Monday, April 18, 2016

Must not slander foreign rulers?

Broadcaster was deliberately offensive to highlight a speech-limiting German law

Incredibly, one of Germany’s most popular satirists, Jan Böhmermann, is facing prison after he read out a poem mocking Erdogan on the public channel ZDF. Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel reported the assessment of the German foreign ministry: ‘It is highly likely that [Böhmermann] has committed a crime.’

Böhmermann read the poem on his show, Neo Magazin Royale, on 31 March. He sat in front of a Turkish flag, beside a small portrait of Erdogan, and announced that what he was about to read was ‘slander’. And he was right. In the poem, he referred to Erdogan as, among other things, a man whose ‘body matter smelled so bad that it was worse than a pig’s fart’. Other lines included, ‘What he loves is fucking goats / while stomping on minority votes’; ‘At night, instead of sleep, he has oral sex with sheep’; and ‘Erdogan is not just thick, he’s a man with a very small dick’. Turkish subtitles were included.

It’s absurd, obscene stuff. And it is odd that the Turkish president has become a favoured target for German satirists, who seem strangely unable to find objects of ridicule closer to home. Still, this time, at least, the satire has put Germany’s government, and not Turkey’s, on the spot.

Perhaps this was Böhmermann’s intention. He said that while extra3’s short was protected under Germany’s freedom-of-press laws, his slanderous poem wasn’t. In other words, he wasn’t exposing the limits to free speech in Turkey, which are now common knowledge; he was exposing the limits to free speech in Germany, which too few acknowledge.

Böhmermann’s poem falls foul of paragraph 103 of the German criminal code, which reads: ‘Whosoever insults a foreign head of state or an accredited diplomat in Germany… shall be liable to imprisonment of up to three years or a fine. A slanderous (calumnious) insult could be punished with up to five years.’ So it was no surprise when Gerd Deutschler, a Mainz-based prosecutor, told reporters last week that Böhmermann was being investigated.

This time, the German political establishment was quick to censor Böhmermann. As soon as news of the poem began to spread, ZDF deleted the video from its website and combed YouTube for copied footage (although it has since been put back up on the Bild website here). And, while ZDF busied itself with the removal of Böhmermann’s poem, chancellor Angela Merkel personally intervened with a phone call to the Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in which she called the poem a deliberate insult.

Indeed, since the poem controversy began, many have been debating the limits to satire. Yet the very posing of the question of satire’s limits is problematic. As Kurt Tucholsky put it in 1919, there should never be any limits to satire. Moreover, the extent to which satire offends those in authority is often a mark of its success.

The news over the weekend that the Turkish government would be demanding that Germany prosecute Böhmermann was hardly a surprise. But even though most commentators are blaming Turkey for Böhmermann’s plight, make no mistake: his censorship is a problem created in Germany itself.



Anonymous said...

The German Law has designated politicians as a protected class. Hello Big Brother!

Bird of Paradise said...

Free speech not allowed under a dictator it looks like hitler is'nt as dead as we thought

Anonymous said...

The biggest load of PC yet this year. Merkel will regret her decision to support Erdogan against her countrymen. Erdogan is becoming an Islamist Putin.

Birdzilla said...

Fidel Castro treats his people worst then trash yet he gets standing ovations from those United Nations bastards

Spurwing Plover the fighting shorebird said...

I my opinion the United Nations the worlds biggist terrorists supporters and full of war crinimals and enenies of all humanity