Posts tagged ‘freedom of speech’

Count Dankula

A court in Scotland has found Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, guilty of a ‘hate crime’ for teaching his girlfriend’s pug to respond to remarks such as “Gas the Jews” by raising a paw in an imitation of a Nazi salute. I shouldn’t have to say, but will anyway for the hard of thinking, that this was childish, tasteless and offensive of him, however funny he thought it might be at the time. Far more offensive than his extremely poor joke however is involvement of the criminal justice system and Meechan’s probable gaol sentence when he next appears in front of the Sheriff on April 23rd.

To the lay observer such as your humble author this case bears more than a passing resemblance to the miscarriage of justice which was inflicted upon Paul Chambers for his ill-advised tweet back in 2010 (Ed: yes really). Quashing Chambers’ conviction took over two years; hopefully Meechan’s ordeal will not last quite as long.

In a free and fair society, which Scotland – and the wider UK – demonstrably don’t appear to be, Meechan would be free to be as tasteless and offensive as he likes without the legal system becoming involved so long as he is not inciting violence against a person or group thereof. Any backlash against this ‘joke’ would then be left to his peers and society at large to enact, not the state.

#JeSuisCharlie

Some of Charlie Hebdo’s front covers and cartoons:
Charlie Hebdo cover Charlie Hebdo cover Charlie Hebdo cover Charlie Hebdo cover Charlie Hebdo cover Charlie Hebdo cover Carlie Hebdo cartoons Charlie Hebdo cartoon Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Trafalgar Square on the evening of January 7th 2015:
Charlie Hebdo Vigil in Trafalgar Square 2015-01-07

The mask of civility and reason

For one of the few MPs with supposed libertarian leanings, the following tweet, even given the character limitations of twitter, hardly ranks amongst as Douglas Carswell’s finest utterings:

It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that this went down like a cup of cold sick with those who are in favour of free speech no matter how distasteful it can get and he came in for a bit of stick from them.

Carswell went on to ‘clarify’ his opening remarks in replies to some of the responses he received, saying that he’d like to be able to ‘exclude anonymous posters from one’s time line’ – an idea that perhaps (as a user-enabled setting) has legs assuming that anyone can come up with an acceptable definition of ‘anonymous’. Given that Guido and Old Holborn still use those identities even though pretty much everyone knows who Guido is these days and Old Holborn’s name was made public earlier this year, which side of the line do you place them? What about those like me who use a pseudonym as a handle but have their forename as their display name? Personally I’d place the odds of coming up with something that might suit Doug, let alone anyone else, at about the same as producing a useable internet porn filter.

The ‘explanation’ however leaves something to be desired as an optional block is a world away from wanting to sync twitter handles with the electoral roll in a cack-handed attempt to force civility on tweeters. Whilst I tend to be civil online (although my language is known to get somewhat fruity in meatspace), others are just as forthright in person as they are online so, anonymous or not, civility is not a certainty just because you know the real name of the person who has just suggested you perform some anatomically impossible act or has called you names that are slang for parts of the body.

Since Carswell is someone who has previous lauded the idea of the internet as a way of doing without big government, it is rather depressing to see him fall into the exact same trap. Is this simply the result of drinking the water in the Palace of Westminster or has his mask finally slipped?

You will be tolerent… or else

It takes two three to tango

The Prat: Linney House

His “What on Earth were his parents thinking forename” aside, Linney came to the attention of the world over the weekend for posting a picture of himself on Facebook burning a poppy. Assuming that he obtained this poppy by legal means then he is perfectly entitled to dispose of it in any manner he so desires so long as he doesn’t cause harm to other people during the process. People, especially veterans or those involved with veterans’ groups, may find this distasteful and offensive but that does not mean it should be illegal.

The Fall-guys: Kent Police

Acting on a complaint received, officers from this force arrested Linney. Why they felt the need to do this rather than tell the complainant to stop wasting their time, I haven’t the foggiest. No doubt speculation on the subject will throw up the usual ‘answers’ of diversity, targets, political correctness, the need to be seen to be doing something etc etc but regardless of the reason they have hardly covered themselves in glory in this matter.

