Free Speech Now Alerts

  • Thursday 08 January 2015
    you couldn't make it up
    ASA bans ‘thigh gap’ Urban Outfitters ad

    The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has banned an advertisement for the Urban Outfitters clothing chain because it featured a model who was deemed to be too thin. After receiving a single complaint about the image, which appeared on the Urban Outfitters website, the ASA branded the advert ‘irresponsible and harmful’, claiming it might encourage eating disorders. An ASA statement said: ‘We considered that the model was very thin, and noted, in particular, that there was a significant gap between the model’s thighs, and that her thighs and knees were a similar width.’

  • Thursday 18 December 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Texas bans Confederate license plates

    The Texas division of Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a US group of male descendants of Confederate soldiers, is suing the Texas state court after it ordered that the group could not use the Confederate battle flag on its license plates. In Texas, the Department of Motor Vehicles offers a personalised license-plate service. However, the proposed SCV design was deemed ‘potentially offensive’.

  • Thursday 11 December 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    US court says begging is not protected by First Amendment

    A city ordinance in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the US has declared it illegal for beggars to operate within 20 feet of any public building, bus stop, payphone, or wherever ‘people are standing in line’. The ordinance violates the Supreme Court’s ruling that asking for money is protected speech under the First Amendment. Federal courts in Boston have rejected the Supreme Court’s challenge, retorting that the ‘no-beggar zones’ are justified by the unease beggars cause to ordinary citizens.

  • Friday 05 December 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    ASA bans celebrity weight-loss ad

    An advert for weight-loss programme LighterLife featuring actor and TV presenter Denise Welch has been banned by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) because Welch lost weight too quickly. According to the LighterLife Facebook page, Welch lost two stone in two months – a rate of weight-loss the ASA claims goes against prominent health guidelines.

  • Friday 28 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Petition launched to censor bespoke t-shirt company

    A t-shirt-printing company called Spreadshirt, which produces designs submitted by customers, has been made the target of an online campaign calling for it to censor ‘offensive listings’. The online petition states that the site is allowing its members to sell ‘pro-eating-disorders goods’, ‘sexism and misogyny merchandise’ and ‘Nazi chic’.  Spreadshirt CEO Philip Rooke said the company is ‘proud to allow people to express their ideas on merchandising’ and that ‘controversial ideas are inevitable’.  The petition has attracted 1,000 signatures.

  • Friday 28 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Chinese regulator bans puns

    China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), has attacked the use of puns in advertising on the grounds that they are ‘contradictory in spirit to the promotion and continuance of excellent, traditional Chinese culture’. In a statement issued on its website, the SAPPRFT said that puns ‘can create misunderstandings for the public, especially for minors’ and demanded that the tendency of advertisers to use them must be ‘firmly corrected’.

  • Wednesday 26 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Wonga ads to be banned before watershed

    Adverts for payday-loan companies such as Wonga will be banned before the watershed, under new proposals put before the UK House of Lords this week. The measure was proposed by Timothy Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, who suggested that loan companies target adverts at children, who then use ‘pester power’ to encourage their parents to take out loans they cannot afford.

  • Wednesday 19 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Couple fined for negative hotel review

    A couple in the UK claim they were fined £100 by a Blackpool hotel for posting a negative review about their stay on Trip Advisor. Tony and Jan Jenkinson posted the comment on the review website after being unimpressed by the service at the Broadway Hotel. They later found £100 had been charged to their credit card for posting the review.

  • Friday 14 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Matt Taylor apologises for ‘sexist’ shirt

    Dr Matt Taylor, the man who landed the Philae spacecraft on the 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko comet, has issued an apology for wearing an allegedly ‘sexist’ shirt during recent press appearances. The offending shirt featured images of scantily clad women. The apology comes after Taylor was met with a storm of criticism in the press and on social media. In a live European Space Agency YouTube broadcast, Taylor broke down in tears and said: ‘I made a big mistake and I offended many people and I am very sorry about this.’

