More than one in every three Brits self-censors on topics such as religion and immigration, according to a new poll. And four in ten Brits think that there is not enough freedom of speech in Britain today. The findings have prompted the author of a new report on freedom of speech to call on politicians across the political spectrum to robustly debate controversial issues rather than seeking to ban opinions they don’t like.
The results were revealed in a poll by YouGov commissioned by the New Culture Forum, which will be launching its new report ‘Speakers Cornered: Twenty-first century Britain’s culture of silence‘ at an event in central London this evening.
When asked whether people in Britain today were free to speak their minds as they should be, a massive 41 percent said that they were not. And of that group, 38 percent blamed fear of prosecution for peoples’ reticence to speak their mind. A further 12 percent thought that people were too free to speak their minds.
31 percent of people self-censor on religious topics or when talking about immigration. 27 percent do not feel free to speak freely about moral and ethical issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. And a further 20 percent felt they could not speak freely about their party political preferences.
Meanwhile, 77 percent of those asked said they thought people should be able to make statements about religion in books, television and other media that might offend some believers. Just 12 percent thought they should not.
In 2013/14, there were 2,273 recorded hate crimes on the grounds of religion, according to Home Office statistics. The vast majority of hate crimes, which are defined as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic,” were recorded on the basis of race – 84 percent fell into this category, amounting to 37,484 recorded instances.
Writing in the Sunday Times yesterday, the report’s author Oliver Wiseman said: “No one in a free society has the right to avoid having their assumptions questioned or views disagreed with. And yet, in all sorts of contexts, Britons are wrapping themselves in intellectual cotton wool. Offence used to be an emotion, now it has become an argument.
“It is used to justify shutting down debate: offend religious leaders, offend mainstream opinion, offend conservatives, offend liberals, offend student politicians, offend “community leaders” — offend nearly anyone, and you run the risk of having your freedom to speak your mind curtailed.
“Freedom of speech is both an essential ingredient for, and a symptom of, a successful, open and tolerant society.”
Questioning how our freedom of speech has been eroded, Wiseman laid the blame on politicians of all stripes, both left wing and right: “When the right points fingers at a leftist establishment that deals in a crude identity politics it has a point. When those on the left complain of Conservatives with censorious instincts, they too have a compelling case,” he said.
“The announcement by the home secretary, Theresa May, at the Conservative party conference of plans to ban extremists from television, and the recent commitment by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, to quadruple sentences for internet trolls, were proof of that.
“When May expresses her desire to ban so-called hate preachers such as Anjem Choudary from television, the question we should ask ourselves is: what sort of society lacks the confidence to take on an ideology as loathsome and as beatable as Choudary’s?”