Monday, 9 November 2015


Several years ago I ran a programme on marketing for the Brighton Chamber of Commerce. One of my definitions of marketing was:

persuading people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do

I referenced the story of Heinz Baked beans. In blind test most brands of baked beams do better than the Daddy brand. Yet when people know what the brands are, Heinz is the massively preferred brand. It’s to do with the perceived brand values of Heinz or, in other words, its marketing.
In the tea break I was approached by some earnest looking people saying I’d offended them because my definition of marketing was an explicit definition of torture. I recall saying sorry if I’ve offended anyone and my apology calmed a storm but made me feel slightly sick. In fact in some sense (ironically) I felt as if I’d been tortured. To this day I regret not having exploded and had a damn good row driving these preposterous woodenheads from my sight and saying if anyone else felt the same they should leave now. What had made the incident even worse for me was they all seemed to believe that small was beautiful (yes, OK) but that big was, by definition, obscene, ghastly and diabolical. Nike, Heinz, P&G, Sony and others like them were all Nazi corporations.

So this is about freedom of speech - my freedom and your freedom.

If in doubt go the American Constitution which says “no” to things like “obscenity, slander, false claims in advertising, child pornography and so on.” All these ‘no’s are what we need to create a civilised society. But it’s pushing back the boundary of these from time to time which allows us to create an intelligent civilisation not just a safe one. In the 1960s ‘That Was the Week that Was’ shook up a stuffy and complacent establishment. Satire became the weapon of intellectual choice. And it was born and nurtured in the Universities. In my lifetime we’ve seen Christopher and Peter Hitchens, brothers with extreme polarity of opinion, knocking the stuffing out of respectively  the establishment and the liberal left and using brilliant language to do so.

But it seems that satire and debate have been exorcised from the world of learning now. At Cardiff University Germaine Greer may be banned for having “upsetting” views on the transgender community. Indeed the government has told Universities to draw up a blacklist of banned speakers. Leading pundits like Roger Scruton denounce this squeamishness:

Free speech can make for uncomfortable listening but it needs to be defended even when it gives offence….free discussion is being everywhere shut down, so that we will never know who is right - the heretics, or those who try to silence them.

This repression of free speech is stopping the youngest and brightest debating, learning about and supporting or opposing issues….it’s stopping them from thinking. Being offended is no reason to ban something. Banning things in general is just plain wrong.

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