Jeremy Clarkson’s controversial comments about Meghan Markle have been deemed “outrageous” but not “illegal” by U.K. Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan.
Donelan is doing a round of media interviews around the U.K.’s much-delayed Online Safety Bill, which looks to keep websites free of illegal and harmful material while defending freedom of expression. The culture secretary, who was appointed to the role in September, has discussed Clarkson’s December column in British tabloid The Sun, in which the “Clarkson’s Farm” star wrote that he “hates” Markle on a “cellular level” and suggested she be made to “parade naked” through Britain while people “throw lumps of excrement at her.”
Donelan told Global-owned podcast “The Newsagents” on Wednesday that “we shouldn’t be gagging commentators or journalists.”
“But what we can do,” she continued, “is people can air their opinions against views. They can challenge them. They can force apologies. They can make them think again. And of course we all have a responsibility when we use our words to think about the words that we’re using. Did Jeremy Clarkson make a mistake? Yes, he did. But he certainly shouldn’t be outlawed or censored. That’s down to the individual to think about what they’re saying and doing.”
“News Agents” presenter Emily Maitlis — the former BBC “Newsnight” host who in 2019 famously put Prince Andrew in the hot seat about his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — then questioned whether the issue becomes murky when Clarkson’s comments in The Sun are viewed online.
“I’m just trying to work out how arbitrary it is to say, ‘Press freedom’s fine, but online harm is terrible and we’ve got to stop that,’ when it’s quite often the same content,’” said Maitlis.
Donelan responded that Clarkson’s column needs to be “put in context.”
“They weren’t illegal, they were outrageous. And he faced a great outcry following them, and he had to apologize very publicly. But I do think what we’re talking about here as well, especially, [is] we’re talking about kids seeing content that promotes suicide, self-harm, sexual abuse. These are dreadful, horrendous things we’ve got to shut down. While we can all criticize Clarkson for what he said, I don’t think we should be comparing apples with pears; I don’t think that’s most helpful.”
Prince Harry on Sunday slammed Clarkson’s column as “horrific, hurtful and cruel towards my wife” in his interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby. “It also encourages other people around the U.K. and around the world, particularly men, to go and think that it’s acceptable to treat women that way,” said Harry.
Clarkson’s column became the Independent Press Standards Organization’s most complained-about article since its formation in 2014. It drew almost 21,000 complaints. The presenter apologized by saying he had “rather put my foot in it,” while The Sun also made a rare apology, one full week after the article was published.
Donelan last week confirmed that the sale of “It’s a Sin” broadcaster Channel 4 won’t be going ahead — a move that has made her popular in film and TV circles, which were adamantly against privatization. The Conservative government instead has a 10-year sustainability plan for the channel that will keep it under public ownership, CEO Alex Mahon told Variety.