  • Thursday 13 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Sydney University cancels Mexican theme party

    Sydney University in Australia has cancelled its annual staff Christmas party following accusations that the party’s Mexican theme was racist. The vice chancellor retracted his invitation for attendees to bring their own ‘ponchos and sombreros’ after protests from student activists. Eden Caceda, from the university’s Autonomous Collective Against Racism, said that the theme was ‘culturally insensitive, especially considering the horrible events that happened lately with the 43 children in Mexico’. A non-themed party will now be held instead.

    Credit: Marko Pehcevski

  • Tuesday 11 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    South African court muzzles outspoken puppet

    A South African ventriloquist is challenging a court order that has banned his puppet from posting defamatory comments about singer Steve Hofmeyr on Twitter. Conrad Koch denies the allegation that messages sent from the Twitter account of his puppet constituted hate speech.

  • Tuesday 04 November 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    US universities warn against offensive Halloween costumes

    Several US universities have placed restrictions on offensive Halloween costumes. The University of Wisconsin-Madison warned students against wearing straitjackets because they might be offensive to the mentally ill. Meanwhile, at the University of Southern Maine, two students wearing ebola-inspired quarantine suits prompted outrage from students, culminating in a call being made to the police.

  • Thursday 30 October 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Ban on ‘for sale’ signs lifted in Virginia

    A man in Virginia, USA, has successfully pressured Alexandria city council to stop enforcing a ban on people putting ‘for sale’ signs on cars parked on public streets. Scott McLean brought a law suit against the city council, claiming that fines he received for displaying a sign violated his First Amendment rights. The city promptly backed down and promised to stop enforcing the rule, with a view to repealing it fully in the near future.

  • Monday 20 October 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Sales of Native American headdresses to be restricted at Glastonbury

    The organisers of Glastonbury festival in the UK have added Native American headdresses to the list of items traders need ‘prior authorisation’ to sell at the festival. The move came after an online petition gained 65 signatures.

  • Friday 10 October 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Council meeting closed in California due to NWA cap

    A city council meeting in Santa Ana, California, was cancelled last week because a member of the public at the meeting was wearing a cap bearing the slogan ‘Fuck The Police’. The hat, which referred to the famous NWA song of the same name, was deemed beyond the pale by Santa Ana’s mayor, Miguel Pulido. ‘We have to treat each other with respect… I’m just not going to allow that’, he said.

  • Wednesday 08 October 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Australian production of Carmen cancelled over smoking

    A planned production of Bizet’s Carmen at state-owned opera house, West Australian Opera, has been cancelled because the opera ‘promotes smoking’. According to a WAO spokesperson, the production conflicted with the institution’s AUS$400,000 partnership with the Australian government’s health-promotion agency.

  • Tuesday 30 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Pippi Longstocking censored in Sweden

    The film adaptations of the classic children’s book series Pippi Longstocking have been edited by Swedish public broadcaster SVT in order to remove their ‘offensive’ content. A scene in which Pippi pretends to be a Chinese woman has been cut, along with any references to Pippi’s father as ‘negro king’.

    Credit: Nathalie Rothschild

  • Monday 29 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Couple thrown off bus for singing Peppa Pig song

    A couple from Rotherham, UK, have been thrown off a bus for singing the theme tune to the children’s cartoon Peppa Pig to their one-year-old daughter. According to the couple, a woman who was wearing a hijab complained to the bus driver that the song’s lyrics, which include oinking like a pig, were directed towards her and taunted Islam’s ban on pork.

  • Wednesday 24 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Colorado students protest school proposal to censor history lessons

    Students in six schools in Colorado have staged walkouts in protest of the Jefferson County school board’s controversial new plans to censor history lessons so that they promote patriotism and respect for authority. The Board Committee for Curriculum Review suggested that ‘materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law’. The student campaigners argue that the plan could mean the omission of historical topics including slavery, the treatment of Native Americans and the civil-rights movement from the syllabus.

