Culture Secretary defends Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘right to say what he wants’

The Culture Secretary has defended Jeremy Clarkson’s “right to be able to say what he wants” after his Sun newspaper column about the Duchess of Sussex was widely criticised.

The piece, in which Clarkson, 62, said he “hated” Meghan and dreamed of her being paraded through British towns and publicly shamed, became the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (Ipso) most complained-about article after its publication last month.

The Sun later said it regretted the publication of the column, while Clarkson said he was “horrified to have caused so much hurt”.

A spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex branded the Sun’s apology as “nothing more than a PR stunt”.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show on Wednesday: “I defend his right to be able to say what he wants.

“I believe in freedom of speech very, very strongly. Obviously, we all have to be mindful of what we say and the ramifications of that, but I am a believer of freedom of speech.

“I think that he had the right to say what he wanted to say, but obviously it was going to get the reaction that it got and it was going to concern a number of people.

“I wouldn’t have said what he said and I don’t align myself with the comments that he made, categorically no, of course I don’t.

Michelle Donelan
Michelle Donelan (James Manning/PA)

“We do have to have freedom of press, we do have to have a position where people can air opinions that we don’t all agree with.

“That is the nature of our media sector and press and it’s important for democracy, it’s important for exposing things, it’s important for challenging democracy, holding politicians to account.

“I read the papers every day, I see many stories that I don’t agree with or the perspective that I don’t agree with and that’s quite right.

“And I would always champion journalists’ freedom and their ability and right to be able to write that content. It doesn’t mean I agree with all that, but that’s the nature of free speech – of course, that shouldn’t stray into illegal content or go in certain directions.”

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The Duchess of Sussex (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

In an interview with The News Agents podcast, she added: “I do think we need to put Clarkson’s comments in context.

“They weren’t illegal. They were outrageous. And he faced a great outcry following them. And he had to apologise very publicly.”

During an interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby on Sunday to discuss his autobiography Spare, Harry branded the article about his wife as “cruel”.

The duke added that the piece encouraged people around the world to believe it is an acceptable way to treat women.

On Thursday, Ms Donelan confirmed the Government had scrapped plans to privatise Channel 4, which were spearheaded by her predecessor, Nadine Dorries, under Boris Johnson’s premiership.

The move prompted Ms Dorries to hit out at the reversal.

Ms Donelan said she had spoken to Ms Dorries before the announcement and that she is a “very well respected colleague”.

She added: “She’s entitled to her opinion on these things. I know that she worked very hard on this agenda.

“She comes at this from a different point of view, but we both share that concern around sustainability.”

Ms Donelan denied the original decision to privatise Channel 4 had been ideological.

She said: “Fundamentally, what fuelled this agenda in the first place was around sustainability and looking after the taxpayers’ interests.

“That has certainly been at the heart of the work I have conducted.”