May 2007

Fear of freedom

Ive mentioned the attempts by the Australian government to tighten the countrys already strict censorship laws several times over the past couple of months. So rather than rattle on further, can I instead point you in the direction of this discussion of the problems with the proposed ban from Tony Coady.

The document uses a problematic definition of terrorism and its recommendations resort to dangerously vague categories such as tone. Accepting its clumsy proposals would represent yet more government erosion of civil rights, and would have a serious effect on freedom of academic inquiry.

As someone who researches terrorism in his academic work and who receives Australian Research Council support on the topic, I find the proposal thoroughly disturbing.

Taken together, these make terrorists of the Jewish armed resisters to Nazi troops in the Warsaw ghetto or French resisters attacking German military facilities, and rule out as terrorist any acts committed by Russian troops in Chechnya or Serbian troops in Kosovo. It also means that the American revolution of independence consisted wholly of terrorist acts.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Ayatollahs angry over Cannes prize

Given that the Iranian authorities were pretty miffed that animated drama Persepolis, which is based on a comic by Marjane Satrapi, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, you might be wondering whether they were less than happy at the film winning the Jury Prize.

You bet they were.

Not only have they objected to the film getting an award, but have gone on to make the rather bizarre claim that: Islamophobia in Western drama started in France, and producing and highlighting the anti-Iranian film Persepolis in Cannes falls in line with Islamophobia. Which rather neatly equates any discussion of Iran with this years favourite phobia meme.

Venezuelans demonstrate for free media

Thousands of people have demonstrated in Caracas as Radio Caracas TV (RCTV) - Venezuelas oldest TV network and the only opposition broadcaster with national reach - went off air after President Hugo Chavez did not renew its licence.

Within seconds of screens going blank, the insignia of a new state-sponsored broadcaster, TVES, appeared. According to the president, this new channel will better reflect the socialist revolution he has pledged to lead.

Tories say let sleeping Di lie

The Conservatives are demanding that Channel 4 cancel Diana: The Witnesses in the Tunnel, a documentary that includes the first public airing of images taken by French photographers immediately after Princess Diana was driven into a concrete pillar.

The film, to be broadcast on June 6, shows one picture of Diana receiving oxygen from a French doctor and other explicit images of the interior of her car.

It also features new interviews with photographers and other witnesses to the crash.

In a bizarre statement, the Shadow Culture Secretary, Hugo Swire, tried to link the documentary to the broadcasters mishandling of the Celebrity Big Brother race row. Swire then goes on to say: It should be remembered that Diana, as well was being a public figure, was a mother.

Does he mean then that mothers in the public eye should be made immune from scrutiny, or that women should be seen and not heard about? I think we should be told.

A freer market for ideas

After 18 months of negotiations, the EUs culture ministers agreed on Thursday to overhaul the blocs 18-year-old television rules to try to more closely reflect the fast-developing market.

Much of the focus has been on the loosening of the rules on product placement which is now permitted with restrictions but, more interestingly from the point of view of this blog, is that the TV Without Frontiers directive is to be the first EU law to apply the country of origin principle. Under this principle, broadcasters only haver to respect the rules of the country they are broadcasting from, not the country they are broadcasting to.

This means, of course, that the EUs more regulation happy states will (hopefully) find themselves being undermined by their more liberal neighbours.

Scared of smoking

Uma Thurman, who smokes and snorts heroin in Pulp Fiction Kenny Gibson is the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) that instigated work on a Regulation of Smoking Bill which eventually led, in 2006, to a smoking ban being implemented in Scotland.

But, not happy with his success, Gibson now wants to go further and is demanding that all films in which any of the characters smoke should have an 18 rating.

Despite taking on film-making giants, Mr Gibson was optimistic of eventual success.

He said: Clearly most movies arent made in the UK, let alone Scotland, so on a global scale this could be marginal but I would hope it would send a signal which would be repeated elsewhere in the UK and further afield.

Maybe Mr Gibson should stop being so silly and learn to accept victory gracefully.

China cracks down on scary stories

The latest country to declare war on something random is China (via) with a nationwide campaign against horror stories aimed at children.

Beijing has ordered officials to seize copies of books and comics deemed to be terrifying publications from shops and street vendors.

A particular target of the campaign is a popular Japanese comic book series, Death Note, which features a notebook that can kill people whose names are written in it.

Chinese officials say the story misleads innocent children and distorts their minds and spirits.

This is the latest in a long line of campaigns to seize publications that the authorities regard as socially harmful.

My kids learned something, so we called our lawyer

First the fundamentalists were getting worked up about the possibility that their kids might see Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and now their wetting themselves at the idea of their teenagers discovering that gay people might exist.

According to Digital Spy (via), the family of 12 year-old Jessica Turner is suing their local education authority after a teacher screened Brokeback Mountain in a class.

The claim for $400,000 (£202,000) alleges negligence, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Turners family say she felt she could not leave her Ashburn Community Elementary School class and still needs counselling for the experience.

This is silly. Young Miss Turner doesnt need counselling, she just needs to get a life.

Closing down the critics

At midnight on May 27th, Radio Caracas Television (RCTV) will be cease broadcasting because the government is refusing to renew its broadcast licence.

Critics of the move point to the free speech implications of closing down a consistent opponent of President Hugo Chávez, while supporters say that the government is right to replace a channel notorious for anti-Chávez propaganda.

For 53 years, RCTV has been part of Venezuelas cultural landscape, winning more than 40% audience share with comedies, soap operas and game shows such as Who Wants to be a Millionaire. In an opinion poll last month 70% opposed the closure, although most were more concerned with the loss of their favourite soaps than with the erosion of freedom of speech.

RCTV and three other stations supported the military coup that briefly ousted Chávez in 2002 and, after he returned to power, RCTV has remained hostile with news bulletins focussing on crime, economic woes and Chávezs increasing power.

In contrast to RCTVs grim news agenda - which some staff admit is lopsided - state channels go to the other extreme and show scenes of happy peasants, singing children and a nation grateful for subsidised food and free medical care. On occasion government officials are criticised but never the president.

Many ordinary Venezuelans such as Marisol Torres, 55, a Chávez supporter who lives in a slum, feel uneasy about the decision and wonder if it marks a political watershed. Its better to have more voices, she said. Her more immediate concern was the prospect of losing shows such as La Rochella, similar to Candid Camera, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Its the best stuff on the box. Now what am I going to watch?

RCTVs 2,500 staff have been told to continue turning up for work after May 27 in the hope that some programmes will still be made if they can be sold to other networks, and that RCTV may be able to limp on as a cable channel. But with vastly reduced audience share and advertising revenue the stations prospects are not good.

Moirah Sanchez, a lawyer who is leading the companys last-ditch attempt at the supreme court to overturn the governments decision, claims that with RCTV gone the government would achieve its stated aim of information hegemony.

Iran irate over Cannes cartoon

According to Stop Fundamentalism (via) the Iranian authorities have sent a letter of protest to the French Embassy in Tehran complaining that the Cannes Film Festival had the temerity to screen an Iranian film.

The animated drama Persepolis is based on a comic by Marjane Satrapi and tells the coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution.

The letter sent by the state-run Farabi Foundation in Iran reads, This year the Cannes Film Festival, in an unconventional and unsuitable act, has chosen a movie about Iran that has presented an unrealistic face of the achievements and results of the glorious Islamic Revolution in some of its parts.

The film is in competition for the Palme dOr and due to be screened on Wednesday.