Saturday, May 25, 2024
HomeKathy GyngellWe have been sleepwalking into state censorship, and now it's here

We have been sleepwalking into state censorship, and now it’s here


IT’S more than two years since lockdown was phased out, yet the Conservative government’s Counter Disinformation Cell, launched in March 2020, appears to be alive and kicking.  

Its henchmen on the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who’ve always believed the government should take more proactive and direct action against inconvenient free speech, joined the fray once again last week. Inviting the mass outrage that was duly and furiously voiced (a charge led by a catalogue of media establishment critics), Dame Caroline Dinenage, chair of the committee, set in motion the deplatforming and demonetising of the government’s new ‘Covid’ scourge Russell Brand, outed as a sex pest and alleged rapist by the Sunday Times and Channel Four. 

You can read her letter to Rumble, the online platform that hosts Brand’s show, which follows the damning reply from its chief executive posted here:

Her letter to GB News is here:

Indeed there is nothing right about either of these attempts to interfere. Even if Dame Caroline had genuine concerns that media companies might be giving a platform to a putative sex criminal, she badly jumped the gun. Brand has neither been charged nor arrested for the alleged crimes reported by the Sunday Times, or any other. Openly discussed everywhere else, on GB News where the two presenters disagreed would, you would think, provide ‘balanced’ and fair coverage.

But no. Whether opportunistic (or planned for whatever counter disinformation psyops reason), there’s no doubt that hanging Brand out to dry over his tawdry sex life opened the door to every second journalist jumping on the bandwagon to denounce and demonise him as a Covid conspiracy theorist and so tarnish the entire sceptical and dissenting movement. YouTube, to the delight of the BBC, wasted no time suspending Mr Brand from advertising income

It certainly distracted attention from an act of direct censorship by YouTube (doubtless at the behest of the government). It shockingly took down a video of the searing evidence presented to the Hallett Inquiry by Anna Morris KC (no less) of the experiences of the vaccine injured/bereaved, on the grounds of ‘medical misinformation’.

Most importantly, the drama provided a convenient diversion from the passing of the Online Safety Bill’s sweeping new surveillance and censorship measures which appoints Ofcom as the new online Regulator General in addition to its existing broadcast role. (Ofcom, for those who don’t know, from its inception was the creature of the BBC).

Ostensibly to protect children from online sex and violence, the legislation can ‘screen’ them (and us) from any ‘harmful’ political information or ideas too.

It concluded its final Parliamentary debate on Tuesday and will soon become law. Once enacted, the Government’s ring of steel closes around all media, whatever the communication platform, mainstream or social, culminating a censorship progress that began well before Covid.

Let’s make no mistake about the Culture Media and Sports Committee’s position on this. Oliver Dowden’s Counter Disinformation Cell, working with Big Tech, set out from the start to demonetise platforms like ours, ban individual dissenters, inconvenient research and, most cruelly, the vaccine injured themselves. 

Far from holding the government to account for their ruthless crackdown on so called ‘false coronavirus information’, their Conservative MP-dominated ‘Misinformation in the Covid-19 Infodemic’ report pressed for further and more direct censorship by the government. Read their words:

‘Platform policies have also been too slow to adapt . . . The business models of tech companies themselves disincentivise action against misinformation while affording opportunities to bad actors to monetise misleading content . . . The Government has also acted against misinformation by reforming its Counter Disinformation Unit to coordinate its response and tasked its Rapid Response Unit with refuting seventy pieces of misinformation a week. We have raised concerns, however, that the Government . . . could have taken a more active role . . .’ 

We have seen a lot of Government-catalysed activity since – a long list of Twitter bans for ‘Covid misinformation’, including one that lasted some six months for yours truly. Scientists infinitely more credible and better informed than Russell Brand, such as Dr Mike Yeadon, were blacklisted and still are. Covid sceptics and vaccine critics have been allowed nowhere near the BBC, ITV or Sky. Ofcom saw to that. 

