Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Rowan Atkinson deserves respect for stand on freedom to insult

Rowan Atkinson

I don't much care for Rowan Atkinson the comedian. He's a rubber-faced loon who couldn't make me laugh in a month of Sundays.

The last time I had a real good chuckle at Atkinson's behest was on November 2, 1999. That’s right, 1999.

How do I know this? It was the transmission date of the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, the last proper series of the great Blackadder.

Man, he was hysterically funny back then. But now? Not to me.

In my opinion, Mr Bean is humour for simpletons. His Olympics slot was about as funny as watching a Saddam Hussein-era torturer extracting toenails. Very slowly.

I might not care much for Atkinson the comedian, but Rowan Atkinson the man? As it happens, I have a great deal of respect for him.

You see, Rowan Atkinson believes in freedom of speech — including the freedom to insult.

Last week, he helped launch a campaign called Reform Section 5, the title referring to the schedule of the Public Order Act which decrees a person is guilty of an offence if he uses ‘threatening, abusive, or insulting behaviour’.

The key word is ‘insulting’. It was probably, initially, a well-intentioned law, but its implementation is open to abuse by the over-zealous, or bloody-minded in today's lawyer-fuelled grievance culture.

The result has been a series of bizarre and asinine convictions — the man who asked a police officer whether he knew his horse was ‘gay’ and the cafe owner arrested for displaying biblical passages on a TV screen, to mention but two.

The freedom to insult (note: not to defame, or incite; that's entirely different) is an ancient one that's being undermined.

Addressing the Reform Section 5 parliamentary reception, Atkinson said: “The most precious thing in life, I think, is food in your mouth and the third most precious is a roof over your head, but a fixture in the Number 2 slot, for me, is free expression, just below the need to sustain life itself.

“The clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult. Ridicule is easily construed as insult.

“Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view can be interpreted as insult.”

He’s right; we need to protect this freedom. Support the campaign at reformsection5.org.uk and help Rowan and his friends restore common sense, the right to insult and ridicule and, above all, freedom of expression.

And so I say: respect to you, Rowan Atkinson. You total and utter rubber-faced bore.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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