Conservative talk show host banned from Great Britain

Civil libertarians have accused the British government of censorship for their travel restrictions on talk show host Michael Savage. Since 2005 the British have excluded numbers of people for unacceptable behavior including spreading hatred. Savage had called the Quran “a book of hate.” -DB

San Francisco Chronicle
May 6, 2009
By Joe Garofoli and Carla Marinucci

SAN FRANCISCO – Conservative talk show host Michael Savage’s commentary has offended groups from parents of autistic kids to Muslim leaders.

But the San Francisco-based syndicated talker, who made a “name and shame” list of people banned from entering Britain, may have been shocked himself to find some of his opponents, including civil libertarians, defending him.

On Tuesday, British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith published the names of 16 of 22 people banned from the country since October for allegedly fostering extremism or hatred. Along with Savage, who has called the Quran, the Muslim holy book, “a book of hate,” Muslim extremists, jailed Russian gang members and a militant Israeli settler were banned. Smith cited “public interest” reasons for not disclosing six of the names.

Since 2005, the United Kingdom has excluded 101 people for “unacceptable behavior, including animal rights extremists, right-to-life, homophobe and far-right extremists, as well as those who advocate hatred and violence in support of their religious beliefs,” Robin Newmann, spokesman for the British consulate in San Francisco, said by e-mail Tuesday. In 2008, he said, Smith “introduced new measures that favored excluding people who have spread hatred.”

In response, Savage both mocked the British and promised legal action. “Today it’s me. Tomorrow it’s someone else,” he told The Chronicle.

‘weapon of censorship’

Civil libertarians say the move illustrates the increasing willingness of countries, including the United States, to “use their borders as a weapon of censorship,” said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In March, more than 70 organizations, including the ACLU, signed a letter asking Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to end “ideological exclusion,” described as “refusing visas to foreign scholars, writers, artists and activists not on the basis of their actions but on the basis of their ideas, political views and associations.”

While civil libertarians say the practice intensified after the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, it recalls Cold War fears when people like Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a communist, was kept out of the United States. The letter cited people who been barred from entering the United States, including Adam Habib, a South African professor and human rights activist, Rafael de Jesus Gallego Romero, a Colombian priest who is a critic of his government, and Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss national who is a professor at the University of Oxford and described as a leading Islamic thinker. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

“While some of these people may express views that others find disagreeable, often the cure is worse than the disease,” Jaffer said. “It also deprives the citizens of that country of their ability to hear dissenting views.”

creates ‘streisand effect’

Practically, such moves are largely ineffective in the Internet age. Savage’s show reaches an estimated 8 to 10 million listeners on more than 350 stations nationwide but is not broadcast in Britain. Still, his program can be heard online worldwide.

Banning Savage in Britain could create an example of “the Streisand Effect,” said Danny O’Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which seeks to preserve “freedoms in the networked world.” In 2003, singer Barbra Streisand attempted to have photos of her Malibu beachfront home removed from an online site. Publicity from her legal effort, which she lost, inspired more than a million people to view the property online.

“I’m sure right now, there are millions of people in the U.K. searching online to find out more about Michael Savage and what he said that was so offensive,” said O’Brien, the foundation’s international outreach coordinator. “I’d be more concerned if the U.K. law was attempting to block Mr. Savage’s commentary online.”

no laughing matter

Savage told The Chronicle he was shocked to learn he was on the list along with Stephen “Don” Black, who founded a white supremacist Web site in Florida, and preacher Fred Phelps, patriarch of an anti-gay Kansas church that has led protests, including some in San Francisco, at which demonstrators held signs reading “God hates fags.”

“When I woke up and saw this this morning, my first thought was, damn, there goes the summer trip where I planned to have my dental work done,” he joked. “My second thought was, darn, there goes my visit to the restaurants of England for their great cuisine.”

But, he added, the issue is no laughing matter – and represents a serious threat to free speech. Savage said to be included in such a group is both defamatory and dangerous. He said he is preparing legal action against Smith and the British government.

“This lunatic is linking me up with Nazi skinheads who are killing people in Russia, she’s putting me in a league with Hamas murderers who kill Jews on buses,” he said. “My views may be inflammatory, but they’re not violent in any way.

“So who else will be banned – all the people who listen to my show, 10 million people? Should they also not go to Britain?”

free speech defended

Indeed, even the Council for American-Islamic Relations – who along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation was embroiled in a lawsuit last year with Savage over on-air comments he made about Muslims and the Quran, defended his right to free expression. Last year, the organization posted clips of Savage’s program and called for an advertiser boycott. Savage sued the council for copyright infringement, but a judge ruled the group’s actions were protected by free speech.

Though council spokesman Ibrahim Hooper condemned Savage’s anti-Islamic comments, “as a matter of principle, we don’t support such bans. They tend to be selective, in that only popular speech is allowed and unpopular speech is not allowed.”

ban spurs publicity

“Usually, these types of things (the ban) just give people like this publicity,” Hooper said. “I don’t think Savage will be too upset. It will give him something to talk about on his show for the next six months. ‘I was banned in England.’ ”

Indeed, Savage allowed that maybe the British government has done him a huge favor.

“If I didn’t have an audience yesterday,” he said, “I will have one today.”

britain’s blacklist

Britain published its first list Tuesday of people barred from entering the country for allegedly fostering extremism or hatred. The list includes:

— Stephen “Don” Black: Founder of a Florida-based white supremacist Web site and a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

— Fred Phelps Sr.: An anti-gay preacher who leads a church in Topeka, Kan.

— Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’ daughter: She and her father have picketed the funerals of AIDS victims and claimed the deaths of U.S. soldiers are a punishment for tolerance of homosexuality.

— Yunis al-Astal: A preacher and Hamas lawmaker in Gaza. Seeks to foment, justify or glorify terrorist acts.

— Samir Kantar: A Hezbollah militant who served 30 years in prison for his part in the killing of four Israeli soldiers and a 4-year-old girl.

— Safwat Hijazi: An Egyptian cleric who glorifies terrorist violence.

— Mike Guzovsky: An Israeli settler who Britain’s Home Office says has been involved with military training camps.

— Artur Ryno and Pavel Skachevsky, two leaders of a Russian skinhead gang: They were imprisoned for 10 years in Russia last year for their role in racially motivated killings of 19 people.

— Erich Gliebe: An American neo-Nazi leader who once boxed under the name “The Ayran Barbarian.” On his Ohio-based Webcasts, he vilifies certain ethnic groups and distributes racist leaflets and posters.

— Nasr Javed: Kashmiri separatist and leader of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

— Abdullah Qadri al Ahdal: Muslim cleric who seeks to foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence.

— Wadgy abd el Hamied Mohamed Ghoneim: Writer and speaker who seeks to foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence.

— Abdul Ali Musa: A Muslim activist who grew up in Oakland as Clarence Reams. He is accused of glorifying terrorist violence.

— Amir Siddique: Preacher at an Islamabad mosque, who seeks to foment terrorist violence.

Copyright 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.