JK Rowling, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie lead fightback against attacks on free speech – Bill Jamieson

There is a growing gulf between opinions expressed in public and those in private, writes Bill Jamieson.

JK Rowling was among 150 signatories of a letter raising concerns about attacks on freedom of speech (Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)
JK Rowling was among 150 signatories of a letter raising concerns about attacks on freedom of speech (Picture: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)

Why has it taken so long? A fightback has now begun over the stifling of open debate and “a vogue for public shaming and ostracism” in public commentary. Some 150 writers, academics and activists – including authors JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood – have signed an open letter denouncing the “restriction of debate”.

Several signatories have been attacked for comments that were deemed to have caused offence, including JK Rowling, fiercely criticised this month for comments about transgender people.

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“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” says the letter.

“It is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.”

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I fear this is why the fightback has taken so long, for many are afraid to speak out in public for fear of attack and denunciation.

The result, sadly, is a growing gulf between opinions expressed by prominent people in public – and those expressed privately by millions of people in the privacy of their homes.

The letter warns of fear spreading through arts and media. “We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement,” it adds.

We are told such inhibition is a good thing and the way forward. Really? I sense the opposite is true.

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