Guzzanti avoids Pope joke prosecution

The Italian Minister of Justice said on Thursday that he had refused a request by the public prosecutor in Rome for permission to charge the comedienne and satirist Sabina Guzzanti with insulting the Pope.

The joke was cracked, in July, during a rally that was called to protest against alleged interference by the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italian affairs. Guzzanti said that while in 20 years all teachers in Italy will be vetted by the Vatican, “In 20 years Ratzinger will be dead and will end up in hell, tormented by queer demons - not passive ones, but very active ones.”

Under the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, an offence to the pontiff carries the same weight as an offence to the Italian head of state, with a penalty of up to five years in prison. However prosecution requires the go ahead from the Justice Ministry.

Justice Minister, Angelino Alfano, said he had decided not to proceed with a prosecution as Guzzanti had accepted full responsibility for her remarks, and he saw no point in adding further fire to the flames.

Pope joke prosecution heralds “a return to the Middle Ages”

Italian comedienne, Sabina Guzzanti is facing up to five years in jail (via) for for cracking a joke about the Pope. Addressing a Rome rally in July – that was called to protest against alleged interference by the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italian affairs – Guzzanti said that while in 20 years all teachers in Italy will be vetted by the Vatican, In 20 years Ratzinger will be dead and will end up in hell, tormented by queer demons - not passive ones, but very active ones.

She is now facing prosecution under the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, which stipulates that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President.

Many people have been strongly critical of the move, including Paolo Guzzanti, Ms Guzzantis father and a centre Right MP who said the move was a return to the Middle Ages”.

Antonio Di Pietro, a senator and former anti-corruption magistrate, who organised the rally, said that Ms Guzzanti had only exercised her constitutional right to freedom of thought.

You can agree or not agree with what she said — and personally I didnt — but to put people in prison for what they think is reminiscent of a time when those who thought differently had castor oil poured down their throats — a reference to the Fascist era, when the Laterna Treaty was enacted.

Blasphemous advertising

A seasonal TV ad for Red Bull has been cancelled in Italy in accordance with the demands of a humour deficient priest who thought it was “blasphemous.” The advert shows four wise men turning up in Jesus stable, the extra one bearing a crate of the energy drink.

Father Marco Damanti, from Sicily, wrote to the makers of Red Bull denouncing their commercial as “a blasphemous act” – and and the spineless company immediately agreed to to remove it from Italian television.

“The image of the sacred family has been represented in a sacrilegious way,” whined Father Damanti. “Whatever the ironic intentions of Red Bull, the advert pokes fun at the nativity, and at Christian sensitivity.”

The priest also objected to the companys slogan - Red Bull gives you wings - which is repeated by a flock of animated angels in the advert.

And, heres the advert in question

Miss Kitty pulled by Catholics

A Catholic pressure group has protested about a sculpture of the Pope Benedict XVI in drag, causing it to be pulled (via) from a gay exhibition in Milan.

Curator Eugenio Viola told Associated Press: It was made clear to us that it would be better to remove the piece.

The Catholic Anti-Defamation League complained that the sculpture - entitled Miss Kitty and created by Paolo Schmidlin - was defamation of the Pope and threatened to press charges.

According to Milans culture counsellor, Vittorio Sgarbi:

This exhibition represents gay Pride. It gives space to artists who show homosexual aesthetics in a flashy, proud way with a few irrepressible provocations.

And, on the subject of the sculpture:

Ill keep it with me so that I can give the Pope back the decorum he deserves.

Thatll be none at all, I assume.

More Manhunt

Manhunt 2 As you may have noticed, Ive been away for the past couple of weeks taking a well earned break in sunny France. But now Im back and slowly catching up with myself. One of the things Ive noticed while surfing through various news sources over the past few days is that a bit of a moral panic has been developing around the Manhunt 2 video game.

As has been previously mentioned, the game was banned in the UK in June. It has also been banned in Italy (via) , Switzerland (via) and Ireland.

And the excitement has crossed the Atlantic (via) with the New York state Senate and Assembly reaching an agreement on proposed legislation making it a felony to rent or sell video games with mature themes to minors. According to Bo Andersen, president of the EMA, a trade association for the retailers of DVDs, computer games, and console games:

The proposal to jail retailers and clerks for up to four years for selling certain video games to persons under age 17 is apparently based on misunderstandings about what retailers are doing currently.

But the bill is expected to receive formal approval when the legislature reconvenes in July and Eliot Spitzer, the New York Governor, has signaled his intent to sign the bill into law.

The furore has attracted a fair bit of press comment, such as this article in the Daily Telegraph that reminds us that the original Manhunt game became notorious on the basis of some deeply inaccurate reporting and goes on to make the point that the game may well be nasty and appeal to something nasty in our instincts. but:

banning something because its nasty wont make our instincts less ugly; and it is not the business of the state to police bad taste.

And in Spiked, Rob Lyons points out that:

[T]he supposed connection between computer games and violence is highly tendentious. And yet it is used to justify blanket censorships such as the banning of Manhunt 2. These games may produce cognitive changes – players can feel elated, frightened or a range of other emotions - but there is no evidence to suggest they produce behavioural changes.

and concludes:

The issue of censorship - whether it targets video games or adverts for eggs - ultimately comes down to this question: who should control our lives? Instead of letting a bunch of unelected regulators determine what we can see, hear, play or eat, we should start to trust ourselves on such matters.

