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An Irish “don’t ask, don’t tell”, but not tell what, exactly? July 3, 2015

Posted by Tomboktu in Equality, Freedom of speech, Human Rights, LGBT.
5 comments

We got a chance in the Seanad yesterday to see some real, unscripted discussion on what a piece of law reform should be about, and thanks are due to Senator Averil Power and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, the junior minister for equality for naming the issues and following through with the implications of what they thought about them.

After a break of 15 months, Senator Ivana Bacik’s bill to amend the notorious section 37 was back in the Seanad, following a decision by the government on Tuesday to accept it, but with amendments. Section 37 — specifically, subsection 1 — is the clause in the Employment Equality Act 1998 that allows church-run schools, hospitals and medical institutions, and other religious institutions to have certain exemptions from the ban on discrimination in order to protect their ethos.

The INTO and the other teacher unions, along with BeLonG To and GLEN, the main gay advocacy organisations, have been lobbying for many years to have it removed. Articles on religion and on education in the Constitution mean they were never going to get their way without a referendum, so the real question has been: how far can the exemptions be diluted?

Bacik’s approach was to add an exception to each of the exemptions in section 37(1). Her exceptions would apply to schools and medical institutions that are funded by the state. It would have the virtue of bringing the vast bulk of schools and hospitals within the scope of her exceptions while having the vice of not changing the fundamental underlying values in the law — the stronger protection for lgb people (and divorcees, cohabitants, and lone parents) would be an exception to the core piece of law.

Procedurally, the debate picked up yesterday from where it left off last year, on amendment no. 4 to the bill, from Senator Katherine Zappone. Under standing orders, when Ó Ríordáin was responding to that discussion, he should have dealt only with that amendment, but he read into the record his intention to bring forward amendments at the next stage of the process, the report stage debate. (Most of these have nothing to do with section 37.) His main amendment, he said, would introduce a three-part test that schools and medical institutions must meet if they want to take action in response to the conduct of an employee that the institution believes damages the ethos of the institution.

Having breached procedure by bring up matters unrelated to the business at hand in his first speech, Ó Ríordáin then unhelpfully respected procedure by not circulating the text of his amendments, but Power knows this subject inside out having been the first to bring in a bill to reform section 37 in the current Oireachtas — defeated when she pushed it to a vote in 2012 — and she tackled Ó Ríordáin on two of the key flaws in his proposal: that although abstract standards that are to apply to the conduct of teachers, doctors, etc., are to be spelt out, the ‘conduct’ is not defined; and that he appeared to be leaving Bacik’s distinction between state-funded and privately funded institutions untouched.

Three-part legal tests containing standards like “proportionate to the conduct” and “rationally and strictly related to the ethos” are the kind of rule that law lecturers and High Court judges get their kicks from, and are paid handsomely to get those kicks, but they’re not much practical use to a lesbian teacher who is wondering if it’s OK to mention in the staff room but not the classroom that she got engaged at the weekend, and who has no idea what the three-part test means — if she even knows it exists — if a student asks about her engagement ring when she’s driving him and two others to the inter-school debating competition.

Power challenged Ó Ríordáin on whether prohibited conduct under his three-part test could include a teacher responding to a student being bullied because he has two mothers with an admonishment to the bullies that all families are entitled to equal respect, or could it include taking part in a pride parade. She told the Seanad about a gay man in the USA who was legally sacked when he announced he was getting married; if we are not clear that this is not conduct a religious hospital or school can prohibit, we will make a mockery of the vote of the people in the marriage referendum.

Power probably did not intend her remark about the American man to be a pointed one, but it had an additional edge for some of those in the chamber. Zappone’s spouse, Dr Ann-Louise Gilligan, was in the public gallery. A decade ago, when she and Zappone took their High Court case to have their Canadian marriage recognised in Ireland, she feared that her job in St Patrick’s College of Education, in Drumcondra, Dublin — which is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin — because of the scope of section 37(1). Both Dr Gilligan’s spouse — Zappone — and lawyer in that case — Bacik — were in the chamber on the other side of the protective glass.

