Mark Sparrow is a writer, journalist, photographer and broadcaster. Presenter of Channel 4's Dispatches: 'The Truth About Hospital Food'. He's someone I know from Twitter - one of the friends who ISN'T a fiction writer! Mark uses Twitter to debate and discuss issues. Here's his ''take'' on the Katie Hopkins debacle, and on the way free speech, in his view, is being eroded.
''For some people, freedom of speech is the luxury of supporting causes or people you agree with. In fact, free speech is something we often take for granted but recently I learnt that supporting free speech also means supporting the right of someone you may despise and be totally opposed to speak their mind.
That’s the situation I found myself in a couple of weeks ago when the universally hated Katie Hopkins – she of The Apprentice and now Celebrity Big Brother fame – opened her cavernous mouth and stuffed both her feet in it by referring to a Scottish Ebola victim as a ‘sweaty Jock’. Personally I can’t imagine what sort of mind thinks that spouting such bile is either constructive or dignified. Nonetheless, lacking in common decency or being an idiot isn’t illegal… yet! I was rash enough to tweet this when the offendotrons on Twitter begun calling for her prosecution for racism or just poor taste.
Unfortunately I have a habit of defending the underdog or simply being contrarian and this came back to bite me on the bum when BBC Radio 5 Live phoned to ask if I’d be willing to defend Katie’s right to free speech live on air. I’m assuming every other commentator in the country had turned them down. This was in the week before the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and free speech was getting a good kicking from all quarters.
So early one Saturday morning I went head-to-head with former Labour minister Brian Wilson who was most robust in his insistence that Katie Hopkins should face prosecution for being racist (the law actually covers nationalities so you can be charged with racism for insulting a Welsh person or a Spaniard) and I had the unenviable task of defending Katie’s tasteless jibe about a ‘sweaty Jock’ who, at that time, was at death’s door in the Royal Free Hospital, in London. It wasn’t an easy task and I didn’t enjoy doing it but my belief in free speech drove me on and I think the interview went well. Afterwards I received some complimentary emails supporting me for doing the media equivalent of cleaning out a cesspit.
That task of defending the right of someone I fundamentally disagreed with to speak freely taught me a valuable lesson. It actually strengthened my resolve to stand up for free speech no matter what. Tragically at the end of that week two crazed gunmen burst into the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and massacred 12 journalists and cartoonists in cold blood.
The reason for the attack was the magazine’s insistence on printing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. In certain sects of the Muslim faith this is a big no no. The world responded with horror and the western world finally realised what was at stake. Suddenly everyone got it, if only for a short while, that our very right to mock, ridicule and criticise religion, politics or traditions was at risk. We finally understood what marked us out as different from the gun-wielding fanatics.
My feelings following the shooting were mixed. I was really sad about the killings but I also felt that we had finally got the message that personal freedom and free speech, however, offensive, had to be available to all. That’s not to say that we should needlessly go around offending people for the hell of it, but that if necessary we should have the right to point out irrational or repressive ideas that endangered freedoms that so many people had died to uphold.
Would I do it again? Well, since Katie hasn't even so much as nodded or winked at me for fighting her corner, I do wonder if I would but then I think about the terrible events of Paris a couple of weeks ago and I realise that I would: without question. Je suis Katie.''
5 Live interview: https://soundcloud.com/inqualitymedia/brian-wilson-mark-sparrow-via-ipdtl-discuss-katie-hopkins-and-free-speech-on-bbc-5-live …