But this is not the first time Ofcom has acted as State censor. In recent years we have been progressively habituated into its censorship. It is now the norm. I doubt whether many of those up in arms about Russell Brand will remember Ofcom’s ‘rebuke’ to the BBC for insufficiently challenging Nigel Lawson, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, on his climate sceptic views, leading to the BBC constructively banning him and any other critic of the official climate narrative from their airwaves. Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s Head of News and Current Affairs, went on to issue an extraordinary decree to staff that the climate science was ‘settled’ and they did not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate. There was no come back.

That is when the rot really set in. Over Covid, the Counter Disinformation Cell did not just go for the bigger fry but for any possible ‘influencer’. This pretty innocuous interview I did with the tennis ace Pat Cash, where his crime was to advise young tennis players to get informed before they agreed to be vaccinated, was speedily sent to Room 101 by YouTube. 

How TCW has been treated since the start of lockdown is a warning of what every dissenter faces under the new Act. Banned from promoting our blogs on Twitter, we were deplatformed by Google (meaning no Google Ads or any other online ads for us as a source of revenue) which in effect demonetised us. Then, well after Britain’s ‘phased exit’ from lockdown, inexplicably access to the TCW site was blocked by each and every mobile phone operator. 

We later discovered that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), the government-appointed ‘age verification’ regulator of the digital economy since 2017 (you probably didn’t know, nor did we until we demanded the mobile operators tell us what was going on) had trawled some 400,000 TCW comments to find just three or four which were deemed ‘homophobic’, ‘racist’ or ‘sexist’, in order to condemn our site as being inappropriate for under-18s  and therefore banned from mobile phones. It takes no imagination to see the opportunity for Ofcom as the online safety regulator.

It took nearly six months and much negotiation with the BBFC before they agreed to return mobile access to TCW. We lost readers and subscribers. Despite final age verification ‘approval’ after we’d tracked and deleted the said comments, a page denouncing The Conservative Woman still sits on the BBFC site

Anyone who’s been lulled into complacency, or thought that the Conservative Government had reduced its vigilance, has been asleep. 

That we are not fans of the repeatedly reinvented Mr Brand is not the point. It’s a bait that is taking people’s eye off the ball. Since Lord Lawson’s blacklisting in 2018, Ofcom’s ‘take out’ of the experienced and talented (former GB News) broadcaster Mark Steyn is its most significant and brazen act of censorship. His inconvenient questioning of Covid statistics, of the vaccines’ safety and efficacy and his advocacy of the vaccine injured was his undoing. Shamefully GB News refused to ride to the rescue. There was no all-star cast leaping to his defence. We alone at TCW did that. Needless to say, GB News’s capitulation and all but dismissal of Steyn has only opened the door to more Ofcom bullying and interference, culminating in the Dinenage letter of last week.

The principled Mark Steyn is now courageously taking on The Ministry of Truth that is Ofcom himself. Champions of free speech need to wake up fast to the significance of the financially onerous lawsuits he is filing. If ever an all star cast of support was needed, it is now. These will be the free speech trials of the century challenging Ofcom’s arbitrary powers and the outcome of them will decide our fate as a society. If Ofcom is not trounced, it will mark a comprehensive imposition of conformity on all speech and thought as determined by the new broadcast and online State Censor. 

How is this likely to work? You may not know until you find your site has gone down. Our case is an example.

The Free Speech Union can congratulate themselves on ‘at least an improvement on earlier versions’ of the Bill thanks to their sedulous lobbying. We have to thank them that the legislation won’t now criminalise someone for saying something, whether online or off.

But when Ofcom’s chief executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, confirmed last week that they’d shortly be setting out the first set of standards that they expect tech firms to meet when it comes to offering users the option to filter out ‘harmful’ content that they don’t want to see, alarm bells rang loud. If the Orwellian broadcasting code they applied to their judgment on Mark Steyn is anything to go by, we should all fear what is to come. 

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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