The Daily Mail will rarely pass up on an opportunity for a bout of BBC bashing. If there’s one thing they hate, it’s the overpaid liberal intellegentia over at Broadcasting House who are – unlike the Mail – out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people. This in turn creates a level of paranoia among editors whereby second guessing what the Mail may or may not write about their output allows the British print media an outsized important in dictating the news agenda of the public broadcaster.
So it came to pass at the weekend, where the Scottish Mail on Sunday seized on tweets by one of the presenters of a new series on BBC Scotland – the new digital channel that launched last week – about his new show.
“Great laugh working on a new show for the BBC alongside… @CountDankulaTV”, tweeted James English just over a week ago, alongside a photo of himself and his “co-presenters” outside Pacific Quay. One of these was the aforementioned Count Dankula, the moniker of Mark Meechan, a self-proclaimed comedian and Youtuber from Coatbridge.
Meechan’s entire public profile is a result of his arrest, trial and conviction for teaching his pug to respond to calls of “Gas the Jews”, which was uploaded to his Youtube channel. The court case saw Meechan become a cause célèbre for the international far right, creating bizarre scenes where Canadian alt right Youtuber Lauren Southern – since banned from entering the UK – was running around outside Airdrie Sheriff Court on a Tuesday afternoon. Other figures also latched on the cause, including Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (alias Tommy Robinson) and Infowars conspiracist Alex Jones, who interviewed Meechan on his programme.
Meechan was ultimately fined £800 by the court, a sum he was able to match – 232 times over – by raising an extraordinary £185,854 through a GoFundMe crowdfunder. This amount was raised to cover his legal fees for an appeal – an appeal that, despite Meechan’s hiring of a high powered lawyer, was subsequently refused because it was “inarguable and in each of its elements wholly misconceived”. It was then blocked again in January, by the most senior judges in Scotland, from going to the Supreme Court. The current status of Meechan’s £186k is not known.
So, just to reiterate, Mark Meechan’s public profile – at least outside of a few sub-reddits – is entirely down to his conviction for repeatedly saying “Gas the Jews” in a Youtube video, and then becoming a star of the global alt-right and a reference point for “but free speech!!11” roasters like Ricky Gervais.
Which brings us to the recent decision to bring Meechan on board with a “late night discussion show” on the new BBC Scotland channel. It is no secret that the BBC are desperate for their new channel to be talked about, noticed and going by the adverts adorning buses around Glasgow at the moment, BOLD, CREATIVE, and AMBITIOUS. They are also desperate to attract the fabled ’16-35′ demographic.
Somewhere along the line, this led to an invite being extended to Meechan. Initial confusion about what exactly the show was led to the Mail splashing that he’d been given a “job” on a show being fronted by James English, a man who you probably won’t recall from “Glow”, the Glasgow-based budget “structured reality” show that somehow failed to live up to the enormous hype it received in the Scottish press a couple of years ago. Following Glow’s inevitable failure to take off, English has been busying himself with a podcast called “anything goes”, where local minor celebrities, gangsters and retired footballers line up to be fawned over by him. By “anything”, he seems to mean a salacious mix of crime, prisons and sex, and, in the case of his Tommy Sheridan interview, all three.
However, the truth is that James English is actually one of about 15 guests on the new BBC show, The Collective, and will not be fronting it. Each contributor will feature in two episodes of the programme, expected to screen in April, with a roundtable discussion on issues of the day.
A matter of hours after the Mail splash hit the shops, BBC Scotland tweeted a statement announcing that Meechan’s episodes would no longer be broadcast. In doing so, they handed him effectively a double PR coup. Not only did getting him on the programme gift him a vast amount of free publicity, he now gets to bleat about being a victim too. Still pocketing his fee, all he misses out on is a show that would have in reality gone out to a small late night audience. Nonetheless, it was the right decision to drop him – better still would have been to not invite him in the first place.
It’s nearly a decade since the ratings-driven carcrash that was then BNP MEP Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time. This is commonly held up as an example of how platforming the far right helps expose them for who they really are, as apparently evidenced by the BNP’s later collapse as a viable electoral outfit. That argument both misses the nuances of the BNP’s failure and the point that putting far right pundits and polticians on TV, let alone light hearted discussion shows, just skews the entire debate over say, immigration, to the right, allowing otherwise rabid politicians to appear as sensible moderates against the nasty Nazis.
In the case of Meechan, there isn’t even the argument that he represents anyone and therefore needs to be heard; he would surely be the first to admit he speaks for no one but himself. Which brings us to what this was: a pathetic stab at being relevant by producers who should know much better. BBC Scotland has some form here, having previously featured whiny UKIP propagandist Carl Pearson on its youth channel The Social, ran by the same team behind The Collective.
It would be naive to think that the Mail has any agenda here other than undermining the BBC – it is, after all, the newspaper group that had fellow alt-righter Katie Hopkins as a star columnist until November 2017. The print edition came with a raving op-ed by it’s fundie columnist John MacLeod, a man who should know a thing or two about being sacked for having terrible opinions, in which he spends most of his column inches ranting about the SNP and the BBC promoting LGBT algebra and then devotes a single line to their appointment of Meechan.
Meechan insists his video was a joke, that he is not an Antisemitic and is not a Nazi. Sure enough, the ever reliable Wings Over Scotland soon popped up to defend him on the basis that his joke was about the Holocaust being bad. Who would have thought that Scotland’s two worst online content creators would somehow find common cause?
Meechan’s next move, beyond an appearance on English’s “Anything Goes” podcast, has yet to be announced. Maybe they’ll get him on the next series of Glow too.
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