Craven self-censorship

The city museum of The Hague has decided to exclude (via) a work of art from an upcoming exhibition on the grounds that it may offend Muslims.

Iranian born Sooreh Heras art deals with themes of homosexuality and religion, but some of her pictures in her Adam and Ewald series proved too strong for The Gemeentemuseum’s director Wim van Krimpen, who said he wouldn’t exhibit them in the next few years because “certain people in our society might perceive it as offensive”.

Naturally, the artist is disappointed and feels that apparently a Muslim minority decides what will be on display in the museum, without having to say a word, it would seem, as no Muslims appear to have actually complained.


Offended by multiculturalism

A British childrens author who called one of his characters Mohammed the Mole to promote multiculturalism has renamed him Morgan so as not to offend Muslims.

Kes Gray said the case of British teacher Gillian Gibbons, who has been jailed in Sudan for allowing her class of primary school children to name a teddy bear Mohammed, had prompted him to postpone a reprint of his book, Whos Poorly Too, and change the name.

Greys book, which has sold 40,000 copies in Britain and overseas, also featured the characters Dipak Dalmatian and Pedro Penguin in an effort to be inclusive.


Sued into submission

European Voice reports that a senior politician in Belarus is suing one of the country’s few remaining independent newspapers for damages which could force it to close down.

The suit was brought by the chairman of the foreign relations and national security committee of the upper house of parliament, Mikalay Charhinets, who is a close confidant of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Court documents made available by the weekly Novy Chas show that Charhinets is seeking damages of close to €200,000 for a critical article published by the Minsk-based newspaper in September.

While lawsuits and similar legal challenges to the few remaining independent newspapers are commonplace in Belarus, the damages sought by Charhinets are unprecedented. They represent many times the paper’s annual budget and would force it to cease publication if awarded.

The article in question suggested that Charhinets, who is a retired police general, was involved in an infamous Soviet-era judicial scandal in which several people were wrongfully convicted. It also questioned his credentials as a novelist.

While the articles claims may turn out to be defamatory, the level of damages sought suggests that the plaintiff’s main aim is to close down the newspaper, as was noted in a statement by Alyaksey Karol, the paper’s editor, who described the lawsuit as “politically motivated.”


Self-censored

The Times (via) reports that feminist author, Taslima Nasreen is to rewrite her autobiography after she was forced to flee from Muslim extremists who placed a bounty on her head. She said on Friday that she hoped the move would appease fundamentalist groups and end a controversy that forced her to leave Calcutta last week.

“The book was written in 2002, based on my memories of Bangladesh in the 1980s, during which time secularism was removed from the Bangladesh constitution. I wrote the book in support of the people who defended secular values. I had no intention to hurt anybody’s sentiment,” she said today from a secret location.

“I have done what I have never done in my life. I have compromised even in a secular India.” She added that she hoped she would now be able to “live peacefully” in India.

Prashant Mukherjee, her publisher in Calcutta, refused to divulge the exact text that had been deemed offensive by Muslim fundamentalists, but indicated that two paragraphs would be deleted.

Ms Nasreen, who describes herself as a “secular humanist”, fled her homeland of Bangladesh in 1994. Her other works, including the 1994 novel Lajja (Shame), have provoked extremists to call for her execution for blasphemy.


London’s PC despot

What kind of leader launches an open assault on the press, accusing it of jeopardising public safety and demanding that it put its ‘house in order’? What sort of ruler proposes ‘guidelines’ to the press on what stories it should cover, and even worse, what kind of language it should use to cover them, what kind of people it should employ, and what kind of values it should uphold and communicate to the mass of the population? Kim Jong-il, perhaps? Saddam Hussein, before he was chased into his hole in the ground and later executed? How about Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London?

- Brendan O’Neill on The Search for Common Ground: Muslims, Non-Muslims and the UK Media, a document commissioned by the Greater London Authority to explore the alleged rise of Islamophobia in the media.

The entire team behind the report is a member of - or connected to - the Muslim Council of Britain. Unsurprisingly, the report concludes that the media shouldnt be critical of the Muslim Council of Britail.


