Sunday, 1 April 2018

It’s no laughing matter - the case for regulating humour


The fallout from the Count Dankula ‘Nazi pug’ video prosecution shows no sign of abating.  While many have condemned the conviction as an assault on freedom of speech, others are saying that the law does not go far enough.  They argue that the criminal law only catches these incidents after the event when the harm has already been done. How can we prevent the harm being done in the first place?

“It is like pollution”, said one commentator. “We apply the precautionary principle to environmental harm, and we should do the same to prevent the toxic effects of tasteless, offensive and unfunny jokes on the internet. Freedom of speech is paramount, but we must not let that get in the way of doing what is right for society.”

The internet has only exacerbated the problem, say government sources. “So-called jokes going viral on social media are a scourge of society. Social media platforms have the resources to weed this out. They must do more, but so must society. Of course we have no quarrel with occasional levity, but serious humour such as satire is too dangerous to be left to the unregulated private sector. We would like to see this addressed by a self-regulatory code of conduct, but we are ready to step in with legislation if necessary.”

One professional comedian said: ‘This reaches a crisis point on 1 April each year, when tens of thousands of self-styled humourists try their hand at a bit of amateur prankstering. Who do they think they are fooling? An unthinking quip can have devasting consequences for the poor, the vulnerable, and for society at large. This is no joke. Controversial humour should be in the hands of properly qualified and trained responsible professionals.”

An academic added: “Humour is a public good. You only have to look at the standard of jokes on the internet to realise that the market is, predictably, failing to supply quality humour. We are in a race to the bottom. Since humour can also have significant negative externalities, the case for regulation is overwhelming.”

So there appears to be a growing consensus. Will we see a professional corps of licensed comedians?  Will amateur jokers find themselves in jail? Has this blogger succeeded only in proving that parody should be left to those who know what they are doing? Only time will tell.

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