Index on Censorship
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|Motto||the voice of free expression|
|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
|Writers and Scholars International|
Index on Censorship is a campaigning publishing organisation for freedom of expression, which produces a quarterly magazine of the same name from London. The present Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, since May 2014, is Jodie Ginsberg. Former CEO Kirsty Hughes stood down from her role in mid-April 2014.
It is directed by the non-profit-making Writers and Scholars International, Ltd. (WSI) in association with the UK-registered charity Index on Censorship (founded as the Writers and Scholars Educational Trust), which are both chaired by the British writer and author David Aaronovitch. WSI was created by poet Stephen Spender, Oxford philosopher Stuart Hampshire, the then editor of The Observer David Astor, writer and Soviet Union expert Edward Crankshaw. The founding editor of Index on Censorship was the critic and translator Michael Scammell (1972–81), who still serves as a patron of the organisation.
The operation was based in the Free Word Centre for literature, literacy and free expression in London until April 2013. The current Index on Censorship office is 92–94 Tooley Street in London Bridge.
The Index on Censorship magazine was founded by Michael Scammel in 1972. It supports free expression, publishing distinguished writers from around the world, exposing suppressed stories, initiating debate, and providing an international record of censorship. The quarterly editions of the magazine usually focus on a country or region or a recurring theme in the global free expression debate. Index on Censorship also publishes short works of fiction and poetry by notable new writers. Index Index, a round-up of abuses of freedom of expression worldwide, was published in the magazine until December 2008, when it was transferred to the website.
The original inspiration to create Index came from prominent Soviet dissidents (see Founding History, below), but from its outset, the magazine covered censorship in right-wing dictatorships then ruling Greece and Portugal, the former military regimes of Latin America, and the former Soviet Union and its satellites. The magazine has covered other challenges facing free expression, including religious extremism, the rise of nationalism, and Internet censorship.
In the first issue of May 1972 Stephen Spender wrote:
“Obviously there is the risk of a magazine of this kind becoming a bulletin of frustration. However, the material by writers which is censored in Eastern Europe, Greece, South Africa and other countries is among the most exciting that is being written today. Moreover, the question of censorship has become a matter of impassioned debate; and it is one which does not only concern totalitarian societies.”
Accordingly the magazine has sought to shed light on other challenges facing free expression, including religious extremism, the rise of nationalism, and internet censorship. Issues are usually organised by theme, and contain a country-by-country list of recent cases involving censorship, restrictions on freedom of the press and other free speech violations. Occasionally, Index on Censorship publishes short works of fiction and poetry by notable new writers as well as censored ones.
Over the years, Index on Censorship has presented works by some of the world's most distinguished writers and thinkers, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Milan Kundera, Václav Havel, Nadine Gordimer, Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, Arthur Miller, Noam Chomsky, and Umberto Eco.
Recent issues under the editorship of Jo Glanville have covered obscenity, the legacy of the second Bush presidency and a look back at The Satanic Verses controversy 20 years on. There have been special issues on China, reporting from the Middle East, and on internet censorship. The Russia issue (January 2008) won an Amnesty International Media Award 2008 for features by Russian journalists Fatima Tlisova and Sergei Bachinin, and Russian free speech campaigner Alexei Simonov.
Between 2005 and 2009, the magazine was published and distributed by Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis group. Since January 2010 it has been published by Sage Publications, an independent for-profit academic publisher.
In addition to print and annual subscriptions, Index on Censorship is available as an application for the iPhone/iPad.
Other landmark publications include Ken Saro-Wiwa's writings from prison (Issue 3/1997) and a translation of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 manifesto drafted by Václav Havel and others. Index published the first English translation of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Index on Censorship published the stories of the ‘disappeared’ in Argentina and the work of banned poets in Cuba; the work of Chinese poets who escaped the massacres that ended the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Index on Censorship has a long history of publishing writers in translation, including Bernard-Henri Lévy, Ivan Klima, Ma Jian and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, and news reports including Anna Politkovskaia's coverage of the war in Chechnya (Issue 2/2002).
Sir Tom Stoppard’s play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), which is set in a Soviet mental institution, originally performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, was inspired by the personal account of former detainee Victor Fainberg and Clayton Yeo's expose of the use of psychiatric abuse in the USSR, published in Index on Censorship (Issue 2/1975). Stoppard became a member of the advisory board of Index on Censorship in 1978 and remains connected to the publication as a Patron of Index.
Index on Censorship published the World Statement by the International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie in support of “the right of all people to express their ideas and beliefs and to discuss them with their critics on the basis of mutual tolerance, free from censorship, intimidation and violence. Six months later, Index published the Hunger Strike Declaration from four student leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Liu Xiaobo, Zhou Duo, Hou Dejian and Gao Xin.
