Of Art and Offence

The Index on Censorship, a London-based campaigning organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression, is in the process of publishing a series of legal guides designed to empower artists.

Three booklets, covering child protection, counter terrorism and public order laws, have already been published. Two more, covering obscene publications and race/religion laws, are to be published this Autumn.

Available through the Index on Censorship website, these promise to equip arts organisations with a working knowledge of the law with regards to the right to freedom of expression. From the website:

Freedom of expression is essential to the arts. But the laws and practices that protect and nurture free expression are often poorly understood both by practitioners and by those enforcing the law.

As part of Index on Censorship’s work on art and offence, Index has published a series of law packs intended to address questions about legal limits related to free expression and the arts.

We intend them as “living” documents, to be enhanced and developed in partnership with arts groups so that artistic freedom is nurtured and nourished.

Julia Farrington, one of those on the editorial board responsible for the guides, in yesterday’s Guardian said she sees evidence of a disturbing trend starting to emerge in the arts.

We have to ask what sort of message [the shutting down of art exhibitions] sends out from the police to arts organisations who are considering putting on work that deals with contested issues in society, that might divide opinion, or cause offence to a particular group.

As things stand, protest can and does close down art events. It is a tough climate for risk taking in the arts, and artistic freedom thrives when arts organisations are willing and able to take risks with new voices, difficult subject matter.”

Her point is well-taken.

Last September, on the advice of the police, the Barbican Centre in London cancelled a performance of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B, an art installation intended as a critique of so-called “human zoos,” ethnographic displays that throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth-century showed black Africans as objects of scientific curiosity.

Last November, anti-racism demonstrators stormed the Gérard Philipe theatre in Saint-Denis in an attempt to stop a performance of Exhibit B. The following month, an artists’ collective submitted a complaint to a Paris court demanding its suspension, to preserve the “dignity” of the performers.

Just last week, a group called Boycott the Human Zoo made a direct appeal to the Galway International Arts Festival in Ireland to remove Exhibit B from its programme, branding its inclusion “racist and immensely offensive.” The group claims the appeal is “not about censorship” but about “anti-racism,” echoing the cries of censorious philistines everywhere.

With respect to your delicate sensibilities, this is nonsense. Good art is supposed to challenge and provoke, educate and enlighten. Why should the rest of us be deprived of that challenge, simply because the fearful few couldn’t bear to look?

The Index on Censorship legal guides are available for download here.


A Royal Denazification

Historical footage appearing to show the Queen gesturing a Nazi salute has been leaked to The Sun. Thankfully, those suddenly gripped by Royal anxiety can once again feel at ease with their patriotism. Today’s Sunday Express reveals the incontrovertible truth.

An expert lip reader has examined the footage and has been able to recount the exact words used, which completely vindicate the Royals.

This film is definitely not about Nazi salutes,” said Jessica Rees.

The Queen Mother and Prince Edward are encouraging the children to wave – the Queen then encourages her sister, Margaret, to wave.”

On the film Princess Margaret says, “Oh la la la la la la,” as she sings and dances around.

Her mother says: “Oh look darlings, there she is!” referring to someone out of shot.

Prince Edward says: “Yes, yes, come on, come on, give her a wave.”

Princess Elizabeth shouts to Princess Margaret: “Wave! Wave! Hellooooo.”

She then says to her sister: “Now dance, dance, dance.”

Their mother adds: “Yes hello, hello.”

Prince Edward then shouts: “Heelllloooo!”

After close inspection of the footage amounting a grand total of 23 viewings, the Queen was found to have merely waved innocently. Further expert analysis, courtesy of the Sunday Express:

The film begins by showing young Princess Elizabeth, aged only six, chasing after a dog. At one point she points in the air.

She is then followed by her mother, and even young Margaret joins in, before her uncle, Edward, then Prince of Wales, stretches his right arm into the air in what has been interpreted as a high Nazi salute.

Due to the innocent, wholesome nature of the footage, the Royal Household has launched an investigation to ascertain how it might have been obtained by a filthy rag like The Sun.

So utterly unscathed is the Royal Household that palace officials are understood to be considering taking legal action following the investigation, which will focus on issues of copyright and possible criminality.

Minus Q

An exchange of letters between Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott and Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) James Spigelman establishes the terms under which Liberal ministers will be allowed to appear on ABC’s television panel show, Q&A.

The leaked correspondence suggests that Q&A will be transferred to ABC’s news division, following an internal review to take place over a period of 15–18 weeks. In response to a letter sent by Spigelman on July 9, Abbott endorses the shared proposal, with a caveat.