Senator David Norris chipped in with a brief account of a school gardener in Scotland who was sacked from his job when he was seen at a pride parade, and whose dismissal was found to be lawful when he took a legal challenge against it. Power had tabled a detailed amendment to Bacik’s bill to deal with the gaps she sees in it on this and other matters, and when the debate moved to her amendment, she pushed the minister on the point. He was visibly concerned at the events in other countries that Power and Norris reported, and agreed to look at the meaning of ‘conduct’, effectively accepting that it is a flaw to leave unspecified questions like when and where the conduct occurs and what it is. However, he warned that care would be needed in adding amendments to narrow the scope of the conduct a school or clinic can oppose in order to avoid the amendments getting caught up in the Attorney General’s office for so long that the Bill would not be completed before the next general election.

Power was less successful in arguing for the distinction between state-funded and private schools and medical institutions being removed, though she made the strong point that this is not a distinction we see anywhere else in employment law. This distinction is one that Power raised more than once yesterday, and I expect she will press this point with an amendment at report stage.

But it was on a third item that Power drew out some of the more interesting discussion on the underlying issue in this country. A point was made in passing — I can’t remember by whom, and the debate is not yet published so I cannot look it up — that a “genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement” — a term in Bacik’s bill — would obviously allow a school to insist that a religion teacher be of the religion of that school. Power disagreed with that assumption. She didn’t mention it, but she probably has case law on her side. In the 2010 case of McKeever v Knocktemple National School, a Roman Catholic school was found to have discriminated when it withdrew an offer of employment to a teacher who is a member of the Church of Ireland. It does not appear to be have been part of the basis for the ruling, but the Equality Tribunal’s full case report does record that Ms McKeever had told the school she was familiar with and willing to teach the Roman Catholic Alive-O religious programme.

Power said that all primary teachers in Ireland are required to be religion teachers, and therefore allowing the criteria that you must be of the religion of the school to be a religion teacher would amount to a requirement of religious affiliation in order to be a primary teacher of any subject. She also pointed out that at second level, many religion teachers are not simply teachers of religion, but have two subjects of which religion is one.

Power’s challenge to the assumption that a school should be allowed to insist that a religion teacher actually be of that faith appeared to prompt Ó Ríordáin to note that every country in Europe that he has looked at has a section 37(1). The implication that we are not different from the rest of Europe quickly drew the observation that, on the contrary, we are very different because, unlike other countries, the overwhelming majority of our schools are under church control. A section 37(1) in another country has the effect of protecting a minority of schools (those under religious control) and the religious rights of parents. Here, because we have so few schools not under religious patronage, it has the effect of putting the minority at a disadvantage. Bacik, possibly worried where this kind of talk might lead, said that this was a debate for another day.

And so to Tuesday next, when the Seanad will hold its debate on the report stage of Bacik’s bill and discuss and decide on the government’s amendments. The original “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a US policy introduced by Bill Clinton when, for political reasons, he was not able to simply lift the ban on lgb soliders serving in the US Army. The policy paved the way for the ban to be repealed 18 years later under President Obama (although a ban on trans soldiers still applies). We are in a different time and a different jurisdiction, and those two differences pull in opposite directions. Our different time is one in which we can no longer expect a person’s homosexuality to be confined to the private sphere. Six weeks ago, 1,201,607 people voted to change our Constitution to release homosexuality from the confines of the private and allow it into the registry office and the official records of the State on an equal footing with heterosexuality. Our different jurisdiction is that Articles 42 (education) and 44 (religion) of the Constitution prevent the complete removal of any restriction by legislation or regulations.

Furthermore, the lawyers and officials advising Ó Ríordáin do not have any legal precedents that they can look to for guidance on where the balance of rights falls in 2015: section 37(1) has never been invoked in a case by a school, hospital, or employee, and nor has the corresponding EU law been invoked before the Court of Justice. Even if those precedents were available, May 22 changed the context in ways we have yet to understand. On Tuesday, we will learn if the remaining injunctions on teachers, nurses, and doctors to not tell is clear and narrow, or if it is opaquely buried under abstract legalistic three-part tests that will, in years to come, need court cases, and therefore victims going to court, to clarify and limit in light of the new values we have written into our constitution.

