July 2005

Underhanded Christians try to censor the Wikipedia

If you havent heard of it before, the Wikipedia is a free, open content encyclopaedia which allows any entry to be edited by its user base. While this means that it can take advantage of the wide range of knowledge that the sites users can bring, it also leaves it open to abuse, such as has happened in the case of the entry for Brian Flemmings The God Who Wasnt there.

In this case, someone has tried to delete the entry for this film - as well as the one for the Atheists of Silicon Valley, which suggests that the user in question has an axe to grind, rather than a genuine objection to the accuracy of the articles in question.

However, marking something for deletion doesnt automatically delete it. Instead, the request goes up for a vote.

At present, there are 13 votes - unanimously in favour of keeping the article - but Im still going to suggest that you might want to head over and add your voice to prevent this sort of underhanded censorship attempt from gaining ground.

(via Brian Flemming)

A pointless law that does more harm than good

MediaWatchWatch has found this letter in The Muslim News from Neil Addison on the proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred Law

Sir, In your editorial comment on the proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred Law you said “Sir, John Stevens, said in October 2001, that he sent hate mails received by Muslims after September 11, to the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) to see if prosecutions can be brought against them. When challenged by The Muslim News that as the CPS will not be able to prosecute the cases as incitement to religious hatred was legal, he acknowledged that there was a need for the outlawing of incitement to religious hatred.”

Can I just point out that the sending of “Hate mail” is already a crime contrary to s1 Malicious Communications Act 1988. If more than one piece of “hate mail” is sent then it is a crime contrary to s2 Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and if religiously aggravated ie inspired by religious hatred there is a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment.

You also accuse Liberal and Conservative MPs and the media of whipping up “ an atmosphere of revulsion by effectively putting Satanists, witches and even child molesters on a par with the protection of Muslims”.

Can I just point out that even the Government itself has accepted that Witchcraft and Satanism will be regarded as a “religion or belief” for the purpose of this legislation

Part of the problem with this entire debate on the Religious Hatred law is that nobody who supports the Bill has come up yet with an example of behaviour which should be prosecuted but which is not already a criminal offence. If anyone can give me such an example I would be glad to hear it

Neil Addison (Barrister)

I know Ive said it before, but this bill is badly thought out, badly drafted and was dreamt up by Labour primarily to try and win over Muslim voters following the fall in Labours support after the Iraq war. As it stands, it is creating false and unrealistic expectations in some sections of the community which - when the inacuracy of these beliefs becomes apparent - will cause far more harm than any imagined benefit.

And, at this point, I will leave the final word to Polly Toynbee

The irony is that those spending most time in the courts will be the religious themselves. A similar law in Australia brought a burst of litigation and demands for arrests from one bunch of fundamentalists against another. Hate-filled evangelicals were creeping into mosques to take notes on imams hate sermons. So extreme Jews, Muslims, Hindus, papists and Paisleyites will all challenge each others fiery thought crimes while the Bible and the Quran incite enough religious hatred to be banned outright.

Festival comics will defy religious gag

The Observer reports that visitors to this years Edinburgh Festival can expect frequent outburts of blasphemy - all in defiance of the Governments much maligned Religious Hatred bill.

The list of cabaret acts appearing across the citys hundreds of fringe venues next month is littered with provocatively titled shows and many top comedians have declared their intention to flout new legislation which will outlaw incitement to religious hatred. The law, which now looks likely to be on the statute books early next year, is seen as a threat to the right of writers and performers to attack organised religions.

Among those planning to use the festival test the workability of the bill are Stewart Lee, co-creator of Jerry Springer: The Opera; Sikh comedian Paul Chowdhry and Noel Faulkner, the comedian who runs the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch, east London.

Other comedians at the festival are not planning to explicitly flout the law, but do intend to continue telling religious jokes - such as Danish Muslim, Omar Marzouk.

He says: Muslims should be more active in the fight against terrorism. Why doesnt anybody use us? For example, to prevent suicide bombings on London buses, just have a Muslim with a fake explosive belt on every bus, so when a real bomber gets on, hell go - Oh, this ones already taken.

Mysteriously banned in Australia

The Melon Farmers report that Mysterious Skin, a film by US director, Gregg Araki about two damaged young men who were abused by their sports coach, may be banned from Australian cinemas.

In its majority decision, the Office of Film and Literature Classification said the films child-abuse theme was presented in discreet visuals and is justified by context.

But Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has ordered a review of the R rating after a request from his South Australian counterpart, Michael Atkinson.

In a letter to Ruddock, Atkinson said: The guidelines for the classification of films say that films and computer games will be refused classification if they contain depictions or descriptions of child sexual abuse. The boards report makes clear that this film includes just that.

Gregg Araki has said that he is stunned the movie may be banned in Australia, given that it has already opened in several countries with no incident and no problem with censorship.

The Classification Review Board hearing has been set for August 1st. In the UK the film is uncut and rated 18.

Journalist faces jail for insulting Turkish identity

Index on Censorship reports that Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink faces three years in jail for insulting Turkish identity

The accusations came after his article Getting to know Armenia was published in February 2004 in the Turkish-Armenian bilingual weekly Agos, which he runs. Dink claims that his call to readers that they symbolically reject the adulterated part of their Turkish blood was misinterpreted and taken out of context, and was never meant to cause offence to Turkish citizens. His trial began on 7 July. Press freedom organisations are concerned that the Turkish criminal code does not allow journalists to discuss sensitive issues, such as the genocide of Armenians in 1912 or the future withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus.

Wal-Mart censors Willie Nelson

Index on Censorship reports that 72-year-old country singer Willie Nelson has been forced to change the cover of his long-awaited reggae album, Countryman by Wal-Mart.

