Broadcasters, programme makers and publishers have expressed concerns regarding the United Kingdom’s government’s plans for the new Extremism Bill outlined in the Queen Elizabeth II’s Speech. The draft law was included in the Queen’s speech on May 27 and is an effort to counter home-grown terrorism after hundreds of British jihadists traveled to Syria in the past few years, with many joining the group calling itself Islamic State.
According to Cameron’s office, the proposed law may likely include “bans on extremist organizations, restrictions on individuals seeking to radicalize young people and powers to close premises where extremists seek to influence others”.
Although the full details of the draft bill has not been published, it has been speculated that the intention is to strengthen the powers of Ofcom (UK communications regulator) against channels which broadcast extremist content; to intervene in news and documentary reporting prior to broadcast, in a bid to prevent “extremist material” making it on air.
The Office of Communications which was set up by the Office of Communications Act 2002 is an independent body responsible for overseeing the communications industry, including the distinct areas of telecommunications and broadcasting.
According to John Battle of Independent Television News ( ITN UK), the key to credible reporting is being at arm’s length from politicians and public bodies; journalists must be free to report news without prior intervention by the state. However, with Ofcom’s new powers to intervene in editorial judgments pre-broadcast, the independence of the press will be greatly undermined.
The ITN makes leading current affairs programs for Public service broadcasters and some of these programs have interviewed controversial figures such as Jihadi fighters on the frontline in Syria and al-shabaab militants. If the bill comes into law, such views might be erased from the screens of British viewers.