European lobbying January 18, 2010

Posted by Tomboktu in Amsterdam Treaty, Business, European Union, Freedom of speech, International Finance.
4 comments

I think that this article in the European Voice deserves a wider readership, so I’m doing my bit.

The hook for the story is simple enough:

One of the biggest tobacco manufacturers in the world led a group of chemical, food, oil, pharmaceutical and other firms in a successful long-term lobbying strategy to shape European Union policy making in their favour, a new study says.

That tobacco company is BAT. The mechanism for this was an item in the Amsterdam Treaty on impact assessments.

The form of impact assessment pushed in this period by BAT […] – and the one ultimately embraced by the EU via changes to the EU Treaty in the Treaty of Amsterdam – was so desired, according to the survey, because they believed that it would hamper the introduction of public smoking restrictions and those against tobacco advertising.

Which is fine, in an uncritical theory, in a democracy: BAT is as entitled as anybody else to push its case. (A little more critique would ask how much cash BAT has to bring to the table compared with others. But that’s another story I don’t go into here.)

Did you notice I edited the quote above, dropping a phrase in the middle of it? “The form of impact assessment pushed in this period by BAT […]”. The original story read “The form of impact assessment pushed in this period by BAT and its front group”.

BAT asked a UK consultancy, Charles Barker, to work out the advantages of pushing such an approach at the UK and EU levels, the study says. According to the scientists, the firm warned BAT that they would need to tread carefully, lobbying through a “front” organisation and enlisting other “big industry names” in support, in particular the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The front was established by a consultancy company called the European Policy Centre.

In order to win such a change, from 1996 onwards, say the scientists, BAT “relied heavily” on the European Policy Centre (EPC), while also sometimes working with the Weinberg Group, a consultancy firm that had been involved with Philip Morris.

The EPC then went on to form the front group, the “Risk Assessment Forum” on behalf of the tobacco company and its allies, with both BAT and the EPC working to recruit other companies to join the Forum, the new research says.

EPC is stung by the report, with its director pointing that these shenanigans occurred before he joined the consultancy and thet he closed down the Risk Forum.

But the nub, I think comes at the end.

Think-tanks throughout the European capital have consistently refused to join the European Commission’s lobby registry, arguing that think-tanks do not engage in “lobbying.” The EPC, however, was the first think-tank to sign up.

I was tempted to comment or analyse, I won’t. I think the report speaks more eloquently than I could.

Pledges, poppies and Pharisee’s… Barack Obama, the Irish National Anthem and Identity November 30, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Freedom of speech.
66 comments

2007-10-01time-obama3.jpg

Public, or semi-public, expressions of loyalty and affirmation are in the news. The wearing of the poppy as a symbol of Remembrance of the First World War has rumbled through these parts last week in franklittles post. I’m in almost complete agreement with him on this (and while ‘whataboutery’ is bad, still I can’t imagine that we’ll any time soon be treated to an article in the Independent telling us how wearing an Irish Republican Easter Lily is a sign of our ‘maturity’ as a nation and our ability to transcend narrow nationalism). I tend to have little time for the poppy and generally think that UK Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow, who didn’t wear it on the television over the last while, has much the right idea.

Interestingly Alexander Chancellor writing in the Guardian a week or so ago disagrees. He argues that:

…remembrance of the first world war remains to this day a powerful stimulant to patriotic feeling. Poppy day, which falls this Sunday, unites the nation as nothing else. While the poppy is now also supposed to commemorate the sacrifices of the British military in every subsequent conflict, it is by its very nature associated first and foremost with that of 1914-18, in which, after all, the greatest sacrifices were made. It is unique among symbols of the kind in that it commands near-universal acceptance. One can even imagine an Islamic fundamentalist finding it perfectly possible to extol the stand taken by the British against the Germans in the first world war.

