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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 17:50 GMT
Odious comparisons?
David Irving
The British historian has been sentenced to three years in jail
The Ten O'Clock News has been criticized by some viewers for its coverage of the sentencing of the historian David Irving - found guilty of Holocaust denial by an Austrian court on Monday.

It was the live two-way with correspondent Ben Brown, following his report, which caused offence. It focused on the issue of free speech, referring to the debate over the broadcasting of the Muhammad cartoons.

Some people thought it inappropriate to make comparisons to the free speech debate relating to the cartoons as that centred around people's beliefs rather than an issue of historical fact.

"The Austrians are not the only country to have laws about lying", wrote one viewer. "They have decided, for their own reasons, to protect their society against this form lying."

Another wrote: "There is no connection between the views of Jews and the existence of this law in Austria."

NewsWatch asked the acting editor of the Ten O'Clock News, Stephen Mawhinney for his response to the criticisms:

The question to the correspondent at the trial in Vienna was designed to underline the fact that this was a high profile legal case that had sparked a debate about the limits of free speech. This debate had been part of the argument between the prosecuting lawyers and David Irving's lawyers. It had also been widely discussed away from the court.

Many people who have consistently and publicly opposed Irving and his views - including Deborah Lipstadt, the American academic, who defeated him in a libel trial - have argued against the type of holocaust denial law used by Austria. She believes that kind of censoring of free speech, as she sees it, is ineffective and can be counter-productive.

Stephen Mawhinney
It would have been good to have found some more time in a busy programme to reflect on these issues
Stephen Mawhinney
Acting editor, Ten O'Clock News
Accepting that this case had provoked a debate about the limits of free speech, it seemed reasonable to also reflect the other high profile debate about free speech that has been raging around the world in recent months i.e. the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

We didn't say and didn't intend to imply that the two cases were equivalent, simply that they both highlighted different views about where free speech should stop.

We reflected the fact that some Muslims have accused non-Muslim Europeans of double standards in their response to the cartoons row, claiming they hold different views about free speech in different contexts. That may or may not be true but it is a view many Muslims have expressed.

In retrospect, it would have been good to have found some more time in a busy programme to reflect on these issues. It would have allowed us to look at the difference between commenting on issues of historical fact - the holocaust - and commenting on people's deeply held religious beliefs.

It would also have given us a chance to talk in more depth about why Austria and other countries believe a holocaust denial bill protects the interests of all of their citizens and not just their Jewish ones.



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