Saturday, 4 October 2008

Pat's Back

Pat Condell's video, Welcome to Saudi Britain, is this morning back on his official channel after YouTube bowed to overwhelming public pressure. Condell writes in a message:


Enormous thanks to everyone who uploaded the video and to everyone who contacted YouTube. And my thanks to YouTube for reinstating the video. I'm very much obliged.


Removing it was predictably counterproductive, of course, given Pat's large and passionate army of fans. Hundreds uploaded the video to their own accounts, or created special accounts for the purpose, and the furore only ensured that even more people watched the thing than would otherwise have done. It's less clear if someone without his following would have won a similar tussle. The case was important, not just for itself, but because it set a precedent. Given that Condell always avoids hate-speech - indeed, it is the hate-speech of Islamic extremists towards women, gay people and non-believers that is his primary target - if this censorship had stood it would have represented a notable restriction what YouTube allows to be said. Most of Condell's previous videos would undoubdedly have fallen foul of the same standards, and he might have disappeared from YouTube altogether.

The Internet is nothing if not a space where important arguments, ignored by the mainstream, get a hearing. If you don't like Pat Condell's views, make your own video explaining why he's a tosser and upload that. Hundreds do.

This morning, almost as if to demonstrate the redundancy of the traditional media when covering issues such as this, the story reached the Telegraph's print edition just as it was over. The report ignored (or missed) the mass-upload campaign which was the most striking feature of the story and failed to give much flavour of Condell's video either, merely stating that he denounced the "patriarchal bigotry" of Muslim men and the "corrupt regime of Saudi Arabia". Anyone following up the report and finding the clip freely available will probably end up rather confused.

Governments everywhere seem increasingly keen to regulate online content. Andy Burnham, Britain's Culture Secretary, has recently been quoted as saying that "We have to start talking more seriously about standards and regulation on the internet," on the grounds that "if you have a clip that is downloaded a million times then that is akin to broadcasting". In a speech to the Royal Television Society, he contrasted the Internet, as a "source of casual opinion" with the easier-to-control broadcasting industry. "TV is where people often look for expert or authoritative opinion," he claimed. Like the Estonian EuroMP Marianne Mikko, whose attempt to regulate blogs has caused such alarm, he clearly unnerved by the thought of millions of people thinking for themselves, finding out information for themselves, above all being immune to the flattery and promises of favoured access with which politicians woo journalists. Then there was the recent demand by the head of the Kuwait "Human Rights" commission for YouTube to remove material like Condell's, on the bizarre ground that "profanities against Prophet Muhammad is the worst form of human rights violation in the world".

In such a climate it's more important than ever for sites like YouTube to affirm their commitment to freedom of speech, and for everyone out there to hold them to it.


UPDATE: Condell comes out fighting in this new video, in which he goes into more detail about just how much he hates Saudi Arabia