Despite Jon Snow, whose continued refusal to wear a poppy on the Channel 4 News earned him a letter of congratulations in yesterday’s Guardian, it is generally felt to be above controversy; and its appearance on every BBC staffer’s lapel is not seen, as any other promotional symbol would be, as in some way compromising the corporation’s integrity. I understand Snow’s objections to wearing any kind of symbol on air and his anger with those who would insist that he do so, but it seems to me a pity nevertheless that he should resist participating publicly in such a rare and benign demonstration of national pride. There is not much else that we all manage to feel proud about.

I don’t disagree with him as regards Remembrance – I had relatives who fought in that War. The First World War was a truly horrific event, perhaps in some respects the event of the 20th century in terms of its power to shape the rest of the century both in Europe and further abroad. So Remembrance yes. But remembering what? Those who fell? Again. Fine. Our own record in the Republic of Ireland on Remembrance is patchy. The Garden of Remembrance (commemorating the independence struggle) on Parnell Square is often ignored as is the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in Inchicore (which commemorates those who died in World War 1). Thinking about revisionism in history on foot of the Hidden History program the other night one can see how there was a strand of thinking amongst some that all such commemorations were dangerous… hence are near pacifist state identity over the past 30 years.

I don’t, in some ways, disagree with him about the choice to wear the poppy. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The choice has to be there. And here is the thing, does one feel ‘national pride’ about the poppy. Or rather, should one? I don’t intend to enter into the varying complicity of those who participated in the Great War (a strangely hollow term in light of what came after), but this is surely an history which cannot be weighed in a simple fashion. I suspect that as time passes there will be less and less agreement with his statement that ‘it is generally felt to be above controversy’.

Yet, the truly interesting sentence in that piece is “There is not much else that we all manage to feel proud about”.

That has all the impact of a ‘ah-hah’ moment, doesn’t it. Because here we have in microcosm perhaps the motivation of those who believe the poppy is an uncontested symbol. The sense of ‘national pride’ is an engine driving its use.

And this is what makes it so contentious. Because it cannot be both a symbol of national pride and a symbol of Remembrance for those who fell. I’m not instinctively anti-nationalist. Nationalism has virtues as well as vices. But the realities and the horrors were such that ‘nationalism’ is too conflicted in that mix, too difficult to use as an anchor to ‘extol a stand taken by the British against the Germans in the first world war’. Indeed it’s a testament to the duality of nationalism and it’s ability to attract and repel that so much of Irish politics, and indeed the previous sentence, is about finding a balance between it’s positive and negative aspects.

Which brings me to the contemporary. In the United States there has been a viral email which accuses  Barack Obama of ‘refusing to put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance’.

The reality is that he is shown during the national anthem with – as an excellent piece in Slate by Ron Rosenbaum notes – ‘his hands clasped in front of him, although some consider that a sacrilege, too’.

The widely circulated e-mail seems designed to play upon Obama’s previous public decision to stop wearing a flag lapel pin. To suggest there’s a pattern there. If so, I would say all these pledge-and-pin, hand-and-heart, loyalty-ritual fetishists are misguided about American history, especially the importance to that history of the challenge to loyalty pledges. If it’s a pattern in Obama’s behavior, I think it’s a courageous challenge to conventional wisdom on firm constitutional grounds (however politically self-destructive it may prove in the short run). When was the last time you saw a politician make that trade-off?

This is almost a pharisaic position which is demanded of Obama. And one that is oddly naive. It’s as if to suggest that in the process of singing the Anthem, or pledging Allegiance somehow any duplicity or deceitfulness would be negated – a sort of ‘how could anyone lie at that point?’. Well, people lie at every point. There are a raft of other issues which enter the debate about the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem which Rosenbaum addresses. Issues of the separation of church and state, the religious aspect of the Pledge, the dangers of ‘forcing’ public utterances. These are issues which we on the left feel a particular edge to. As we know leftists tend to be rather individualistic lot, hence perhaps the propensity for splits in our organisations and formations. And interestingly enough when faced with actual instances of ‘collective’ behaviour we tend to be averse to them. That’s a good thing. Then there is the unhappy history in the US in particular of McCarthyism (although in truth considerably less unhappy say than – to take an example at random – the lamentable history of the GDR which, on a tangent, developed a strong residual national identity out of the most unlikely of materials). There is the nexus of religion, domesticity, capital which engenders a near reflexive distrust on the left. And so on.

