The comedian and Editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop, and his deputy Francis Wheen have quit Index of Censorship in protest after Steve Coogan became a patron of the charity.
Hislop and Wheen argue that Coogan’s funding and backing of the Hacked Off campaign, which supports the implementation of the Leveson Inquiry’s recommendations for a cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation, is morally incompatible with Index on Censorship’s opposition to the measures.
The Royal Charter has been widely opposed by newspapers and magazines as an attack on freedom of the press by the state, and have vowed to set up their own alternative regulator.
Index on Censorship’s chief executive, Jodie Ginsberg, has defended Coogan’s support, arguing that he presents no threats to the organisation’s values, which she insists have not changed. Ms Ginsberg said: “Free speech depends on open debate with people who may have points of view you disagree with. We regret that Ian and Francis have chosen to resign from our wide group of patrons. We have made it clear from the outset that we will not be changing our position on the Royal Charter.”
Despite Ms Ginberg’s assurances, it seems self-evident that Coogan’s patronage creates a contradiction. The situation questions the extent to which organisations are defined by their patrons, who can provide significant revenue streams. It is difficult to fathom why Coogan is pledging his support to two organisations working to implement measures in such stark and mutually exclusive opposition. While Index on Censorship campaigns and writes on a wide range of freedom of expression issues, the organisation is known to be one of the UK’s most vocal organisations in its opposition to the Royal Charter.
Hislop and Wheen’s protest resignations will have short term effects, and it is unfortunate that their acts don’t seem to have had the desired effect on Index on Censorship. I hope that Hislop and Wheen choose to patronise an alternative organisation, with which they might find more moral compatibility. Enter English PEN, stage left.
Seb Brixey-Williams was Chair of York PEN between 2012-2013, and writes on a range of political and ethical issues.