Why Police Scotland won’t detain Buddha, the Nazi Pug

If you haven’t heard about Buddha, the Nazi Pug then here it is in brief.  The story revolves around Markus Meechan, 28, from Coatbridge. Not long ago Markus gained notoriety for a video he made in order to wind up his girlfriend. You see, his girlfriend who is the owner of a really adorable pug, would bug Markus by constantly telling him how cute it was. So Markus, being in possession of a sick sense of humour, decided to turn the dog into something odious. Or more accurately, decided to make the dog mimic some odious behaviour.

He trained the pug to salute like a Nazi. He taught the dog to get animated at the sound of the phrase ‘Buddha, do you want to gas the Jews?’. He introduced Buddha to recordings of speeches given by Hitler. He made a video of all of this and in an act he probably now regrets, he posted said video on YouTube. With a little help from the mock indignation of the tabloids the film went viral. Markus was vilified. He lost his job. And more seriously, he has recently been arrested and questioned with regards to the improper use of the public electronic communications network – Communications Act 2003, section 127. His account can be read here (written prior to his arrest).

Before going any further I want to make it clear that I believe all speech should be free. I can see the logic of curbing it in some circumstance like incitement to violence, however I don’t believe that causing offence is one of those special cases. An educated society that has free speech is able to police itself. It is able to look at the Nazi Pug video and either ignore it, enjoy it as a joke, or hate it due to its insensitivity. People should be free to express their opinion regarding the film and many have in the comments. My opinion is that Markus was a bit stupid to not realise his video would upset many people but that he should still be allowed to make and disperse it. My opinion is that most reasonable people should be able to see the video in the context it was intended, and rationally choose not to be offended.

Nazi Pug videos are the price you pay to have the positive side of free speech. The side that our ancestors utilised to challenge mainstream views on such topics as woman’s rights, slavery and child labour. Many reasonable people found the concept of reform in these areas offensive which highlights what is worrying about laws which outlaw offence.

The sad reality is, in the UK, being offensive can be against the law. However, given that the Nazi Pug video is unambiguously a joke made at the expense of a girlfriend and not the Jews, and given that the offence that may or not have been caused to the viewer was unintentional, I presumed that the arrest was harsh as surely there must be some provision in the law for intent? However, it turns out that under the law this doesn’t matter. In a famous test case that went to the House of Lords, it was decided what was important is whether or not a reasonable person could be offended by the communication.

And according to Police Scotland’s Detective Inspector David Cockburn, they could.

This clip was shared online and has been viewed almost one million times. I would ask anyone who has had the misfortune to have viewed it to think about the pain and hurt the narrative has caused a minority of people in our community. The clip is deeply offensive and no reasonable person can possibly find the content acceptable in today’s society. This arrest should serve as a warning to anyone posting such material online, or in any other capacity, that such views will not be tolerated.

(As an aside, I have no idea what David Cockburn means by ‘views’ as no views are expressed in the video? If you think you are a reasonable person watch it here and decide if you are offended. If you are not offended it is the view of police Scotland that you are unreasonable. So, you’d better find it offensive).

So, in the eyes of the law the intention of the accused is less important than the thickness of the skin of a ‘reasonable person’. Which begs the question, why are Police Scotland not taking more of an interest in Buddha? I mean the police do confiscate out of control dogs. And Buddha was clearly recorded making gestures and reacting to sentiments that are likely to cause some people distress. And while Buddha had no concept of what he was doing and his sole motivation was doggy biscuits, it doesn’t change the fact that a reasonable person might find his actions offensive.

The answer is that Buddha did not disseminate the material online. The laws that cover offline offence all take into account intent. If Markus had trained Buddha to upload films to YouTube he would be in big trouble. Thankfully, unless you are a Scottish football fan, the offline shenanigans Buddha got mixed up in is governed by more sensible laws. (If the law governing online communications is more concerned with perceived offence than intent then why don’t they go after the Daily Record and its ilk? They have done more to spread offensive material than Markus ever could, even though they admit it is offensive. Most of them share it along with their moralising articles).

The problem with the current law is that it relies on a judge’s interpretation of two things which are subjective. What is a reasonable person and what is offensive? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think they are reasonable and I don’t know anything that someone won’t consider offensive. So, it seems like guilt under the law is dependent on something that is intangible.

This should worry us all.

For the law does not only cover YouTube videos. It covers phone calls, emails, Facebook comments and the whole gamut of online communication. And you could be found to have committed a crime regardless of whether your communication was sent, or whether anyone who actually saw it was offended. There are millions of people who have seen the Nazi Pug video and it is clear that a fair proportion of them are not offended. I am one of them. The only good thing that will come out of Markus being prosecuted is that at least we will learn if we are legally considered reasonable people.

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