And Rosenbaum makes a critical point that relates to this:

I certainly feel allegiance, though less to the inanimate flag than to “the republic for which it stands,” but, paradoxically, the moment when I feel most rebellious about that allegiance is when I’m being forced by state or social coercion to pledge allegiance. The America I feel allegiance to isn’t the America that requires compulsory displays of loyalty.

I’ve always felt that way, that the point at which my loyalty is most vocally demanded is the point at which I least wish to give it. In Ireland we have little of the paraphernalia of such observance. I actually didn’t know that the pledge demanded a hand over the heart. To me that seems a little – and I say this in no way wishing to upset those for whom it is pivotal – theatrical. A little ostentatious. And yet it is a tradition and one that has developed. That in itself is not a great argument for its retention, in fact it’s practically no argument at all. Yet it has a meaning.

But note that it is when we are even gently coerced that we are – some of us – somehow detached from our national identity. We don’t stop being American or Irish. But we start to examine or critique that national identity.

My country is dear to me. But how dear and what exactly is the country? It’s not the government, but it is – to some extent – the representative institutions. The physical infrastructure. The place and above all the people. All, needless to say, accidents of birth. But how to parse that out?

One of the things at Croke Park in Dublin during Gaelic football or hurling matches which is unusual is the way in which the end of the National Anthem (sung in Irish at the beginning of each match) is drowned out by cheers as the game commences. Unusual in a way because it seems to indicate that the Anthem is but an interlude, and an unwanted one at that. And yet, even if I find that irritating, and I do sometimes, I wonder if the reality of a true ‘nationalism’ is that it avoids an obsession with the ‘inanimate’ or even the ‘musical’ symbols and instead is lived by its people. That the cheers rather than detracting from Ireland, and Irishness, in some way validate our identity.

That may be an overly optimistic reading. It’s remarkable that even with the lyrics on the large screens around the the stadium there is a certain – hesitancy – on the part of many to sing the words. That’s a pity.

But cheering is easier than singing an anthem in words which are half-familiar to people but not entirely understood. And then we see (or face) other social fears. Astoundingly the primary phobia amongst people is speaking in public. I’ll bet singing in public comes a close second third or fourth. Anthem or no, the process of engaging is difficult. Perhaps more challenging than many would think because the act of singing the Anthem is qualitatively different from chanting during a match. We, or at least most of us, understand that the Anthem is conferred a different sort of authority.

But there is one good aspect of this. Although all are enabled, none are forced. Perhaps that is because the Anthem is in a language which – sadly – is not used entirely widely. That leads to a certain distance – indeed there’s probably a thesis in just how the trappings of the Republic of Ireland, largely forged in the Celtic Revival, led in part to just that distance and detachment.

I believe it is coercion that destroys identity and kills cultural expression. So perhaps the concept of enabling gently is the best way forward. That all are welcome to participate. That that participation may be whole-hearted, conditional or even non-existent.

It’s far from the worst way to forge such identity.

The internet. A new front in the so-called War on Terror. November 6, 2007

Posted by franklittle in European Politics, European Union, Freedom of speech, Internet, Islam, Media and Journalism, Terrorism, The War On Terror.
7 comments

Great news in the war for freedom and against people of a different religion and darker skin pigment than ours. According to Examiner Breaking News, the European Commission is to unveil proposals today to make it a criminal offence to promote acts of terrorism on the internet.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini wants a new law making illegal ‘public provocation to commit a terrorist offence’ including under the definition of ‘public provocation’, ‘the distribution, or otherwise making available, of a message to the public, with the intent to incite…’ terrorist acts. Note that it is a crime to incite acts of terrorism regardless of whether an act of terrorism actually results from that incitement, something which would anyway be very difficult to prove.

