December 2005

Turkey to prosecute MEP?

The BBC reports that, not content with prosecuting their own writers and publishers, Turkish prosecutors are now considering bringing a case against a Dutch MEP.

Speaking to journalists outside the trial in Istanbul of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, who is charged with insulting his nations identity, Joost Lagendijk allegedly said that Turkish troops were provoking clashes with Kurdish separatists.

Mr Lagendijk, a Dutch MEP who co-chairs the EU parliament committee on Turkey, was part of a delegation attending the Pamuk hearing.

The prosecution will investigate whether Mr Lagendijk infringed laws that punish insults to Turkish national identity, the republic and state institutions and organs.

The lawyers who filed the complaint want the MEP to be prosecuted under the same article used against Mr Pamuk, which makes insulting the military punishable by up to two years in prison.

In other Pamuk news, CBC reports that the writer will not be facing charges over an interview with German newspaper, Die Welt in which he said that Turkeys military was sometimes a threat to democracy.

State news agency Anatolia said prosecutors looked into the case and decided not to pursue it. However, a group of nationalist lawyers who had asked the prosecutors to investigate Pamuks remarks plan to appeal that decision, Anatolia said.

The military has not commented on Pamuks comments. Many Turks see the army as the guarantor of the countrys secular order, though it has ousted several democratically elected governments in recent decades, most recently in 1997.

The trial over his comments about the massacre of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 is currently adjourned, but reopens on February 7th.

A hopefully positive note at the end of the CBC report suggests that these charges may be dropped.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that the Justice Ministry has the final word on whether to allow the trial to go ahead.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to remove all barriers to free speech in Turkey. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said the government may need to change Article 301, which has been used to prosecute scores of writers, journalists and academics.

The EU is threatening to suspend Turkeys entry talks to its trading bloc, saying Turkey must improve civil liberties.

Hürriyet also notes that Turkish Justice Minister, Cemil Cicek, has called for “democratic patience” for debates over Articles 301 and 305 of the new Turkish Penal Code - the basis of the Pamuk trial and others.

Sensitive Americans abhor dialogue

Gwyneth Leech: Stations of the Cross Artist Gwyneth Leech, writing for Index on Censorship on the reaction to her re-imagined 14 Stations of the Cross which was commissioned by a Connecticut church.

On June 25th, New Yorks Governor Pataki pronounced categorically that no America-bashing would be tolerated at Ground Zero and called on the Drawing Center to give assurances that it would comply. The Drawing Center responded by reaffirming commitment to its mission statement: To demonstrate the significance and diversity of drawings throughout history; and to stimulate public dialogue on the issues of art and culture. They then began quietly to seek out another location and have now abandoned a move to the World Trade Center site.

If these reactions and the attacks on the Drawing Center become an entrenched cultural trend, it should be of the utmost concern to all artists. Making new connections is the very heart of art-making. Should we censor our own work to avoid offending those who do not like the connections we make?

When did it become anti-American to question the government and its policies? When did it become anti-American to question war and its consequences? Do we want to live in a world where these questions are denounced as seditious propaganda, and artists and cultural institutions are required to silence themselves?

Read the whole thing, as they say.

An interesting approach to consultation

Shaun at The Melon Farmers emailed the Home Office to ask about the consultation on extreme internet pornography, and where the responses would be posted.

This is the reply he got

Subject: Consultation on possession of extreme pornographic material
Sent on Wed, 21 Dec 2005 14:45:36 GMT

The above Email has been blocked and has not reached the intended recipient. You are advised to identify and correct the problem or contact your systems administrator or Email service provider for advice.

Apparently, you cant mention pornography when asking the Government what they are planning to do about pornography.

No blood on the carpet

The BBC (via) reports that the Advertising Standards Authority has banned its viral advert (online advert designed to be circulated by internet users).

The video clip - entitled Blood on the Carpet and made by Maverick Media for Midway Games - shows a fight breaking out at a board meeting between men in suits, accompanied by text saying cut meetings short.

One mans heart is ripped out and another man is decapitated.

The adverts creators said was meant to be humorous, but the ASA said it had had one complaint and that the advert was irresponsible, since it glorified violence and some scenes could be emulated.

The clip appeared on two websites which carry viral adverts. The site owners said they had not received any complaints.

Given the ASAs assertion that some scenes could be emulated, I think it may be safer to avoid any meetings at their ofices from now on.

Censored by the cable guy

DNA India (via) reports that the Bombay high court on Wednesday restrained cable operators and service providers from showing any film with an ‘A’ (adults only) certificate on television.

The order - which takes immediate effect - relies on a provision in the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, which prohibits operators from showing any material “unsuitable for unrestricted public viewing” and requires cable operators to block any film on any channel certified as ‘A’ or for a particular class or profession by the Central Board of Film Certification. The effective result of this is that only films with a ‘U’ (unrestricted viewing) certificate can be beamed into people’s homes.

In November 2004 the court had restrained satellite television channels from beaming movies or programmes without obtaining appropriate certification from the censor board and the channels have been complying with this, and do get the necessary censor certificate and show it before screening the film.

However, self-appointed activist, Pratibha Naithani entered a public interest petition arguing that this “skewed” interpretation defeats the purpose of the Act. “How can a film that has been certified as an adult film be shown on TV, which is watched by the entire family, including children?” claimed Naithani’s lawyer MM Vashi, whose own children clearly never sleep.

Iqbal Chagla, who appeared for a satellite channel, pointed out that policing what people can view in the confines of their homes amounts to a violation of their fundamental rights. “Will we now only see programmes suitable for children?” he said.

