After the release of Prince Harry and Markle’s six-part Netflix docuseries in December last year, Clarkson wrote that he loathes the Duchess of Sussex “on a cellular level” and wants people to “throw lumps of excrement” at her, in an op-ed for The Sun.
The Sun eventually removed the op-ed from its website after Clarkson addressed the backlash, saying he was “horrified to have caused so much hurt”.
“I defend his right to be able to say what he wants,” the Culture Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show on Wednesday (11 January).
“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.
“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.”
In a separate interview with The News Agents podcast, hosted by journalists Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall, Donelan 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.”
Prince Harry addressed Clarkson’s op-ed in his Sunday (8 January) interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby ahead of the release of his memoir Spare, which reportedly contains several startling claims about his relationship with the royals, drug use, and military service in Afghanistan.
“What [Clarkson] said was horrific, and is hurtful and cruel towards my wife,” the royal told Brady.
“But it also encourages other people around the UK and around the world, men particularly, to go and think that it’s acceptable to treat women that way.”
Other critics of Clarkson’s words included his own daughter Emily, who has previously spoken out against online misogyny and harassment.