In Airdrie, Scotland, a man named Markus Meechan has been convicted of posting a grossly offensive video on his ‘Count Dankula’ YouTube channel. He taught his girlfriend’s dog to give a Nazi salute in response to the phrase ‘gas the jews’.
It’s clearly a joke. In fact, he explains as much in the video itself:
Mah girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute her wee dug is, and so I thought that I would turn him into the least cutest thing that I can think of, which is a Nazi.
This is clearly in poor taste. However, making offensive jokes should not be a criminal offence.
Many people have been sharing this Jonathan Pie video, where the frazzled reporter voices indignation that the conviction has happened.
Comedians Ricky Gervais and David Baddiel also discussed the context and why this sort of thing is funny.
Over on Sp!ked, columnist Andrew Doyle suggests that the context makes the Count Dankula conviction absurd. To secure a conviction, the prosecution has to wilfully misunderstand the context of the video.
I have a couple of things to add.
First, I am reminded of the charging in 2015 of Goldsmiths student Bahar Mustafa, who tweeted the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen. The CPS eventually dropped the case after the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions intervened to overrule the local charging decision… but Ms Mustafa should never have been charged in the first place.
As with Count Dankula, the context is important. Ms Mustafa was clearly tweeting with irony as part of a discussion around the extend of white male power (its usually white men who do the killing). It was not incitement any more than the Count Dankula video.
In Scotland the charging decision is made by a different body, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. Clearly they have different standards of what is in the public interest to prosecute (the CPS guidelines suggest that there should be a high threshold to charging and that prosecution of this kind of transgression is not normally in the public interest). Had Ms Mustafa been under the Scottish jurisdiction rather than the English one, she may we’ll have had a criminal record by now. We should be worried that speech laws do not appear to be applied equally in different parts of the United Kingdom.
Some people have declined to show sympathy for Markus Meechan or condemn his prosecution because he also appears in a video interview with the far right agitator Tommy Robinson.
Why did Meechan do this? Is he aware of Robinson’s divisive politics? My hunch is that he agreed to the interview because Robinson was one of the most vocal opponents of the prosecution. In the absence of more mainstream voices condemning the court case, Robinson was able to fill the void with his selective ideas about freedom and free speech. It would not surprise me if Meechan himself now drifts into far right politics, allying himself with those who stood by him at his lowest point.
When we decline to defend the free speech rights of offensive people, we alienate them, and they wander into the open arms of the far right.