October 2005

When is a watershed not a watershed?

Doctor Feelgood has found this story over at the Melon Farmers:

Ofcom has beaten the BBC in a 14-month tussle over the post-watershed screening of Quentin Tarantinos movie Pulp Fiction.

The media regulator decided that 9.10pm on BBC2 was too early to begin transmission of Pulp Fiction, even though this was after the 9pm watershed, because of the seriously offensive language, graphic violence and drug abuse that occur in the first 20 minutes of the film.

So lets take this bit by bit, shall we?

Pulp Fiction, a film that you really do have to try hard to confuse with any other, was shown after the 9:00pm watershed - the time when family viewing is, by general consensus, over - and on BBC2, the BBCs minority interest channel.

Which all sounds reasonable enough to me. However

[Ofcom] agreed with nine viewers who had complained and ruled that the broadcast, on August 7 last year, had breached its programme code on the scheduling of films with strong, adult content.

Nine viewers.

Nine people out of however many thousand that watched the film didnt understand what watershed means and Ofcom agreed with them. This is absolutely ridiculous.

Ofcom have effectively decided that the watershed is now a moving target that can be adjusted on the whim of whatever idiot crawls out from his cave and finds a TV set. The result, of course, will be that programming for adults will be forced to start later and finish earlier until it ceases to exist.

Removing the rot?

MediaWatchWatch has picked up this story from the BBC on the much maligned government proposals for new religious hatred laws.

Comic actor Rowan Atkinson and former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey joined forces with a cross-party group of peers to propose new safeguards.

They say the government will not scrap the planned legislation and so are demanding changes.

And the changes are:

Nobody can be found guilty of new religious hate crimes unless it is proved they intended to stir up hatred

Only threatening words should be banned by the bill, not those which are only abusive or insulting

There should be a specific part of the bill saying the law should not restrict discussion, criticism of expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or beliefs.

According to Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Lester, since the government is determined to push through the legislation regardless, the amendments are being proposed to try and take the rot out of a rotten bill.

Death threats in Denmark

Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten has found itself on the recieving end of some violent threats following the publication of some cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which they called for after a a writer complained that nobody dared illustrate his book about Muhammad.

Twelve illustrators heeded the newspapers call, and sent in cartoons of the prophet, which were published in the newspaper earlier this month.

But some Muslims werent happy:

Death threats have forced daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten to hire security guards to protect its employees, after printing twelve cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed.

The same day as the newspaper published the cartoons, it received a threatening telephone call against one of the twelve illustrators, as the caller said. Shortly afterwards, police arrested a 17-year-old, who admitted to phoning in the threat.

Since then, journalists and editors alike have received threats by email and the telephone. The newspaper told its staff to remain alert, but then decided to hire security guards to protect its Copenhagen office.

Muslim organisations have demanded an apology but the newspapers editor-in-chief, Carsten Juste, has - quite rightly - rejected the idea, pointing out that the cartoons had been a journalistic project aimed at finding out how many cartoonists would refrain from drawing the prophet out of fear.

We live in a democracy, he said. Thats why we can use all the journalistic methods we want to. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldnt set any barriers on that sort of expression. This doesnt mean that we wish to insult any Muslims.

And then someone decided to turn things up a notch:

Bombs exploding over pictures of Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and blood flowing over the national flag and a map of Denmark are among the images circulating on the internet after the newspaper printed twelve cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed last month.

Daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende reported that the internet collages, posted in the name of an unknown organisation calling itself The Glory Brigades in Northern Europe, showed pictures of various tourist attractions in Denmark and stated that The Mujahedeen have numerous targets in Denmark - very soon you all will regret this, amongst other things.

Another picture showed soldiers, armed with bombs, over a map of Denmark, with blood spattered over parts of the country.

The front page of Jyllands-Posten featured prominently on many of the four collages. The newspaper has been criticised by Muslims for printing the cartoons, and was forced to hire security guards after receiving hate mail and death threats over the telephone.

