June 2005

In a democracy there is no right not to be offended.

The BBC reports that the UK government has survived a backbench revolt over its plans for a new law to ban the incitement to religious hatred.

An amendment from a coalition of Tory and Lib Dem MPs to block the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill failed by 303 votes to 246, giving a majority of 57.

Critics, including comic actor Rowan Atkinson, say the measure will limit freedom of expression and stop them from telling religious jokes.

Index on Censorship has more on the bill which is now in the committee stage where Home Secretary, Charles Clarke claims that the bills critics will be able to voice their concerns about the threat to free expression posed by the bill - although I didnt notice any commitment to actually take these concerns into account.

The article goes on to outline why this is such a dangerous piece of legislation

The Bill contains no definition of religious belief and the government has conceded that it would cover members of the African religion whose adherents were convicted in June of cruelty to a girl of eight they believed was a witch.

Some interpretations of the bill suggest that the fact that the accused person did not intend to stir up hatred would not be a defence, even if there was only a ‘likelihood’ that their actions would provoke hatred of religious groups. The uncertainty surrounding the law’s reach would have a ‘chilling effect’ on free comment about religious groups and their practises, say some legal experts.

This bill is badly thought out, badly drafted and was dreamt up by Labour primarily to try and win over Muslim voters after Blairs little adventure in Iraq.

Meaningless ratings

According to The BBC, parents are tending to ignore age warnings on video games.

A study commissioned by the UK games industry found that parents let children play games for adults, even though they knew they were 18-rated.

Most parents think their child is mature enough so that these games will not influence them, Modulum researcher Jurgen Freund told a games conference.

The report reflects concerns about children playing violent video games.

The report goes on to point out that the average age of gamers is rising and to quote various industry figures discussing how to ensure parents aware of the age ratings of games.

On the other hand

Maybe most parents are confident that their children do understand the difference between reality and fantasy.

Maybe theyre right.

Maybe the current concern about violent video games is no more than the latest manifestation of a desire to blame whatever is new for the downfall of civilisation - as has been the case for videos, television, comics going right back to the printing press, if not further.

Maybe the powers that be would find their time more productively used if they actually tried to address social problems - and the perception of social problems - rather than simply looking for the next available scapegoat.

How religious tolerance works

From The Melon Farmers:

A Khartoum court on Saturday suspended a newspaper for three months for publishing an article last month considered by Muslims to be blasphemous, the official Sudan News Agency reported.

The Al-Wifaq daily was also fined 8,000,000 Sudanese pounds (about $3,200) for the outcry it prompted in this conservative African Muslim nation when it republished an article from the Internet that questioned the parentage of Islams Prophet Muhammad.

Editor Mohamed Taha Mohamed Ahmed apologized in a letter to the press, saying he did not intend to insult the prophet. The article angered Muslims of different sects, some showed customary tolerance and demanded Ahmeds execution. Ahmed himself was cleared of blasphemy charges, but he remains in detention for violating a previous three day suspension order and ignoring another ruling banning the media from writing about the case.

The government had held the trial behind closed doors and banned media coverage. Some observers said the verdict was lenient in Sudan, where blasphemy and insulting Islam can invoke the death penalty. The government has ruled by Islamic Sharia law since 1983.

SUNA reported that the plaintiffs who spearheaded the campaign against Ahmed, a group representing not so tolerant Muslim scholars, said they would appeal the verdict.

Geordies lose their sense of humour

The Guardian reports on an attempt by Newcastle councillors to make comedians sign a contract agreeing to avoid jokes which might offend minorities following an attempt by public sector union, UNISON, to get Roy Chubby Brown banned from playing the City Hall, where he has appeared regularly for 20 years.

The issue was passed by the council to its equalities board which has recommended the council bans from its venues acts contrary to the councils visions, values and social inclusion agenda, and which conflict with its community leadership role.

So anyone who wants to question, challenge or parody any of the councils visions, values or agenda will not be permitted from doing so at any council ouned venues. That must make for some incredibly dull debates.

Russians call for freedom of expression

Index on Censorship reports that a broad range of Russian political parties are calling for an end to censorship of the states TV and radio.