According to the Examiner, Commission officials insist, presumably with a straight face, that this will not impinge on the expression of political views or analysis of terrorism. Also worth noting that though the Commission is stating that the internet and the use of it by terrorists is the main motivator behind this, the law will apply to all forms of communication.

Statewatch have an analysis up here.

In a related story, the EU Observer has an interesting piece about another EU Commission in the fight against terrorism to increase the amount of air passenger data stored by EU member states and to store it for up to 13 years. The proposal, which would require unanimity, would see name, address, credit card number, passport data, telephone numbers, travel agent, flight history and, my favourite, seat preference, join a great deal of other information in computers in European capitals.

Statewatch again:

According to Tony Bunyan from UK liberties group Statewatch “this is yet another measure that places everyone under surveillance and makes everyone a suspect without any meaningful right to know how the data is used, how it is further processed and by whom”.

“The underlying rationale for each of the measures is the same – all are needed to tackle terrorism”, Mr Bunyan said, referring to the mandatory taking of fingerprints for passports and the mandatory storage of telecommunications data.

“There is little evidence that the gathering of mountain upon mountain of data on the activities of every person in the EU makes a significant contribution. On the other hand, the use of this data for other purposes, now or in the future, will make the EU the most surveilled place in the world”, he concluded.

Terrorists seek to destroy our freedoms but worry not, the European Union will erode our civil liberties first in a weird kind of scorched earth policy. And in case there’s some confusion, wherever I use the word ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’, I do so with more than a little cynicism. Terrorists after all are the people with the small guns and the tiny bombs. The ones with the big guns and gigantic bombs are defending our diminishing freedoms by abolishing those of others.

One year on, another victim of Putin’s Russia October 7, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Freedom of speech, media, Media and Journalism, Russia.
6 comments

World by storm had an interesting post last week about the possibility of Russian President Vladimir Putin becoming Russian Prime Minister. In the course of commentary on the article, Eagle referred to the deaths of journalists in Russia over the last few years. There have also been numerous and well substantiated recent reports about the use of mental facilities for the detention of political opponents and dissidents.

Appropriate so that today is the first anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, journalist with Novaya Gazeta, whose courageous reporting of the war in Chechnya depicting the suffering of the innocents at the hands of Russian and Chechen forces, was often a lone voice in the heavily censored and restricted Russian media. She was also a harsh critic of Putin, chiefly for his role in pushing Russia into a second, and far more brutal, war in Chechnya, but also for his contempt for civil liberties and personal freedoms. In it she warned:

“We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss, into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison or trial – whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit.”

anna-politkovskaya.jpg

It was her reporting from Chechnya that most affected me however. The interviews with terrified Russian conscripts. With a seemingly endless stream of refugees in the camps around Chechnya’s borders whose names she scrupulously noted to ensure they were not forgotten. The macabre attempts to identify the bodies of Russian soldiers so that they could be buried, doomed to defeat by bureaucracy, petty corruption and greed. Her efforts, and those of her publication, to successfully evacuate an old folks home from the middle of Grozny that had been callously abandoned by both sides. The images of a battered Grozny, with children scavenging for food in the courtyards of apartments whose rubble piles still held their neighbours.

Despite threats, beatings, a mock execution at the hands of Russian forces and one previous murder attempt, she persisted in her work until she was shot to death in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow on October 7th of last year. Putin’s birthday coincidentally enough.

Some people have accused Putin’s intelligence services of having carried out her execution. A great deal of initial speculation centred on Russian backed Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, a frequent target of Politkovskaya’s work whom she had described as Chechnya’s Stalin. She was working on an exposé of his security forces when she was killed and many of her colleagues in journalism still believe that it was people close to Kadyrov who had her killed for her work in exposing their corruption.

Putin’s investigators have blamed ‘outside forces’ who sought by killing her to destabilise the state and embarrass Putin. At the end of August they arrested a number of people including Chechen organised crime figures and former FSB agents and, curiously, leaked massed of information about them to the media.

