Count Dankula's Conviction: The Beginning of the End for Free Speech in the UK?
Count Dankula- The Man Behind the "Grossly Offensive" Video
For those of you who don't know, Mark Meechan, commonly known as Count Dankula, is an online comedian who spends his time posting humorous content to various platforms across the internet. He currently boasts over 140,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, meaning that he verges beyond being unknown. Quite recently, Meechan posted an infamous video in which he taught his girlfriend's dog to mimic a Nazi-like salute at his command - the command being "sieg heil". The video also showed how Meechan had conditioned the pug to react to the phrase "gas the Jews", seemingly springing into action each time those three words were used.
However, the content of this video, although distasteful, was not to be taken seriously and was created with the intent to make his audience laugh. Meechan made it abruptly clear at the beginning of the video that he feels that Nazism isn't something that he agrees with, stating, "My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is...and...so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing that I could think of, which is a Nazi". He then proceeds to display cut-together clips of said dog reacting to both "sieg heil" and "gas the jews".
Fast forward to today and Meechan is facing potential jail time, charged with "inciting racial hatred", which is a hate crime. The outcome of this trial sets a worrying precedent for the future and the idea that you can become a criminal for making a joke is truly beyond belief. For Meechan, however, this is now a stern reality. A video that was intended to make the world laugh will, most likely, haunt him forever.
"...the least cute thing that I could think of, which is a Nazi"
Free Speech in the United Kingdom
As you would imagine, the UK does have freedom of speech laws that are implemented to protect citizens in everyday life. Although these laws are not as robust as those in the United States of America, where citizens are protected under their first amendment, they do in fact exist. Under the common law, British citizens have a negative right to freedom of expression. This freedom of expression is not a total freedom of expression and does have a vast list of exceptions, which can be prosecuted against if the case is severe enough.
Technically, Meechan's conviction is correct and does pass by the laws of the UK. Both incitement to racial hatred and incitement to religious hatred are exceptions to the UK's freedom of expression laws and can be prosecuted against - two exceptions that the, pseudo-branded, Nazi pug video breaches. Meechan's video is strongly associated with Nazism, which is strongly associated with anti-Semitism thereby creating the supposed incitement. However, to come to this conclusion, one must disregard the context of the video, which is clearly not any form of incitement to religious/racial hatred, it is simply a satirical comedy video.
Context - what's context?
The judge in the Scottish court had to wilfully disregard context in order to conclude their prosecution of Count Dankula.
A Slippery, Slippery Slope
With contextual information out of the way, it's time to delve into the slippery slope that has been entered by the Scottish police.
Meechan's conviction could be the catalyst for a dangerous precedent to be set in the United Kingdom. If he can be convicted of "grossly offensive" hate speech for posting, what is essentially, a joke to the internet, then it begs the question: who/what is next?
The term hate speech, is a very ambiguous term and doesn't have a concrete definition, especially in regard to what does and doesn't qualify as hate speech. This is where the major issues can arise and why Meechan's case could be the start of something very draconian in the United Kingdom. A huge talking point is, where do the police draw the line? What I feel is hate speech could be very different to the next person, meaning that something that most people regard as inoffensive could potentially land citizens in jail in the future. The further this application of the law is allowed to creep, the smaller and smaller our right, as UK citizens, to freedom of expression becomes - a freedom that you and I definitely do not want to lose.
All of the above is without mentioning that there are bigger fish to fry than those who think and speak in a hateful way. You know the phrase: sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. I am definitely not condoning racial or religious hatred, as I strongly feel that it is wrong. However, thought-policing is taking up resources that could otherwise be spent policing crimes that raise a threat to human lives. Maybe it is time the UK's populace grew thicker skin and the attention of the law was focussed elsewhere.
Do you believe that the Scottish police have made the correct decision?
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
The Bleak Future of Comedy in the UK
Comedians up and down England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are continuously cracking jokes that touch on areas of contention, including but not limited to Nazism. A quick search of YouTube returns results including a Ricky Gervais joke that also references Hitler, Nazism and the holocaust - should this evidence be used to convict Gervais of grossly offensive hate speech also? (Absolutely not)! This non-harmful referencing of the Nazi regime even extends as far as the royal family, with Prince Harry being pictured dressed in full Nazi outfit.
The examples above will not result in arrest and prosecution, so why is Mark Meechan face-to-face with potential jail time over a satirical video that he posted to YouTube!? If context no longer has any bearing on the laws that govern our freedom of expression, it makes you wonder when comedians who use race and religion for the butt of most of their jokes will be sitting in the very court room attended by Meechan and faced with the same judge who threw context out of the window for the sake of a prosecution.
Of course, I am fully opposed to the above scenario becoming a reality. Although, the Count Dankula case does make the mind wonder whether or not the UK public could see a crackdown on sensitive joke topics in the near future.
Give Them an Inch and They Will Take a Mile
Overall, Count Dankula's situation is a complete farce. To be punished for an online joke is something that nobody should be subjected to. The British public can now only hope that this conviction is a one-off and not the start of a new wave of thought-policing. Meechan's case has allowed the Scottish police to take a small step in the direction of shutting down freedom of speech, a small step that could be huge in the long-run.