August 2005

Novelist faces jail for talking Turkey

Reuters reports that Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk faces up to three years in jail for backing allegations that Armenians suffered genocide at Ottoman Turkish hands 90 years ago, according to his publisher.

A lawsuit has been filed against Orhan Pamuk that could result in a three-year prison sentence, Iletisim Publishing said in a statement faxed to Reuters.

Pamuk made his comments about the Armenians and the Kurds during an interview published on Feb 6, 2005, in Das Magazin, the weekly supplement of Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger.

Thirty thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it, Pamuk was quoted as saying in the interview.

His remarks drew an angry reaction from Turkish nationalists and politicians at the time and the author even received anonymous death threats.

The public prosecutor in Istanbuls Sisli district found Pamuks remarks violated Turkeys newly revised penal code, which deems denigration of the Turkish identity a crime, the publisher of Iletisim, Tugrul Pasaoglu, told Reuters.

Pasaoglu said the first hearing in Pamuks trial was scheduled for December 16.

Hopefully, Ankaras desire to join the EU - which means that it will have to meet European standards on freedom of expression - will outweigh Turkish sensitivies about their past.

Moral panic on the internet

The BBC reports that the UK government is consulting on whether to seek new laws make it illegal to possess or access extreme internet pornography.

The aim is for a new offence of possessing violent and abusive pornography, which could be punishable by up to three years in prison, Home Officer Minister Paul Goggins told BBC Radio 4s Today programme.

Its a proposal that raises a lot more questions than it resolves. So here goes.

Mr Goggins said such images were extremely offensive to the vast majority and had no place in society.

So the first question, of course, must be to ask whether offensiveness is a good reason to ban something. While few people will are keen to defend the free speech of pornographers, and even fewer people are willing to support extreme pornography, it needs to be borne in mind that such a ban sets a precedent that can be extended to all hard porn, soft porn, erotica, titillation, art and beyond.

And the second question is to ask what exactly is extreme pornography. It may sound like a trivial question but, if you are going to ban something then you need to be absolutely clear as top what you are banning and why. So we need a definition.

Should such a definition comprise a list of specific acts - potentially covering images shown outside of a pornographic context - or will it simply ban everything from, for example, Japan.

A Home Office spokeswoman added the proposed law included deliberately viewing such images which meant effectively downloading the information on to the computer.

The new laws would not affect people who came into contact with pornographic material by accident.

So viewing images online is okay, but downloading them is a crime. How big a bus can you drive through that loophole?

These forms of violent and abusive pornography go far beyond what we allow to be shown in films or even sold in licensed sex shops in the UK, so they should not be available online either.

Britain already has some of the most restrictive pornography laws in the West - and they dont seem to be making much, if any, difference. None of the various pro-censorship campaigners has managed to demonstrate a link between violent images and violent acts so the assumption that there is some benefit in banning these things simply doesnt hold water.

Extending the reach of a counterproductive law may appeal to a politicians desire for easy answers, but its not a solution.

Mr Goggins told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: We do feel it necessary to provide some form of protection for the public, particularly for young children increasingly accessing the internet.

It is very important that we protect them from accessing these kinds of extreme pornographic images.

Which is an emotional appeal wheeled out by someone who knows that his arguments arent going to stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

How, exactly, is an unenforceable law going to protect these mythical credit-card wielding children as they hunt for extreme porn? And why should the state be encouraging parents to abdicate their responsibility to protect their own kids?

If we really wanted to ensure childrens safety, surely it is better to educate them as to what sort of activity is and isnt safe - online and anywhere else. Giving certain parts of the net the cachet that comes with forbiddenness isnt going to anyone any favours.

Its Miller Time in Europe

The Independent reports that a number of leading European arts and media figures - including Pedro Almódovar, Gunther Grass, and Kate Adie - have joined forces to appeal to Washington for the release of Judith Miller, the veteran New York Times reporter who yesterday marked her 50th day in prison for refusing to testify in the inquiry into the leaking of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Ms Miller was sent to a federal prison in the Virginia suburbs outside Washington DC on 6 July for refusing to reveal her sources in the case of Ms Plame, whose identity as a CIA agent was revealed to American journalists in 2003, apparently in violation of federal law.

No working member of the US press in recent history has spent more time behind bars than Ms Miller. She has already overtaken William Farr, a reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, who was jailed in 1972 for 46 days for not revealing sources in a criminal case.

Former Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole has also lamented her incarceration and voiced support for a new federal law protecting reporters from legal consequence for protecting sources.