As Dmitri Muatov, editor of Politkovskaya’s paper, said:

“The case of Anna Politkovskaya is falling apart; the intention is that it should come to nothing, to zero. This has been done by leaking information which should be kept secret. A couple of high-ranking people from different government structures, from the “siloviki” and special services, have leaked information about this case.

“They have distributed a list of the people detained. This is unprecedented. Why has this been done? Because there was an order to do it so that all the other participants in the case would be able to hide.

“All the photos and biographies, with police information about those detained, were published on the internet and in two tabloids.”

One year on, and no closer to justice.

A mad world, my masters May 30, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Bioethics, Culture, European Politics, Film and Television, Freedom of speech, media, Media and Journalism, Medical Issues, Television Shows.
6 comments

I have stolen the title for this post from the BBC’s John Simpson who used it for one of the volumes of his auto-biography though in fairness, he stole it from the playwright Thomas Middleton. Note also, the absence of ellipses.

It was the phrase that popped into my head when I heard about the new Dutch TV show to air on the first of June where a terminally ill 37 year old woman will choose from one of three candidates for a kidney transplant with the aid of text messages from the viewing public.

Entitled ‘The Big Donor Show’ it has justifiably drawn harsh criticism from Dutch political parties, the medical community, donor organisations and even the EU Commission has thrown it’s two cents into the pot.

Bizarrely, the defence from the programme makers at BNN that it will stimulate discussion about the problems of organ donation where 40,000 people are on waiting lists across the EU with 15-30% of them expected to die while waiting, can claim to have some validity.

In what is either a gigantic coincidence or a direct response to the show, the EU Observer reports that the EU Health Commissioner has unveiled a set of proposals to ‘promote donations from living donors’ and to crate an EU-wide organ donor card.

All very worthy, but the programme still leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

ADDENDUM:

In further EU related news, there might be some interest in the latest wheeze from the boys and girls in the EU Commission to tighten their grip and extend their propaganda for a neo-liberal federal European state. The Commission is next month to announce plans to fund political foundations on an EU level that will be attached to European Parliament groupings. This is, they say, to ‘spice up’ political discourse.

While I’m all for more debate, and better informed at that, about European issues, I’ve generally seen the EU Commission more as the source of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Worth noting as well that since the funding will be based on the number of MEPs in each Group, it means the EU Commission has found a way to channel yet more money to the slavishly pro-EU Constitution Groups like the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the ‘Socialists’.

As Tobey Maguire might have observed, my Spidey sense is tingling.

The well-meaning Free Speech crackdown April 20, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Culture, European Politics, Film and Television, Freedom of speech, media, Media and Journalism.
5 comments

Some time ago, I posted about the announcement from the German Presidency of the EU that they were proposing to:

“make it an offence to publicaly incite ‘discrimination, violence or hatred against a group of persons or members of a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin’. It would also allow for the punishment of ‘public condoning, denial or trivialisation of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes’.”

At the time, as Smiffy (Of this parish) pointed out, it seemed unlikely the Germans would be able to get unanimity on a measure so blatantly designed to infringe on free speech and to restrict historical debate. Regrettably, according to the EU Observer, the EU has agreed a ‘breakthrough hate-crime law’. Jamie Smyth of the Irish Times also has a piece on it here but subscription is required.

After six years of debate, a compromise has been hammered out that will means offenders will face up to three years in prison for “public incitement to violence or hatred, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.”

The same punishment will apply to those people “publicly condoning, denying, or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,”. The definition of what is genocide or a war crime will be left up to the International Criminal Court. Statewatch has some more background in it’s briefing ahead of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting here.

Part of the ‘compromise’, is that member states can allow debate on controversial matters in a controlled environment. Marvellous. Or as Smyth puts it in the Irish Times: ” Irish historians can debate the existence or scope of the Holocaust if they are not provoking public disorder.” Perhaps, they will need to be licensed historians. If Smiffy and I for example, were to debate the existence or scope of the Holocaust on a website, such as this one for example, are we ‘historians’, and if our debate prompts, without any intention to do so, public disorder, are we likely to face the possibility of three years in prison. Frankly, I’m too pretty to go to prison.