On Hiatus

For various reasons, I have a lot less time than I did two years ago and - as you may well have noticed - posting on this blog has become a lot more erratic over recent months. Worse is that stories are coming and going without my mentioning them at all (the Bloggerheads affair, for example). I am not in a position to properly maintain this blog at present so GagWatch will be going on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

Other sites - namely Media Watch Watch, The Melon Farmers and Freemuse - are all doing an excellent job of highlighting censorship issues, both in Europe and around the world, and I strongly recommend that you add all three of them to your daily reads, if you havent already done so.

This does not mean that I have left the internet entirely, as I also run the Savage Popcorn blog which discusses films and film related issues including, as of now, any film censorship issues about which I have something to say.

Hope to see you over there.


Censorship declared harmful to minors

WHIO (via) reports that a federal judge in Dayton has rejected a state law that restricts the dissemination of sexually oriented material over the Internet.

The law bars people from sending communications harmful to minors if the sender knows or should know that the recipient is under age.

In his ruling, Judge Walter Rice said the law violates the First Amendment because it was too broadly written and could have ensnared adults having sexually frank discussions in chat rooms.

He said theres no way to ensure that minors arent part of the conversation. The law was challenged by bookstores, publishers, music and video retailers and newspapers.


A little outrage goes a long way

Back in August, an amateur video of a Nigerian film actress in a sex scene prompted an outcry in the mainly Muslim state of Kano and led to 17 actors - who had no connection to the video - being expelled from the Kano state Filmmakers’ Association for being immoral.

A month an a half later, the Kano State Censorship Board is still milking this for all its worth, extending the suspension earlier imposed on film production in the state from three to six months and reeling out new restrictive measures to check the film industry.

Addressing a press briefing on Friday, the new executive secretary of the board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, explained that the extension of the suspension became necessary in order to enable his administration introduce new measures for the improvement of film production in the state, adding that the policy would be vigorously monitored by the board to ensure stringent penalties for defaulters.

The board has created additional guidelines for registration of production companies, artistes, internet cafés, publishers and authors and has cancelled singing and dancing of any kind in Hausa films. No producer will be allowed to go to location for filming without his script being approved by a recognised consultant and vetted by the board.

Members of the Kano State Association of Printers have also been advised to make sure that before they print any book or poster meant for public use they must obtain a clearance from the board.

These rules also affect authors, publishers, bookshops, poster sellers, distributors and vendors, all of whom are expected to register with the board in compliance with the requirements of the Censorship Board Law 2001.


Banned/unbanned

Philippine censors have lifted the ban on a collection of 13 short films on human rights in the country, but restricted them to viewers aged 13 and above.

Kiri Dalena, one of the filmmakers, welcomed the decision, but said, I still think the reaction of the public toward the censorshipcontributed largely to the change in the decision.

Filmmakers, artists and human rights activists had expressed indignation over the boards earlier decision to ban the collection which had been inspired by foreign television advertisements on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


A right royal censorship dispute

Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne The Guardian (via) reports that Ben Hills, the author of a controversial biography of Crown Princess Masako has accused the Japanese government of censorship after newspapers refused to carry advertisements for the book.

The English version of Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne was published in February, sparking protests from the Japanese foreign ministry and the imperial household agency, which accused the author of insulting the royal family. The Japanese translation of the book was scrapped, but the English version was released in Japan three weeks ago.

Hills, an Australian journalist, claims that Masako, who gave up a promising diplomatic career to marry the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Naruhito, in 1993, is suffering from clinical depression.

This has become a freedom of speech issue, Hills said during a visit to Tokyo. I dont care whether the Japanese people like my book or not - they should have the chance to read it and make up their own minds. This is what the foreign ministry and imperial household agency were trying to prevent.

The books publisher in Japan, Daisan Shokan, was refused advertising space in all of the major newspapers, including the Asahi Shimbun, which positions itself as the countrys leading liberal voice. One paper said it would not take an ad because [Hills] had not responded to the government protests, said Daisan Shokans president, Akira Kitagawa. I find that reasoning very strange.

Hills said he had received threatening emails ahead of the Japanese publication of the book, and Daisan Shokan has also been the target of intimidation by ultra-nationalist groups.

The foreign ministry, predictably, denied there had been pressure on newspapers from it or the royal household.


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