August 2007

Knee. Jerk.

Tory leader, David Cameron has hit out at Labours knee-jerk law and order reforms and proposed his own knee-jerk reforms - ban everything. His big idea is a social covenant which calls on the companies which make music videos, films and computer games have a social responsibility not to promote casual violence, the gang culture and the degradation of women.

According to Cameron:

We are never going to deal with crime unless we look at the broader context and say, Yes, tough laws, strong action on the police, but also action to strengthen our society.

And that includes, I think, video games and things like that where we do need to think of the context in which people are growing up.

I found this story at The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant, who goes on to point out that:

Banning violent computer games (merely the latest incarnation of banning video nasties, banning loud music and banning those disgusting pamphlets from France) is an OLD FASHIONED Conservatory Dog Whistle. It says to the CORE VOTE: Ugh, how horrid!

This line has been trotted out time and again, claimed as the solution to all the ills of the world and every analysis shows that it makes not one jot of difference.

Quite.

Actor in trouble for acting

Rising Egyptian film star, Amr Waked is facing a possible ban on performing in his native Egypt for acting with an Israeli in the film. Currently shooting Between Two Rivers - a TV series that explores the inner workings of Saddam Husseins family - in Tunisia, Waked ran into trouble when his union discovered that Israeli actor Yigal Naor had been cast in the role of the ousted dictator.

Waked, who appeared alongside Hollywood stars George Clooney and Matt Damon in Stephen Gaghans 2005 blockbuster Syriana, defended his position, telling several Egyptian newspapers that he did not know an Israeli was involved until after he signed a contract.

He also said the film was pro-Arab and criticizes United States foreign policy, according to the English-language newspaper The Egyptian Mail.

The actors union, however, is opposed to any normalisation of relations with Israel and is determined to carry out an investigation into Waked when he returns from filming. This leaves him facing a potential expulsion from the union which would prevent him from acting in Egypt.

Sanitised out of existence

After the artificial outrage over an amateur video of a Nigerian film actress in a sex scene, the government of Nigerias predominantly Muslim state of Kano has called for a one-year ban on local film-making to sanitise the industry.

The states Filmmakers Association has already expelled 17 of its members for suspected involvement in immoral acts, even though they were not connected to the clip and the actress in question is currently in hiding.

Christian censorship

Moves to abolish the worlds oldest film censor, Swedens National Board of Film Censors, have stalled.

Two of the parties in the center-right government, the Conservative Moderates and the Liberals, have proposed abolishing film censorship here.

Liberal politician Cecilia Wikström told Swedish Radio news that censorship is an old-fashioned method of trying to prevent people from watching movies, when today it is possible to download any film content over the Internet.

The purpose of the Board of Film Censors is to decide the age limit for movies and to edit out any scenes with heavy violence. The board itself wants to remove its censorship role, and says it hasn’t made a cut in a film in several years.

However, the Christian Democrats - also a member of the governing coalition - halted the plans on the rather spurious basis that censorship of films for adults was needed in order to protect children.

Update

Gunnel Arrbäck, head of Sweden’s National Board of Film Censors, has resigned.

Arrbäck told Swedish daily ”Svenska Dagbladet” she had been unable to get her planned changes to the board’s role sanctioned, and would therefore leave her position.

Unrealistic censorship

The Chinese censors, recently, have cut Chow Yun-Fats scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End and have banned Jackie Chans Rush Hour 3 and now Jet Li has voiced frustration that his Hollywood films do not get shown in his home country.

Romeo Must Die was banned because it featured gangsters, as was Kiss of the Dragon, this time because Li played a Chinese police officer going abroad to fight and kill people. Cradle 2 the Grave fell foul of the censors because Li played a Taiwanese police officer and when he tried to avoid the police vs. gangsters plot with Unleashed, the film was accused of being racist and also banned.

So, Chinese police officers going abroad doesnt work, and foreign police officers coming to China doesnt work. It leaves only the ancient Chinese stories to be produced.

Li points out that films dont always have to be realistic, and argues that Chinas film industry is suffering as a result of the restrictions placed on it.

Silly burkas

Back in January, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called Undercover Mosque in which a reporter from the Despatches current affairs team attended mosques run by organisations whose public faces are presented as moderate and found preachers condemning integration into British society, condemning democracy and praising the Taliban for killing British soldiers. A complaint was lodged with Ofcom not, as you might expect, by the preachers or mosques featured in the documentary, but by the West Midlands Police (via).

The Tories have expressed concern that the fact that the police have complained about a TV programme raises serious questions about media freedom.

Paul Goodman, the shadow community cohesion minister, has written to Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, saying the decision caused widespread concern and warned that it could encourage extremists.

Mr Goodman wrote: This decision raises serious questions about media freedom in Britain, and about whether public authorities tasked with upholding the rule of law are now, as a matter of policy, giving special assistance to those who seek to undermine the rule of law, and the pluralist, liberal, democratic culture which both underpins it and guarantees community cohesion.

As you know, the decision has caused widespread concern.

Its hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a politically motivated referral, driven by the mistaken belief that the best means of dealing with separatist extremists is to appease them.

If so, this referral is likely to encourage extremists, discourage moderates, damage public confidence in the CPS and West Midlands Police, compromise media freedom and undermine the Governments stated community cohesion policy.

Channel 4 has strongly denied any wrongdoing over the programme. According to The programmes commissioning editor, Kevin Sutcliffe: We are very confident of successfully defending this unfairness complaint against the programme if Ofcom chooses to consider it. West Midlands Police have made a very general allegation of unfairness and have produced no evidence to support their claims.

