Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May planned to switch the UK’s broadcasting regulator into a pre-broadcast censor, according to a leaked memo published today by the Guardian.
Ms. May, who is one of the favourites to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as Tory leader, is said to have written to her cabinet colleagues seeking consensus for a plan to tackle extremism in the United Kingdom by shifting the current regulator, Ofcom, into a censorship role.
The move, which will no doubt irk the Conservative Party’s libertarian supporters, would have brought Britain into line with “countries with a pre-transmission regulatory regime… not known for their compliance with rights relating to freedom of expression,” according to critic and colleague Sajid Javid MP.
Mr Javid, who was Culture Secretary at the time of his intervention on the issue, is known as a staunchly free-market, Thatcherite conservative. Now the Secretary of State for Business, Mr Javid wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron on Ms. May’s proposals, saying the new powers might be used “otherwise than intended, not least given the difficulty of defining extremism, and the consequent likelihood of the government being seen to be interfering with freedom of speech without sufficient justification”.
The outline from the Home Secretary was due to be included in the upcoming Queen’s Speech, in a section regarding Britain’s counter-extremism strategy. It was said to be Ms. May’s attempt at cracking down on extremists of all ilks, but has seemingly strayed into the territory of imposing on the freedom of speech.
Mr Javid’s letter noted that Britain’s regulator, Ofcom, has already taken “robust action against UK broadcasters which have breached these rules”, and said: “…Ofcom does not have the powers to approve programmes before they are broadcast and nor do we consider that it should have these powers as has been proposed in paragraph 111 of the strategy.
“Extending Ofcom’s powers to enable it to take pre-emptive action would move it from its current position as a post-transmission regulator into the role of censor.”
The Home Office refused to comment.