Free speech is under assault in the western world, a state of affairs Dennis Prager rightly calls unprecedented in modern times.
The signs are everywhere, from universities clamping down on free speech to people being fired for supporting the “wrong” politician.
Even telling “unapproved” jokes can provoke a censorial backlash.
Two new events in England remind us the problem isn’t confined to North America.
A recent push to “label” a Netflix series as fiction is just one troubling sign. “The Crown” captures the Royal Family in the modern era, including the troubled marriage between Princess Diana and Prince Charles in the current fourth season.
That apparently caught the attention of the British government.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden weighed in amid criticism of historical liberties taken by the drama about the British royal family.
“It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction. So, as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that,” Dowden told the Mail on Sunday newspaper. “Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.”
Artists have been depicting history through a creative lens for as long as stories have been told. That may be why Netflix stood its ground. No warning labels will greet “The Crown’s” viewers, at least for now.
That’s not the end of the story, though. British Big Government is mulling its options to force Netflix to do as it’s told.
Ultimately, the UK government has no power to compel Netflix to make a change, partly because the U.S. streamer is regulated in the Netherlands. This dilemma came up earlier in Whittingdale’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee hearing, when he said the government would think about new regulation for foreign streamers.
“UK traditional broadcasters are subject to quite stringent requirements… and then you have the video on demand services, which are really subject to no regulation or requirements at all,” [Culture Minister John Whittingdale] said. “That is something that is quite a stark difference. Whether or not we would want to look at having some kind of basic requirements on the video on demand services is something which I think the government might well think about.”
That news hit roughly the same time we learned about a British author who just lost her publishing deal. Julie Burchill’s scheduled book addressed free expression in the Cancel Culture age -- “Welcome to the Woke Trials.”
The tome, slated for an April 2021 release, got canceled after one person called Burchill’s comments “Islamophobic.”
Julie Burchill, who once I suppose was a well regarded journalist, has quite openly subjected me to Islamophobia on here. I’m a big girl -- it’s not going to upset me -- but I do find it strange that none of her colleagues or friends in the industry seem to have a problem with it.
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) December 13, 2020
Burchill’s publisher, the Hachette imprint Little, Brown, said it had decided not to publish Welcome to the Woke Trials because she had used indefensible language when communicating with the journalist Ash Sarkar.
Both The Guardian and the BBC covered the imbroglio. Neither outlet shared the specific comments deemed beyond the pale. The BBC got close to the matter with this description.
Sarkar accused Burchill of Islamophobia after the Sunday Telegraph columnist made comments about the age of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives.
Offensive? Potentially, yes. So will we cancel everyone who utters something offensive moving forward? Of course, the rule book is constantly being re-written, as we’ve learned over and again.
Burchill’s publisher said it believes “passionately” in free speech, but …
“While there is no legal definition of hate speech in the UK, we believe that Julie’s comments on Islam are not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint, that they crossed a line with regard to race and religion, and that her book has now become inextricably linked with those views.”
Writing on Facebook, Burchill said the publishers had told her there was “also a concern that the line might be crossed again during the promotion of the book”, to which she added: “I’LL SAY!”
Burchill can probably add a fresh chapter to her book, assuming she’ll find a single publisher willing to bring it to the masses.