Ofcom widens definition of hate speech to include transgender intolerance

Ofcom has widened its definition of hate speech to include intolerance of gender reassignment and “political or any other opinion”.

The communications regulator updated its code, which previously required broadcasters to ensure programmes contained no incitement to hatred based on race, sex, religion, or nationality.

Ofcom now defines hate speech as: “All forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance on the grounds of disability, ethnicity, social origin, sex, gender, gender reassignment, nationality, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, colour, genetic features, language, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth or age.”

The changes have come about due to new requirements under the revised Audiovisual Media Services Regulation (AVMS) 2020 and “also take account of legislative changes following the end of the transition period for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union”, said Ofcom.

During the consultation period, ViacomCBS Networks, which owns Channel 5, said Ofcom needed to consider context when deciding what is hate speech and allow a programme which “challenges boundaries and uses humour to explore societal issues” without meaning harm.

Another respondent raised concerns about the definition of hate speech being made too broad.

Ofcom said: “The importance of freedom of expression in relation to political matters and content that is in the public interest is central to Ofcom’s application of the code and the proposed amendment does not change this.”

It added context was a “very important part of Ofcom’s thinking when considering the rules”.

A spokesman said: “These are characteristics referred to in Article 21 of the European Charter on Fundamental Freedoms, and Ofcom is required by law to prohibit hate speech against any group covered by the characteristics set out in the Charter.

“We would consider any complaints about potential incitement against those characteristics taking into account the facts of an individual case. As stated in our consultation, any consideration would also take into account freedom of expression.”

The changes took effect at 11pm on Thursday.

The protected characteristics are laid out in the European Charter on Fundamental Freedoms, which the AVMS follows.