17 Mar
  • By Rob

Free Speech at Risk

A very 21st-century problem.

Free speech across all walks of life is at risk, none more so than at universities.

Recently students at City, the University of London which is home to one of the country’s most respected journalism schools have voted to ban the following newspapers from their campus, The Sun, Daily Mail and the Express. This ban could well be extended to other media organisations in the near future. This is just the latest example of how free speech is under threat at universities across the globe.


(University of London)

Granted this motion is largely symbolic, is embarrassing for the university, which runs one of the UK’s top journalism programs. My thoughts exactly!

Funnily enough, less than 200 of the university’s 19,500 student population attended the meeting where the motion was passed to ban these newspapers. So roughly 1% of the student population made this decision on behalf of the whole university, doesn’t sound like free speech, actually sounds like the opposite!

The university’s student union voted to ban the newspapers in a motion that;

free-quoteBut this is nothing new. The UK prime minister, Theresa May, recently hit out at British universities for setting up “safe spaces” on campus, amid concerns that self-censorship is curtailing freedom of speech.

This has led to the entire higher education sector becoming alienated between taking tolerance and freedom seriously – with recent research showing that 80% of British universities have actively censored freedom of speech on campus.

 So where does free speech end and diversity start?

One of the problems is that on both sides of the Atlantic, there is the growing tendency to represent free speech and diversity as contradictory values. As students graduate, their attitudes toward speech will permeate through society at large based on the values they have grown up with and are now accustomed to. This inevitably leads to them influencing how the next generation views the balance between the competing values of free speech and diversity.

You can say what you want, but……


Universities in America have recently come under great pressure to balance these apparently competing ideals. A number of university leaders have taken action to remind the academic community about the merits of free speech.

Other universities, however, affirm their belief in free speech – albeit a weaker version.

Janet Napolitano, who is president of the University of California, took a softer approach, saying that safe spaces are good for fostering diversity.

The More Speech Approach

Educating students from an informed “more speech” approach as opposed to silencing a speaker or opposing value set should be one of the academia’s key roles. This is an approach I would favour.

Napolitano explains how the status of free speech on campus has changed as the modern day contemporary university has become more diverse over the past number of decades. She claimed that in the context of a now more diverse student body, a safe space within a college campus is a good idea because it allows undergraduates who identify in certain ways to support one another.

While across the globe many administrators now argue that free speech constitutes a risk to the welfare of new groups of non-traditional and minority students. In the past, it is true that campuses were far less diverse, less political places than they are today but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It simply means that like in all walks of life there are many voices and opinions that we have to listen to.

Does free speech offend you?

Wouldn’t life and in this case college life be boring if we were all the same, had the same ideals opinions and outlook on life?

However, at the end of the day groups have argued that those studying have a right to do so in an environment where they are protected from persecution and abuse. Free speech or not this is the fundamental right to students across the globe and must be remembered whatever side, class, religion, or ideals a person may have.

As long as free speech does not overstep the mark towards hatred, homophobia and inciting violence to name but a few then in this writer’s opinion there is nothing wrong with free speech and should not, in any case, be censored.


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