EU TV rules have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, government warns

Criticism of political views could be treated as hate speech under EU rules for broadcasters transposed into UK law after Brexit, the government fears.

Plans to change the law have emerged in a document marking the two-year anniversary of Britain’s official exit from the EU.

It sets out post-Brexit reforms planned by ministers, including measures for free ports, financial services legislation, agricultural subsidies and other sectors formerly regulated by Brussels.

The Brexit Benefits Policy Paper also states that laws requiring broadcasters to abide by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will be rewritten.

He says: “The government intends to replace the EU definition in the Communications Act 2003 with a UK-specific measure over the next few months because of our concerns about the chilling effect that ‘she’s on freedom of speech.’

Fear of prosecution for political opinions

The measure is taken from the EU’s Audiovisual and Media Services Directive, which prohibits broadcasters and streaming services from inciting “violence or hatred” against people for a range of reasons.

These include sex, race, color, ethnic and genetic characteristics, language, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation and “political or other opinion” .

There are fears within the government that this is too broad and that Ofcom, the media regulator, could interpret the rules in a way that could lead to hate speech prosecutions for criticism of political opinion .

It is also feared that it could lead to program creators self-censoring to avoid possible lawsuits. In 2020, episodes of comedy shows Little Britain and Fawlty Towers were removed from streaming services due to the use of blackface and racial slurs.

Concerns about remaining EU legislation

Many EU laws, including the Audiovisual and Media Services Directive, were fully transferred into UK law before Brexit took effect.

A task force – led by Lord Frost, the former Brexit negotiator – voiced concerns about the retention of remaining EU law in UK law in a meeting with officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sports in January 2020.

He said transposing EU rules into UK law could create a ‘myriad’ of problems’ in the future. However, with the Brexit transition period and intense trade negotiations with Brussels looming, fears were put on hold.

An official analysis was ordered on the matter, but was later dropped after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Broadcasting Act was “a piece of legislation that we didn’t necessarily agree with when we were in the European Union”, said one source: “In some areas of government there is very strong opinions about it.”

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