It may turn out that these threats are nothing more than some teenager with a copy of Photoshop - and I hope they do - but, as terrorism researcher Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen from the Danish Institute of International Studies warns, its not an assumption that we can safely make:

We know that the internet is used both for propaganda and for actual terrorism instructions. It makes it more difficult for intelligence agencies to identify potential terrorists, because the internet reduces their need for physically passing through countrys borders in the recruitment and training process, she said.

Søren Hove, another terrorism researcher, points out that although the threats are anonymous and less florid with Koran quotes than earlier Islamist rantings, the message displayed in the collages was so threatening that it should be investigated by the police.

Update: Thanks to MediaWatchWatch for finding the cartoons online.

A pointless arrest in preparation for a pointless law

MediaWatchWatch reports that a teenager has been sentenced to 80 hours community service for wearing a T-shirt.


Adam Shepherd, 19, was convicted under new anti-hate laws which ban people from displaying religiously insulting signs. The teenager was arrested after a woman complained to police when she saw his shirt, which promotes extreme heavy metal band Cradle of Filth. The T-shirt shows a picture of a nun in a pornographic pose. On the back is a comment about Jesus.

The euphamistic comment about Jesus is Jesus is a Cunt.

As MWW points out, Adam cant have been prosecuted under the new anti-hate laws because they havent been passed. So, although this teenager may lack taste (now theres a surprise!), does wearing a t-shirt really make him a criminal?

Apparently so

Feb 1, 2005, Dale Wilson, 35, of Norwich, was arrested by two police officers as he walked to the newsagents on Halloween ‘04. He pleaded guilty to “religiously aggravated offensive conduct”. He was eventually discharged and told to “grow up”. He paid £150 costs, and the judge ordered that the T-shirt be destroyed.

Back in ‘97, Rob Kenyon, 29, of London was found guilty of committing the offence of “Profane Representation under the 1839 Act” by Bow Street Magistrates Court. He was fined £150.

And several other people have found themselves in trouble over the shirt, the details of which can be found via MWW.

Two thoughts spring to mind regarding this. Firstly, is going around arresting teenagers with dubious sartorial style really a good use of police time? Secondly, if someone can already be convicted for causing religious offence, why is the government so determined to force through another law that says the same?

Scientologists sue over Tom Cruise

Tom and Katie Cinematical reports that the Church of Scientology are bringing their hurt feelings to bear against a ScienTOMogy - a website that parodies Tom Cruise’s increasingly bizarre behaviour.

The New Zealand based site has been served with a cease-and-desist letter threatening lawsuits of up to US$100,000 if the domain name ownership is not transferred.

Although the site starts with a disclaimer (Obviously this website has ABSOLUTELY NO connection whatsoever with the Church of Scientology, its affiliated organizations or, needless-to-say, Tom Cruise. It is designed for commentary and criticism within the limits of Free Speech. All content should be treated as opinion and all trademarks/copyrighted material herein are owned by their respective trademark owners. ) the Scientology lawyers are claiming that the word ScienTOMogy is a trademark violation.

This is not the first time that the Church of Scientology have tried to gag its critics. It previously made headlines when it used the USs Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove www.xenu.net, a site critical of Scientology, from Googles listings. In the past the church has been accused of suing all those who oppose their views rightly or wrongly simply as nuisance suits aimed at eventually driving the critic into silence.

And, on the subject of nuisance

Apart from Avas numerous emails and faxes about their trademark claims re http://www.scientomogy.info (which I do not consider harassment), it seems the local chapter of the Co$ has decided to begin a non stop barrage of phone calls, emails, and visits to my home - at any hour day or night.

The phone calls are always from a prepaid cellular phone and theyve used plenty of different numbers, normally at night from 8pm till midnight. The first few I was stupid enough to answer but now they just call and call and call. When I did speak to a church member here in Auckland he kept insisting over and over that we meet to talk about my vendetta with the church I explained that my site is about Mr Cruise not the church and that was extremely clear - and all correspondence was to be through my lawyers and Ava - there was nothing else to say.