The Informant(s): @tinacasuals

If it hadn’t been for this person (or perhaps persons given the reoccurring use of the third person in tweets sent by this account) then Linney’s stupidity may have remained his personal shame. Ok, his and anyone who could see his Facebook profile – which would appear to everyone. A lesson in privacy settings for young Linney, me thinks.

It is ‘Tina’ and her like who are the problems here. Gleefully reporting people whose actions they disapprove of to the apparatus of the State – and cheered on by the useful idiots who agree with them but wouldn’t act as informants themselves – each and every one of these willing collaborators assists the State in its ongoing assault on the freedoms and liberties previously enjoyed by the population.

Somewhere the spirit of Erich Mielke is smiling at his posthumous victory.

And another nail…

Barry Thew

Meet Barry Thew. Or not – unless you happen to have shared a cell with him last night. Barry it seems doesn’t like cops – not a surprise really for someone who a string of convictions for offences going back to his pre-teen years. Whilst Barry is hardly alone in this feeling though, he was the only one wandering around a town centre not far from Manchester wearing a white t-shirt with the hand-written slogan ‘One less pig. Perfect justice‘ on the front mere hours after two police officers had been murdered.

I think we can all agree that that was not Barry’s finest hour.

For this rather tasteless piece of fashion he was charged under the s4A of the Public Order Act (1986). He pled guilty and has now been gaoled for 4 months for this ‘crime’.

At the risk of repeating myself so quickly, I have to ask why. That the slogan is deeply unpleasant and was no doubt considered upsetting and offensive by the officers of Manchester police is a given but none of that should land you in court, let alone gaol.

If Barry – or anyone else – wants to walk around with that on their t-shirt then so be it. It lets the rest of us know who to avoid.

Not everyone agrees of course, as evidenced by this quote from Inspector Bryn Williams of the Radcliffe Neighbourhood Policing Team:

To mock or joke about the tragic events of that morning is morally reprehensible and Thew has rightly been convicted and sentenced for his actions.

Newsflash Bryn… people have made tasteless jokes about things since time immemorial – and will continue to do so. Some of the worst offenders when it comes to mortuary humour are those in the armed forces and the emergency services. It is a coping mechanism. Are you going to report yourself and your fellow officers next time a ‘morally reprehensible’ joke goes around the nick?

Being morally reprehensible is not a crime and locking Barry Thew up for a distasteful remark is not going to bring back those murdered officers.

Yet another nail in the coffin

When the CPS declined to prosecute Daniel Thomas for comments made about the diver Tom Daley last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions issued a statement saying he planned to review guidelines for prosecuting comments made on social media:

“Against that background, the CPS has the task of balancing the fundamental right of free speech and the need to prosecute serious wrongdoing on a case by case basis. That often involves very difficult judgment calls and, in the largely unchartered territory of social media, the CPS is proceeding on a case by case basis. In some cases it is clear that a criminal prosecution is the appropriate response to conduct which is complained about, for example where there is a sustained campaign of harassment of an individual, where court orders are flouted or where grossly offensive or threatening remarks are made and maintained. But in many other cases a criminal prosecution will not be the appropriate response. If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest.

“To ensure that CPS decision-making in these difficult cases is clear and consistent, I intend to issue guidelines on social media cases for prosecutors. These will assist them in deciding whether criminal charges should be brought in the cases that arise for their consideration. In the first instance, the CPS will draft interim guidelines. There will then be a wide public consultation before final guidelines are published. As part of that process, I intend to hold a series of roundtable meetings with campaigners, media lawyers, academics, social media experts and law enforcement bodies to ensure that the guidelines are as fully informed as possible.

As we all know the CPS suffered two defeats in quick succession over the summer when Paul Chambers and John Kerlen (better know to many as @Sir_Olly_C) had their convictions under s127 of the Communications Act (2003) quashed and the (hopeful) thought was that after Thomas they would call a halt to prosecutions until they had finished their review.

It is ironic then that on the day that the first discussion took place, Matthew Woods was prosecuted for offensive comments about the missing girl, April Jones.

