has generated uncertainty among libertarians whose fealty to the free market sits at odds with the fact that those of their persuasion are far more likely to be censored under these conditions. Meanwhile, the predominance of the identity-obsessed social justice movement in Silicon Valley has led to a self-contradictory phenomenon: an avaricious corporate oligopoly comprising those who nonetheless believe themselves to be ‘left-wing’.
17th November 2020
The CAC sent a written submission of evidence about the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. This can be viewed at source from the Scottish Parliament’s website (Campaign Against Censorship, J/S5/20/HC/323) or downloaded from the Documents section of the CAC website.
12th November 2020
One of the arguments in favour of censorship, particularly when “sex ‘n’ violence” is concerned, is that viewing such material will cause people to act out what they see. An item from the British Psychological Society about new research into video games and teenagers suggests, again, no such causal link.
1st November 2020
The CAC has already reported on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. It now appears that Scottish government proponents of it intend its reach to extend even to private conversations in domestic dwelling. More from Rod Dreher writing at UnHerd.
26th February 2020
Comparitech are a commercial company. Nevertheless, using secondary sources they’ve produced a very well designed clickable map of internet censorship around the world.
24th January 2020
Index on Censorship are releasing a series of extremely useful online guides under the heading ‘Free Speech and the Law’. Topics covered so far include Child Protection, Obscene Publications, Public Order and Counter Terrorism.
10th December 2019: Xmas Message from the Chair
Firstly, apologies for the non-publication of the 2019 CAC Newsletter. This was caused by the continuing illness of the Secretary. We wish her a speedy recovery. A catch-up Newsletter will be published as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, finally, something for CAC members to celebrate: the Government has abandoned its attempt to introduce compulsory AV (Age Verification) for all UK users of pornographic websites. This Orwellian scheme was devised by the ill-fated David Cameron and was deeply flawed. No other country had it and it breached the right to privacy of British computer users because, to cite one proposal, their search records for adult material were to be stored beyond their control outside the jurisdiction in Luxembourg by a private company (Mindgeek). Originally, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) was to administer this, but it lacked the necessary resources.
Under the twenty-year rule for government documents, we will not know until 2039 who took this welcome decision. It was either the new Prime Minister and/or the new Secretary of State for Culture (who, unfortunately, is not standing for re-election to Parliament).
Edward Goodman, CAC Chair
11th November 2019
Corporate Censorship: a Libertarian View. An interesting talk by our friend Dr Sean Gabb, sometime Director of the Libertarian Alliance, recently given to the other Libertarian Alliance. (It’s a long story!) There’s a tendency to think of censorship as something done formally by governments. However, what if private institutions do it? The CAC sometimes receives emails from people complaining (e.g.) that their local newspaper won’t print their letters. Our standard response is to say that no one is obliged to give someone else a platform for his or her views. However, what if those private institutions (e.g. the big tech companies) have become so gigantic that getting on the wrong side of them can, if not put someone in prison, nevertheless snuff out someone’s livelihood? In brief, Sean’s argument is that (i) these companies only became so large by way of public-sector or state-backed protection such as limited liability, and (ii) therefore they should to some degree fall under the same non-discrimination requirements as the public sector.
11th November 2019
Sad but increasingly unsurprising research from Policy Exchange suggests that the commitment to free speech amongst university students in the UK is worryingly fragile.
28th October 2019
An excellent article by Andrew Doyle in Spiked on calls for censorship that invoke the media-effects myth.
16th October 2019
The UK government has dropped plans for the so-called “porn block”. However defensible the ostensible aim of “protecting the children”, it would have also compromised the privacy of consenting adults and, importantly, in an even remotely free society was never technically viable. We shall have to see what, if anything, replaces it.
13th October 2019
Opposition but also at least tacit support for censorship is found in many quarters. Here’s the staunchly free-market Institute of Economic Affairs on the worrying tendency of businesses to defer to the Chinese authorities.
