Some things, such as Tony Blair’s appointment as the UN’s Middle East envoy in 2007, are beyond satire. To this exclusive group of the ‘you couldn’t make it up’, we can now add free-speech charity Index on Censorship’s latest little lurch for publicity. As its own statement read: ‘Index on Censorship, an international organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression, is delighted to announce that comedian, writer and actor Steve Coogan is joining as a patron of the organisation.’
That’s right, Index on Censorship which, as its own Coogan-embracing press release described its mission, ‘uses a unique combination of journalism, campaigning and advocacy to defend freedom of expression for those facing censorship and repression, including journalists’, has appointed as its patron a some-time comedian whose full-time vocation, as part of the pro-Leveson campaign group Hacked Off, is to limit the freedom of expression of, er, journalists (or ‘sociopaths’ as Coogan once called them).
It’s not even as if Coogan’s loathing for journalists’ freedom of expression, or at least those he doesn’t agree with, is hidden from view. He actively celebrates it, whether in one of his customary tirades against the Daily Mail and the ‘xenophobes’ who read it, or his assertion at a recent Liberal Democrat conference that ‘Press freedom is a lie peddled by proprietors and editors who only care about profit’. With friends of free speech like Coogan, who needs cartoon autocrats in far-flung places? Index on Censorship know the answer to that one.
Of course, in some ways it’s not really a surprise that one of Britain’s best-known civil-liberty campaign groups has a rather partial view of our fundamental freedoms. After all, the head of Liberty, a campaign group seemingly intent on ironising its own name, was more than happy to sit on Lord Leveson’s ‘panel of experts’, nodding along like Churchill dogs as Leveson himself set about trying to massage press regulation into being. Nominal liberals cosying up to the forces of illiberalism is par for the course, it seems. What both Liberty’s love-in with Leveson and Index on Censorship’s bunk-up with Coogan show is how debased the very idea of free speech has become among the ranks of the liberal-left. Today, it’s unlikely they’d recognise freedom if they bumped into it – which they frequently do before riding roughshod over it.
But if you do care about freedom, if you do think free speech is important, there is an alternative to the illiberal mire: spiked’s Free Speech Now! campaign.