2023 Bradlaugh Lecture: “Let’s talk to each other”

Posted: Thu, 5th Oct 2023

Nicky Campbell delivers impassioned defence of free expression and robust public debate

2023 Bradlaugh Lecture: “Let’s talk to each other”

Broadcaster and journalist Nicky Campbell championed free speech and open dialogue at this year's Bradlaugh Lecture, which took place on Saturday.

The Bradlaugh Lecture is an annual event named after National Secular Society founder Charles Bradlaugh MP, which gives a distinguished speaker an opportunity to explore a topic of interest to secularists in depth.

Nicky delivered an entertaining and persuasive talk punctuated with anecdotes from his 14 years as host of BBC's The Big Questions.

He said robust debate should serve as a "stress test" for beliefs and could lead to moments of consensus and mutual understanding. Both sides of an argument should be presented and critiqued, while viewers are left to draw their own conclusions. Public debate, he said, provides an opportunity for people to hear themselves 'outside of their own echo chamber'.

However, Nicky also described a process of "climate change" in which broadcasters have become increasingly reluctant to air contentious topics. By the end of The Big Questions, he said the show had become out of step with the times, because it was felt to be too confrontational. The one-time desire to have "a bloody good row" had been overtaken by a fear of causing offence, he said.

He explained out how allegations of so-called blasphemy are used to stifle free expression both domestically and abroad, citing events at Batley Grammar School as just one example.

The lecture had been due to take place in person at Manchester Art Gallery but was moved online following the announcement of railway strikes.

Watch the lecture:

NSS: 'Cogently argued and delivered with characteristic wit'

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Nicky's refreshingly candid and cogently argued talk – delivered with characteristic wit – provides a timely reminder of the importance of free expression and public debate.

"As Bradlaugh himself said: 'Without free speech no search for the truth is possible'."

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Tags: Free speech