The Melon Farmers have responded by organising a petition calling on he Prime Minister to Restrict the powers of the BBFC with regard to the banning of video games. Click here to see it and sign it.

Pre-emptive censorship

AZ Central (via) reports that about 30 of the 100 cinemas due to show Death of a President, which opened in Italy on Frday, have pulled out saying that they didnt want to have problems, according to Andrea Occhipinti, chief of the Lucky Red company which is the Italian distributor of the film.

Winner of the International Critics’ Prize at the Toronto Film Festival, Death Of A President is a fictional documentary reflecting on the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19th, 2007. It blends archival footage of the president interspersed with fierce anti-war protests and fictional scenes.

As Occhipinti points out: The movie is thought-provoking, and its been summarily rejected before people even see it.

About 600 of 2,000 posters in Rome have been pulled down, apparently in a sign of protest.

Blasphemous Italians

Variety (via) reports that Italian broadcasters RAI and Mediaset have been fined by the countrys media regulator for airing blasphemous expletives during Celebrity Survivor and Big Brother.

Italys regulator, Agcom, has imposed fines of €100,000 apiece for violating norms on respect of religious sentiment and protection of minors.

Contestants on both shows were sacked on the spot after uttering strong swear words, directed at God, live in prime time. The incidents, which took place in October and November, were the first two of the type in the country and caused quite a stir, drawing fire from censorship enthusiasts at parenting organisation Moige and advocacy group Codacons, as well as the Vatican.

The fines are not that heavy monetarily, but do represent a regulatory milestone.

Junkie MPs protecting their privacy

ANSA (via) reports that a television prank which threatened to expose widespread drug use among Italian MPs was suspended on Tuesday. The segment was due to be included in Le Iene (The Hyenas), a popular satire show which began a new series on Tuesday.

The show secretly tested 50 lawmakers for drug use with the results showing that one in three had apparently taken drugs in the previous 36 hours.

A total of 12 tested positive for cannabis and four for cocaine, according to Le Iene.

Amid parliamentary uproar over the prank, Italys privacy authority intervened and ordered the piece to be deleted from the show.

La Iene claims that the programme wouldnt have violated the privacy of the MPs because their faces and voices would have been masked during broadcasting .

Professionally offended

Some people make a career out of taking offence, and Madonnas Confessions tour has brought a number of them out of the woodwork.

As part of the show, Madonna appears on a giant cross wearing a crown of thorns, which has annoyed a number of Roman Catholics. And Muslims. And Jews. The Scientologists havent had anything to say yet, but thats probably only because no-one has asked them.

According to Father Manfredo Leone of Romes Santa Maria Liberatrice church:

Being raised on a cross with a crown of thorns like a modern Christ is absurd. Doing it in the cradle of Christianity comes close to blasphemy.

So thats Rome, the cradle of Christianity. If I was interested in scoring a cheap point - which I am - Id observe that that makes it one-nil to Brian Flemming.

Back in Britain, the first episode Armando Ianuccis Time Trumpet was shown last night. And very funny it was, too.

But before the series started, MPs were rushing back from their holidays to tell the Daily Mail how offended they are - or intend to be - and call on the BBC to pull the show.

The politicians, and the Daily Mail, are jumping up and down over an Oscar-style Terrorism Awards sketch that hasnt been transmitted yet (although you can see it for yourself by clicking here).

As well as the al-Qaeda attack, and a picture of Blair with a bullet hole in his head after being shot as he slept beside his wife, the sketch also features a Hamas bombing in Tel Aviv.

BBC newsman Peter Snow and presenter Philippa Forrester introduce the nominees, and applause and laughter has been dubbed on afterwards.

The BBC has defended the series, pointing out that the sketches should be seen in the context of the whole series.

It is a satire set in the year 2031, looking back at the events and people of today. This particular [terrorism] episode tries to play tricks with visuals and make viewers question what is real and what is fake.

Iannucci is a leading satirist and hes pushing the envelope. The scenarios are so ludicrous that viewers will immediately recognise them as satire.

Which assumes, reasonably enough, that the average TV viewer is more intelligent than the average Daily Mail leader writer.

Blogger defamed

An Italian blogger has been convicted of defamation, even though he hasnt actually defamed anyone.

Mr Mancini set up his blog Il Bolscevico Stanco (The Weary Bolshevik) in 2005, dealing with events in the Valle dAosta region in northern Italy. Using the pseudonym of General Sukhov, he wrote various articles attacking local figures in crude and sarcastic terms. Four people, including two journalists, had filed complaints for defamation, and Mr Mancini was ordered to pay $16,900 (£9,300) in fines and damages.

The General Sukhov columns were certainly written in an extreme style, the press watchdog group said, but the complainants were not able to show they were untrue.

Reporters Without Borders have condemned the €13,500 sentence.

It looks like the blogger is being punished for his bad language and not because he posted false information, which is unacceptable. He was found responsible for comments posted on his blog by some of his readers, a decision which goes against European jurisprudence.

The organisation also pointed out that defamation complaints against journalists and bloggers should go before civil courts, and not as in the case, to a criminal court which could hand down prison sentences.