Rishi Sunak warns of ‘chilling effects’ of cancel culture threating our freedom

Rishi Sunak warns of ‘chilling effects’ of cancel culture threating our freedom

Rishi Sunak on Tuesday warned that our democratic freedoms rely on tackling “the chilling effect of so-called cancel culture”.

The Prime Minister said that “the shutting down people’s views” is “not what this country stands for”.

“It’s why we’re defending democracy, and tackling unacceptable threats to MPs… putting in place new measures to protect them from intimidation, and new defences against foreign interference and disinformation,” he said in a speech in central London.

“Making people fearful of speaking out. That is not who we are. That is not what this country stands for. Democracy depends on the ability to air our views to challenge and interrogate people’s standpoints. And to learn from different perspectives and experiences.

“And if we value a liberal, pluralistic society, we cannot allow one group of people to say their experiences are more important than others.

“I stand by that declaration of George Orwell’s, carved into the wall outside the BBC: ‘If Liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’. ”

After chairing Cabinet, Mr Sunak gave the warning during a speech at the 25th Society of Editors Conference in London on Tuesday.

The PM was due to highlight the Government’s plans to prevent wealthy litigants attempting to sue media publications. He will say the crackdown on Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) will stop those with “deep pockets abusing our courts and preventing the exposure of corruption and economic crime”. He was also expected to warn the West faces disinformation from “an axis of authoritarian states” ahead of elections in the UK and United States.

“Freedom House says global freedom has declined for the 18th consecutive year,” Mr Sunak was due to say.

“As you know, 2023 was one of the deadliest years for journalists on record.

“New technology is being used to peddle propaganda and false narratives.

Disinformation is fomenting division, undermining the truth — and journalists themselves are even becoming the victim of deep fakes. And we face an axis of authoritarian states... Russia, Iran, North Korea, China.”

It comes after the Society of Editors (SoE) earlier this month expressed concerns about the potential impact of controversial new Scottish hate crime laws on freedom of speech.

From April 1 “stirring up hatred” based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or being intersex has been classed as a criminal offence in Scotland.

Critics of the legislation — including JK Rowling — worry that the laws will limit freedom of expression. The Harry Potter author dared police to arrest her following the introduction of the Act and gender-critical activists staged a large protest against it in Edinburgh.

SoE executive director Dawn Alford said: “While the society supports efforts to tackle hate crime and prejudice, we remain concerned about the possible impact that the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will have upon freedom of speech. The new law does contain some safeguards designed to protect freedom of speech, however we are concerned that the legislation could still be open to interpretation.