Then the visits to my home started. Now I have security cameras stationed at my front door and driveway entrance so I have never answered the door and therefore cannot be certain it is the church but they have my home address and in 8 months of living here never had unsolicited callers - especially almost daily!

Though when I do meet these guys at least Ill know them from the footage! Interesting thing is Last census showed only approx. 200 Scientologists in the whole of NZ!! So, I wonder whats next???

Keep watching the T-shirts!

Another American story, this time from the Daily Telegraph which reports on a woman who was thrown off an American airliner for wearing a T-shirt.

Lorrie Heasley, 32, boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in Los Angeles wearing a T-shirt with a design including the images of President George W Bush, Dick Cheney, the Vice President, and Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, above an obscene variation on the title of the hit comedy film Meet the Fockers.

When the plane made a scheduled stop in Reno, Nevada, passengers joining the flight complained to cabin crew. Ms Heasley, who was accompanied by her husband Ron, was asked to wear her top inside out, but she refused and was ejected.

I just thought it was hilarious, said Ms Heasley yesterday. I have cousins in Iraq and other relatives going to war.

Here we are trying to free another country, and I have to get off an airplane. . . over a T-shirt. Thats not freedom.

According to Marilee McInnis, of Southwest Airlines, the airlines rules do allow them to deny boarding to anyone whose clothing was lewd, obscene or patently offensive. Which would be fair enough if it wasnt for the fact that when Ms Heasley boarded the plane, no-one complained.

Ms Heasley, who was flying home from Disneyland, ended up defending herself by phone to a combative television presenter from Fox News.

He told me I was selfish, I didnt respect people, I was stupid and I didnt like children, Ms Heasley said. All I did was wear a T-shirt.

Sounds like the Fox News presenter doesnt get out much.

Abandoning freedom

The Melon Farmers report that erotic fiction site, Red Rose Stories has been shut down by the FBI.

According to the announcement on the site:

I am sorry to inform all interested parties that Red Rose Stories is a DEAD site.

The FBI has suceeded in closing me down.

I am being charged with OBSCENITIES and face charges for having posted fantasy stories.

They are trying to say fantasy stories are illegal.

The men in black (FBI) took ALL of my computer equipment, and many of my diskettes, and have access to ALL my files and site information. They came when I was NOT home and seized my belongings, I had no choice, and no recourse.

I am terribly sorry for the trouble, and for you subscribers, I am DEEPLY sorry, for I can not do anything to refund your monies to you, as the FBI has everything connected to the site.

Im sure none of you want to ask the feds for a refund, but if you do, call the Pittsburgh FBI office.

Once again, I am deeply sorry that the site must come down.

Chat WILL remain, as will some parts of the forum.

However, please do not post anything of a sexual, or political nature in the forum.

The men in black are watching, and with the patriot act, who knows what they may find threatening now days.

YOU dont want them knocking on your door.

Its porn, Jim. But not as we know it

The Hollywood Reporter reports on a quiet widening of the scope of a new American Government Bill that would put many Hollywood movies in the same category as hard-core pornography.

The provision added to the Childrens Safety Act of 2005 would require any film, TV show or digital image that contains a sex scene to come under the same government filing requirements that adult films must meet.

Currently, any filmed sexual activity requires an affidavit that lists the names and ages of the actors who engage in the act. The film is required to have a video label that claims compliance with the law and lists where the custodian of the records can be found. The record-keeping requirement is known as Section 2257, for its citation in federal law. Violators could spend five years in jail.

Under the provision inserted into the Childrens Safety Act, the definition of sexual activity is expanded to include simulated sex acts like those that appear in many movies and TV shows.

