Index on Censorship
is an organization campaigning for freedom of expression
, which produces a quarterly magazine of the same name from London. 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 television broadcaster, writer and former politician Trevor Phillips
is based at 1 Rivington Place
in central London.
Larisa Bogoraz and Pavel Litvinov, late 1960s
The original impetus for the creation of Index on Censorship
came from an Open Letter addressed "To World Public Opinion" by two Soviet dissenters, Pavel Litvinov
and Larisa Bogoraz
. In the words of the samizdat periodicial A Chronicle of Current Events
, they described "the atmosphere of illegality" surrounding the January 1968 trial of Ginzburg and Galanskov and called for "public condemnation of this disgraceful trial, for the punishment of those responsible, the release of the accused from detention and a retrial which would fully conform with the legal regulations and be held in the presence of international observers."
(One of the accused Alexander Ginzburg
resumed his dissident activities on release from the camps, until expelled from the USSR in 1979; another, the writer Yuri Galanskov
, died in a camp in November 1972.)
(London) published a translation of the Open Letter and in reply the English poet Stephen Spender
composed a brief telegram:
“We, a group of friends representing no organisation, support your statement, admire your courage, think of you and will help in any way possible.”
A few weeks before, Litvinov sent Spender a letter (translated and published several years later in the first May 1972 issue of Index). He suggested that a regular publication might be set up in the West "to provide information to world public opinion about the real state of affairs in the USSR".
Title, scope and relations with Amnesty International
Spender and his colleagues, Stuart Hampshire, David Astor, Edward Crankshaw and founding editor Michael Scammell decided, like Amnesty International, to cast their net wider. They wished to document patterns of censorship in right-wing dictatorships — the military regimes of Latin America and the dictatorships in Greece, Spain and Portugal — as well as the Soviet Union and its satellites.
Meanwhile, in 1971, Amnesty International
began to publish English translations of each new issue of A Chronicle of Current Events
, which documented human rights abuses in the USSR and included a regular "Samizdat Update". In a recent interview, Michael Scammell explains the informal division of labour between the two London-based organisations: "When we received human rights material we forwarded it to Amnesty and when Amnesty received a report of censorship they passed it on to us".
Originally, as suggested by Scammell, the magazine was to be called Index
, a reference to the lists or indices of banned works that are central to the history of censorship: 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 words "on censorship" were added as an afterthought when it was realised that the reference would not be clear to many 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."
Describing the organisation's objectives at its inception, Stuart 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."
Jodie Ginsberg, former Chief Executive Index on Censorship
Index on Censorship
magazine was founded by Michael Scammell 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.
While the original inspiration to create Index came from Soviet dissidents, from its outset the magazine covered censorship in right-wing dictatorships then ruling Greece and Portugal, the military regimes of Latin America, and the 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 half century it has been in existence, 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
Issues under the editorship of Rachael Jolley have covered taboos, the legacy of the Magna Carta
's enduring legacy in protest. 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 veteran Russian free speech campaigner Alexei Simonov, founder of the Glasnost Defence Foundation
Since January 2010 it has been published by Sage Publications
, an independent for-profit academic publisher.
Between 2005 and 2009, the magazine was published and distributed by Routledge
, part of the Taylor & Francis
In addition to print and annual subscriptions, Index on Censorship
is available on Exact Editions
, an application for the iPhone/iPad and Android.
It is also a partner with Eurozine
, a network of more than 60 European cultural journals.
Philip Spender, Jo Glanville, Michael Scammell
Logo until 2012
's play Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
(1977) is set in a Soviet mental institution and 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).
It was first performed with the London Symphony Orchestra
. 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
, 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, 50 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 were illustrative of then CEO John Kampfner
's strategy, supported by then chair Jonathan Dimbleby, to boost Index's public advocacy profile in the UK and abroad beginning in 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.
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. Examples have included 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
Index has also worked 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.
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.
The Chief Executive of Index on Censorship from May 2014 was Jodie Ginsberg.
In December 2019, Index announced Ginsberg was standing down from the post in early 2020.
In June 2020, she was replaced by Ruth Smeeth
Freedom of Expression Awards
Index on Censorship
annually presents awards to courageous journalists, artists, campaigners and digital activists from around the world who have made a significant contribution to free expression over the past year. Sponsors have included The Guardian
, SAGE Publications
and the London law firm Doughty Street Chambers
The most recent face-to-face Index
Freedom of Expression Awards took place on Thursday 4 April 2019 at The Mayfair Hotel
; the most recent online awards were held online on Thursday 16 April 2020 during the 2019–20 COVID-19 pandemic
Journalism: Radio La Voz; Advocacy: Rashid Hajili; Publishing Award: Andalus Press; New Media Award: Twitter
; Freemuse Award: Mahsa Vahdat
; Special Commendation: Heather Brooke
: Journalism: Sumi Khan; Books: Soldiers, Light by Daniel Bergner; Film: Final Solution
, Rakesh Sharma
; Campaigning: Center of Constitutional Rights; Whistleblowing: Grigoris Lazos.
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. After taking over as CEO in 2008, John Kampfner 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!
There were many protests from both left- and right-wing commentators. Nick Cohen
of The Observer
newspaper wrote in December 2004, that:
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.
, 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
- ^ a b c d 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.
- ^ see "Protests about Galanskov-Ginzburg trial", A Chronicle of Current Events, (1.2, 30 April 1968).
- ^ "Pavel Litvinov and the Creation of Index on Censorship", Colta.ru, 8 August 2020 (in Russian).
- ^ a b "Members". Eurozine. Archived from the original on 20 November 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
- ^ Hampshire, Stuart (1997), "Should Index be above the battle?" in W. L. Webb & Rose Bell, An Embarrassment of Tyrannies: 25 years of Index on Censorship, London: Victor Gollancz, pp. 186–195. ISBN 0-575-06538-9.
- ^ "SAGE to publish Index on Censorship (via Wayback Machine)" (Press release). SAGE Publications. June 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-08-04.
- ^ a b 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).
- ^ Former journalist to head Index on Censorship, The Guardian, 5 February 2014
- ^ "Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg to step down in 2020". Index on Censorship. 18 December 2019. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
- ^ "Index on Censorship announces Ruth Smeeth as new chief executive". Indexoncensorship.org. Index on Censorship. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
- ^ a b "Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship". Index on Censorship. 2020-04-16. Archived from the original on 2020-04-16. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
- ^ "Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 2019". www.indexoncensorship.org. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
- ^ "Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 2018". www.indexoncensorship.org. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
- ^ "Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 2017". www.indexoncensorship.org. Retrieved 2017-04-20.
- ^ "Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 2016". www.indexoncensorship.org. Retrieved 2017-04-20.
- ^ Said-Moorhouse, Lauren. "Amran Abdundi: Bringing peace at terror's border". CNN. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Index: The voice of free expression".
- ^ "U Gambira to serve total of 68 years in prison" Archived 2009-12-09 at the Wayback Machine. 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 Archived 2008-07-23 at the Wayback Machine. Lettre Ulysses Award.
- ^ "Awards 2005: Beatrice Mtetwa". CPJ.org
- ^ "A sonata of solidarity: Şanar Yurdatapan – IFEX". IFEX. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
- ^ Robert Fisk, "Hate and Star Power: Why Does Malkovich Want to Kill Me?" Archived 2009-10-04 at the Wayback Machine, Counterpunch, 13 May 2002.
- ^ a b 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 (UK)
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.
Last edited on 18 March 2021, at 08:37
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