Having read some of the comments he made, I wouldn’t recommend he takes up a career in comedy but they are certainly no more distasteful or offensive than any I heard (and no doubt repeated) after Hillsborough back when I was a pre-teen.

Woods pled guilty to this ‘crime’ – on whose advice I know not as I would have thought that a competent brief would have dug the Chambers and Kerlen verdicts out – and has been sentenced to a total of 12 weeks in a young offenders institution. The presiding magistrate had this to say on passing sentence:

“The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive.”

Sorry Mr. Hudson but the public being outraged is not a reason to hand a young man, however stupid he is, a criminal record and to waste taxpayers money by sending him to a secure institution for what will be no longer than 6 weeks just for typing words into a box on a social media platform.

I am regularly outraged by a lot stupid things that go on in the world but as abhorrent as I find them, I’m not going to call for the people involved to gaoled simply to fulfil my need to have them punished for their idiotic behaviour.

For the purposes of comparison it is worth noting, as I saw elsewhere, that 12 weeks is what Lord Ahmed got for dangerous driving, and I certainly can’t see how anyone could say that Woods’ actions were in any way dangerous to anyone’s life but his own.

No, the sickest joke of this entire affair is not the behaviour of Woods but that of the justice system. From the decision by the Police to arrest him ‘for his own safety’, to that of the CPS for prosecuting him and finally Mr. Hudson (who gives the impression of accepting the rule of the mob), each step has been an exercise in craven stupidity.

I hope that Matthew Woods appeals this appalling decision and wins.

A small bit of common sense

The private company masquerading as a public body which is the Advertising Standards Authority has ‘ruled’ that those who are campaigning to keep marriage as it is should freely be allowed to advertise:

We noted the complainants believed that [the] ads … were offensive as they considered them to be homophobic.

However, the ads focused on the current legal definition of marriage and its history.

We considered that, although some people might disagree with the advertisers’ opinions on the matter of same sex marriage, the ads in themselves did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

Well that’s jolly nice of them to say so but quite frankly the whole business has been unnecessary and they should have told those few wannabe Stazi fools who complained in the first place to run along.

Another nail in the coffin

Jacqueline Woodhouse is, at least when drunk, a very unpleasant woman. It is entirely possible that she isn’t nice company when she is sober either.

Why do I say this? Because on the evening of January 23rd this year she launched into a foul mouthed and racist rant at her fellow passengers whilst on the tube home. This diatribe was filmed and posted on to YouTube by Galbant Juttla – one of those fellow passengers.

As a result of this she was turned herself into the police and was charged with one count causing racially aggravated “harassment, alarm or distress” by using “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour”. Today, having pled guilty to the charge, she was sentenced to 21 weeks in gaol as well as being banned for a five year period from – whilst drunk – tube or DLR stations, or from using the tube or DLR.

She has also lost her job and is, I would hazard, destined to spend the rest of her ‘working’ years unemployed.

As with Liam Stacey and Luke O’Donoughoe, I in no way condone what she said at all but once again I have to wonder why she was prosecuted.

What she said was abhorrent but prosecuting people for using words that are displeasing to others is to constrain their freedom of speech – a ‘thought crime’ if you will. That such backward views should be challenged when encountered is to to be encouraged but it should be for each individual to do so without feeling the need to resort to using the power of the State to squash an insignificant gnat.

Our forefathers fought against tyranny – let us not undo their hard work by introducing our own.

Freedom to Oppose

Whilst I am on the opposite side of the marriage debate debate to His Grace, I am vehemently opposed to the actions of those who have complained about him carrying an advert (show below) by the Coalition for Marriage on his blog.

Coalition for Marriage advert

The UK is, supposedly, a democratic, civilised country and in such a country the freedom to express opinions which others might not disagree with should be an inalienable right.

Complaining about someone who has a different opinion to you – and expecting it to be followed up – is an action which Erich Mielke would be proud of.

If the Advertising Standards Authority had any common sense whatsoever it would have gone to the source of the advert, found out what the information used within it is based upon and told the complainants to go and play in the traffic.

Instead they went and harassed a blogger about it. If I were His Grace my reply would be, as others have already suggested, along the lines of Arkell v. Pressdram.