Freedom of speech is hailed as the ‘first freedom’, the bedrock of democracy, but it is subject to erosion in times of upheaval. The British Library holds the earliest plea for free speech, Milton’s Areopagitica, which argues against censorship and in favour of ‘freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing’. But according to Freedom House, press freedom is in retreat: in 2003, 41% of countries had a free press. By 2016, only 31% did. This debate will ask why, and explore a range of solutions.

Watch the discussion:


Isabel Hilton is a renowned writer and broadcaster, and founder of the China Dialogue Trust. Her career in broadcast and print journalism spans several books, and a record of reporting from Latin America, Europe and South and East Asia. She is a Visiting Professor at the Lau Institute, KCL, was appointed OBE in 2008, serves as a Senior Advisor to the China Council and holds two honorary doctorates.

Inaya Folarin Iman is a writer and broadcaster. She is the creator and host of The Discussion, a weekly ideas, culture and politics TV show on GB News. She is the Founder and Director of The Equiano Project, a forum to promote freedom of speech and open dialogue on the subjects of race, identity and culture, and she is the Cultural Management and Youth Engagement Trustee for the National Portrait Gallery.

Jacob Mchangama is the author of Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media (Basic Books, 2022). A lawyer, human rights advocate and former external lecturer of Human Rights at the University of Copenhagen, he also founded Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank. His writing has featured in The Economist, The Washington Post, El Pais, France24, Deutsche Welle, and Al Jazeera.

Mark Thompson is Co-Chair (with Nobel Laureate Maria Ressa) of the International Fund for Public Interest Media. He was Director General of the BBC for eight years, after which he became CEO and President of The New York Times, where he transformed the 170-year-old news brand into a digital powerhouse. He is currently Chairman of and Deputy Chair of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Executive Director at
+ Recent

Jacob Mchangama is the Founder and Executive Director of The Future of Free Speech. He is also a research professor at Vanderbilt University and a Senior Fellow at The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).