Update

Media Watch Watch points out that Ofcom’s rules state that “Fairness and Privacy” complaints can come only from “the person affected” or someone authorised to act for them. The West Midlands Police is neither, so the complaint will not even be considered.

Update 2

My copy of Private Eye (referred to by Media Watch Watch) has just turned up. Since neither the police nor Bethan David of the Crown Prosecution Service, who was also involved in the stunt, have been able to produce a shred of evidence to support their serious allegations, Channel 4 and HardCash Productions - the company behind the film - are considering suing the police and the CPS for libel.

Subsidising extremists

XBiz (via) reports that a Justice Department program to fight obscenity on the Internet, funded by a $150,000-a-year earmark in a spending bill and operated by an anti-porn group, has failed to find a single case of obscenity.

The Justice Department website routes citizen complaints about obscenity to ObscenityCrimes.org, a website run by anti-porn group Morality in Media, which receives the grant money.

Two retired law enforcement officers check the reported sites for legally definable obscenity. A reported 67,000 complaints have been forwarded to the Justice Department and federal prosecutors through this program.

None has been prosecuted.

According to 1st Amendment attorney, Jeffrey Douglas:

Any program that fields public complaints on a matter as complex as obscenity can never be expected to play a meaningful role in the decisions of what is to be prosecuted and where. Lay people will simply call in about something that they are offended by. Individuals offense could hardly be less relevant to the criteria for obscenity as defined by the Miller opinion.

Its even worse when the entity requesting such calls is an ideologically extreme entity, Morality in Media, which is attempting to alter the definition of obscenity into one in which if they can see genital penetration, somebody ought to go to prison. Expecting that the calls that they stimulate will be meaningful is ludicrous.

The fact that were spending money on this program is, in fact, simply welfare to extreme political organizations that some ideologues in the White House want to subsidize.

The programme was discovered through a Freedom of Information Act inquiry by Stephen G. Bates, a Harvard-trained lawyer and journalism professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He was appalled when he discovered that the Justice Department was outsourcing a search for obscenity and has written an article - Outsourcing Justice? Thats Obscene - pointing out that the combination of Morality in Media’s religious influence, the sensitivity of the issue of free speech and the outsourcing made “a mockery of the 1st Amendment, chilling freedom of expression.”

Leading Indian newsweekly attacked by hardliners

The CPJ (via) reports that the Mumbai office of the Indian weekly Outlook was attacked yesterday by a group of men who identified themselves as members of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party. The assailants were apparently angered by the political journal’s depiction of their founder, Bal Thackeray, as a villain in the current issue of the magazine dedicated to India’s 60th anniversary of independence, according to an account of the incident published on the magazine’s Web site.

Six men forcibly entered the magazine’s offices at Raheja Chambers in the Nariman Point area of the city at around 3 p.m. and demanded to see the editor. When told he was not available, they proceeded to ransack the premises, smashing windows, computer equipment, and office furniture. No one was injured in the attack.

The Editors Guild has called it a direct attack on the freedom of the press especially in a democratic set-up where political parties are duty-bound to eschew violence, and Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta has called it a crude attempt to muzzle journalists. This is a blatant attack on the freedom of the press. The Shiv Sena activists attacked our editorial office in Mumbai and made no attempt to disguise their identity, he said when asked for his response to the outrage in Mumbai, adding that he spoke to Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh immediately after the attack. He was quite disturbed after hearing of this attack. We have to consider and introspect that this kind of attack on the press is happening when India is celebrating its 60 years of independence. It is a crude attack on the freedom of the press.

Political Censorship: The Musical

Last week there was a bit of a furore in the US when it emerged that lyrics, sung by Pearl Jam, critical of George Bush had been censored by ATT during a webcast. ATT apologised for the decision, saying it had been a major mistake.

However, it now appears (via) that Pearl Jam is not the only band to have had political comments deleted from concerts streamed by ATT.

Wired.com reported Friday that it had received an e-mail stating that Webcasts from the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in June had also been edited. Specifically, comments made during the John Butler Trio show when a band member remarked on the governments lack of response during Hurricane Katrina were deleted, as were comments from the group Flaming Lips about George Bush screwing up.

MTV.com also reported Monday that Pearl Jams publicist was notified that a fan watching the Bonnaroo concert also claims that comments made by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine had also been edited.

ATT originally said that it only edits Blue Room Webcasts for profanity since the site is available to all age groups. But a group calling itself the Future of Music Coalition, counted 20 instances of curse words being used during the Pearl Jam Webcast that were not censored by the content monitor.

Its clear ATT has not made a mistake. They or the companies theyve hired to monitor Webcasts have engaged in a clear and consistent pattern of silencing free speech, Jenny Toomey, executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, said in a statement.

ATT issued a statement on Friday admitting that this kind of thing has happened and apologising, claiming that they have taken steps to ensure that it wont happen again. ATT havent said how many performances were edited, nor have they explained what exactly is being done to ensure that this wont happen again.

The start of a slippery slope

Manhunt 2 Founder and current boss of Rockstar Leeds, Gordon Hall, has argued that other video games firms that they should rally behind the developer against the BBFC’s decision to ban Manhunt 2, or face similar prohibition in the future.

“I don’t think Rockstar specifically has been picked on, but I do think that the wider issue attacks our entire industry,” he said. “We need to teach people that games are an art form – they are more artistic than film.

“I think the games industry should rally behind us, because there will come a time when we’ll all have an idea that’s a little edgy, and we need to have the freedoms to express it.

“We are an adult entertainment industry – we may have started out with child-like technology making games solely for a younger audience, but it’s just not like that anymore. It might take legislature a little while to catch up, but if the industry sticks together hopefully we can change people’s attitudes quicker.”

Click here to read the interview in full.

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