27th August 2019
We’ve made some minor tweaks to the Links page elsewhere on this site. We’re also very slowly putting together a newsletter. However, as we’ve said before, the CAC is not a social-media-oriented organisation sending out tweets on an hourly basis. Our role mainly consists of (i) considered submissions to government and similar consultations that often require extensive knowledge of the law, and (ii) efforts by CAC members acting on their own initiative whether or not under the CAC banner.
20th June 2019
The media is reporting that the age verification “porn pass” provisions of the Digital Economy Act may be delayed yet again. A BBC report notes that one of the barriers to implementation of the Act is that “it will remain legal to use virtual private networks (VPNs), which can make it seem like a UK-based computer is located elsewhere, to evade the age checks.” Placing this in a wide-ranging anti-censorship context, VPNs are one of the ways that those living in authoritarian countries can access and exchange information. If ever the UK government bans VPNs, then they will place this country alongside some very unsavoury regimes.
15th March 2019
Some robust criticism of the Digital Economy Act at the Guido Fawkes blog.
31st January 2019
Some possibly very interesting news about the Crown Prosecution Service’s notion of “obscenity”. The CAC contributed in detail to the public consultation on the Obscene Publications Act’s new legal guidance and we shall say more about this in the forthcoming newsletter.
15th December 2018
A number of commentators have criticised the Committee of Advertising Practice’s latest foray into censorship of non-broadcast advertising, this time regarding “gender stereotypes”.
As Tim Worstall writes in the Continental Telegraph website, “To portray men as bumbling domestic fools may or may not be a viable advertising strategy – that so many do it implies that it works – and to portray men as bumbling domestic fools may or may not have societal implications. But to ban the portrayal of men as bumbling domestic fools is censorship… [T]here is no other word for it. Hey, it might all be in a good cause, it’s still censorship. Thus we have to conclude that Britain is no longer a free and liberal society.”
15th November 2018
We’ve made a few minor tweaks to the Links page. If you know of any other anti-censorship organisations, please let us know using the contact details on the left.
13th September 2018
A critique of the European Parliament’s Copyright Directive, something that has civil liberties campaigners very worried indeed.
11th August 2018
Bravo Rowan Atkinson! Regarding the supposedly inflammatory words written by Boris Johnson MP about women who wear certain forms of “Islamic” face covering (a practice that Mr Johnson said should NOT be banned in the UK), the Blackadder star wrote in Friday’s edition of The Times, “All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them”. Religion must not be given protected status, safeguarding it from scrutiny and criticism.
14th June 2018
For those with access to the hardcopy (p27) or (paywalled) online (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/assaults-on-free-speech-are-led-by-the-left-l2r8t9t9p) versions of The Times, David Aaronovitch has an excellent article on the suppression of free speech in the UK: ‘Assaults on free speech are led by the left’.
23rd May 2018
Documents have been uploaded to the 2017 section of the CAC archive. They are mainly if not wholly about the Digital Economy Bill.
7th December 2017
The latest CAC newsletter is going out in the post and is also available as a free PDF from the documents page.
21st October 2017
A good point from Lionel Shriver in The Spectator (21st October 2017, page 21) about the intolerance and support for censorship coming from US and UK universities: “It’s a universal given that young people think they are young. That is, youngness feels central to their very essence… Accordingly, the young casually assume not only that they’re the cutting-edge, trend-setting arbiters of the acceptable now, but that they always will be… These millennials don’t fear censorship because they plan on doing all the censoring.”
28th September 2017
As always, CAC members are busy behind the scenes and this will be reported on in the next newsletter. However, this website is currently the CAC’s only online presence. There are a number of other groups with similar names out in cyberspace. These are possibly very worthy indeed but they’re not us!
11th February 2017
Spiked have published their latest Free Speech University Rankings, the UK’s university rankings for free speech. The FSUR divides universities on a traffic light model into those that have "banned and actively censored ideas on campus", those that have "chilled free speech through intervention", and those very few that have "a hands-off approach to free speech". It makes for bleak reading.
