ED2015 Columns ED2015 Spoken Word ED2015 Week1 Edition

Chris Cooke: Speaking freely this Festival

By | Published on Monday 3 August 2015

Chris Cooke

As ThreeWeeks sets out to cover the Edinburgh Festival for the twentieth consecutive year, co-Founder and co-Editor Chris Cooke is also taking to the stage this August as part of the Fringe’s spoken word programme. ‘Chris Cooke’s Free Speech’ is a free speech about free speech, inspired by a session at the music conference Chris produces each May, CMU Insights @ The Great Escape. Here he explains more…

This August, after twenty years of covering the Edinburgh Fringe, I thought it was time to cross the fence and put on a show, and so that’s what I’m doing. On just five occasions though, what with August being rather a busy month round here already, but it should be fun. The show is called ‘Chris Cooke’s Free Speech’ and it’s a free speech about, well, free speech. Ha, see what I did there?

The idea for all this occurred during last year’s Great Escape, when we had a strand looking at misogyny in pop music which climaxed with a debate on the topic ‘This House Believes UK Radio Should Have Banned Blurred Lines’.

It was easy to find some great radio people to speak against the motion, and Sussex University Students’ Union, which had actually banned the infamous Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams hit, were up for doing the proposing. But it was really hard to find anyone from within the music or media industry to second the motion.

So, I decided to play Devil’s Advocate and do it myself. And in doing so I managed to convince myself that radio stations should have indeed banned ‘Blurred Lines’.

Which is interesting because Edinburgh University was the first British educational institution to ban the controversial hit on campus, as critics responded to the song’s misogynistic lyrics. And here’s the thing. I know for certain that had that happened in the 1990s when I was DJing on Edinburgh University’s radio station and helping publicise club nights in its students’ union, I would have definitely led the campaign against the ban.

After all free speech is sacrosanct, censorship is never the solution, and America’s First Amendment is something to aspire to. So what’s changed in the last twenty years, me or the world?

And that’s the big question I plan to ultimately answer in ‘Chris Cooke’s Free Speech’. Though first I will explain what exactly free speech means under UK and Scottish law, both in principle and in practice, before exploring the various tricky balancing acts that have caused such controversies in recent years, as we try to balance free speech rights with those of privacy, safety and offence. As with all the lectures I do, it will be fact packed, fast moving and, I hope, entertaining.

And it won’t cost you a penny to get in (though donations are welcome on the way out to help pay for this adventure). The speech takes place at SpaceTriplex and the Space @ Surgeon’s Hall, and although the show is free, it is ticketed. But you can request tickets via my blog here or book via the Fringe website.

So why not join me for an hour of free speaking, and let’s see how many lines we can unblur?

‘Chris Cooke’s Free Speech’ was performed at theSpace at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: chriscookesfreespeech.com