Originally published at: https://decentered.co.uk/freedom-of-belief-and-expression/
“Have courage to use your own reason!” Immanuel Kant.
On Friday 8th September, I was contacted by the Managing Editor of the Great Central Gazette, and asked to step back from being involved with the Gazette. I was told that the Gazette team has been made aware of posts I had liked and shared on X (formerly Twitter) concerning “Trans people and gender identity”. I was told that these posts constituted “rhetoric” that was “not in keeping with The Gazette’s values and principles.” The Managing Editor suggested that these posts risked “bringing the organisation into disrepute”, and that they were “in conflict” with the Gazette’s director’s code of conduct.
I was asked to “consider stepping down immediately” as a director of the Great Central Gazette because my public statements are evidence that my values no longer align with those of the Great Central Gazette’s other directors. I was offered an opportunity to discuss this at a full face-to-face board meeting on 18 September, where I would be “welcome to have an open and honest conversation with the other directors.”
I asked what this specifically entailed, and was informed that this is a matter of “good faith”, and that by parting with the Great Central Gazette, the remaining directors could “lay the groundwork for new perspectives and fresh expertise.” It was pointed out again that my “values no longer align to the organisation’s”, and that this change would make sense from the directors’ perspectives because my values would make it difficult to continue to be associated with an organisation that I do not agree with.
I asked what specifically was at issue, and how it could be demonstrated from my behaviour and interactions on social media suggested this action was necessary? I was told that concerns have been raised about my “repeated reposting of LGB Alliance and Helen Joyce.” And that “LGB Alliance is a Tufton Street-based anti-transgender advocacy group in favour of keeping transgender people out of legislation banning conversion therapy, among other things.” Furthermore, that Helen Joyce has supposedly “accused the trans right movement of enabling sexual predators, a common anti-LGBTQ+ trope.”
I was then told that if I am “actively promoting organisations which The Gazette stands against,” from which the directors of the Great Central Gazette regard the expression of these views as “having an impact on our editorial and partnerships work.” Effectively, and according to the Managing Editor, “promoting LGB Alliance and Helen Joyce are in conflict with The Gazette’s values and principles.” In addition, I was told that while I have a right to have whatever opinions I may wish to hold, and share whatever I want, the instances that were mentioned “reflect badly on the organisation.”
My initial response was to ask if I could be supplied with specific details of any instances of any social media posts and other forms of my public communications that have not been in line with the Equality Act 2010? I also asked that an email specifying these claims should be sent to all other directors of the Gazette, laying out the process by which any disciplinary matters of this kind would be assessed and adjudicated, who specific complaints might have been made by, and what material difference this has made to the work of the Gazette?
I also wanted to understand on what terms of this “open and honest conversation” would be defined, and what advice had been taken, and what alternative resolution processes might be considered? It was confirmed by the Managing Editor that I was “not currently under investigation”, and would be “be notified if such activities take place, in accordance with our Rules and Director’s Code of Conduct (both can be found on the website).”
I proposed that this matter should be considered in relation to the Equality Act 2010, and also the judgement of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in relation to Maya Forstater vs CDG Europe, which are laid out here https://www.gov.uk/employment-appeal-tribunal-decisions/maya-forstater-v-cgd-europe-and-others-ukeat-slash-0105-slash-20-slash-joj . No response to this was given.
I pointed out that “Helen Joyce’s journalism is widely discussed and debated in the media, and there have been plenty of opportunities for people in the public domain to present other views and arguments.” I also pointed out that “LGB Alliance is a legitimate charity that undertakes work in the public domain, and is subject to public scrutiny by the Charity Commission, as was confirmed recently at the High Court.”
I stated that I am being asked to justify a belief that I hold that is protected under the Equality Act 2010. I asked if I would be similarly required to disassociate myself from public matters relating to other thoughts and discussion, such as race, religion, or other significant protected characteristics or beliefs? As long as I was not doing so in a manner that constituted harassment, what is the problem? At this point, it was reiterated that I would have the opportunity to discuss this with the full board of Directors on the 18th of September.
I have been an ally and founding board member of the Great Central Gazette after being approached to lend support, counsel and advocate on behalf of the Gazette, to help establish the Gazette as an independent news platform in Leicester. This is something I was happy to do, as I have long been committed to the development of independent and community media in my work through Decentered Media. Leicester needs trusted and independent reporting and journalism.
On reflection, however, and given the circumstances thus outlined, I have decided that I can no longer support the Great Central Gazette and its associated activities for the following reasons:
- This is a direct act of discrimination. Determining that I should longer remain involved or associated with the Gazette in this way, and for this reason, is a clear act of discrimination that denies my right to hold and express opinions and beliefs that are protected in UK law through the Equality Act 2010, as clarified in Maya Forstater vs CDG Europe.
