Jeiran Ganiyeva, BA Japanese and Korean Studies
Comedian and ‘free-speech’ advocate Konstantin Kisin was one of a group of comedians invited to perform as part of a fundraiser organised by the Unicef society at SOAS, however, he chose not to proceed with the event when asked to sign a behavioural agreement. The agreement asked the performers to agree to a set of guidelines that calls for sensitivity on a comprehensive list of topics, ranging from racism to ableism. The agreement went on to clarify “It does not mean that these topics can not be discussed. But, it must be done in a respectful and non-abusive way”. As the UNICEF society outlined in a statement, “given that UNICEF is a children’s charity, we wanted to make sure it was an appropriate event for the cause.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Kisin stated that it is the first time he has been asked to sign such an agreement. Kisin went on to argue that “comedians play with ideas and sometimes we stray over the line”. Kisin’s public disapproval of the contract led to a backlash against the society on social media.
“Given that UNICEF is a children’s charity, we wanted to make sure it was an appropriate event for the cause.”
However, UNICEF society insists the agreement was not meant to restrict freedom of speech, but rather called for a considerate, non-abusive approach to difficult topics. Not to mention, many of the topics mentioned in the agreement were already covered under national hate speech legislation. As UNICEF society further clarifies “We would never impose that guests would have to agree to anything they do not believe in. We regret the misrepresentation of our aim.”