    Credit: Francesca Kühlers

  • Friday 19 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Kids care more about free speech than adults

    A new poll suggests US high-school students are more likely to support free speech than adults. The poll commissioned to mark Constitution Day found that 24 per cent of teenagers thought that the First Amendment went too far in guaranteeing citizen freedoms compared to 38 per cent of adults. The First Amendment states that: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

  • Thursday 18 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    BDS activists complain about being boycotted

    Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists have criticised the Amcha Initiative, a group that researches modern forms of anti-Semitism, for publishing a list of college faculty who support BDS and encouraging people to boycott them. One BDS activist called the move ‘McCarthyism’, despite the fact that BDS has often called for boycotts of pro-Israel academics.

  • Thursday 11 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Teenager charged for Jesus blow job

    A 14-year-old boy in Everett, Pennsylvania, is facing prison after posting photographs on Facebook of himself receiving simulated oral sex from a statue of Jesus. ‘Desecrating a venerated object’ carries a sentence of up to two years in prison in the state. The last time the the law was invoked was in 2010 when a student was charged for urinating on a nativity scene.

  • Wednesday 10 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Man jailed for quoting metal lyrics

    A man in Kentucky has been jailed for posting lyrics by metal band Exodus on Facebook. He was charged with making terrorist threats and threatening to kill students at a nearby school. The lyrics in question read: ‘Student bodies lying dead in the halls, a blood splattered treatise of hate. Class dismissed is my hypothesis, gun fire ends in debate.’

    Credit: Neil Ross

  • Thursday 04 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Boy arrested for killing fictional dinosaur

    A schoolboy in South Carolina has been arrested, suspended from school and had his locker searched for guns after writing a short story about killing a neighbour’s pet dinosaur. Police were notified by Summerville High School after 16-year-old Alex Stone submitted the homework assignment to his creative writing class. The story, presented as a series of Facebook statuses, referred to buying a gun to ’take care of business’. Stone’s lawyer said the reaction to the story was ‘completely absurd’ and it was ‘a perfect example of “political correctness” that has exceeded the boundaries of common sense’.

  • Monday 01 September 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Oregon University drops charges over joke

    The University of Oregon has dropped charges against a student for making a four-word joke after coming under pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, shouted ‘I hit it first’ at a couple from beneath their dorm-room window. The four words led to five ‘conduct charges’ being brought against her. FIRE branded the university’s reaction to the joke ‘an absurd overreaction’.

  • Friday 29 August 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Aldi bans Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes

    Aldi Australia has removed Roald Dahl’s children’s book Revolting Rhymes from its shelves because it contains the word ‘slut’. According to an Aldi spokesperson, the move came after complaints from a ‘limited number of concerned customers’.

    Credit: Till Noever and Marko Pehcevski

  • Thursday 28 August 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Student club night banned for promoting drinking

    A students’ union club night in Lincoln has been cancelled after complaints from local residents. Named ‘Get Brained’, the night’s promotional material was condemned by locals for promoting heavy drinking. In response to the complaints, the union moved to cancel the club night.

    Credit: Chris Beckett

  • Tuesday 26 August 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Pawnbroker’s ad banned for encouraging borrowing

    The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned an online pawnbroker’s advert on the grounds that it encourages borrowing for ‘frivolous’ reasons. The advert suggested using a loan to purchase a holiday in the Caribbean and prompted three viewers to complain that it encouraged irresponsible borrowing for non-essential purposes. The ASA stressed that it was the advertisers’ duty to state that such loans should be undertaken carefully.

  • Tuesday 26 August 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Green lobby wins advertising battle

    The term ‘clean coal’ can no longer be used in Peabody Energy’s advertising campaigns due to complaints made by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Despite the term being widely used in the energy industry, the WWF has successfully lobbied the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban the phrase on the grounds that it misleads the public about the environmental effects of burning coal.

  • Tuesday 12 August 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Swearing at police is protected by US constitution

    American citizen John Swartz has successfully sued a police officer for wrongful arrest after he was detained for giving the police officer ‘the finger’. The US federal court ruled that Swartz’s gesture was constitutionally protected as freedom of expression and was not indicative of intent to commit a crime. The officer was tracking cars with a speed gun when Swartz chose to express his dissatisfaction.