The regular cover (left), which features marijuana leaves, was replaced by a palm tree, in order to satisfy the retailer’s strict rules regarding packaging and lyrics. Critics have charged that as the nations largest music retailer - it tallies more than $52 million in music sales - Wal-Mart has the power to persuade artists to edit content. In the past it has refused to stock albums by artists such as Sheryl Crow and The Prodigy.

The end of linky goodness?

According to the BBC, the operator of an Australian website which provided links to pirated material has been found guilty of copyright infringement. His internet service provider was also found liable.

The ruling means that linking to sites with pirated material, and not just downloading it, is an infringement of copyright in Australia.

First of all, Im not about to suddenly start defending music piracy. For any form of entertainment, if its worth paying for pay for it, otherwise do without.

However, this ruling does have some concerning implications in that it is impossible for a webmaster to know exactly what is on every site he links to - now or going forward. This is even more true for ISPs.

So how - apart from never linking to any external site - can a webmaster avoid falling foul of this ruling?

A government sponsored bear pit for religious extremists

Also writing about the governments Religious Hatred bill in Index on Censorship, Rohan Jayasekera points to the wilful naivety of the framers of this law.

It also thinks it comes cheap. The Home Office expects to see fewer than two or three cases of incitement to religious hatred brought before the courts a year. Only 67 people have been tried, and 44 convicted, under 19-year-old legislation banning incitement of racial hatred in Britain. The government expects a sister law covering religious hate to be equally lightly applied.

But this calculation underestimates the religiously driven in Britain, their organisation, the focus for protest provided by the court option and the political fallout from a refusal to prosecute, let alone a failure to convict defendants in high profile cases.

Calls to prosecute the blasphemous will become rallying cries. Religious extremists will lead, fired not by fear of violence or threat of crime, but by the desire to bring their apostates and critics to court to be punished and silenced.

Its a known condition. Former Indian Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee SC warns that criminal laws prohibiting hate speech and expression encourage intolerance, divisiveness and unreasonable interference with freedom of expression.

Fundamentalist Christians, religious Muslims and devout Hindus would then seek to invoke the criminal machinery against each other’s religion, tenets or practices, he has said. That is what is increasingly happening today in India. We need not more repressive laws but more free speech to combat bigotry and to promote tolerance.”

Go read the whole thing

Easier ways to crack a nut

Writing in Index on Censorship, Lord Anthony Lester argues that modifying existing law to tackle those who use religion as a proxy for race is a better alternative to a new law criminalizing religious hatred. He also highlights the confusion at the heart of this law

New Labour’s plans for a law to prohibit incitement to religious hatred suffer from the twin vices of vagueness and uncertainty and over-breadth and a lack of proportion. Ministers have claimed that, “the proposed measure is not an extension of the law on blasphemy – it is about protecting people – not beliefs.”

But Ministers acknowledge that there is an, “understandable tendency to link the two” and that the public debate has, “led to some unrealistic expectations.”

So Mr Blunkett, the original Home Office architect of the proposals, believes that the offences are designed to protect beliefs rather than groups of people against what he terms “untruths”. In a similar vein, in a Commons debate, Mr Khalid Mahmood MP was apparently under the impression that the new offences would enable Salman Rushdie to be prosecuted for publishing his novel The Satanic Verses for stirring up religious hatred against beliefs as a statutory extension of blasphemy law.

And ponts to a fairer and more effective alternative

I support a declaratory amendment to Part III of the Public Order Act 1986 to make clear that, where what is ostensibly an attack on a group of persons by reference to their religion or belief is in fact an attack on them because of their ethnicity, the offence of inciting racial hatred is committed.

nstead of sweepingly broad new offences of stirring up religious hatred, we need a carefully tailored provision that makes it clear that all “racial groups”, including those who also belong to religious groups, are equally protected when hatred is stirred up against them because of their ethnicity.

And an immediate solution

There are formidable weapons in the existing criminal code to tackle verbal and physical attacks whether against or by racial and religious groups.

(Including, for example, the ugly violent demonstrations by Sikh militants in December 2004 against the showing by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre of Gurpreet Kaur Bhaitti’s play Behzti resulting in the closure of the production. Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti was forced to live in hiding for a while, on police advice. No one has been prosecuted for the serious offences that were committed.)

We need not new laws but the effective enforcement of existing laws by the police and prosecutors.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Daddy has no sense of humour

The Guardian reports that humourless former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, is planning to send (or has sent, given the time of this post) a team of lawyers to the opening night of Whos the Daddy, a satirical farce based on the David Blunkett affair - or David Blunketts affair, depending on how you look at it.

The ribald comedy is based on events last autumn when the magazine became the unlikely fulcrum for a series of newspaper scandals, including that which led to Mr Blunketts departure from the cabinet, one involving the Spectator editor Boris Johnson and another involving the magazines columnist Rod Liddle.

Mr Blunketts affair with the publisher Kimberly Quinn led to his resignation after he was alleged to have fast-tracked a visa application for her nanny.

But lawyers from Bindman and Partners will be in the audience. They are threatening to stop the play on the basis that it breaches the right to privacy of Mr Blunketts child with Ms Quinn and infringes his right to a family life under the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Although, if I remeber correctly, it was Blunkett who dragged the whole sorry mess into the public eye in the first place. So its a bit late to change his mind now.

Toby Young, one of the Spectators theatre critics and a co-writer of the play has claimed that Blunketts laywers wanted to sit down with the writers to ensure that the script did not give Mr Blunkett cause to sue - effectively demanding a veto.

This offer wasnt taken up and, according to Young

In a free and democratic society, politicians need to take this sort of thing on the chin. Blunkett needs to get himself a sense of humour.

The Guardian notes that Channel 4 was also contacted about its forthcoming satirical docu-drama, A Very Social Secretary.