Not surprisingly, the film industry isnt happy about this significant and unprecedented expansion of the scope of the law which could have ramifications beyond simply requiring someone to ensure that the names and ages of actors who partake in pretend lovemaking. Compliance with Section 2257 in effect defines a movie or TV show as a pornographic work under federal law.

The provision was written by Republican congressman, Mike Pence who claims that it will somehow crack down on child pornographers, specifically so-called ‘home pornographers’ who create illegal child pornography using their home computers.

However, according to industry officials, the provision is written so vaguely that a sex scene could trigger the provision even if the actors were clothed.

Industry executives worry that the provision, which is retroactive to 1995, will have a chilling effect on filmmakers. Faced with the choice of filing a 2257 certificate or editing out a scene, a filmmaker might decide its not worth getting entangled with the federal government and let the scene fall to the cutting-room floor, the executives said.

From the creative side of the street, theres concern that the government of federal law enforcement would get involved in what you were doing, one industry source said. At some point, people would be faced with the decision: Do I include the scene and register a 2257 or leave it out?

In 1988, a similar provision was ruled unconstitutional by the federal court here. Congress later rewrote it so that it included only actual sex acts, not the pretend acts in movies and TV shows.

The 2257 provision also has financial ramifications as a federal tax provision designed to stem runaway production is unavailable to anyone required to register a 2257. This also applies to many state incentives designed to entice filmmakers to shoot on location.

And, as is so often the case with laws of this nature, it is both unnecessary and ineffective. California laws and industry practices protecting children from harm are already among the most stringent and this law will do little - if anything to stem child sex abuse.

Guys who are making this stuff dont care about reporting requirements, one source said. When theyre caught, theyre looking at 30 years in prison. Theres no indication theyre going to fill out the paperwork.

Turkey sentences Armenian writer

The BBC reports that a journalist in Turkey - the editor of a bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper, Agos - has been found guilty of insulting Turkish identity and given a suspended six-month jail sentence by a court in Istanbul.

Hrant Dink, of Armenian-Turkish descent, wrote a newspaper column which he argued was aimed at improving relations between Turkey and Armenia.

The prosecution interpreted one part as an insult, but Mr Dink has said he will appeal against the ruling.

The verdict follows changes to the criminal code which, ironically, were intended to improve freedom of speech in Turkey in pursuit of the countrys aim of joining the EU.

The article in question addressed the killings of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during Ottoman rule in 1917 which the Armenians - supported by several countries - want Turkey to recognise as genocide.

Mr Dinks lawyer Fethiye Cetin said the ruling showed how little had changed under Turkeys new criminal code, despite international and internal pressure.

There was no crime here, she told the BBC. We expected our client to get off.

Our correspondent says human rights lawyers believe his case shows there are still no-go areas for discussion here and the new laws leave substantial room for interpretation.

Mr Dink says he will appeal against the ruling. But if he cannot clear his name, he will leave the country.

If Im guilty of insulting a nation, he told the BBC, then its a matter of honour not to live here.

Russian Roe Row

The Independent reports that one of Russias leading modern art galleries has been forced to remove a stylised icon of the Virgin Mary fashioned from black caviar after the Russian Orthodox Church complained it incited religious hatred.

The work of art, Icon-caviar, was created by a Russian émigré artist called Alexander Kosolapov who specialises in unlikely juxtaposition and draws much of his inspiration from the late Andy Warhol. It depicts an outline figure of the Virgin Mary and a baby Jesus hewn entirely from caviar within a gold icon frame and was displayed in Moscows Tretyakov Gallery as part of an exhibition called Russian Pop Art. The museums director, Valentin Rodionov, decided it was safer to take it down after he received a warning letter from a group of Orthodox believers.

The letter bore the signatures of at least 50 churchgoers and priests, who argued that the artwork violated their constitutional rights. They demanded the museum take appropriate measures and vowed to take their own measures if they did not get their way.

The gallery has given in to the threat of appropriate measures as Orthodox believers have a history of vandalising artworks that they decide to get offended by.