22 May 2015

Theresa May TV censorship plan attacked by Sajid Javid

Home Secretary Theresa May has been accused of attempting to introduce government censorship of British television programming by one of her Cabinet colleagues, a leaked letter has shown.

Sajid Javid, the then culture secretary, wrote to the prime minister before the election attacking the home secretary’s plan to give the regulator Ofcom further powers allowing them to vet programming for extremism before broadcast. He argued such powers would amount to a threat freedom of speech.

He said that the proposal, aimed at weeding out extremist content, would hand Ofcom the “role of a censor” on British broadcasting.

The letter, leaked to the Guardian newspaper, shows that Mr Javid, who was promoted to business secretary in the latest reshuffle, thought the plan amounted to “a fundamental shift in the way UK broadcasting is regulated, away from the current framework which is designed to take appropriate account of the right to freedom of expression”.

The letter, sent on 12 March, was in response to a request from Mrs May for approval for the strategy from ministers in the Cabinet’s home affairs committee and the national security committee.

Mrs May had drawn up plans that would have allowed Ofcom to prevent programmes containing “extremist content” – such as propaganda by Islamist extremists and their apologists – from being broadcast.

It followed the outcry after Anjem Choudary, an Islamist activist, was interviewed on BBC’s Newsnight following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in 2013.

Mr Javid was clear in his criticism: “Whilst it is absolutely vital that government works in partnership with individuals and organisation to do all it can to ensure that society is protected from extremism, it must also continue to protect the right of freedom of expression and ensure that these proposals do not restrict or prevent legitimate and lawful comment or debate.”