The court also criticised the police for failing to act on complaints registered by Naithani.

In an editorial, the paper goes on to raise some of the unanswered questions and issues with both the Act and the ruling.

To start with, there is the question of classification. Even some fairly innocuous films have got an “Adult” rating, similar to films with much more sexually graphic or violent content. This will, at one stroke, equate a wide range of films as unsuitable for television screening. Moreover, as the television channels who were party to the suit argued, these films are telecast from overseas and beamed to scores of countries. Cable operators can do little to stop the broadcasts.

To apparently counter that point, the court has made it mandatory for Indian cable operators to “blank out” the screen whenever adult films are shown. This is easier said than done. It is akin to telling the newspaper delivery boy to read and cut out offensive photographs from the publications he distributes.

And then theres the practicality

This order however will not be easy to implement. As it is, pirated versions of the latest Bollywood movies are openly shown by cable operators across Mumbai. When the state cannot stop that—a clear offence under Indian law—how will it ensure that the provisions of this new order will be implemented?

Maybe the police should spend even less time responding to the likes of Naithani and spend a bit more time following up real criminals.

Cartoon diplomacy

It appears that the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy is still rumbling on.

Following UN human rights commisioner, Louise Arbours mind-numbingly stupid intervention, reports that a number of Danish ambassadors have criticised Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, for not meeting with a delegation of ambassadors from Muslim countries to discuss the issue.

The prime minister rejected their request for a meeting, stating - quite reasonably - that freedom of the press prevented the Danish government from intervening.

Throughout this, the Danish government has maintained - correctly, in my opinion - that they neither have, nor want, the power to determine what a newspaper can or cannot say.

Writer fined for writing

There has been much made of the trial of Orhan Pamuk, the writer facing prosecution in Turkey for having talked about the killing of Kurds in Turkey’s south-east, and the 1915 massacres of Armenians.

Significant as this is, it is worth bearing in mind that Pamuk is only one of more than 60 writers and publishers facing similar charges in Turkey.

One of these writers is Zulkuf Kisanak who, the BBC reports, has been fined 3,000 lira (£1,300) over his book Lost Villages, which describes the forced evacuation of thousands of villages by the Turkish military in the mainly Kurdish south-east.

Kisanak was initially given five months in jail. This sentence was reduced to a fine by an Istanbul court.

Jerry Springer: The Update

Despite all the complaints, Sainsburys and Woolworths are sticking with their capitulation to Christian fundamentalists over the sale of Jerry Springer: The Opera DVDs.

The BBC reports that the actors union, Equity has also urged its members to complain about the acts of censorship, and has already received over 200 messages of support from actors including Rowan Atkinson and Miriam Margolyes.

According to the unions general secretary, Christine Payne:

Equity strongly supports artistic freedom and equally strongly opposes censorship in all its forms, however offended any individual may feel themselves to be by a particular piece of dramatic art.

A Sainsburys spokesman admitted that the store has received complaints from Equity members, but it would not disclose how many. Presumably because Equity members are less aggressively threatening that the likes of Christian Voice.

The Christian Institute, meanwhile, is telling its members that Tesco, WH Smith and Asda are still selling the DVD and so is Woolworths through its website. It is inciting its members to write and complain to these stores. You may want to write and congratulate the first three on their courage in not bending to the pressure from fundamentalist bullies and ask Woolworths when the DVD will be available in the shops.

Here are the links:

Tesco: email | more contact details
Asda: website | contact page
WHSmith: email | more contact details
Woolworths: email | more contact details

And finally, the National Secular Society notes that Lib-Dem MP Don Foster, has tabled an early day motion on the issue. It reads:

This House agrees with Noam Chomsky that ‘if you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech’; regrets the apparent decision of Sainsbury’s and Woolworths to respond to minimal pressure by withdrawing DVDs of Jerry Springer: the Opera from sale in their stores; recognises that Jerry Springer: the Opera is a widely acclaimed work of art having won eight major awards including best musical at the Olivier Awards, the Critics’ Circle Awards and the Evening Standard Awards; notes that vociferous minority pressure groups now increasingly target works of art with the outcome that the majority are sometimes denied the choice to judge works for themselves; and calls on the Government to ensure that freedom of expression remains a central principle of our society and to protect the ability of individuals to explore comprehensively and lawfully all aspects of our culture.

Why not write to your MP and ask him or her to support this motion, EDM 1270?

No obligation to accuracy

The Melon Farmers have picked up on an interesting story that raises the issue of the BBFCs obligation to accuracy.

The Doctor Who - The Beginning DVD Box Set has a 12 rating. Want to know why?

Basically, it was a mistake by the BBFC. We had bleeped the word bastard in one of the comedy sketches and they believed that what they could hear was an inadequately bleeped fucker. They cant reverse decisions, even if the error is theirs, and so the only option would be to resubmit for re-classification - and that re-submission would need to be a different version. As BBC Video were fine with a 12, they decided to let it stand.

Resubmitting a film for re-classification forces the distributor to pay for the BBFCs mistakes. If the BBFC gets a classification wrong, they should be responsible for correcting it.

In Italy, some types of speech are less free than others

The BBC reports that Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has overruled legal objections and imposed a new 25% tax on hardcore pornography.

His claim is that this is an ethical tax, although the real reason for this additional burden has more to do with Romes desperation to find more money in order to get the Italian budget deficit within the limits imposed by their membership of the Euro.

So heres the question of the day. Which group will be facing an ethical tax next time the Italians screw up their finances?