Free speech campaigners have said Theresa May has over-reacted by calling for a TV ban on “hate preachers” following the murder of a soldier in Woolwich.
The Home Secretary attacked broadcasters after radical Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary appeared on BBC Newsnight and Channel 4 News last week.
May said she will urge broadcasting regulator Ofcom to tighten its rules in order to pre-emptively ban such TV appearances. The watchdog currently only has powers to intervene after broadcasts.
However, Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said the Home Secretary had gone too far in calling for a ban.
“What Theresa May has said is a serious over-reaction,” Hughes told Press Gazette. “It did not makes sense when we had actors speaking the words of IIRA people in the past, and it doesn’t now.
“What she is saying is that major organisations like the BBC are incapable of making intelligent judgments on who to interview and how to tackle sensitive subjects. You do not do it by banning speech.”
Hughes added that a ban opened up a number of questions over which organisations or individuals would be subject to it.
“Who is an extremist? Is it just a political view you disagree with?”
An Ofcom spokesperson said: “Ofcom enforces rules designed to protect audiences from harm from religious extremism broadcast on TV and radio. We have recently taken action against a number of channels for breaking these rules.
“Ofcom’s powers enable us to act only after a programme is broadcast. In following the rules broadcasters must make a careful editorial judgement, balancing freedom of expression with a care for their audiences.”
Hughes also accused May of “playing politics” by reigniting the debate over anti-terror surveillance laws dubbed a “snooper’s charter”.
“She is taking this terrible incident and using it as a hook to bring something back that the coalition could not agree on. It’s just playing politics with it,” said Hughes.
Proposed legislation to increase surveillance powers hit the buffers late last year after a critical report led to the Liberal Democrats calling for it to be redrafted.