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In 2020 the NZZ abolished a regular column by the author and journalist Milosz Matuschek, allegedly because he questioned the severity of the Covid pandemic. Twitter and Facebook deleted posts by the Swiss journalist Philip Gut that were critical of the government’s reaction to the Covid pandemic. A reggae concert in Bern was abruptly cut short because some members of the audience felt uncomfortable about the fact that some of the Swiss musicians were sporting ‘culturally inappropriate’ dreadlocks. The comedian Marco Caimi was no-platformed from the cultural venue Rössli in Stäfa because of his controversial views on the subject of LGBTQ+.
J. K. Rowling famously received death threats, her books were burned, and their ability to be published beleaguered, because she spoke out to emphasise the importance of women’s rights in relation to transgender issues. As in the examples above, the pressure heaped on Rowling did not originate from the state. Instead, what has been termed ‘cancel culture’ seemingly comes from civil society or a bottom-up movement that seeks to hold the powerful to account.
Normal people, with less wealth and power than Rowling, have been fired from their jobs for saying something deemed offensive. Arguably, self-censorship has become a way of life for a large section of the ‘silent majority,’ as well as for those prominent in public life and students at university because they fear the consequences of saying what they think.
There are those who celebrate this restriction on what is said because it heralds a kinder atmosphere free from the bigotry that plagued a more openly prejudiced past. Big corporations, such as Facebook or Ben and Jerry’s often claim that they want to institute diversity and inclusivity to reflect the world we live in today, and to clamp down on hate speech in response to public demand.
Censorship has existed ever since ideas were aired in public. Over time, the content of prohibited speech and writing has changed, as have the means and motives behind their suppression. The censorship practised in ancient Rome or the Soviet Union will differ markedly from that of today. But what are the challenges to free speech in the third decade of the 21st century? Perhaps freedom of speech is not in danger, and cancel culture is simply a means of holding bigots to account? Or it may be that cancelling artists and commentators on current affairs is more detrimental to public life? Join us for An Evening With Ronnie Grob, the chief editor of the Schweizer Monat, to delve into these quandaries.
Ronnie Grob started writing as a blogger and has been working as a journalist since 2006. Today, he is the editor-in-chief of the Swiss magazine «Schweizer Monat» (Schweizermonat.ch), which has covered politics, economics and culture since 1921. In 2015, he was financed by crowdfunding to spend six weeks reporting on the website Nachbern.ch about the electioneering campaigns ahead of the Swiss parliamentary elections.