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fake news

Dragging your heels

Richard John on the price of free speech

Thanks to The White House incumbent we now have to deal with the issue of ‘fake news,’ and a battle for the right to free speech. It can be refreshing to see the meetings and events industry doing its bit, such as embracing the #metoo movement, and the various initiatives to address the challenge of stress and wellbeing across our sector.  

So, when it goes wrong, it’s interesting to see when and how. I’ve been a supporter of the TED movement since its early days, and the growth of TEDx events has been remarkable. However, last month saw a rather embarrassing scenario; TEDxBrussels had themed their event as ‘Brave New World’, no doubt inspired by the Aldous Huxley classic of an all-powerful state controlling its citizens. Except that halfway through the performance by artist Deborah de Roberts, who was addressing the issue of past censorship of her work, a male event organiser walked onto the stage and physically dragged her off. She resisted, and in the end was dragged off. The audience applauded thinking it was a statement about censorship. Sadly, it was nothing of the sort.

TED released a statement, emphasising that the event was independently organised (although still following TED rules), admitting the performer was unexpectedly removed “by one of the event’s organisers, who objected to the talk’s content… while we know there are moments when it is difficult to decide how to respond to a situation, this response was deeply inappropriate,” adding they were revoking the TEDxBrussels licence granted to this individual. 

The video is up there on YouTube (other channels available) and makes for great – albeit uncomfortable viewing.

However, the issue is a salutary reminder to organisers that they do have a legal and moral responsibility to consider the rights and responsibilities of both speakers and audience. Whether it’s checking presentations for images or videos that are clearly someone’s copyright; preventing plagiarism; halting the dissemination of completely untrue statements (who IS Donald Trump’s event organiser, by the way?); or simply challenging unacceptable standards of behaviour, the organiser’s checklist is becoming more complex and arduous.

It would seem free speech may actually have a price.