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(LifeSiteNews) – On October 18 a diverse, international coalition of journalists, intellectuals, and prominent figures signed the Westminster Declaration, a public statement opposing increasing international censorship.
“Open discourse is the central pillar of a free society, and is essential for holding governments accountable, empowering vulnerable groups, and reducing the risk of tyranny,” the Westminster Declaration says.
Signatories include Jordan Peterson, Tim Robbins, John Cleese, Edward Snowden, Matt Taibbi, Richard Dawkins, Jonathan Haidt, Julian Assange, Bret Weinstein, Glenn Loury, Oliver Stone, and Slavoj Žižek.
The more than 140 signatories of the Westminster Declaration who believe “the attack on free speech is a crisis of humanity itself” declared in their opening statement:
We write as journalists, artists, authors, activists, technologists, and academics to warn of increasing international censorship that threatens to erode centuries-old democratic norms.
Coming from the left, right, and centre, we are united by our commitment to universal human rights and freedom of speech, and we are all deeply concerned about attempts to label protected speech as ‘misinformation,’ ‘disinformation,’ and other ill-defined terms.
The Westminster Declaration takes issue with largescale coordinated global censorship efforts, otherwise known as the “Censorship-Industrial Complex,” in NGOs, universities, online companies, and in government policies. These entities regularly “monitor citizens and rob them of their voices.”
The Declaration highlighted the nefarious “subtle methods” that the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” uses in silencing dissenting voices:
These include visibility filtering, labelling, and manipulation of search engine results. Through deplatforming and flagging, social media censors have already silenced lawful opinions on topics of national and geopolitical importance. They have done so with the full support of ‘disinformation experts’ and ‘fact-checkers’ in the mainstream media, who have abandoned the journalistic values of debate and intellectual inquiry.
Signatories are disturbed by examples of limited free speech around the world including Ireland’s planned “Hate Speech” Bill, Scotland’s Hate Crime Act, Australia’s “Misinformation” Bill, the E.U.’s Digital Service Act (DSA), and the U.K.’s Online Hate Speech Bill.
The eclectic coalition also referred to the U.S. First Amendment and Article 19 from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as strong examples of international protection of free speech and conscience.
“One need not agree with the U.S. on every issue to acknowledge that this is a vital ‘first liberty’ from which all other liberties follow. It is only through free speech that we can denounce violations of our rights and fight for new freedoms,” the Westminster Declaration states.
The collective statement warns that “in the course of human history, attacks on free speech have been a precursor to attacks on all other liberties,” and added that “regimes that eroded free speech have always inevitably weakened and damaged other core democratic structures.”
However, in a rallying call “for the sake of human welfare,” the Westminster Declaration signatories made three calls to action:
We call on governments and international organizations to fulfill their responsibilities to the people and to uphold Article 19 of the UDHR.
We call on tech corporations to undertake to protect the digital public square as defined in Article 19 of the UDHR and refrain from politically motivated censorship, the censorship of dissenting voices, and censorship of political opinion.
And finally, we call on the general public to join us in the fight to preserve the people’s democratic rights. Legislative changes are not enough. We must also build an atmosphere of free speech from the ground up by rejecting the climate of intolerance that encourages self-censorship and that creates unnecessary personal strife for many. Instead of fear and dogmatism, we must embrace inquiry and debate.
Free speech will be relegated ‘to the discretion of…unelected and unaccountable entities’
The Westminster Declaration comes at a time when the European Union (E.U.) has imposed strict online regulations for large social media platforms. Since August, the E.U.’s Digital Services Act (DSA) has set out a series of legal obligations on various topics that large online platforms must comply with to avoid being penalized. Digital Service Coordinators will now target so-called “disinformation” on social networks, greater transparency in algorithms, the dissemination of illegal content, and responsibilities on data collection.
Signatories argued that the “censorial” draconian DSA will only give “platform data to ‘vetted researchers’ from NGOS and academia, relegating our speech to the discretion of those unelected and unaccountable entities.”
According to the E.U.’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton, Elon Musk’s platform X (formerly Twitter) is already in breach of the DSA regulations for alleged circulation of illegal content and “disinformation” following the Hamas attacks in Israel. In a letter to Elon Musk, Breton said: “When you receive notices of illegal content in the EU, you must be timely, diligent and objective in taking action and removing the relevant content when warranted. We have, from qualified sources, reports about potentially illegal content circulating on your service despite flags from relevant authorities.”
The Westminster Declaration stems from a meeting of free speech advocates from across the world in Westminster, London in June 2023.
The Westminster Declaration concluded:
As signatories of this statement, we have fundamental political and ideological disagreements. However, it is only by coming together that we will defeat the encroaching forces of censorship so that we can maintain our ability to openly debate and challenge one another. It is in the spirit of difference and debate that we sign the Westminster Declaration.