Oxford City Council has just taken the decision to pass a leafleting zone.
This will mean that everybody from student societies to a local theatre will have to buy a council licence to hand out leaflets in the city centre.
These rules will have a disastrous effect on local events – and give the council de facto control over the content of leaflets in the city. This is extremely worrying for free speech in this (very clean) university town.
According to the report from the council meeting, this is what the scheme will mean:
- The leafleting licenses will cost £100 per person per month, or £450 per person per year. Therefore, if five friends want to promote their theatre production, this will cost them £500. They must each buy their own badge.
- Anybody handing out leaflets must have their authorisation badge ‘clearly displayed at all times’.
- Council officials can ask leafleteers to provide a list of distributors – including their dates of birth, addresses, what they are handing out, and where.
- Every leaflet must bear the unfriendly message: ‘It is an offence to litter. Dropping this leaflet on the ground could result in a maximum fine of £2500.’
- ‘Irresponsible drinks promotions’ (which basically includes most drinks offers) are banned. All promotions for alcohol must also carry the Drink Aware message.
- All leaflets ‘must meet the standards of the Advertising Standards Authority. Particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or disability.’ (How then to promote the Wadham cross-dressing ball…?)
Worryingly – the council summing up doesn’t even consider the effect of these rules on civil liberties and civic life in the city (though the council is aware of our petition against the zone, and this petition was referenced in the meeting).
Instead – Oxford City council satisfies itself that the zone will not have ‘differential effects’ on groups due to their race, sexuality or disability. Fantastic – all groups are equally restricted!
The only glimmer of civil liberties issues came in a risk assessment, which considered the possible risk that ‘Excessive numbers of objections’ could be ‘received from some businesses or groups’ leading to ‘reputational damage’ (of the council).
Any individuals who would like to register their objections with the council – in excessive numbers or otherwise – can email the councillor responsible for this measure, John Tanner, at firstname.lastname@example.org Please cc: me in (email@example.com) if you would be happy for your comments to be published on this page.
If you haven’t already, sign the Manifesto Club petition against the Oxford leafleting zone