Launched on 16 June, the new committee says that the Kremlin is effectively censoring Russian national TV and radio by excluding them from debates. The broad coalition of political parties and civic organizations range from the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, whose symbol is a hammer-and-sickle variation of the Nazi swastika to the pro-Western liberal political intelligentsia, such as Grigorii Yavlinskii. The Communists, the Motherland party, the Party of Pensioners have joined; the Motherland partys youth wing, the (National Bolshevik) Limonovites, the Union of Rightist Forces, and Khakamadas Our Choice, in addition to a lot of human rights organisations, the Union of Journalists - all of these groups have joined, Yavlinskiis press secretary Yevgeniya Dillendorf told RFE/RL.

The Russian Committee on Defending Freedom of Expression is calling on President Vladimir Putin to restore open political debates and live programmes to the Federation’s state broadcast networks.

The New Blacklist

The Christian right has launched a series of boycotts and pressure campaigns aimed at corporate America and at its sponsorship of entertainment, programs and activities they dont like.

Unless Hollywood, and the entertainment and broadcast industries, all want to live through an epoch of increasing content blackmail and blacklists, the wealthy folks who make a lot of money from those industries better wake up and start funding intensive and systematic research on the Christian right and its censorship crusades against sexual subversion and sin in the creative arts or soon it will be too late, and the theocratic oligopoly of which Martin Kaplan speaks will be so firmly established it cannot be dislodged.

Read the full story here

(via Normblog)

Comics go to court again

Index on Censorship reports that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is backing a legal challenge to charges brought against a US shopkeeper who accidently allowed a child to be given a copy of a comic book featuring a nude picture of Pablo Picasso.

Gordon Lee, owner of the Legends comic book retailer in Rome, Georgia, faces seven charges for allegedly accidentally handing over a copy of Alternative Comics #2 to a minor during a Halloween promotional giveway. The parents complained to the police and Lee was arrested. The comic includes a story called The Salon by Nick Bertozzi, an account of Picassos first meeting with painter Georges Braque, which included a segment depicting Picasso in the nude.

Another week, another ludicrous charge involving comics. And just so you can see what all the fuss is about, the offending image is pictured below.

No controversy please, were Canadian

Index on censorship reports that Authorities in Côte Saint-Luc, Montreal have ordered the removal of five photographs of the Palestinian intifada from a public library exhibition of 23 of murdered photographer Zahra Kazemi’s works after complaints that it was too sympathetic to the Palestinian uprising.

The exhibition was then shut down after Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi made a stnd by insisting that the borough either display all the photos or none of them.

Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Robert Libman told CBC News that the though the June 2005 exhibition had been commissioned to promote efforts to uncover the full truth about the death of Kazemi, murdered in an Iranian jail in Tehran in July 2003, he said that the library should not provoke controversy.

And on that basis, you could probably remove pretty much the entire contents of any library.

A strange idea of honour

Index on Censorship reports that Afghan police believe that murdered TV host, Shaima Reyazee may have been the victim of a so-called ‘honour killing’ – murdered by members of her family in response to the perceived shame they thought she had brought on them.

Reyazee had been the female host of a popular Afghan pop video music programme called Hop, broadcast on the private Tolo TV station. When conservative Muslim scholars accused the network of broadcasting programs that were anti-Islamic, Reyazee was fired in March. She was shot dead in her home on 18 May. Her friends said she knew her life was in danger. Masuda Sultan, a member of the NGO Women for Afghan Women told Voice of America: Shaima was taking a huge risk. Afghanistan is still a conservative society and there were people who had problems with what she was doing.

Now go read this.

Microsoft censors Chinese blogs

According to The BBC, Chinese bloggers posting their thoughts via Microsofts net service face restrictions on what they can write.

Weblog entries on some parts of Microsofts MSN site in China using words such as freedom, democracy and demonstration are being blocked.

Also being restricted on the free parts of the site are journal entries that mention human rights and Taiwan independence.

Those using these banned words or writing entries that are pornographic or contain sensitive information get a pop-up warning that reads: This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression.

According to Reporters Without Borders

The lack of ethics on the part of [Microsoft and Yahoo] is extremely worrying. Their management frequently justifies collaboration with Chinese censorship by saying that all they are doing is obeying local legislation.

We believe that this argument does not hold water and that these multinationals must respect certain basic ethical principles, in whatever country they are operating.