Today's Big Stories

Virgin Active vs freedom of expression

Muhammed Desai, a member of the South African chapter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions lobby against Israel, is alleged to have been forcibly removed from the Old Eds branch of Virgin Active. Desai says that the shirt he wore had the words 'In solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli apartheid'.

(See related article of Redi's interview with complaining member of the Old Eds gym)

Stephen speaks to Professor Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression Institute about whether or not there are limits to freedom of speech.

Prof Duncan says that there are limits to the right to Freedom of Expression, which are are not protected by constitution. She says that hate speech, incitement of violence and propaganda for war are not protected by the constitution. Desai's t-shirt doesn't fall under any of these categories.

In order for Virgin Active to be within their rights to to ban certain t-shirts, it would need to prove that the speech constitutes advocacy of hatred (on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or religion) or incitement to cause harm.

If we are going to be serious about maintaining constitutional values, we can't expect a private entity, like Virgin Active, to require people to leave constitutional values at the front door. They seem to think that, as a private entity, they can contract themselves out of the right to freedom of expression and unfortunately they can't.

Professor Jane Duncan, Freedom of Expression Institute

Listen to Professor Duncan below:

Meanwhile, Virgin Active has issued this statement on their website:

This is a situation we have never encountered before and we have learned valuable lessons. We need to make it clear that no legal item of clothing is banned from Virgin Active clubs but we would hope that members would understand the need for both tolerance and respect in this space.

We do not believe our clubs should be forums for contentious political activity. Mr Desai has not been banned and is welcome to return to train as a member as long as he respects the conditions of membership.

We have sought an urgent personal meeting with Mr Desai to discuss our position. Any member who made provable threats on our premises of physical violence against Mr Desai, or any member on any occasion, will have their membership reviewed and possibly terminated.

Virgin Active statement after t-shirt incident
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