Thursday, March 22, 2018

It is wrong to send people to prison for making a joke - even if they don't share your politics

When Paul Chambers was charged and convicted after sending a humorous tweet threatening to blow up an airport, liberals and the left were up in arms.

Earlier this week a Scottish YouTube comedian, Mark Meechan (known as Count Dankula), was found guilty of a hate crime after posting a video of himself training his girlfriend's dog to give a Nazi salute in response to anti-Semitic commands.

So far liberals and the left have been silent. The only exception is the video from David Baddiel and Ricky Gervais that I have posted above.

The impression I get is that, while people on our side of the political divide are keen on free speech, we are even more keen that bad things should happen to people who do not share our views.

As I wrote after someone was jailed in a forgotten (though not by him, I suspect) case in 2012:
We all tell black jokes from time to time. They appear after every tragedy or disaster - you could even argue they are part of our way of coping with such events. Certainly, the Forces and the emergency services, who have to deal with this sort of thing far more often than the rest of us, are noted for the dark shade of their humour. 
When does it become acceptable to repeat such jokes online? I have no idea and no idea of how to find out. 
The result is likely to be a cowing of British society.
And, judging by this tweet, the Scottish Police are all in favour of that cowing.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

I feel cautious about diving in with a comment. But there are aspects of this prosecution which are worrying.

There is the matter of "something must be done". "Nothing should be done" is always an option. I'm sure that employees of Police Scotland face difficult decisions in their work and that "do nothing" is often the correct response when direct harm is hard to perceive. I wouldn't want their jobs.

In November 2006, BNP leader Nick Griffin was found not guilty of race hate -- about a speech in which he described Islam as a "wicked, vicious faith" and said Muslims were turning Britain into a "multi-racial hell hole". *

Public access to the internet has been around for a generation, but "internet crime" is still somehow seen as different, more threatening. If people can read, see or watch an alleged offence it becomes different from a right winger blathering in a pub.

Codifying rights -- rather than the liberal philosophy of recognising the rights of one person which may conflict with others -- is problematic for those working in a rules based system. Fuzziness or grey arguments are part of liberal debate. They didn't seem pertinent during the decision to prosecute Mark Meechan.