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Monday 5 January 2015, David Bowden

New year, same old censorship

How the Institute of Ideas will be pushing back against the contemporary ban-happy outlook in 2015.

Happy New Year from all at the Institute of Ideas! After the jubilation of the past few weeks, we’re all set for the possibilities and challenges which lie ahead in 2015.

Yet while thoughts are inevitably focused on fresh starts and emerging debates ahead, there have been plenty of reminders over the festive season that some familiar battles remain. From Scottish police investigating TV presenter Katie Hopkins’ crass tweets over Ebola victims, US TV star Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting apologising for anyone ‘offended’ after stating she didn’t consider herself a feminist and a recent report on how children as young as three are being labelled as ‘racist’, there are few signs that 2015 will prove any more tolerant of free speech than last year.

The question of how responses towards offence seem to govern all aspects of contemporary debate – from contentious political questions over immigration to crass jokes on Twitter – was the subject of last year’s Battle satellite event,‘You can’t say that! Free speech in an age of offence’ held at London’s Free Word Centre, in association with English PEN. As one of the speakers, former Labour MP Peter Bradley, has noted in a recent blog reflecting on growing calls for universities and media to no-platform unpleasant or unpopular viewpoints, ‘it’s especially troubling to find a growing intolerance in the very institutions where you’d expect free expression to be most highly valued’. You can listen to a podcast of the debate here.

Fortunately, the Institute of Ideas remains as committed as ever to upholding the principles of robust and open public debate, where we follow in the tradition of John Milton in letting ‘Truth and Falsehood grapple’ and where free speech is an absolute, with no ifs or buts. If you’ve already found yourself biting your tongue in 2015 for fear of causing offence, or frustrated by an intellectual climate which would rather focus on how you express an opinion instead of the content of what you’re saying, then it is already worth booking yourself and a friend/colleague/opponent a specially discounted Early Bird ticket for this year’s Battle of Ideas, taking place 17-18 October at London’s Barbican.

If you have also made a new year’s resolution to take a step back from the depressing political posturing of a UK election year and engage in some serious deep thinking about what it means to be human - or you simply value ideas - then do take the opportunity to explore the initial programme for our summer Academy on 17-20 July. This year’s theme will examine the development of political philosophy and changing attitudes towards the public, and early bird discounts are available until Wednesday 4 March (see full details here).

If that doesn’t give you a little intellectual encouragement as we face up to a new year, then do take the opportunity to subscribe to our podcasts for recordings of previous Battle debates and Academy lectures, or visiting our YouTube channel.

Also watch this space for plenty more exciting announcements of new, exciting Institute of Ideas initiatives in the year ahead, and follow us on Twitter (@instofideas) or Facebook for the latest updates.

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