Writers’ Guild revives Anti-Censorship committee

MediaWatchWatch reports that The Writers Guild has revived its Anti-Censorship Committee.

Writers are finding themselves in a very difficult situation, said Lydia Rivlin, Chairman of the new committee. Religious pressure groups have recently started to use increasingly belligerent tactics to stifle expression, as can be seen by the riot which closed down a play in Birmingham in December. The police do not seem to have done very much to pursue the ringleaders and the writer is still in fear for her life.

This phenomenon is by no means confined to ethnic minorities, either. A radical Christian group forced the cancellation of Jerry Springer - The Opera in at least one provincial theatre and has even compelled a charity to return the money donated by its producers. In this atmosphere, the Government intends to push through Parliament the Religious Hatred Bill, which we believe was formulated purely for short-term political gain.

Whatever the reassurances, it will put writers under the threat of causing someone offence and finding themselves in the iniquitous situation of having to prove their innocence. Whether it results in a prosecution or not, the experience will be unpleasant and the tendency will be to avoid it by playing safe. The effect on writing and entertainment and even our ability to exchange ideas could be calamitous. We are calling upon all writers and media workers to join us in resisting this attack on freedom of speech.

The Anti-Censorship Committee was originally founded in the 1960s and then wound up once politicians appeared to have stopped trying to set themselve up as the moral guardians for society at large. It is sad news that The Writers Guild now feels compelled to reopen it.

Taiwan drops anti-AIDS ad

Reuters reports that Taiwan has withdrawn an anti-AIDS campaign ad featuring a smiling nun holding a condom after it sparked an outcry from Roman Catholics.

The poster, which shows the nun holding the condom with both hands and saying Although I dont need one, even I know, had been removed from all condom machines in Taipei hospitals, subway stations and elsewhere.

Clearly the Catholic Church feels that preventing AIDS from spreading through 23 million people is less important than offending the sensibilities of 300,000.

China tries to stop an internet icon

Reuters reports that Beijing is trying to push Chinas latest internet icon - Furong Jiejie, aka Sister Furong - off the web.

Sister Furong started the craze by posting pictures of herself draped back-down over a stone ball, bent at the knees with her chest thrust out suggestively and in other poses on Internet bulletin boards of two top Beijing universities to which she had tried but failed to gain entrance.

The shots, and accompanying captions and passages she wrote proclaiming her own beauty and talent, became a campus sensation.

But when her cult status began to sweep the whole country, Beijing stepped in.

Theyve cracked down on me, Sister Furong, a 28-year-old girl next door whose real name is Shi Hengxia, told Reuters.

In late July, authorities told the countrys top blog host to move Furong-related content to low-profile parts of the site. Her pictures can still be found online, but links to them and chatrooms about her have disappeared from the front pages of major Web portals.

And after blanket coverage earlier this year, newspapers, magazines and television have recently given almost no time to Sister Furong, who originally came from a rural area of central Shaanxi province.

Beijing has worked hard but struggled to extend its heavy-handed control of domestic media to the countrys booming Internet, which is forecast to have 120 million users, second only to the United States, by the end of the year.

The report goes on to mention some of the heavy-handed domestic controls, which include an Internet police force believed responsible for shutting down domestic sites posting politically unacceptable content, blocking some foreign news sites and jailing several people for their online postings.

Bulletin boards operated by some of Chinas most prestigious universities have been barred to outside users, while a number of Internet cafes and online game companies have been shut for allowing users to access pornographic, violent or otherwise off-limits content.

Cities have even reportedly formed teams of undercover online commentators meant to sway public opinion on controversial issues in discussion on Internet chatrooms and bulletin boards.

Despite all of Beijings controls, pockets of free speech still appear online and more and more Chinese are tapping the Internet for information outside of official sources.

However, the Furong Jiejie story is not over yet.

Beijing-based film production company Zongbo Media is betting she has star power.

The company had hired her to star in a series of short films shot on digital video that would be broadcast only online to both appeal to Sister Furongs Internet fan base and slip through loopholes in government Web controls, Zongbo chairman Chen Weiming told Reuters.

People will be able to watch these and see new sides of me and my talent, Furong said.

Media regulators had basically approved the project because they could not determine which rules applied to Internet video broadcasts, Chen said.

And good luck to her.

Ferocious beast bans magazine

The Guardian reports that Egyptian censors have blocked sales of a news magazine that shows on its cover plainclothes security forces preparing to attack pro-democracy demonstrators.

