Robin Simcox, the government’s Commissioner for Countering Extremism (pictured), has caused quite a stir by alleging parts of London have turned into a “no-go zone” for Jews. These claims have been widely dismissed as exaggerated by leaders of the Jewish community. But Simcox made other significant claims, including that “We have not betrayed democracy if extremists are no longer able to operate television channels.”

The implication is clear. Extremists are either holding licences to broadcast TV channels in the UK or controlling these stations. Simcox defined extremists as “Islamist, extreme Right-wing, extreme left-wing or other ideological” groups” who “propagate extremist narratives but who lurk just below the terrorist threshold”. He accused government and its agencies of failing to tackle these groups.

Amongst these agencies is Ofcom, the TV regulator. Simcox was in effect accusing Ofcom of not doing its job in this area.

This is news to me. Ofcom has been assiduous over recent years in ensuring that none of the TV stations it licences broadcasts extremist material. The crime section of the Broadcasting Code was broadened in 2016 specifically to cover hate speech and material which is abusive or derogatory (see Rules 3.2 and 3.3). In addition, the regulator has a range of other rules to stamp out extremist material which for example is harmful or offensive, glorifies violence, or abuses other religions.

Over recent years Ofcom has imposed hefty sanctions on numerous channels for broadcasting extremist material which (to use Simcox’s words) “lurks below the terrorist threshold”. Where there was evidence that a TV channel was acting as a propaganda mouthpiece for a foreign government and not complying with the Broadcasting Code or licensing rules in a very serious way (and so arguably disseminating a form of extremist narrative), Ofcom has not hesitated to close a station down. In 2012 for example the regulator terminated the licence of Press TV, which was controlled by the Iranian government.

Similarly, in early 2022, Ofcom cancelled the licence of RT (formerly Russia Today) after Moscow invaded Ukraine and the channel broadcast material unashamedly reflecting the propaganda line of the Kremlin about the so called “special military operation”.

Ofcom has imposed a number of sanctions on Islamic religious channels for showing extremist material in various forms – including anti-semitic content, and material attacking other Muslim groups like the minority Ahmadi community. A weighty fine has been levied against a station aimed at Afghans which broadcast an extract of a propaganda video made by an Islamic terrorist just before his attack. Ofcom has also taken firm action against Sikh extremism, closing down a TV channel which the regulator found responsible for showing material sympathetic to Sikhs willing to use violence to secure a separate homeland in India.

Ofcom is also careful to scrutinise applicants for TV licences, especially if there is any hint that they might be linked to any form of extremism (religious or ideological), political party or foreign government.

In short, there is no evidence that extremists currently operate any television channels in the UK. TV stations regulated by Ofcom must however must continue to be vigilant and understand how some content they broadcast may be regarded as “extremist” by some viewers.

As pro-Palestinian protests continue in London and elsewhere, opinion is sharply divided about the rights and wrongs of Israel’s actions in Gaza after the 7 October 2023 terrorist attack by Hamas. Numerous viewers have complained to Ofcom about the coverage of these events on various channels. Interestingly, as far as I am aware, in response as yet the regulator has not found any Code breaches.

The UK Muslim community, and TV channels focussing on this audience in particular, are especially concerned about the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and critical of the actions of Israel in the territory. They have every right to criticise. This is fundamental to freedom of expression. They must take care however to police their broadcasts carefully and ensure their staff are given effective compliance training. Comments attacking Israel’s war against Hamas, and indeed other policies and actions of Israel, must not cross the line and become anti-semitic. If they do, the station could face a lengthy investigation by Ofcom and probably a substantial fine.