Freedom of expression fears grow as tough new Ofcom code classes ‘political opinion’ in its definition of hate speech
- The broadcasting regulator has added 14 new grounds on which programmes must avoid intolerance
- Ofcom insists the changes still allow for ‘robust debate’ of controversial issues
- Broadcasters can interview those with ‘extreme or challenging views’ in news or current affairs programmes where it is in the public interest
- Some MPs have said that any restrictions risk narrowing essential debate
Ofcom has expanded its definition of hate speech to include ‘political opinion’, raising fears over freedom of speech.
The broadcasting regulator updated its code to prevent programmes from including intolerance based on 14 new grounds, including political opinion and gender reassignment.
The code previously recognised just four such grounds, meaning broadcasters had to ensure their programmes did not contain incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion or nationality.
But the new code covers ‘all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance on the grounds of disability, ethnicity, social origin, gender, sex, gender reassignment, nationality, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, colour, genetic features, language, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth or age’.
An Ofcom spokesman insisted the changes were not a threat to freedom of speech, and said programmes could still include ‘healthy and robust debate’ of controversial issues.
Last month equalities minister Liz Truss warned a ‘fashionable’ focus on race, gender and sexuality had narrowed the debate on equality.
Ofcom has expanded its definition of hate speech to include ‘political opinion’, raising fears over freedom of speech. The broadcasting regulator updated its code to prevent programmes from including intolerance based on 14 new grounds, including political opinion and gender reassignment [Stock image]
Last month equalities minister Liz Truss (pictured) warned a ‘fashionable’ focus on race, gender and sexuality had narrowed the debate on equality [File photo]
Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We are drifting into a totalitarian ‘woke’ state where nothing can ever be said for fear that somebody will be offended. It’s madness, and it’s driven by a small minority. Most people don’t care.’
Ofcom said the changes would not prevent criticism of an opinion, but guard against inciting hatred towards the person holding it.
It said the new code does not stop anyone appearing on TV or radio ‘because their views or actions have the potential to cause offence’, but that ‘where people or organisations are given the chance to articulate their views’ then broadcasters must challenge the views and place them in context.
According to the code, broadcasters can interview those with ‘extreme or challenging views’ in news and current affairs coverage where it is in the public interest.
Comedians have previously faced complaints over jokes which were deemed to have gone too far, such as in 2019 when Jo Brand controversially joked on BBC Radio 4 about throwing ‘battery acid’ over ‘unpleasant figures’, rather than milkshakes. She later apologised.
Ofcom said it was required to make the changes, which came into effect on December 31, under regulations laid before Parliament in September.
In 2019 Ofcom received 3,581 complaints of racial discrimination, up from 2,680 the previous year, and 429 complaints of gender discrimination, up from 310 in 2018.