No Offence

That bastion of free speech, the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), last month banned the distribution of a student publication over its supposedly sexist, ableist, colonialist and transphobic content.

The Thames Valley Police confiscated 150 copies of the publication mid-October following a complaint reportedly made by an Oxford student about its distribution outside Freshers’ Fair. 

According to the Telegraph, student union censors had received a review copy of the publication, ironically called No Offence, prior to its Freshers’ Fair debut. The union’s decision to ban the publication cited regulation 13 of the Student Stallholders Regulations.

Regulation 13 states: “OUSU reserves the right to remove any materials, or prevent any activity, that may cause offence.” 

Jacob Williams, editor-in-chief of No Offence, said that the union’s knee-jerk decision to ban the publication validated arguments by free speech activists. Via the Oxford Student:

“There’s clearly room for disagreement about where to draw the line between satire and needless offence. We twice gave OUSU the chance to take issue with specific parts of the magazine. They declined to do so and simply claimed the whole magazine was offensive. By banning the magazine outright all they have done is prevent the airing of controversial views and confirm everything the ‘free speech’ movement has been saying.

“The irony of banning a magazine called No Offence for being offensive is clearly lost on them.” 

Student bans on offensive speech usually come front loaded with academic arguments that seek to rationalise the otherwise arbitrary whims of the censor. In its response to Williams, the OUSU made no attempt to pretend that the decision to ban No Offense was based on anything other than it disapproved of Williams’ politically incorrect brand of satire.

The magazine included a graphic description of an abortion, the use of an ableist slur, a celebration of colonialism, and a transphobic article. In an attempt of satire, another article suggested organising a “rape swagger” – in the style of a “slut walk” – in order to make rape “socially acceptable”.

OUSU do not want to be associated with the views in this magazine, therefore do not want it to be distributed at our event. The offensive views exhibited in this magazine do not in any way represent the majority of Oxford students, or OUSU. We therefore are very comfortable with our decision not to allow the publication at our event, and would like to emphasise that the editors of ‘No Offence’ are completely free to publish the document online, in the exact form in which it was sent to us, to enable students who wish to read it to do so.

When protesters ransacked a student newspaper in America last month following the publication of an op-ed piece critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, they were criticised – justifiably – for their unfathomably illiberal behaviour.

Is nobody willing to take a stand when British police enter an institution of higher education for the purpose of shutting down a student publication?

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