  • Wednesday 06 August 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Morrison’s burger ad pulled for condoning ‘poor nutritional habits’

    The supermarket chain Morrisons has had an advert pulled by the Advertising Standards Authority because it showed a girl removing salad from her burger. The ASA said this ‘suggested she was not going to eat the salad later’. The move comes after 11 people complained.

    Credit: George Lawlor - @G_Lawlor96

  • Monday 28 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Man ejected from flight for tweeting about ‘rude’ attendant

    A man has been ejected from a flight for tweeting that an airport-gate attendant was rude to him. Duff Watson was boarding a South West Airlines (SWA) flight in Denver, Colorado when he was told that his children were not eligible for priority boarding. He then tweeted: ‘Wow, rudest agent in Denver. Kimberly S, gate C39, not happy @SWA.’ After boarding, Watson was told to disembark the plane and was not allowed back on until he deleted the offending tweet. Watson said that he and his family will not be flying with SWA again.

  • Tuesday 22 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Anti-Obama Independence Day float branded racist

    The US Department of Justice is investigating a float criticising US President Barack Obama that was paraded in Nebraska on independence day. The float depicted a zombie-like figure positioned in front of an outhouse labelled the ‘Obama Presidential Library’. The Department of Justice was alerted by the Nebraska Democratic Party, which branded the float one of the ‘worst shows of racism and disrespect for the office of the presidency that Nebraska has ever seen’. When pressed, the farmer behind the float explained that the figure represented him – not Obama. It is unclear how the float was construed as racist. Indeed, it seems that the mock outrage at the float served as pretext to suppressing any criticism of the president’s administration.

  • Friday 18 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Jaguar ad banned for promoting ‘irresponsible driving’

    An advert for an F-Type Jaguar has been banned in the UK after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deemed it ‘socially irresponsible’. The ASA received a single complaint which suggested the advert, starring film actor Tom Hiddleston, encouraged unsafe driving. Jaguar Land Rover responded by pointing out that speed was not the ‘primary focus’ of the ad, and that the car was in fact travelling at, or under, the national speed limit for the duration of the ad.

    Credit: @NickLoney

  • Wednesday 16 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Wonga axe puppet ad campaign after pressure from ASA

    Payday-loan company Wonga will no longer use puppets in its ad campaigns after coming under pressure from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). ASA received complaints that the puppets made the company too attractive to children. Wonga chairman Andy Haste said: ‘The puppets will be going… I am going to be reviewing all of our advertising and marketing to make sure that we don’t leave any impression that we are trying to influence or target the very young or the vulnerable.’

  • Tuesday 08 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Bakery faces legal action for refusing to bake ‘gay cake’

    A Christian-run bakery could face legal action after it refused a customer’s request to make a cake bearing a slogan supporting gay marriage. Daniel McArthur, the general manager of Ashers Baking company in Belfast, County Antrim, said: ‘The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs.’ The incident is being investigated by the Equality Commission.

  • Tuesday 08 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Mother banned from Facebook over ‘pornographic’ photo of daughter

    A mother in North Carolina was banned from Facebook for 24 hours for posting a ‘pornographic’ photo of her two-year-old daughter. Jill White’s account was suspended after she ignored a request from Facebook to remove the offending photo that shows her daughter’s swimming costume being pulled down slightly by another child. White has said that the photo was intended as an homage to the famous Coppertone sunscreen adverts. According to Facebook, the photo was in breach of its ‘statement of rights and responsibilities’.

  • Monday 07 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Lawrenson at centre of sexism row

    BBC sports commentator Mark Lawrenson is at the centre of a sexism row after a comment he made during the Argentina-v-Switzerland World Cup match. When Swiss striker Josip Drmić had a poor shot at goal, Lawrenson mocked him saying Drmić ‘should have put a skirt on’. Lawrenson’s throw-away comment sparked a flurry of outrage on social media and 172 complaints to broadcasting regulator Ofcom. Many Twitter users boasted of having reported Lawrenson and urged others to do the same so that he would lose his job. The BBC has since released a statement saying: ‘We acknowledge that the remark by commentator Mark Lawrenson about Switzerland’s Josip Drmić was inappropriate and we apologise for any offence caused by it.’