7th February 2017
The latest CAC newsletter is going out in the post and is also available as a free PDF from the documents page.
5th January 2017
A Happy New Year to our supporters and friends! A newsletter is being prepared right now and should be out by February. CAC members have been busy, usually in ways not apparent in these days of social media instant commentary. That said, a real-time social media presence is something that we’re looking at.
29th November 2016
Our friend Jerry Barnett at Sex & Censorship also comments about the Digital Economy Bill.
29th November 2016
A briefing about the Digital Economy Bill from the Open Rights Group.
25th October 2016
Peter Tatchell has an interesting article in today’s edition of The Times, ‘Bakers should have the right not to make a ‘gay cake’’ (p. 26). This follows Christian bakers in Northern Ireland losing their appeal against an earlier ruling that their refusal to make a so-called gay cake – the intended cake had a message in favour of gay marriage - was discriminatory.
Peter writes that “The verdict is a setback for freedom of expression”. Moreover, he cautions those now celebrating the verdict about the consequences. Those with strong religious or political attitudes – including “liberal” ones – may find themselves obliged to in some sense publish material contrary to their beliefs.
7th September 2016
As a follow-up to the previous post, Jerry Barnett tells us that he’ll be debating in Birmingham and Exeter in the near future. Details at Sex & Censorship.
7th September 2016
The CAC attended a fascinating talk at Waterstones in Greenwich given by Jerry Barnett, owner of the Sex & Censorship website and campaign group. Jerry was speaking about his new book Porn Panic! (2016, Zero Books). As the book says, it “charts the rise of a new anti-sex, pro-censorship movement. Unlike the old morality movements, this one is focused on the left of politics.” A longer report will feature in the next CAC newsletter.
15th April 2016
More CAC correspondence from 2015 is available in the archive section.
20th February 2016
The latest CAC newsletter is available as a PDF from the Documents page.
29th November 2015
CAC Chair Edward Goodman has his own blog dealing with history and politics. Note that he writes in a personal capacity, but it’s well worth the read!
29th August 2015
More CAC correspondence from 2014 and 2015 is available online in the Documents archive.
2nd April 2015
We are sad to learn of the death earlier this year of Francis Bennion, one of the “founding fathers” of the CAC in its earlier incarnation as the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society. This is a link to an obituary by Veronica Cowan published in March in Criminal Law and Justice Weekly.
23rd March 2015
A new batch of CAC documents from 2014 and 2015 is now available online.
4th February 2015
The February 2015 newsletter is available as a PDF from the Documents page. Hardcopies are going out in the post to members and friends as usual.
11th January 2015
Away from the spectacular atrocities carried out in Paris, Raif Badawi has now received the first of his 1000 lashes – plus ten years in prison and a massive fine – for speaking his mind. Or “insulting Islam” as the Saudi authorities have put it.
10th January 2015
Following the murders in Paris, France… As we have noted before, the anti-censorship movement in the UK has historically focused on material of a sexual nature. But the censorship and self-censorship of religious material is where the literal life-and-death battle lines now lie. Your religious beliefs are offended by something? Tough! But at least Charlie Hebdo could be published in France. Could it have been in the UK? Spiked very much doubt it.
13th December 2014
At a recent meeting of the CAC Council, it was agreed that remaining members of the National Campaign for the Repeal of the Obscene Publications Acts (NCROPA) should, in accordance with the decision of Acting Director of NCROPA Edward Goodman, be invited to join the CAC. They will be contacted in due course. However, they are always welcome to contact us first!
13th December 2014
CAC applauds the anti-censorship campaigners who braved a chilly London to protest against new restrictions on consensual, adult erotic material.
27th October 2014
Surely one of the more distressing and bizarre stories to come out of the “extreme pornography” scare. Andrew Holland had his career, health, family life, and reputation wrecked when he was arrested for possessing a video of a tiger having sex with a woman.
