Union may cancel Langham talk

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Oxford Union President Ben Tansey

 

Oxford Union president Ben Tansey might cancel the debating society’s invitation to disgraced television actor Chris Langham following adverse publicity.

"I have literally spoken to about a hundred people to gauge their thoughts on Chris Langham speaking at the Union and am seriously thinking about cancelling the invite," said Tansey. "I’ll reach a decision by the end of today."

The Oxford Union invited Chris Langham, the BAFTA-winning comedy actor who had been jailed for downloading child pornography, to come to Frewin Court on May 29, to talk about his "vilification" in the media.

The actor, best known for his award-winning performances in BBC Four comedy The Thick of It was jailed for 10 months at Maidstone Crown Court last September after being convicted of 15 counts of downloading images of children.

Leading child protection charity Kidscape criticised the Union through the national press, calling the invitation a "publicity stunt" and "very disappointing."

Tansey said he has been receiving been both congratulation and condemnation for the invite.  Some have accused him of providing Langham platform to "justify his crimes," with others, while acknowledging the need for such a debate, concerned about the message the invitation was going to send.

Founder of Kidscape Michele Elliot told BBC News, "We are not calling for Chris Langham to be banned, because we believe in free speech, but we are very disappointed the Union has invited someone with this type of conviction."

The Union President said Chris Langham was invited not for publicity but genuine debate.  He explained it will be more a question of the judicial system and how the debating society feels about it.

"At what point do we turn around and say [to criminals who have served their time], ‘Yes, you are member of society again’?…The debate itself and the reasons for the invite are valid and I think people do recognise that."

But Tansey says he is worried about the message this debate might send to victims of child abuse.

"Having looked at Luke [Tryl]’s term in Michaelmas, we have learned that not all PR is good PR. We obviously did think about the message this invitation was going to send and I’m having to rethink our reasons for inviting him," he said. "The committee has worked very hard for an exciting term and I don’t want this to take over the term."

Chris Langham could not be reached for comment and his agent had refused to comment on the matter.

 


See also:

VIDEO: Protests against Union’s free speech forum in Michaelmas

VIDEO: Luke Tryl speaks about free speech forum

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