Index Index, a round-up of abuses of freedom of expression worldwide, continued to be published in each edition of the magazine until December 2008, when this function was transferred to the website. The offences against free expression documented in that first issue’s Index Index listing included censorship in Greece and Spain, then dictatorships, and Brazil, which had just banned the film Zabriskie Point on the grounds that it "insulted a friendly power" – the United States, where it had been made and freely shown.
Index on Censorship paid special attention to the situation in then Czechoslovakia between the Soviet invasion of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989, devoting an entire issue to the country eight years after the Prague Spring (Issue 3/1976). It included several pieces by Václav Havel, including a first translation of his one act play Conversation, and a letter to Czech officials on police censorship of his December 1975 production of The Beggar's Opera by John Gay.
The magazine also carried articles on the state of the Czech theatre and a list of the so-called Padlock Publications, fifty banned books that circulated only in typescript. Index also published an English version of Havel’s play Mistake, dedicated to Samuel Beckett in gratitude for Beckett’s own dedication of his play Catastrophe to Havel. Both short plays were performed at the Free Word Centre to mark the launch of Index’s special issue looking back at the changes of 1989 (Issue 4/2009).
Free Speech is not For Sale, a joint campaign report by Index on Censorship and English PEN highlighted the problem of so-called libel tourism and the English law of defamation’s chilling effect on free speech. After much debate surrounding the report’s ten key recommendations, the UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw pledged to make English defamation laws fairer.
"A free press can’t operate or be effective unless it can offer readers comment as well as news. What concerns me is that the current arrangements are being used by big corporations to restrict fair comment, not always by journalists but also by academics." He added: "The very high levels of remuneration for defamation lawyers in Britain seem to be incentivising libel tourism."
These campaigns and others in process are illustrative of CEO John Kampfner’s strategy, supported by chair Jonathan Dimbleby, to boost Index’s public advocacy profile in the UK and abroad since 2008. Until then the organisation did not regard itself as “a campaigning organisation in the mould of Article 19 or Amnesty International,” as former news editor Sarah Smith noted in 2001. preferring to use its “understanding of what is newsworthy and politically significant” to maintain pressure on oppressive regimes (such as China, from 1989) through extensive coverage”.
The Index on Censorship website http://www.indexoncensorship.org was relaunched on 21 July 2013, replacing the former www.indexonline.org blog. The new website provides the hub for all the organisation's published writing, events and programmes. It carries some content from Index on Censorship magazine, but mostly originally commissioned articles and blogs on free expression issues.
The site also has an extensive archive of resources which offers a searchable global listing of organisations and media that champion freedom of expression; reports surveying freedom of expression around the world; links to censorship circumvention guides and software; and a selection of the best writing about landmark issues in the fight for free expression over the years, such as the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the controversy surrounding the publication of Jyllands-Posten's Muhammad cartoons in Denmark, and internet censorship. It provides information about all current events, issues of magazines and projects that the organisation is undertaking.
Arts and international programmes
Index on Censorship also runs a programme of UK based and international projects that put the organisation’s philosophy into practice. In 2009 and 2010 Index on Censorship worked in Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, Tunisia and many other countries, in support of journalists, broadcasters, artists and writers who work against a backdrop of intimidation, repression, and censorship.
The organisation’s arts programmes investigate the impact of current and recent social and political change on arts practitioners, assessing the degree and depth of self-censorship. It uses the arts to engage young people directly into the freedom of expression debate. It works with marginalised communities in UK, creating new platforms, on line and actual for creative expression.
Index on Censorship works internationally to commission new work, not only articles for print and online, but also new photography, film & video, visual arts and performance. Recent examples include an exhibition of photostories produced by women in Iraq, Open Shutters; and programme involving artists from refugee and migrant communities in UK, linking with artists from their country of origin, imagine art after, exhibited at Tate Britain in 2007.
Index is also working with Burmese exiled artists and publishers on creating a programme in support of the collective efforts of Burma’s creative community. Index also commissioned a new play by Actors for Human Rights, Seven Years With Hard Labour, weaving together four accounts from former Burmese political prisoners now living in the UK. Index also co-published a book of poetry by homeless people in London and St. Petersburg.
Index on Censorship works in partnership with all the major groups working for freedom of expression rights, including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Liberty, English PEN, PEN International and many other groups to create landmark events of national and international significance. Index was one four international freedom of expression organisations on the programming committee of the First Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in Oslo June 1 – 6 2009.