- As a gay man, this is a direct act of discrimination on the basis of my sexual orientation, as it precludes me from addressing issues associated with my sexual orientation, which is specifically recognised as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010.
- The editorial independence of the Gazette has been compromised, and any matters related to sex and gender identity that are reported by the Gazette, and potentially other matters, will not be objectively assessed and investigated, which would contravene the Impress independent news code of practice.
- The objections raised to my views are based on ‘insinuation’ and ‘guilt by association’, and are therefore anti-democratic, as well as potential defamatory. If this were common practice, it would leave any similar person using social media, and wishing to explore and find out more about any controversial public issues, without any protection and expectations of due process. This would stifle all forms of investigation, research, and journalism.
- Many opinions are expressed on social media, and I express many opinions through social media, often in forthright terms, as part of a robust public debate and discussion that changes over time. But why this issue and not others? if this was applied to other areas of public concern, the result would have a chilling effect on the expression of free and independent opinions, and would be a direct violation of the Human Rights of citizens in the UK, as adjudicated by the European Court of Human Rights. Something that the Gazette purports to value.
- Freedom of belief includes the freedom to express oneself, even if those beliefs and views are unpopular at the time. And as long as they are not expressed disruptively or malignly. This is the foundation of the free press and journalism in the UK. Freedom of expression, including liking and resharing social media posts, that potentially express unpopular views, cannot be subordinate to the whims of personal taste, individual anxieties and organisational relationship management. A democratic society has to accommodate a range of views and explorations of those views, as long as any views are not expressed in a way that disparages, harasses or victimises other people.
- Respectful and open communication is the cornerstone of an open and democratic society, but this does not mean that one social group can assert ‘victimhood’ over another, to advance their views, especially if presented without merit, material evidence or specific relevance, and in a way that shuts down debate and discussion.
I do not accept that I have acted in any way that warrants disassociation – or cancellation – from the Great Central Gazette in this way. I have merely been exercising my right to free thought, enquiry, investigation, formulation of ideas, and the expression of those ideas. In my initial conversations with the Great Central Gazette directors, I believed this was a principle we all agreed with, but it would appear that some issues are off limits.
Anyone examining my social media and blog posts will see that they are clearly identifiable as from myself, and I make a conscious effort to not post indignant or antagonistic material. As Decentered Media I am registered with Impress, the independent media regulator. My other work, for example developing Radio Lear, is licenced by Ofcom, and when broadcast would be subject to the Broadcast Code.
I take accountability, accuracy and objectivity in my communication seriously, and I regard media accountability as a cornerstone value of our democracy and my professional practice. I intend, as ever, to protect my professional and personal reputation from any accusations or insinuations that I am acting in a way that is duplicitous or malicious.
I am a long-standing advocate of community media in the UK. For example, I have worked towards the inclusion of the Equality Act in Ofcom’s impact assessments, which will have far-reaching consequences for minority representation and access to media platforms in the UK.
I do not know what the specific or general motivations of the Great Central Gazette directors might be in taking this action. I have never been invited to take part in any discussion or conversation that identifies the editorial orientation and approach of the Gazette. Indeed, my view remains that organisational governance should remain separate from editorial decision-making. As long as journalists are acting with integrity and are following due process, those supporting any news or media organisation should not determine any specific editorial practices.
I have decided, therefore, to disassociate myself with the Great Central Gazette, and have asked to be removed from any public or private, legal or informal association with the Great Central Gazette, and to be removed from any mailing lists or future communications and posts. I will continue to campaign for the application of the law in relation to equality, freedom of speech, freedom of belief and opinion, and the accountable, objective and trusted reporting of matters of public interest and controversy. This now includes being an active member of the LGB Alliance, where I can associate and discuss matters related to my sexual orientation and other related sex-based issues.
Finally, I will consider any assertion or insinuation that I am transphobic to be defamation. I also reserve the right to review my position based on legal opinion and evidence. Certainly, enter into discussion and challenge my views, and those of the people who hold similar views, but do this based on logical argument and empirical evidence.
As a general principle, I have no desire to be associated with anyone advocating cult-like behaviour, where certain views and beliefs are held to be sacrosanct, over and above other legitimately held views. The definition of a pluralistic democratic society is one that accommodates differences of opinion and belief. I cherish the freedom I have to form my views, independently of social authorities or pressure from fashionable social groups. I believe it is health that each of us can resist any specific or general pressure to confirm to any form of majority or minority opinion for its own sake.
A draft of this statement was shared with the Great Central Gazette, who indicated they will make a separate statement.