The move comes as the regime of the president, Hosni Mubarak, which has ruled Egypt under a state of emergency for 24 years, is trying to convince the US of its commitment to political reform.

This is the third time in three months that the English-language magazine, Cairo, has run into censorship difficulties.

Earlier issues were blocked temporarily - apparently because of objections to a report about the constitutional referendum last May and a cartoon that portrayed the ruling National Democratic party as a ferocious beast.

They dont really give a reason for their decisions, said the editor, Matthew Carrington. They might just say the person who can give permission [to distribute the magazine] is away or something like that.

According to ophie Redmond of Article 19, the international campaign for free expression, The stifling of Cairo magazine in this way is particularly concerning in the lead-up to the limited presidential elections in September. Restrictions placed on the media in the lead up to elections is a very strong early warning sign, and can be used as an indicator of the fairness of the elections.

They shot my friend, and then they burned him

The Melon Farmers report on the plight of adult video an salesman in Iraq.

The adult video salesman is among many traders caught between two faces of the new Iraq, one liberated from the state censorship of Saddam Hussein, the other gripped by religious zeal, according to a Reuters story. I am scared but what else can I do? I tried lots of other jobs. I worked in a factory, but you just cant make any money in Iraq. Its the only way to support my son.

But like the tens of thousands signing up for the new, US-trained police and army, selling adult videos has become an especially high-risk profession in Iraq, where a religious Shiite-led government swept to power in January, raising fears in some quarters of an Islamic state modeled after Iran.

As Iraqi leaders drafting a constitution this month debate the role of Islam in the state, alarming liberals and womens groups, Abu Mustafa and others complain they live in fear.

He accused the Badr Brigades, the Iranian-trained militia associated with the leading Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, of targeting colleagues in the pornography business and threatening many others. They shot my friend Haider and then they burned him, said Abu Mustafa, who identified himself by a nickname for fear of being identified. They have issued me written death threats in notes telling me to stop selling sex movies.

Land of the not so free TV?

The Melon Farmers report that US TV regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, has added an anti-indecency activist to the staff of a key office, prompting talk that the agency is poised for another crackdown on programming it deems inappropriate for the airwaves.

Penny Young Nance joined the FCC last month as an adviser in its Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. The office helps set an overall agenda for the agency, which regulates broadcasting, telecommunications and other technology.

FCC spokesman David H. Fiske said she is working part time in a post that focuses on consumer and social issues in broadcasting and cable. She will serve as a liaison with Capitol Hill, the industry and other activists, he said.

Nutters praised Nances appointment, but a frequent FCC critic said it smacks of political patronage because positions like the one Mrs. Nance has been given are usually not given to activists. Shes there to give the religious right and the conservative right a voice at the FCC. Its disquieting that someone who is so ideological has a position like this, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer-advocacy group.

Nance has been a vocal critic of racy programming on the airwaves. She once worked as a lobbyist for Concerned Women for America (CWA), a group that describes its mission as working to bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy, and recently stepped down from that organizations board of directors. She also founded the Kids First Coalition, a group that opposes pornography and abortion and has called on the FCC to rein in indecency.

Jerry Springer no longer touring

Media Watch Watch reports on what appears to be some confusion surrounding the UK tour of Jerry Springer: The Opera.

A couple of weeks ago, MWW reported that the Arts Council had withdrawn its offer help fund the UK tour of Jerry Springer: The Opera. After Christian Voice had bullied a third of venues to drop out of the tour. `

Yesterdays Sunday Times finally picked up the same story and noted that the funding body had been accused of bowing to pressure from Christian fundamentalists.

Todays Independent has the same story and quotes producer John Thoday as saying that the Arts Council was giving in to the protests and calling the decision a blow for freedom of speech in the creative arts.

However, The BBC reports that the Arts Council has denied that it refused to the tour over protests by Christian groups. According to this report, the Arts Council had decided not to provide funding as the musical was already a commercial success.

According to the Arts Council,

The money that we distribute to arts organisations is limited and needs to be used carefully to help with the development of other productions.

But according to John Thoday,

We only went to the Arts Council because the tour was not commercial.

It would have been if we had been able to get the full number of venues but a lot of them pulled out because of the letter they received from Christian Voice.

That made the tour uneconomic, but we still wanted to do it because we felt it was important for freedom of speech.

Whatever the reasoning behind the Arts Council decision, it looks like Christian Voice has managed to force Jerry Springer: The Opera is off - certainly by pressuring venues, and possibly by pressuring the Arts Council.