The organisation regularly contributes to the national and international media, and plays a regular part in major literary events and public debate, including the Hay and Edinburgh Festivals and political functions such as the Institute of Ideas, the Convention on Modern Liberty.
Index on Censorship is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a global network of non-governmental organisations that monitors censorship worldwide and defends journalists, writers, Internet users and others who are persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. It is also a member of the Tunisia Monitoring Group, a coalition of 16 free expression organisations that lobbies the Tunisian government to improve its human rights record.
The original inspiration for Index on Censorship came from two prominent Soviet dissidents, Pavel Litvinov, grandson of the former Soviet Foreign Minister, Maxim Litvinov, and Larisa Bogoraz, the former wife of the writer, Yuli Daniel, who had written to The Times in 1968 calling for international condemnation of the rigged trial of two young writers and their typists on charges of 'anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda'. (One of the writers, Yuri Galanskov, died in a camp in 1972).
Spender organised a telegram of support and sympathy from 16 British and US public intellectuals, including W.H. Auden, A.J. Ayer, Yehudi Menuhin, J. B. Priestley, Paul Scofield, Henry Moore, Bertrand Russell and Igor Stravinsky, among others. In reply Litvinov suggested, in a letter later published in Index’s first issue, for some form of publication "to provide information to world public opinion about the real state of affairs in the USSR".
Spender and his colleagues, Stuart Hampshire, David Astor, Edward Crankshaw and founding editor Michael Scammell sought to go further than this, wishing to cover then current censorship in right-wing dictatorships such as Greece, Portugal, and the military regimes of Latin America, as well as in the former Soviet Union and its satellites.
Describing the organisation's objectives Hampshire said ‘the tyrant’s concealments of oppression and of absolute cruelty should always be challenged. There should be noise of publicity outside every detention centre and concentration camp and a published record of every tyrannical denial of free expression.’
The magazine was originally to be called Index, as suggested by Scammell, a reference to the lists or Indexes of banned works that are central to the history of censorship, including the Roman Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books), the Soviet Union’s Censor’s Index and apartheid South Africa’s Jacobsens Index of Objectionable Literature.
Scammell later admitted that the line on Censorship was added as an afterthought after it was perceived that the reference was not clear to readers. “Panicking, we hastily added the words 'on censorship' as a subtitle,” wrote Scammell in the December 1981 issue of the magazine, “and this it has remained ever since, nagging me with its ungrammaticality (Index of Censorship, surely) and a standing apology for the opacity of its title.”
Freedom of Expression Awards
Index on Censorship annually presents awards to courageous journalists, writers, artists, lawyers, innovators, campaigners and whistleblowers from around the world who have made a significant contribution to free expression over the past year. Current sponsors include The Guardian, Google, SAGE Publications and the London law firm Doughty Street Chambers.
The most recent Index Freedom of Expression Awards took place on Thursday 21 March at the Inner Temple in front of an audience of 300.
2012 winners: Journalism: Idrak Abbasov; Advocacy: Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, collected by Nabeel Rajab; Innovation: Freedom Fone by Kubatana; Arts: Ali Ferzat; 40th Anniversary Award: Research and Information Centre "Memorial (society)" St Petersburg
2008 winners: Journalism: Arat Dink and Agos magazine; Mohamed Al-Daradji and Ahlaam; New Media: Julian Assange and Wikileaks; Books: Francisco Goldman, The Art of Political Murder; Law: U Gambira and the Monks of Burma.
2006 winners: Journalism: Sihem Bensedrine; Film: Bahman Ghobadi, Turtles Can Fly; Whistleblower: Huang Jingao; Books: Jean Hatzfeld, Into the Quick Life: The Rwandan Genocide – the Survivors Speak and A Time for Machetes: the Killers Speak; Law: Beatrice Mtetwa.
In December 2002 Index on Censorship faced calls to cancel a charity performance of the John Malkovich film The Dancer Upstairs at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Speaking to students the previous May, Malkovich had been asked who – as the star of Les Liaisons Dangereuses – he would like to fight a duel with. He picked Robert Fisk, The Independent newspaper's Middle East correspondent, and George Galloway, at the time a Glasgow Labour MP, adding that rather than duel them, he would "rather just shoot them".
Fisk reacted with outrage and the media rights group Reporters sans Frontieres condemned Malkovich, but in an online article Index's then Associate Editor (now deputy CEO) Rohan Jayasekera, dismissed the actor's comments as "flippant" in an article on the organisation's (www.indexonline.org) blog site:
- Over the years since (the Rwanda genocide), and not without criticism, Index on Censorship has turned to reporting the areas where the right to free speech conflicts with these other rights. Index on Censorship is a journalistic enterprise, not a campaigning agency. This has freed it to make judgement calls — some say to equivocate — on when and where and how and why the freely expressed word can be a direct threat to other human rights.
