Academic freedom of speech threatened by new anti-terror bill

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Freedom of speech could be put at risk from the new Counter Terrorism and Security Bill proposed by Home Secretary Theresa May, according to academics in London.

The proposed bill would require universities to ban lecturing by anyone considered to have extremist or radical views that could promote terrorism.

It’s not clearly explained what is considered ‘extremism’, therefore making it difficult for staff to identify possible speakers in breach of the proposed legislation. Universities which fail to prevent extremist lectures would be at risk of a ministerial direction enforced by a court order.

The bill is being rushed through Parliament despite the opposition of universities and lecturers, who believe the new rules would be more of an act of censorship than of protection.

Simon Hinde, course leader of the BA Journalism course at London College of Communication said: “Fundamentally, a university is a place in which ideas can be freely debated. And we shouldn’t start from a position of censoring certain ideas. We should open them to the scrutiny of debate.”

Mr Hinde invites a wide range of guest speakers to LCC, and believes that it could be a good idea to host people who might even be considered extremist, providing a panel of people is invited, representing a range of views which are being challenged. He added: “There is a responsibility on us as academics and people who organise these events to make sure that debates are framed properly.”

“When I was a student they were always inviting the sort of extremists to speak and they didn’t turn out a whole generation of nutcases and extremists as a result. Actually, that was exposing people to lots of different ideas and a way of broadening people’s minds not narrowing them. Certainly and particularly these days, universities organising these events are very aware of their responsibilities and wouldn’t allow these views to go unchallenged.”

A spokesperson for Queen Mary University of London said that the institution takes enough responsibility to protect their students, while ensuring their right to freedom of speech and debate: “We recognise that our students have the intelligence and powers of discrimination to judge for themselves the merits or otherwise of opinions put forward and views debated, whether on or off campus.”

Not all students agree though; Eugene Tan, a Graphic Design student at Central Saint Martins said: “In general, university students can judge for themselves and in a perfect world, they should be allowed to listen to views and make their own decisions but because of a potential security threat, regulation is probably the wisest form of action.”

The bill is currently at a Committee stage in the House of Lords.


Image courtesy of Cristian V via flickr

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