The Sun has set over Nottingham and across university campuses throughout Britain. Over the past few years, a number of prominent universities have banned the sale of The Sun newspaper and other controversial publications (including the Daily Mail and Daily Express) on campus, initiating debate regarding the quality, or existence of, freedom of speech on university campuses in the UK.
The University of Nottingham Student’s Union (UoNSU) introduced a prohibition on the newspaper due to allegations of sexism, resulting from the topless images of women on page three.
The image of my dad’s face as he described the experience of being present during the Hillsborough disaster is something I’ll never forget. I can still feel the palpable sense of injustice that permeated through Liverpool when the verdict of the Hillsborough enquiry was announced.
The anger at the Sun’s portrayal of Liverpool fans still echoes through the city. I feel it every time I travel home. However, regardless of where I’m from or whether a new generation of journalists have apologised for the paper’s coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy, The Sun, and newspapers like it, promote views that are sexist, racist and demonising towards minorities.
This pollutes public debate with anger and hate. Despite this, banning these newspapers on University campuses is not the solution, it is part of the problem.
“The Daily Mail and Sun possess half of the UK’s newspaper readership”
In November 2016, City University, London passed a motion entitled “Opposing Fascism, and Social Divisiveness in the UK Media”, justifying the ban of The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express on campus. It claimed that these publications normalise extremist perspectives and legitimise discriminatory opinions, establishing these views as up for debate.
Accordingly, to allow their sale on campus would facilitate the perpetuation of these damaging perspectives. However, these newspapers are not radical, alternative publications read by an extremist minority; the Daily Mail and Sun alone possess half of the UK’s readership, ensuring they have a significant role in fuelling public opinion. Therefore, to ban these newspapers is to create a false reality, in which the majority of public opinion in the UK does not exist.
The divide in this country between those that adhere to more liberal values and those that do not is demonstrated painfully and prominently in the case of Brexit. The banning of these newspapers, which represent the majority of Brexit voters’ views, excludes their opinions. If they do not exist within a political debate, they begin to fade from social consciousness.
These newspapers represent the cries of the left behind, the last attempts for recognition. Brexit was the backlash of a proportion of the population that felt ignored and left behind; to ban these newspapers contributes to the very marginalisation that produced Brexit.
“We cannot pick and choose, we have to acknowledge that these views exist”
There are more effective methods of protesting against these views than to pretend they do not exist. The first is to educate and to include in order to promote and understand. The city of Liverpool can act as a paradigm for protest against The Sun; the city has informally banned the publication with the majority of the population actively avoiding the paper.
Implicit condemnation is more powerful. After all, the people who would advocate banning these papers are most likely the same people who would condemn Trump’s banning of particular media outlets. We cannot pick and choose, we have to protest the views these newspapers promote rather than the papers themselves and the only way to do this is to acknowledge that these views exist.
The paradox of the ban is that in an attempt to promote freedom and liberal values, those behind the ban have threatened free speech. Freedom of speech is complicated and contradictory. Its complications lie in the fact that it is easily exploited by demagogues, such as Trump, to promote hateful views.
However, freedom of speech entails an inherent responsibility to use that freedom morally, and for the minority that exploits it for hateful purposes, there are thousands that use it to denounce this hatred and promote progress.
The University of Nottingham’s ‘Free Speech’ ranking has moved to Red following its banning of The Sun. Although the University is attempting to protect students from hateful rhetoric, we cannot live inside an illusion. The banning of these newspapers on campus may have initiated debate, but it is not the solution. University must remain an environment of debate and, as much as possible, a reflection outside of the reality outside campus.
image: Howard Lake via Flickr