Is There a Right to Offend? Professor Discusses Concept of Free Speech

Professor Brian WinstonUniversity of Lincoln Professor and published author Brian Winston will be talking about the justifications for a free press during a lecture on 23rd October.

Held as part of the University’s Lincoln Academy series, Prof Winston will be taking the audience through the historical, legal and philosophical issues surrounding the concept of free expression.

The lecture will incorporate research carried out by Prof Winston for his thirteenth book A Right to Offend, published by Bloomsbury in September.

In the new book, Prof Winston provides an account of the current state of freedom of expression in the western world. He analyses all the most pertinent cases of conflict during the last two decades – including the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the incident of the Danish cartoons and offended celebrities – examining cultural, legal and journalistic aspects of each case.

Prof Winston said: “The fatwa against Salman Rushdie was the starting point.  People in the West were trapped: on the one hand they wanted to be sensitive to the fact that a large number of people were clearly upset and they didn’t want to be seen as being intolerant of that distress. But on the other that impulse was undercutting what I think of as a crucial right – the right to free expression. If you limit speech you are simply putting a plaster on the problem, but not healing the wound. It is an extremely complicated issue which is why A Right to Offend is a 438-page book.”

Prof Winston, who in 1985 won an Emmy for documentary script writing, will also discuss issues surrounding control of the media during the free lecture.

He said: “There is talk of having some official body to regulate the press. I am all in favour of regulating the infrastructure as there is an argument that the state has a duty to ensure a variety of voices. For the sake of creating a marketplace of ideas you should limit the marketplace of ownership. But regulation of content is improper. I will also be talking about public interest. Interest can mean different things, such as curiosity or entitlement. I think we need to draw that distinction. Things that merely satisfy curiosity, such as a footballer who is having an affair, should not be privileged. If an MP who pronounces of public morality is involved in a sex scandal there is curiosity but also an entitlement to know about it. “

Prof Winston’s lecture, entitled A Context for Leveson, will take place in the University’s EMMTEC building on the Brayford campus at 7.30pm.

Members of the public can get more information on the Lincoln Academy series by contacting the University of Lincoln’s Events Office on 01522 837100, e-mailing or online at

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