Tag Red Issue

Tag Red Issue

Red Issue 1 – 0 GMP

February 25, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 3 comments

When Greater Manchester Police seized 1,600 copies of Red Issue prior to Manchester United’s fixture with Liverpool earlier this month not only did the service spectacularly fail to understand a tasteless joke, but it engaged in dangerous restriction on freedom of speech. That much has now been recognised, with the Crown Prosecution Service confirming on Saturday that no criminal charges will be made against Red Issue’s editors or the fanzine’s distributors in respect of the seizure.

For those unfamiliar, Red Issue’s February back cover depicted a cut-out-and-keep Klu Kluz Klan hood, with the words “LFC” and “Suarez Is Innocent” emblazoned in red; an image apparently designed to mock the perceived failings in Liverpool fans’ attitude towards racism after the Luis Suárez affair.

The joke was crude, simplistic and, in leveraging an organisation that murdered hundreds of black men, women and children, most likely offensive to those who genuinely suffered at the KKK’s hands. This, however, was never the issue at hand. Whether readers found the fanzine’s joke funny or offensive is irrelevant; whether it was legal was the only pertinent question.

Yet, the GMP didn’t see it that way, seizing more than a thousand copies prior to United’s Premier League fixture with Liverpool at Old Trafford on the pretext that both racial hatred and potential violence may ensure if copies were allowed to be distributed to match going fans.

“Shortly before kick-off we were made aware that a Manchester United supporters’ fanzine being sold outside Old Trafford featured a potentially offensive image,” proclaimed a GMP statement on 11 February.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public.”

The force’s action proved to be a red herring though, with the CPS – the body that decides whether criminal charges are to be filed in any case – rejecting the opportunity to prosecute despite GMP’s crass pre-judgement.

“I have decided that no further action will be taken in relation to allegations surrounding the publication and distribution of the Red Issue fanzine at Old Trafford football ground on February 11 2012,” said Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West on Saturday.

“During the investigation into the matter by Greater Manchester Police, the issue of potential incitement to racial hatred was raised. As a result, I consulted the CPS’s Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, who are responsible for advising on suspected cases of incitement.

“Following this consultation, I have received advice from a senior lawyer in that division that, although the fanzine distributed may have been offensive to some people, there was insufficient evidence to prove that the content was intended to stir up racial hatred, or that it was or likely to do so.

“I have therefore concluded there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for incitement to racial hatred against any person. It is not a crime to possess material that is threatening, abusive or insulting, or hold views which others may find unpleasant and obnoxious. It is a crime to distribute this sort of material to the public, if it is intended to stir up racial hatred, or in circumstances where it is likely to have that effect.”

Larger questions of whether GMP had the legal, let alone moral, right to silence Red Issue will now be asked. The CPS statement is a clear indicator that there was never enough, or in fact any, evidence that Red Issues’ joke intended to incite racial hatred, despite GMP’s position.

It is now relevant to ask how and why the decision to seize thousands of fanzines was ever made. After all, there is no confirmation that any complaint was made to police, and – apparently – no arrests were actually made on the day. Moreover, the service appears to have badly misjudged both the tone of Red Issues’ back page and its intended target.

Could a joke that aimed to ridicule the racist attitude of others ever, in turn, incite racial hatred itself?

GMP’s decision to seize fanzines appears to have been made without consultation, unilaterally, and largely on the instruction of a single superintendent. It was, surely, crude censorship of the most blatant kind, and has proven to be a dreadful own goal, with widespread condemnation of the service’s actions.

There is no word yet what, if any, action Red Issue will take now that the threat of prosecution is removed. The fanzine and its editors are legally clear, but the knock-on commercial effect to the publication and its suppliers may well be lasting.

Reprints of the fanzine were made prior to United’s fixture with Ajax last Thursday night, and a widespread internet campaign was launched by supporters on social networks. But questions will surely now be asked whether police interference in a private operation was justifiable.

Indeed, whether fans enjoy reading the magazine or not – found the joke at hand funny or not – condemnation of unilateral censorship is surely the only appropriate response. After all, Red Issues’ joke probably offended many – least of all the Liverpool supporters it was aimed at. That, surely, is the beauty of free speech; the freedom to offend liberally, without fear of state reprisal.

In that the GMP significantly overstepped the mark – the CPS’ decision not to prosecute underlines the mistake made by Manchester’s men in blue. Uniforms, not kits, that is.

Suárez and police fail to ruin Evra’s day

February 11, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 71 comments

The day began with the Greater Manchester Police confiscating copies of Red Issue outside Old Trafford, and ended with Sir Alex Ferguson finally coming out fighting on the issue of racism. In between Patrice Evra wildly celebrated a Manchester United victory in front of the Stretford End, while Luis Suárez and Kenny Dalglish brought further embarrassment to their club. Just your average United versus Liverpool clash, then.

Barely two weeks on from the disgraceful scenes at Anfield, where 40,000 Liverpudlians sought to set race relations back a generation by victimising Patrice Evra, United exacted a modicum of revenge in Manchester. United won comfortably enough, but there was far more to this occasion than the odd goal in three. Set in the context of Suárez culpability over racially abusing Evra last October, the clash sparked into life before a ball had even been kicked when the Uruguayan refused the United captain’s pre-match handshake. The striker’s snub ensured a testy encounter, with players on both sides confronting each other in the tunnel at half-time, and then again at the final whistle.

