Happy-slapping and protester-tasering: ban it all!

There’s a story in today’s Guardian about banning happy-slapping videos on sites such as Youtube. The journalist understates the difficulty and complexity of this issue beautifully:

The issue is likely to be raised when MPs debate the violent crime reduction bill next week, but it is unlikely an amendment on such a complex area of broadcasting freedom could be put together in an acceptable form over the weekend.

Unlikely? Over the weekend? D’ya think?

It reminds me of the debate over the hate-speech bill, one of the counter-arguments to which was that the law, as framed, would also in fact exclude much comedy. Gladly this doesn’t seem to have transpired, but still, the powers are there and could be used.

In particular, if you ban YouTube from hosting disturbing videos of indiscriminate and unwarranted violence, that law could well ban videos such as these, of protesters being tasered. Some of these are truly disturbing, and not the kind of thing you’re going to see on BBC News any time soon – but their availability is progress in the battle towards an open society.

Robert Fisk was on Desert Island Discs yesterday. Say what you like about him, he spoke well, and clearly sees the job of the journalist as telling the truth – whatever it is, however unsavoury. Youtube and its ilk are an opportunity for anyone to engage in telling the truth as they see it, and in documenting world events. News is a highly politicised monetised commodity (hello Mr Murdoch), and any movement towards decentralising news gathering/distribution to the public at large is progress. Something else Fisk said, IIRC, was that if the public saw the reality of war as he had seen it, “the dogs eating the corpses of children” as he put it, they would never, ever, support any war. A law which bans violent videos from the internet runs counter to that trend.

The only mitigator would be a “public interest” clause, I suppose. So if you seeing a violent video law being framed without such a clause, protest. Even so, I’d argue it’s problematic…