The fundraising event went ahead in December 2002 despite a street protest outside the ICA. Since taking over as CEO in 2008 John Kampfner has strongly reinforced the campaigning profile of the organisation (see Arts and Advocacy programmes above).
Theo Van Gogh
In November 2004, Index on Censorship attracted further controversy over another indexonline.org blog post by Jayasekera that, to many readers, seemed to condone or justify the murder of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh. The blog described Van Gogh was a "free-speech fundamentalist" on a "martyrdom operation[,] roar[ing] his Muslim critics into silence with obscenities" in an "abuse of his right to free speech". Describing Van Gogh's film Submission as "furiously provocative", Jayasekera concluded by describing his death as:
- A sensational climax to a lifetime's public performance, stabbed and shot by a bearded fundamentalist, a message from the killer pinned by a dagger to his chest, Theo Van Gogh became a martyr to free expression. His passing was marked by a magnificent barrage of noise as Amsterdam hit the streets to celebrate him in the way the man himself would have truly appreciated. And what timing! Just as his long-awaited biographical film of Pim Fortuyn's life is ready to screen. Bravo, Theo! Bravo!
- When I asked Jayasekera if he had any regrets, he said he had none. He told me that, like many other readers, I shouldn't have made the mistake of believing that Index on Censorship was against censorship, even murderous censorship, on principle – in the same way as Amnesty International is opposed to torture, including murderous torture, on principle. It may have been so its radical youth, but was now as concerned with fighting 'hate speech' as protecting free speech.
Ursula Owen, the chief executive of Index on Censorship while agreeing that the blog post's "tone was not right", contradicted Cohen's account of his conversation with Jayasekera in a letter to the Observer.
In December 2009 the magazine published an interview with Jytte Klausen about a refusal of Yale University Press to include the Mohammed Cartoons in Klausen's book The Cartoons that Shook the World. The magazine declined to include the cartoons alongside the interview.
- "CEO Kirsty Hughes to leave Index on Censorship", Index on Censorship, 5 February 2014
- Scammell, Michael (1984). "How Index on Censorship Started" in They Shoot Writers, Don't They?, Theiner, George; London: Faber & Faber. pp. 19–28. ISBN 978-0-571-13260-7.
- "Members". Eurozine. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
- Hampshire, Stuart (1997) "Should Index be above the battle?" in An Embarrassment of Tyrannies: 25 years of Index on Censorship. W.L. Webb & Rose Bell, London: Victor Gollancz, pp.186–195. ISBN 0-575-06538-9
- "SAGE to publish Index on Censorship" (Press release). SAGE Publications. June 2009.
- Nadel, Ira (2004). Double Act: A Life of Tom Stoppard. London: Methuen. pp. 264–268. ISBN 0-413-73060-3
- Glanville, Jo (16 September 2009). "Godot to the Rescue". Index On Censorship.
- Glanville, Jo (22 November 2009). "Libel reform will liberate us all". The Guardian (UK). Comment is Free.
- Oakeshott, Isabel; Swinford, Steven (November 22, 2009). "Jack Straw pledges action to end libel tourism". The Times (UK).
- Smith, Sarah (2001), "Index on Censorship" in Jones, Derek (ed). Censorship: A World Encyclopaedia. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-57958-135-0
- "Amnesty hosts hard-hitting performances of real life stories". Amnesty.org (UK).
- "U Gambira to serve total of 68 years in prison". Mizzima.com.
- "Tribeca 09 Interview: Defamation director Yoav Shamir". Indiewire.com.
- "Biographies of Siphie Hlope". Stephen Lewis Foundation.
- "Huang Jingao's open letter and more". China Digital Times. August 2004.
- Jean Hatzfeld. Lettre Ulysses Award.
- "Awards 2005: Beatrice Mtetwa". CPJ.org
- Robert Fisk, "Hate and Star Power: Why Does Malkovich Want to Kill Me?", Counterpunch, 13 May 2002.
- Sullivan, Andrew (12 November 2004). "BBC Weeps For Yasser Arafat". The New York Sun (Ronald Weintraub). Retrieved 24 June 2009.
- Cohen, Nick (12 December 2004). "Censor and sensibility". The Observer. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
- Owen, Ursula (19 December 2004). "Free to speak". The Observer. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
- "Censorship at Index on Censorship", TheAtlantic.com. December 2009.
- Eden, Richard (19 December 2009), "Any Questions? Jonathan Dimbleby in Muslim censorship row", The Telegraph (U.K.)