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Modern Democracy Without That Pesky Right to Speak

On today’s episode of ‘dOnT SaY ThAT’…

So… I’ve honestly always found Britain and Australia’s views on speech to be weird and inconsistent with the idea of a modern democracy… But thankfully, I’m an American and our founding fathers acknowledged people’s inherent right to speak from the get-go.

Which brings us to this… it seems John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show was not allowed to air recently because of the UK’s vote on leaving the EU. It seems English law is not in favor of political speech out of broadcasters around voting time…

As Britain gears up to vote in the EU referendum later this week, broadcasters are constantly working to ensure their coverage remains impartial. One such company is Sky, which has this week been forced to delay the latest instalment of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight HBO show. Why? Because it contains a 15-minute diatribe on why the UK should remain part of Europe.

Instead of airing the programme after Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic on Monday night, like it does usually, Sky has pushed it back until 10:10pm on Thursday, just after the polls close. Social media users are up in arms about the decision, but in reality, Sky appears to be playing everything by the book.

Sky’s decision allows it to adhere to Ofcom rules that come into effect during elections and referendums. “Sky have complied with the Ofcom broadcasting restrictions at times of elections and referendums that prohibit us showing this section of the programme at this moment in time. We will be able to show it once the polls close have closed on Thursday,” a Sky spokesperson told Engadget.

In March, the regulator warned broadcasters that they’d need to take care when covering May’s local elections and the subsequent Brexit vote. Section Five (which focuses on Due Impartiality) and Section Six (covering Elections and Referendums) of Ofcom’s Code contain guidelines that are designed stop companies like Sky from influencing the public vote. Satirical content is allowed on UK TV networks during these times, but Oliver’s delivery is very much political opinion based on facts, rather than straight humour.


So John Oliver can’t get his show aired because he makes humorous factual political commentary… that isn’t humorous enough in some people’s opinions…


Give me a sec… I’m trying to process this…

In essence, Sky and Ofcom are saying that not only is John Oliver a vote changer in these people’s opinions… he also is not funny. If I were John Oliver I’d be making jokes about bitter old people for the next couple months straight.


While I can understand how people felt that rules like this would be an appropriate way to make things more democratic…

I feel they do the exact opposite.

Rules limiting speech often only affect you and me… The wealthy people who you’re so worried about swaying elections can use other resources to get around any kind of limit on speech. (You can see examples of this in the economy, when laws change wealthy individuals and big companies can afford to hire people to help them navigate the new rules… you can’t.)

For the wealthy and the big, who cares if Ofcom limits your broadcasting? Who cares when you own radio stations and newspapers and can always hide behind weasel words? Who cares when you can use the simple power of suggestion? Who cares when ‘impartial’ is such a ridiculously subjective bar to jump over?

Do you honestly think that executives, editors, writers don’t understand that they don’t have to come right out and say “I don’t support Leave”… that all they really have to do is continue to only write ‘factual’ articles on the benefits of the EU? It can be even more subtle than that. All they really have to do to manipulate people is change the phrasing in their articles. That doesn’t violate the letter of the rules and only violates the spirit because I just told you they were violating the spirit of the rules… you don’t really spot what’s happening while it’s happening.

My point is simple, rules like these only hurt you and me. They stop artists, like John Oliver, from helping people find the information they need through an approachable medium (like Last Week Tonight). They prevent the honest, the rule followers, the smaller voices from trying our damnedest to sway hearts and minds… they do nothing to the limit deceitful, the resource rich, and the politicians.

2 thoughts on “Modern Democracy Without That Pesky Right to Speak

  1. The program is banned not because it “isn’t humorous enough in some people’s opinion”

    The rule is that plain humour is fine, but political opinions arent allowed during the curfew.

    The argument for curfew is that those days let people think calmly about what to vote. I think that’s good… until you enter the web and find a blast of opinions.

    Here in Uruguay we also have a curfew. It’s poorly implemented, for example street ads arent removed.

    1. My brain wasn’t being very eloquent when I wrote this article…
      My point was more along the lines that saying “political humor” is a no go but other humor is okay is completely arbitrary.
      And you know, a lot of comedians do not believe their own jokes. On numerous occasions people like Colbert and John Stewart make jokes that concern politics BUT IS OBVIOUSLY NOT their own opinion. That’s just part of observational comedy… observing isn’t always believing. So if you don’t believe it and it isn’t your opinion but you make a joke about it….. is that really a political opinion? How do you differentiate that from everything else that comes out of peoples mouths?

      It also seems odd that a country that helped birth modern democracy across the world is restricting its people’s speech. That doesn’t seem right regardless of how a person tries to justify it.

      My overall point was that the rules seem to stem from a good natured perspective, but I just don’t see how they could ever function in a way that doesn’t hurt more than it helps.

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