*sigh* Another day, another stupid ban passed by small-minded people. I would love to dress it up but there really is no other way to put it. The irony of such small-minded people banning a series of newspapers on the grounds that they are small-minded should not be lost on any of us. Nor should the irony of City University of London, famed for its school of journalism, passing a measure to ban The Sun, Daily Express and Daily Mail newspapers be lost on us either. In an equally ironic twist, lacking any evidence of self-awareness, the fascist-style ban – determining right thinking that can be permitted on the university campus – was passed under a motion titled ‘opposing fascism and social divisiveness in the UK media‘. You can read about the farce at one of the newspapers these bien pensants have deemed acceptable here.
Theoretically, I am exactly the sort of person who should, on paper, support the motion. I, for example, do not like the journalism of any of the papers up for banning at City University. I do not share their views and I find many of their journalistic practices highly unpleasant. At the same time, I spent considerable time living in Liverpool and am a Liverpool Football Club fan. Surely, if anyone should support this motion, it should be me. But I don’t. And, I repeat again, it is small-minded and stupid.
Here are several of the reasons why:
I support a free society
It is a basic hallmark of all anti-democratic, authoritarian and despotic regimes that the press is not free. It begins with censorship, then bans on particular titles quickly followed up by permission for only state-sponsored media outlets to operate. It doesn’t take a lot of thought to see how such censorship in the press has direct knock-on effects for freedom of thought.
Ian Hislop hits the nail on the head here:
What right do we have to expect our own views to be permitted if we think it acceptable to go round banning those of others? It’s easy to argue when we, and most the people we know, don’t like the thing we’re banning. But as more and more things are banned, things come closer to home. If we don’t reject the principle when it first rears its head, even on those things we don’t like, we have no right to defend it when it attacks the things that we ourselves believe.
We don’t train people to think by banning views they don’t like
How on earth can we possibly know that with which we disagree if we are never allowed to engage with it? If we ban everything we don’t like, we will either never encounter alternative views to our own or we will only ever meet straw men presented by people who don’t hold the view we dislike. Whilst such measures might mean we all assent to the same orthodoxy (see the point below), it will inevitably mean we never learn how to address views we don’t all already hold. If we don’t ever engage with views we don’t hold, how can we ever be trained to think properly?
It does sometimes seem that universities are more interested in training people in what to think as opposed to how to think. How you reason seems to now be subservient to the conclusion you draw. It is sadly endemic and is not unique to City University.
We don’t stop views we don’t like by banning them
If the history of authoritarian regimes tells us anything it is that censorship, bans and impediments to free thought do not squash the views we don’t like. Note the growth of the Evangelical church in places such as China and Iran. Think of the resistance in both fascist and communist authoritarian regimes. The ideas and views that the government sought to eradicate never went away, in fact, they often grew and expanded. People do not stop holding particular views because the government, or some other authoritarian body, tell them not to think them.
All that is ever achieved by bans of this sort is that unpalatable views are driven underground, where they go totally unchecked. They are free of debate because nobody feels free to own them and so nobody else can actually challenge them. Let’s be honest, the BNP went through a resurgence in the UK for a brief time whilst they were locked out of most mainstream political discussions. They were given platform following their resurgence and since then found themselves bankrupt and now defunct. Is it coincidental that once their views were permitted expression they died as a political force? Possibly, but it is some coincidence.
The views of a few are dictating to the many
Perhaps most interestingly, the motion at City University was passed by c. 200 students. As a proportion of their c. 19,500 student body that is little over 1%. A tiny group are dictating to a much wider number.
When we look at this same issue affecting wider society, it is clear the same applies. Simply compare the readership of the likes of the Sun and Daily Mail to that of papers like the Guardian and The Times. Regardless of how much we may dislike the former, it is clear that they have much wider readership than the papers we (or, rather, I) might prefer. Whilst I wouldn’t dare suggest the Guardian or The Times themselves are pressing these bans, clearly the action is being pressed by some of their readers. Those who read a paper that offers minority views (certainly has a minority of readers) dictate bans to those with a much wider readership. The same applies whether it is a liberal elite or an authoritarian government. Those with a minority view seek to impose it on a majority.
As I have said many times before, the answer to views we don’t like is not censorship or banning. We either engage the views and explain why they are wrong or we simply choose to avoid it ourselves.
If we want to live in a free society, newspapers should be free to print what they want, retailers should be free to stock what they want and we should be free to buy, or not buy, whichever of them we want. We are certainly within our rights – as many in Liverpool have done – to refuse to buy something en masse and to ask retailers not to stock the offending rag. Retailers are free to make their own decision on that, whether out of principle or mere response to the market, the fact that nobody would buy the stocked item. What we are not within our rights to do is ban something because we don’t like it.
That is why this particular ban is jejune and infantile. In a bid to oppose ‘fascism’ they impose a fascist ban. In a country that lauds its free press, they move to ban certain press titles. In the name of permitting truth, they ban anything that does not accord with the truth as they would like to present it. In a bid to defend the many, they impose a ban despite the purchasing habits of the many they claim to protect. It is itself censorious, childish, patronising and pathetic. Those imposing it ought to be ashamed.