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Letter to Ofcom Following its Decision to Sanction ITV and London Live

On April 20th, Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, reprimanded both ITV and London Live for comments made by Eamonn Holmes and David Icke about links between 5G technology and coronavirus. Holmes’s sin, according to the regulator, was to say on ITV’s This Morning that the theory linking 5G and coronavirus deserved to be discussed in the mainstream media, even though he agreed with his co-presenter that it was “not true and incredibly stupid”. Ofcom said that this view – the view that the theory deserved a public hearing – was “ill-judged and risked undermining viewers’ trust in advice from public authorities and scientific evidence” and could lead to “significant harm to the public”. (You can read the adjudications here.)

The Free Speech Union regards these decisions as highly inimical to freedom of expression for reasons that we have set out in this letter, which was sent to Ofcom on April 24th. During the coronavirus crisis, the state has substantially increased its powers and imposed restrictions on long-established liberties. However, no such restrictions have been placed by the Government on the right to free speech. In fact, it is vital that this right should be upheld so that the Government’s decision to impose wide-ranging restrictions can be scrutinised and challenged by broadcasters and others. We have asked Ofcom to withdraw these sanctions and issue a press release affirming the importance of free speech and assuring the public it will not seek to stifle the expression of dissenting views without strong and compelling reasons for concluding that such expression will cause harm.

Reply from Exeter College and the Free Speech Union’s Response

Professor Sir Rick Trainor, the Rector of Exeter College, has responded to the Free Speech Union’s complaint about the no-platforming of Professor Selina Todd on 29th February. You can see the FSU’s original complaint below, as well as Professor Trainor’s reply, the FSU’s response, and Professor Trainor’s reply to that. We are pleased the College took our complaint seriously and investigated it in good faith, and are generally satisfied with its response. But we have some reservations about the conclusions of the Complaints Panel, which we’ve set out in our response.

Letter of Complaint to De Montfort University About Breaching the Speech Rights of an FSU Member

A journalism student at De Montfort University and a member of the FSU alerted us to the fact that he was being formally investigated for bringing the University into disrepute after a left-wing activist made a complaint about him. He had got into an argument with this activist on Twitter over the prosecution of Daniel Thomas, a colleague of Tommy Robinson’s, for identifying the victim of a sexual offence. The student wasn’t defending Thomas’s behaviour, merely objecting to the fact that the left-wing activist was revelling in his prosecution, as if Thomas were a bigger criminal than members of grooming gangs convicted of sexual offences. Nothing the student tweeted in the course of this exchange was unlawful, nor was it in breach of any of Twitter’s rules. But following the activist’s complaint, the student’s department at De Montfort University decided to launch a formal investigation and, in short order, found him guilty and threatened him with expulsion from the University if he repeated the offence. This is a clear breach of the student’s right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as being contrary to the University’s own free speech policies and inconsistent with its legal duty to uphold free speech under s.43 of Education (Nº 2) Act 1986. The FSU was minded to mount a legal challenge immediately, but was dissuaded from doing so by the student. Instead, we have written to the investigating official and pointed out that De Montfort University’s behaviour is contrary to the law protecting freedom of speech, asked him to explain himself, and warned him that we will legally challenge any further sanctions that are imposed on our member. For a university to punish a journalism student for exercising his lawful right to free speech really is a scandal.