Russell Brand speaks for the first time since sexual assault allegations

LONDON — Russell Brand has made his first public comments following the publication of several sexual abuse allegations against him, and attacked the British government and social media platforms for shutting down his ability to make money from his accounts.

“Obviously, it has been an extraordinary and distressing week and I thank you very much for your support and for questioning the information that you have been presented with,” Brand said Friday in a video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter. 

It was the first time that the comedian turned influencer has commented publicly after British newspapers, including The Times, The Sunday Times and U.K. broadcaster Channel 4’s “Dispatches,” reported allegations that he had sexually and emotionally abused four women. 

Brand, 48, was accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse by four women. One of them said she was 16 (the age of consent in the U.K.) and Brand was 30 when they began a relationship that included abuse and sexual assault. A fifth woman has accused Brand of flashing his genitals at her.

The comedian turned wellness influencer has denied the allegations, saying that all his relationships have been consensual. In a video posted to his social media accounts before the publication of the allegations and the program called “Russell Brand: In Plain Sight,” he said he refuted what he called “very serious allegations.”

NBC News has not spoken to any of the accusers nor independently confirmed any of the allegations against Brand. 

Aside from thanking his supporters, his second video focused mostly on criticism of the British government, which he said had “asked big tech platforms to censor our online content, and some online platforms have complied with that request. 

“What you may not know is that this happens in the context of the online safety bill, which is a piece of U.K. legislation that grants sweeping surveillance and censorship powers, and it’s a law that has already been passed,” he added. 

YouTube blocked Russell Brand from making money from its platform, and the BBC pulled some of Brand’s shows from its online streaming service. His management agency, Tavistock Wood, said Sunday that it had dropped Brand as a client after saying it had been “horribly misled” by him.

His former employers at Channel 4 and the BBC have said they are conducting investigations into the allegations.

Brand has also postponed upcoming U.K. comedy shows and is suspending the end of his current comedy tour, “Bipolarisation.” It was unclear whether it would be rescheduled.

While the U.K. government does not appear to have tried to censor Brand, Caroline Dinenage, the chair of the British Parliament’s Media and Sport Committee, did write to Rumble — a site that attracts creators who tend to subscribe to more right-wing views — to say she was “concerned” that Brand could profit from them. 

In a statement, Rumble called the letter “disturbing” and said that it would refuse to “join a cancel culture mob.”

Lawmakers have been debating the Online Safety Bill, which Brand referred to in his video, since it was first published as a draft in May 2021. Britain’s Parliament signed off on it Tuesday. 

The sprawling piece of legislation will require social media platforms to take down illegal content, including that depicting child sexual abuse, hate speech, terrorism, revenge porn and posts promoting self-harm. The platforms will also have to take steps to stop such content from appearing in the first place and give users more controls, including the ability to block anonymous trolls.

Companies that don’t comply will face fines of up to 18 million pounds ($22 million), or 10% of annual global sales, whichever is greater, and senior managers at tech companies will also face criminal prosecution and prison time if they fail to respond to information requests from British regulators. They will also be held criminally liable if their company fails to comply with regulators’ notices about child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Technically, the bill has not become law because it has yet to receive Royal Assent, King Charles III’s agreement, which is required to turn a bill into an Act of Parliament, but this is strictly a formality.

Brand, who has spent the past several years building his YouTube audience to more than 6 million followers, and his career as an influencer and speaker while peddling false conspiracy theories on the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other topics, went on to attack the Trusted News Initiative, a partnership of international news organizations that works to find solutions to tackle disinformation. 

“Trust is the last thing you should be offering,” he said, adding that the group’s aim was “to target, control, choke and shut down independent media organizations.”

source: nbcnews.com