The Mayor of London says the decision to ban a controversial American radio host from the UK reinforces a culture where people are “panic-stricken about what they can say”.
Boris Johnson said the decision to ban Michael Savage, whose offensive language and shock tactics have made him America’s third most popular radio host, made Britain look “so infantile, so pathetic”.
He said that whereas America “still has a constitutional protection of free speech”, he had been amazed “to see how few people in this country are willing to stick up for that elementary principle”.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith made the decision to ban Mr Savage, who had no immediate plans to visit the UK, earlier this month.
She said: “Coming to the UK is a privilege and I refuse to extend that privilege to individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life.”
But political blogger Cranmer commented: “It is impossible to discern any coherent set of ‘values’ from the Labour’s banned list, other than those with which the Home Secretary herself happens to disagree.
“People are now excluded not because of what they have done but because of what they may do. It is now an offence to be ‘likely to stir up tension’.
“There is no doubt that some on this list are among the most odious and repugnant of humanity, yet being odious and repugnant is not a crime.”
Writing in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, Mr Johnson expressed similar objections: “Does Jacqui Smith think we are all dimwits, who can’t tell when a man like Savage is talking rubbish?”
“Michael Savage has said ignorant and unpleasant things about gay people, autism and Muslims. But it is far from clear that he would be in breach of any law, even in this country.”
He went on: “Perhaps Jacqui Smith thinks that it ‘sends out a signal’ about the kind of Britain we want.
“On the contrary, it reinforces a culture – created by this Labour Government, and its addiction to political correctness – where people are increasingly confused and panic-stricken about what they can say and what is forbidden, a culture where a police officer can seriously think he is right to arrest a protester for calling a police horse ‘gay’. “.
Tom Leonard, writing in The Daily Telegraph, noted: “Shock jocks thrive on controversy and notoriety, and the Home Secretary must have exceeded Savage’s wildest dreams this week when she included him on a list of undesirables banned from entering Britain.”
He added: “Suddenly, free speech advocates who would normally recoil at his show have rallied behind him.”
Mr Savage has since claimed he plans to sue Miss Smith for defamation after she listed him alongside “known murderers, people who have been put in prison for years for killing people, people who espouse the overthrow of your Government openly”.
One lawyer estimated that Mr Savage could win as much as £200,000 in damages if he won his case against Miss Smith.
Media lawyer Mark Stephens added: “He would seem to have a very good case. The people on the list who have been banned are supposed to be advocating extreme violence and so to put him into that category is clearly defamatory.
“His views, such as those on homosexuals, may be offensive but that is another thing entirely. The Home Secretary appears not to have appreciated the difference between tolerance and defamation.”