Tribeca’s censorship of film goes against free speech


Let this be clearly understood. I have no strong opinions as to the safety or possible risks attached to vaccinations. However, there are those on both sides of the argument that do have strongly held beliefs and are keen to voice them.

And why shouldn’t they? Do the rest of us not deserve the right to hear the arguments so that we can form our own opnions? Of course we do.

One thing to which I am opposed is censorship. ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’1 are famous words that are pertinent here. To make educated and informed decisions we need to hear both sides of an argument.

It is to be very much regretted, therefore, that the Tribeca Film Festival has decided to deny free speech and to resort to censorship by removing Andrew Wakefield’s documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover Up To Catastrophe, from its official line-up of films.

tribeca logoA statement from Tribeca said that its intent, in screening this film, had been to provide an opportunity for conversation around the issue. However, after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, Tribeca does not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion.

The Festival said that it doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy but has concerns with certain things in the film prevents Tribeca from presenting it in the Festival programme.

“We have decided to remove it from our schedule,” the statement concluded.

Famous actor and producer Robert de Niro, who co-founded Tribeca, had only the day before said: “Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined.

“In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However, this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

To me, and I must emphasise that this is just my opinion and not (necessarily) a fact, it appears that Tribeca has bowed down to establishment ‘pro-vaccination’ pressure and so effectively censor opposition voices.

It is also regrettable that Mr de Niro’s much wanted ‘discussion’ is now dead – at least as far as this festival is concerned. I am totally confident, however, that the war of words about vaccination will rage on.

Who is right? Are vaccinations good or bad? I don’t know2 – but we do deserve to hear the uncensored views of both sides.


1 In The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote the phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (which is often misattributed to Voltaire himself) as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs. Hall’s quotation is often cited to describe the principle of freedom of speech.

2 The writer is neither pro nor anti vaccination. As a child of the 1950s he had the vaccinations then customary but, during his high school years, he did not receive the BCG tuberculosis vaccination. His parents refused to consent because his sister had experienced a bad reaction to her vaccination some years earlier.


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