Dear Mr Spigelman Jim,

Thank you for your letter of July 9 prompted by the notorious Q&A episode of 22 June.

In discussion with the ABC, the Communications Minister was given to expect that Q&A would be moved to news and current affairs – which would be appropriate for such a programme.

In your letter to me, you indicate that transferring Q&A to the news division “has merit.”

Frontbenchers look forward to resuming their participation on Q&A once this move takes place.

I hope this can happen as soon as possible.

With all best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Abbott

Liberal frontbenchers won’t be allowed to appear on Q&A until the programme is moved to ABC’s news division. Strange that this fairly arbitrary shuffle should be the sole point of contention, given that moving the programme to another division will do nothing to change the fundamental editorial policies of the ABC.

Matthew Ricketson, writing for the Conversation, gives six reasons why Abbott’s ultimatum makes little sense.

Q&A will be subject to the same editorial policies, regardless of the division of the ABC it is placed in.

The division of the ABC that The Weekend Australian says will impose “much more rigorous demands” on Q&A is the same division that Abbott, government MPs and News Corp have vociferously accused of left-wing, inner-city bias.

Abbott’s suggestion to shift Q&A, made in a letter to the ABC’s chairman, is a clear case of attempting to interfere with the ABC’s independence, which is enshrined in legislation.

Abbott appears to be pre-empting the recommendations of the independent review of Q&A.

Abbott’s decision to order a frontbench boycott of Q&A was both hypocritical – in opposition, he said he was “not in the business of ignoring a big audience” (in reference to the then-government’s boycott of Alan Jones’ radio show) – and counter-productive. He has drawn attention to the government’s obsession with controlling how national security issues are debated.

As Denis Muller recently argued, there were problems with the offending Q&A programme. But these were primarily errors of editorial judgement that could have been dealt with internally.

The Liberal Party’s hysterical response to the minor inconvenience of having former terror suspect Zak Mallah ask Parliamentary Secretary Steven Ciobo a tough question is revealed for what it is: a thuggish show of strength and contempt for freedom of speech and of a free press unconstrained by government interference.

China offers its support.

Waving the Fleg

According to today’s News Letter, two men from Belfast and Lisburn have been charged with waving a flag in a provocative manner.

Christopher Maxwell, 38, from Centenary House in Belfast and 37-year old Fintan Jude Geraghty from Ivy Hill in Lisburn were both charged with doing the provocative act – namely waving a flag – on Tuesday night.

Waving a piece of printed cloth, however gracelessly, is a perfectly legitimate expression of national pride. It is a right exercised annually by tens of thousands of Orangemen on the Twelfth. Maxwell and Geraghty were well within their rights to do so.

Although no details of the alleged offence emerged during Wednesday’s brief hearing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court, it is understood the pair are accused of waving a tricolour at the loyalist camp at Twaddell Avenue from a car.

That the victims of this terrible crime happen to be fellow clothwavers appears to be of no consequence.

In addition to the provocation charge, Maxwell faces a further three motoring offences – namely driving dangerously on the Crumlin Road, driving with no insurance and driving without a licence.

The tacking on of unrelated driving charges is to remove any doubt that Maxwell and Geraghty might be decent, law-abiding citizens. This is a common tactic used by journalists to make otherwise ridiculous charges seem justifiable.

Turning asshats into unwitting free speech martyrs is fast becoming a cause worthy of prosecution. Kudos to the News Letter for making clear why these two asshats deserve all they get.

The Utopia of ISIS

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, Suzanne Breen reports on the prosecution of Pastor McConnell:

In legal documents seen exclusively by the Belfast Telegraph, Dr Raied Al-Wazzan of the Belfast Islamic Centre is named as the chief witness in the prosecution against Pastor James McConnell.

The evangelical preacher faces up to six months in prison if convicted over a sermon last year in which he branded Islam as “heathen” and “Satanic.”

In his statement to the PSNI Dr Al-Wazzan denounces the pastor’s “terrible comments” and describes his “general sweeping statements” as “offensive and disgusting.”

In January Dr Al-Wazzan himself was embroiled in controversy when he said that Islamic State, which has carried out mass executions and forced millions of people to flee their homes, had been a positive force in Mosul, his home city in Iraq.

Since the Islamic State took over, it has become the most peaceful city in the world,” he told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback.

The person leading the charge against a Christian preacher for speaking ill of the Islamic faith believes ISIS is creating a modern utopia. Offended yet?