BRITISH democracy and the principle of free speech must be in a fragile state if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has to issue a statement condemning Channel 4 TV for broadcasting a Christmas message by President Ahmadinejad of Iran. It would be interesting to know whether Foreign Secretary David Miliband authorised this odd initiative.

The only mistake that Channel 4 made was to give the impression that this broadcast would be in direct competition with the Queen's speech on Christmas Day; it was shown at 7.15pm in the evening. Since 1993 It has been a tradition of Channel 4 to broadcast an “alternative view” on Christmas Day and Ahmadinejad's contribution came within that concept, although what he had to say was almost entirely inoffensive.

Channel 4 was set up by a Conservative government to provide an alternative voice to the BBC and ITV but it always gets into trouble when it carries out its remit to the letter. It is disappointing to see how British governments react in cases like these. When Ken Livingstone invited Gerry Adams and other Sinn Fein leaders to visit London in 1982 they were refused entry by Margaret Thatcher's government even though they were British citizens; Thatcher said they must be denied “the oxygen of publicity”. A decade or so later they were sharing power in the government of Northern Ireland. Britain is not at war with Iran; to the contrary, we need to talk more with its leaders. Will we never learn?


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