  • Monday 07 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    University of Utah rewrites ‘fight song’ to be PC

    Following complaints from the University of Utah’s student government, the university has rewritten the lyrics of their 110-year-old ‘fight song’ in order to make them more politically correct. The student government claimed that ‘Utah Man’, a de facto anthem that students sing at sporting events, was sexist, racist, and transphobic. Changes to the lyrics include redacting every reference to ‘man’ to ‘fan’, and a reference to their female students as being ‘the fairest’ has been deleted on the grounds that it both objectifies women and has racist undertones.

    Credit: Christopher Beckett

  • Friday 04 July 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Man v Food presenter suspended for online rant

    Adam Richman, presenter of Man v Food has had his new programme, Man Finds Food, suspended indefinitely after becoming the centre of a social-media storm. Having lost over 30kg dieting, Richman posted a picture of himself on Instagram with the hashtag #thinspiration. He was unaware that the hashtag is one used by anorexics and bulimics when posting pictures promoting extreme dieting as a ‘lifestyle’. He was subsequently hounded online for allegedly promoting eating disorders to which his initial response was ‘DILLIGAF’ an acronym for ‘do I look like I give a fuck?’. When the attacks continued, he insinuated that another Instagram user should commit suicide, writing: ‘Seriously. Grab a razor blade & draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you.’ Richman has since apologised for any offence caused. However, there is no word yet on whether his show will be reinstated.

  • Friday 27 June 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    ‘Blurred Lines’ causes chaos at Oxford bop

    A ‘bop’ at Balliol College, Oxford, ended in controversy last weekend when a student put on the song ‘Blurred lines’ by Robin Thicke. The song was banned by the Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU) last year. Another student turned the song off half-way through. In the words of Lucy Delaney, OUSU’s women’s campaign officer, playing the song ‘almost definitely caused some people to be triggered, and made everyone extremely angry’. In a rash ‘afterbop’ party, the song ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin was played.

    Credit @EDVSTHEWORLD

  • Friday 06 June 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Pennsylvania man successfully overturns obscenity conviction

    A man from Pennsylvania, USA has successfully overturned an obscene-language charge against him. The charge was issued for swearing in front of police officers. Richard Pustovrh got into an argument with his employers in September 2012 and the police were called. Upon arrival, the police warned him not to use obscenities, when he continued to swear he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obscene language. The former charge has been upheld. Pustovrh is seeking punitive damages, claiming the police action was unconstitutional.

  • Tuesday 03 June 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    Teen fined $200... for swearing

    Locals in Brighton, Michigan organised a small rally in support of a local teen who was fined $200 for ‘disorderly conduct’ after swearing in the presence of a police officer. Colin Andersen, 19, claims he said under his breath, ‘this is fucking bullshit’, after his friend was ticketed by a police officer for skateboarding. Local Libertarian candidate, James Weeks, commented: ‘It’s really a sign of a larger issue of a growing control issue in America where you can’t even question authority without being slapped with a fine.’

  • Tuesday 27 May 2014
    you couldn't make it up
    US couple sued for unfavourable online review

    A couple in the United States have been unsuccessfully sued for breaching a so-called non-disparagement clause after writing an unfavourable review of a company online. John and Jen Palmer of Layton, Utah, bought products from the gadget website Kleargear.com which were never delivered. They subsequently wrote a scathing review on the website RipoffReport.com. The couple were then contacted by Kleargear.com and instructed to take the review down or face a $3,500 fine for breaching the terms of the sale. The case was thrown out of court, but this was due to a legal technicality and not because the legal action breached the Palmers’ First Amendment rights. Kleargear.com said it would continue to fight the court’s judgement.

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We are absolutely committed to fighting against all forms of censorship and intolerance, to ensure that everyone - regardless of their viewpoint - enjoys the freedom to express themselves in public life.

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The campaign that believes in students’ freedom to think and act for themselves.

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Tom Slater

Time to end no platform

Students need to strike censorship at its root.