A response and call for unity

19 August 2022

We have watched with concern the allegations about the Society of Authors and its Chair, Joanne Harris, in an open letter from Julie Bindel (‘An Open Letter to the Society of Authors re Joanne Harris’, 16 August 2022).

In our own statement (‘The SoA view — on hate, harassment and personal attacks on authors’, 17 August 2022) we did not respond directly to the allegations because, as we said:

Following the attempted murder of Sir Salman Rushdie on 12 August 2022, it is more important than ever that authors find ways to cooperate, regardless of their views, to protect the fragile freedom of expression that we all depend on.

We again call on all authors to converse with dignity and respect and to unite to work together on the issues which affect us all.

The allegations

Nevertheless, following the publication of a second open letter, also from Bindel (‘To those defending Joanne Harris’, 18 August 2022), we must refute the allegations of unfairness to those who hold particular views and specifically the women named.

So far as is possible when only vague details have been given, we have investigated the allegations that we have failed to support the authors in question.

We have found no evidence that either the unanimously appointed Chair of our democratically elected Management Committee or the SoA staff team have failed to act even-handedly, nor have we found any cases where members asking for help in dealing with publishers or requesting advice were refused.

We have dealt consistently with cases in line with the five principles listed in our statement.

These include decrying personal attacks, not making individual statements of support and not getting involved in debates between writers. If this is the support the named writers asked for, it would indeed have been refused.

Sadly, there has been an escalation in personal attacks on authors on social media, including for their beliefs, gender, race or sex. We condemn all such attacks unequivocally, but we do not have the resources to condemn each individually and we do not believe that it would be helpful to do so. Clearly there is little the SoA can do to stop such attacks other than continue with our policy work on Freedom of Expression and by directing people to our dignity and respect policies and resources for dealing with personal attacks and bullying.

We note that Amanda Craig confirms that she contacted the SoA and was advised on her dispute with Mslexia. She does not mention that SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon drafted a letter, spoke to Mslexia and helped secure the payment on her behalf (which, to be clear, Mslexia had never refused to pay). This is a good example of the type of advice and assistance SoA staff deal with every day: vetting thousands of contracts and assisting with author queries and concerns.

That work is carried out by trained staff members, not by the Chair of the Management Committee. The Management Committee are the volunteer board of directors, providing strategic leadership and direction on behalf of our 12,000 members. Those members hold a multiplicity of views and the staff and Management Committee carry out their work for members, whatever views they hold.

We are pleased to note that in the latest Open Letter it is acknowledged that the Chair and Management Committee of the SoA are entitled to hold their own personal opinions and express them on social media.

The allegations against Joanne Harris as Chair seem to be that she has failed to engage with authors, has joined in smear campaigns against them and has been unwilling to represent their interests. This is not a fair representation of the engaged and passionate Chair that the Management Committee and members see, as exemplified in Melinda Salisbury’s open letter of support for Joanne Harris (‘An Open Letter to the Society of Authors, regarding Joanne Harris’, 16 August 2022), not to mention the many private messages of support that the SoA has received.

The SoA view on gender criticism?

The SoA does not hold or express any view on gender criticism, although that seems to be the main basis of these complaints.

We are surprised at the claims that gender critical women are treated any differently from other SoA members. We repeat that we have investigated the files of the named women and see no basis for complaint. Any complaints that appropriate assistance was refused or that they were treated in any way outside our stated guidelines are unfounded.

If anyone has evidence to the contrary we invite them to write to us at the SoA with specific examples and we will investigate.  In the meantime, we will continue to welcome and work for all authors whatever their ideology or beliefs and at every stage in their careers.