At the 2018 London Book Fair, there was a fascinating session called Censor, Advocate, or Disruptor? The Role of Publishers in an Evolving Publishing and Media Landscape. It was fascinating, and saddening, to learn of all the different ways that writers and authors can land themselves in hot water.
In some countries, blasphemy can land you in jail or worse. Even in the very liberal USA, there are around 5,000 books on a banned list by librarians.
Some countries have laws against insulting people.I'm not quite sure what constitutes an insult in this
contest, or what the punishment is, but I have to say, I sometimes think it sounds like a good idea when I consider some of the discourse on Twitter and Facebook. The trouble is, who defines ‘insult’, and where does it stop? In the UK, politicians are satirized every day in the newspapers’ political cartoons and Parliamentary sketches. It would be a sad day, and a cultural loss, if such ‘insults’ were made illegal. They do, after all, help to hold politicians to account.
Living as I do in Britain, there are relatively few things I need to be concerned about when writing.
Libel, obviously, although since the law changed a few years ago it feels much safer to write scathing reviews of books or to debunk academic research. The reason is that to sue for libel in Britain you have to be able to prove that damage was done. At least, that’s my understanding, but I’m not a lawyer.
Factual accuracy is important, not only for the reader but also ones reputation. I will hold off hitting the 'publish' button until I'm 100% sure of my facts.
Copyright infringement is a 'biggie', as is trademark infringement, so I'm always careful about the amount of a book or article I quote, to take just one example. Confusingly in this regard, the USA’s definition of Fair USA, and that of the UK, are different.
Probably the biggest impediment to my own free expression, though, is self-censorship. That's partly because I avoid expressing views on anything important where doing so is not relevant to my audience. For example, if I suddenly started pontificating about Brexit, I should imagine that the people who read my stuff do so because they are interested in what I have to say about about education technology or books or writing would feel rather cheated.
Other impediments to freedom to write
My notes on the following are somewhat meagre, so I will just list them:
Privacy laws (which seem to be used more and more by very rich people in Britain to silence critics).
It was a brilliant talk and discussion. I’m looking forward to attending this year’s London Book Fair.