“After more than six months on bail, the charge of possession of an extreme pornographic image was dropped in December 2009 when prosecutors realised that the “animal” was a man dressed up in a tiger suit. The Crown Prosecution Service said it only recognised that it was a man when the tiger was heard on the soundtrack saying “that’s grrrrrrreat”, like Tony the Tiger from Frosties’ breakfast cereal adverts.”
2nd October 2014
The CAC applauds David Aaronovitch’s remarks in The Times (2nd October 2014, p. 25) regarding the recently forced closure of the Exhibit B performance featuring black actors.
Writes Mr Aaronovitch, “You have no right not to be offended. No you, not me, not the rosiest granny with the fluffiest hair. Because if you have a right not to be offended, then so does the person who is offended by you. And there is always somebody who will be.”
15th August 2014
The August 2014 newsletter is available as a PDF from the Documents page. Hardcopies are going out in the post to members and friends as usual.
23rd July 2014
The CAC’s submission to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is on the UK Parliament’s website.
13th July 2014
We have updated the early history of the CAC on the homepage. This is partly from information from Francis Bennion's website. The redoubtable Mr Bennion, a former RAF pilot, barrister and author, is one of the Founding Fathers of the CAC, being involved with its earliest incarnations in the mid 1960s.
24th June 2014
The first “tranche” of the CAC’s document archive goes live!
24th June 2014
The CAC is sorry to learn of the death of Ben Whitaker, the former Labour MP for Hampstead and ex-chair of the Defence of Literature and the Arts Society, the CAC’s forerunner. The Guardian carries an obituary detailing Ben’s very interesting life.
31st March 2014
The public version of the CAC’s written evidence submitted towards the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2014 is now available from the Documents page.
17th March 2014
The CAC is currently working on its submission to the Parliamentary Committee on the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.
13th February 2014
CAC has added its name to a letter from the Consenting Adult Action Network concerning S16 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that may criminalise “the possession of material that depicts consensual sex and bondage.” As the CAAN letter goes on to say, “Millions of people fantasise about types of forced sex, as is demonstrated by the enormous number of readers and viewers of books and R18 equivalent films that cater for this market.”
18th January 2014
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has published new Classification Guidelines that will come into force on the 24th February 2014. The CAC is examining them.
11th January 2014
The CAC of course extends its condolences to the family and friends of Paul Goggins MP, who died a few days ago. Nevertheless, we must also note that, spurred on by his strong religious views, he was a major architect of the previous Labour government’s “extreme pornography” legislation. This banned mere possession of images of, for example, a sadomasochistic nature even when all of the participants were consenting adults.
3rd January 2014
In recent decades, the anti-censorship cause has focused on material of a (consensual adult) sexual nature. And there’s still work to be done here as the CAC’s most recent newsletter highlights.
But here is humorist Michael Palin being interviewed recently by The Times: “‘Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don’t think we could do Life of Brian any more,’ he says. A parody of Islam would be even harder. ‘We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It’s a pity but that’s the way it is. There are people out there without a sense of humour and they’re heavily armed.’” The Times, December 28 2013, pp. 44-45.
And this highlights the problem. Self-censorship is perhaps harder to tackle than overt and active censorship of the traditional kind. And this seems particularly true in the case of Islam where physical fear is bound up with multiculturalism and “post-imperial guilt” amongst certain sections of opinion-formers who in other circumstances would be the foremost champions of freedom of expression.
29th November 2013
We haven’t made much noise recently, but behind the scenes… The new December 2013 CAC Newsletter is available from the Documents & downloads page as a PDF download. Hardcopies have gone out to members and other friends and opinion formers.
5th October 2013
The CAC is a cross-party organisation. Nevertheless, outside of the censorship issue, many of our members are active in party politics. Our late and much-missed council member Basil Stein was a staunch supporter of the Labour party. Our notice has been drawn to a longer obituary that appeared on page 4 of the December 2012 newsletter of Enfield Southgate Constituency Labour Party. An interesting life!
