Rowan Atkinson: Free Speech

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Rowan Atkinson: Free Speech

Learn English with Rowan Atkinson. British actor and comedian, Rowan Atkinson has given his full support to a newly launched campaign aimed at reforming the UK’s controversial insults law. The campaign relates to Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. Rowan Atkinson is a celebrated comic actor and writer, who is best known for his role as ‘Mr. Bean’ in the hit television series and two feature films of the same name. He is a man with a pliant face, who can alter his look from a complete buffoon to a snooty grandee in a matter of seconds. He learnt of his flair for comedy while attending Oxford University and since then, there has been no looking back. In this speech, he also quotes: “We need to build our immunity to taking offence so that we can deal with the issues that perfectly justified criticism can raise. Our priority should be to deal with the message, not the messenger.” – Watch with big English subtitles.

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Rowan Atkinson Quote:

“Enjoy your own company instead of expecting someone else make you happy.” Rowan Atkinson

Rowan Atkinson – FULL TRANSCRIPT:

“My starting point when it comes to the consideration of any issue relating to free speech is my passionate belief that the second most precious thing in life is the right to express yourself freely. The most precious thing in life I think is food in your mouth and the third most precious is a roof over your head but a fixture in the Number 2 slot for me is free expression, just below the need to sustain life itself. That is because I have enjoyed free expression in this country all my professional life and expect to continue to do so, I personally highly unlikely to be arrested for whatever laws exist to contain free expression, because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile. So, my concerns are less for myself and more for those more vulnerable because of their lower profile. Like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse, gay. Or the teenager arrested for calling the Church of Scientology a cult. Or the café owner arrested for displaying passages from the bible on a TV screen.

When I heard of some of these more ludicrous offences and charges, I remembered that I had been here before in a fictional context. I once did a show called Not the Nine O’Clock News, some years ago, and we did a sketch where Griff Rhys-Jones played Constable Savage, a manifestly racist police officer to whom I, as his station commander, is giving a dressing down for arresting a black man on a whole string of ridiculous, trumped up and ludicrous charges. The charges for which Constable Savage arrested Mr. Winston Kodogo of 55 Mercer Road were these:

‘Walking on the cracks in the pavement.’

‘Walking in a loud shirt in a built-up area during the hours of darkness’ and one of my favourites ‘Walking around all over the place.’

He was also arrested for ‘Urinating in a public convenience’ and ‘Looking at me in a funny way’.

Who would have thought that we would end up with a law that would allow life to imitate art so exactly. I read somewhere, a defender of the status quo claiming that the fact that the gay horse case was dropped after the arrested man refused to pay the fine and that the Scientology case was also dropped at some point during the court process was proof that the law working well, ignoring the fact that the only reason these cases were dropped was because of the publicity that they had attracted. The Police sensed that ridicule was just around the corner and withdrew their actions. But what about the thousands of other cases that did not enjoy the oxygen of publicity? That weren’t quite ludicrous enough to attract media attention?  Even for those actions that were withdrawn, people were arrested, questioned, taken to court and then released. That isn’t a law working properly: that is censoriousness of the most intimidating kind, guaranteed to have, as Lord Dear says, a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression and free protest.

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