When did exaggeration for comedic effect become incitement to violence?

You may have heard by now that Jo Brand was investigated for comments about throwing battery acid over politicians made on a BBC comedy programme called Heresy.  The clue is in the name, isn’t it?  Heresy has been running on radio 4 since 2003. Panelists have had to grapple with statements such as Kate Middleton should get a job, Prisons are too soft, James Blunt is a middle class ponce whose music is just for big girls and if The Queen is marvellous, but the other Royals are a waste of space; you get the idea.  The idea is to push the boundaries and since 2003 many things have been said that would cause a listener to squirm, or have a sharp intake of breath but no-one has, as yet, suddenly decided to pick-up a hand whisk and chase people down the street after the programme.

Comedy pushes the boundaries and sometimes speaks the unspeakable, so what’s in it for someone who tries to draw attention on such passing comment? Perhaps it is a deliberate attempt to gradually chip away at our civil rights to voice an opinion.  At present, the likes of the BBC think it is easier to re-edit or even pull programmes instead of supporting their programme makers.  Let us not forget Have I Got News for You was pulled because of the staunch anti-brexit supporter, Heidi Allen, who was on one edition.  

The problem is this, the more we cave in, the more we allow the insincere outrage of those at the far ends of the political scale to grind down our freedom of speech and as a result, more of our rights are forfeited for a quiet life.  The BBC caved in, probably because they were already receiving bad press over their inexcusable decision to make pensioners pay for the TV licences – yet again, a good day to bury bad news and stop the onslaught on BBC productions.

The man in the centre of the affair, Mr Farage, demanded police take action against Jo Brand.  Did he feel personally violated, does he believe hoards of individuals throughout the nation were just waiting for word from Jo Brand to launch an attack on him? After all, this is the man who said in 2017, that if Brexit was not delivered, he would be forced to “pick up a rifle and head for the front lines”. Perhaps his clear concern for public safety and security should have included a request to the police to investigate himself while they were at it.  

In this country, we have always valued the freedom of speech.  Comedy has consistently played a role in holding up a mirror to the nations foibles and much more.  If we do not fight these seemingly small battles, they will become part of a much greater war. In the words attributed to Voltaire: ‘I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it’.  Rest easy, no-one is about to take up arms or start a war or do anything else remotely dangerous or horrible, apart from protecting our freedom to say what we want, where, and when we want to say it, and know that the system is robust enough to withstand commentary and criticism.  Protect your freedom of speech – it is one of the precious gifts we have. Freedom of speech was  a hard won gift over centuries and must be preserved for perpetuity.