But tensions were raised long before the players entered the field, with the GMP confiscating copies of Red Issue, t-shirts mocking Suárez, and arresting supporters selling the fanzine pre-match. The crime? Including a satirical, albeit tasteless, picture of a Klu Klux Klan hood on the back cover, with the words “Suarez is innocent” emboldened in red. So much for freedom of speech, then.

GMP accused the long-running fanzine of ‘inciting racial hatred’ in what is surely a massive over-reaction against an image that sought to mock Liverpool’s lack of action over racism. Inside the stadium fans reported that both fanzines and t-shirts were confiscated by stewards, although when contacted by Rant, the club insisted that it had not asked the police to seize the fanzines.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public,” said Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts.

“I have taken this cause of action as both items are potentially offensive and we cannot be in a situation where hundreds or thousands of people were displaying offensive images at a football match. The consequences of taking no action could have resulted in public order incidents inside or outside the ground.”

Sadly police took no action against the deeply offensive image of Suárez lauding it inside Old Trafford, or for that matter, broadcast to millions via television.

Tensions were further increased before kick off when Liverpool’s star striker refused to shake Evra’s hand, resulting in an frustrated reaction from the Frenchman, and a counter snub from Rio Ferdinand. Suárez’ refusal came after Liverpool manager Dalglish had promised, on Thursday, that the matter was now behind his errant player and a handshake would take place.

Indeed, the Uruguayan’s deliberate provocation almost brought dividends for the visitors, with Evra flying into a tackle with the striker barely 30 seconds into the game. Referee Dowd was saved a difficult decision when the Frenchman flipped Ferdinand on his heading, missing Suárez in the process. Had the striker’s pre-match snub been as apparent to fans inside the stadium, as it was to those watching on TV, anger may well have spilled over from the pitch and into the stands.

To those watching the Uruguayan’s actions were little more than a premeditated act of insensitivity – another in a long line of indelibly offensive behaviour by the striker. It is also likely to backfire; an act so immature that even Dalglish’s one-eye defiance can hold no water. One wonders what Liverpool owner John Henry, still silent after all these months, must be thinking over in Boston.

“I could not believe it, I just could not believe it,” Ferguson told Sky Sports.

“We had a chat this morning and Patrice said: ‘I’m going to shake his hand, I have nothing to be ashamed of, I’m going to keep my dignity.’ And he [Suárez] refuses. He’s a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club, that certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.

“The history that club’s got and he does that and in a situation like today could have caused a riot. I was really disappointed in that guy, it was terrible what he did. It created a tension, you’ve seen the referee didn’t know what to do about it. It was a terrible start to the game, a terrible atmosphere it created.

“We’ve got to get our house in order in terms of fighting racism. It’s an important issue in this country. Football’s come a long way from the days of John Barnes when they were throwing bananas at him to where we are today. We can’t go back. We have to go forward in a positive way and ban it altogether.”

By half-time opposing players were at each others’ throats as Evra sought to confront Suárez, and those on both sides engaged in what Sky Sports euphemistically called “shenanigans” – it could have been a lot more serious than a few minutes of pushing in the Old Trafford tunnel.

Meanwhile, in the studio Gary Neville and Darren Fletcher clashed with Jamie Redknapp. The former Liverpool player placed blame for the incident on the Football Association’s insistence that the normal pre-match routine take place, while Neville called the striker’s snub “embarrassing”.

Then came the moment United fans hoped for as Wayne Rooney scored twice within five minutes of the re-start to put the Reds in control and top of the Premier League table. With no little drama Suárez bundled in a goal for the visitors, but anything less than victory would have been an injustice for the hosts in a match that United thoroughly dominated.

Once again football seemed the back-drop to a bigger story though. Evra’s joyous victory celebration in front of the Stretford End was just yards from Suárez as the Uruguayan trudged off the pitch, head hung low. Pepe Reina and Martin Skrtel were only prevented from confronting the United captain by the rapid intervention of referee Dowd.

Over to Kenny for an apology? Not likely, as Dalglish once again failed to confront the issue of racism, instead blaming the media for increasing the tension surrounding the match. Laughably, the Liverpool manager also pretended that he was unaware of Suárez’ non-handshake. It is, seemingly, never Liverpool’s fault.

“I never knew he never shook his hand,” claimed the increasingly befuddled Dalglish.

“I’ll take your word for it. But I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I never saw it. That is contrary to what I was told. I think you are very severe and are bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for anything that happened here today. You know something else, when we had the FA Cup tie, because there wasn’t a 24-hour news channel in the build-up to the game, nothing like this happened.”

The striker continued in a similar vein, taking to Twitter to claim that “everything is not as it seems.” Noises coming from the Liverpool dressing room, leaked via the media, suggested that Suárez had not rejected Evra’s hand, but that the Frenchman had withdrawn the offer. There has been a long-line of ludicrous statements emanating from Anfield since October, but this one surely tops them all. It is not, seemingly, ever Liverpool’s fault.

Meanwhile, at GMP headquarters the police continue to hold more than 1,600 copies of Red Issue as “evidence” of a potential offence under the Race Act. It was a day in which football leapt from myopic denial, to the police state, all in one short afternoon.

Red Issue back page

Red Issue back page, via @andersred