12th September 2013
Our friends at the Libertarian Alliance have published their response to the proposed regulation of the media. Needles to say, they’re against it!
11th August 2013
The CAC’s response to current proposals for press regulation will be submitted this week to Maria Miller MP, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The same response can be found as a position paper on the Documents section of this website.
14th May 2013
The CAC is compiling a response to the post-Leveson proposals on press regulation.
23rd March 2013
There is a good editorial in today’s edition of The Times (‘The Right to Offend’, page 2 of the print version) about the long-running saga of “religion-themed” adverts on the sides of London buses. The High Court has found in favour of Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to ban a Christian-sponsored sign saying “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” However, the Court also found that the Mayor should have banned an earlier Stonewall advert that read, “Some people are gay. Get over it!” The Times – and the CAC – respectfully disagree with the High Court.
The editorial concludes, “It is precisely the ability to publish the most annoying, offensive and fringe opinion that should be protected. The casual way in which poor behaviour and silly views can become illegal is deeply worrying. A liberal, free society ensures that agreement among the good and the great does not become a conspiracy of silence and respectability. The right to be an irritant is crucial. This week, in many ways, Britain became less liberal and less free.”
The last comment was prompted by the cobbled-together decision to introduce some form of state regulation of the press. The CAC will say more about this.
5th February 2013
A report in the Daily Telegraph on an academic study in the USA suggests that heterosexual men who watch pornography are more likely to support gay marriage. Say the report’s authors, "If people think individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to have same-sex sex, they will also think that individuals should be able to decide for themselves whether to get married to a partner of the same-sex."
26th October 2012
The CAC is sorry to announce the death of long-time Council member Basil Stein. We hope to publish a suitable obituary in the next issue of the CAC newsletter and/or on this website.
24th September 2012
Dr Sean Gabb has written a long and affectionate obituary of David Webb on the Libertarian Enterprise website.
14th August 2012
More on the Simon Walsh case, this time an article by Alison Roberts in the London Evening Standard.
10th August 2012
Dr Sean Gabb, director of the Libertarian Alliance and good friend to the CAC, has issued a press release on behalf of the LA about the Simon Walsh “extreme pornography” case. Whilst welcoming the acquittal, Dr Gabb suggests that the “battlefront” has probably moved on from material of a (consensual adult) sexual nature to areas where “liberal” opponents of censorship might find themselves in more difficulty.
10th August 2012
The CAC applauds the acquittal yesterday of barrister and London Mayoral aid Simon Walsh who had faced charges of possessing “extreme pornography”. The Independent reports in some detail on the case.
16th July 2012
The funeral of David Webb, Director of NCROPA, will take place at Mortlake Crematorium on Tuesday, 17th July at 11.00.
10th July 2012
The CAC is pleased to annouce the launch of its revamped website. It's still under development, so humour us whilst we migrate documents and contact email addresses etc. from the old website.
30th June 2012
The CAC is sorry to announce the death of David Webb. David was a well-known and much-loved actor on stage, screen and television, and Director of the National Campaign for the Repeal of the
Obscene Publications Acts (NCROPA). It is partly thanks to David's tireless, and often thankless, campaigning over the years that we enjoy a present semi-relaxation of the laws against sexual
expression. In the 1990s he campaigned against the Customs and Excise when he challenged their use of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 to seize a mass of pornographic videos that he had imported
from Holland and declared on arrival here as "for personal use!" Though his challenge failed on a technicality in the Court of Appeal, the 1876 Act is nowadays used far less aggressively than in the
1980s and 1990s. Otherwise, David was a frequent speaker throughout the United Kingdom on issues of sexual liberation, and he stood for Parliament on more than one occasion. He was
diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. Though his doctors believed he had another year of life, his health began to fail a few weeks ago, and he died peacefully and in his sleep at
Trinity Hospice in Clapham. He was 82. He was unmarried and without children. All who were privileged to know him will agree that David was a good and generous friend, with a fine sense
of humour and an endless fund of anecdotes about his main career as an actor.