Also interesting that efforts by Poland and a number of other eastern European states to give up their demands to include the crimes of Stalinism within the Bill. Instead, the EU is to organise high-profile debates on totalitarian regimes and their crimes in Europe, though how this is to be done is not made clear. The EU Commission as a college debate soc.

It is now necessary for me to state the following. I accept the Holocaust, in which over six million Jews and countless more homosexuals, gypsies, communists, trade unionists and Slavs were murdered by the Nazi state in an act of genocide. Furthermore, I am opposed to discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, creed, colour, nationality and so on. But I also defend the right of people to challenge historical facts, such as the Holocaust, nor do I trust governments to legislate appropriately in terms of what is ‘incitement’.

Graham Watson, Liberal Democrat MEP and leader of the Liberal Group in the EU Parliament, has already been out attacking the initiative:  “The proposed list risks opening the floodgates on a plethora of historical controversies – like the crimes of the Stalinist regime or the alleged Armenian genocide – whose inclusion could pose a grave threat to freedom of speech. The EU has no business legislating on history.” Some good points, with the exception of his reference to the Armenian genocide as ‘alleged’. He’s entitled to his opinion (For now) but the arguments that a genocide took place are very convincing.

As well-meaning as this Directive, to be transposed into national law within the next two years, might be, it is a restriction on the right of a person to say what he or she wants or believes, and to convince others of the merits of that position. It is a licence to government to crack down on beliefs, or the articulation of beliefs, that it finds morally, socially, culturally or politically unacceptable.

And that’s dangerous, regardless of how acceptable your current beliefs might be to the people who will be deciding what is, and is not, acceptable in the future.

Welcome home Josh Wolf April 5, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Film and Television, Freedom of speech, Judiciary, media, Media and Journalism, United States, US Media, US Politics.
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Just a brief one to welcome the news that Josh Wolf, an American Indymedia journalist whose nigh on eight months in US Federal Prison for refusing to testify about his sources, a US record for modern times, was released on Tuesday.

In July of last year, Wolf filmed black-bloc Anarchists carrying out a protest in San Francisco. Police claimed he filmed footage of an attack by the Anarchists on a police car that resulted in a police officer being assaulted. Wolf, who has published the footage in question on his blog, refused to testify about it, standing by his responsibility as a journalist, a definition not accepted by the US prosecutor, not to identify sources. More details here in the Mother Jones story that first brought the story to my attention, including a neat quote from Thomas Jefferson that sums it all up.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”  – Thomas Jefferson.

A bit of good news March 23, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Culture, Freedom of speech, Islam, media, Media and Journalism.
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Last month, I wrote about the trial of Philippe Val, editor of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. Val was charged with ‘publically abusing a group of people because of their religion’ by the Paris Mosque and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France because he republished the 12 cartoons featuring the Islamic Prophet Muhammad that first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Val faced a possible six month prison term and a fine against his magazine but believes in, and what is more important is ready to act at risk to himself in defence of, free speech. Yesterday, a French court ruled in his favour in a trial that united right and left politicians in France in defence of the magazine. Reuters has more details.

“It’s good news for those who believe in freedom of expression and for Muslims who are secular and support the ideals of the republic,” said Val. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders added, “This judgement is a victory in the cause of press freedom and is in no case the defeat of one community.”

Nice to see the good guys win one every now and again. Solidarité.

Free speech on trial in Paris February 8, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Freedom of speech, Islam, media, Media and Journalism, The Left.
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The never less than outstanding Lara Marlowe reports from Paris in today’s Irish Times on the trial of Philippe Val, editor of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Last year, Val chose to publish two of the cartoons depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad that had first appeared in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. He did this as a show of solidarity with the newspaper, and also with the editor of France Soir, one of the country’s leading newspapers, who was fired for similarly publishing the cartoons in solidarity. Indeed, off the top of my head I think Ireland was the only EU country where not a single newspaper chose to publish the cartoons in support of free speech.

Val is being sued for defamation by the The Grand Mosque, World Islamic League and Union of French Islamic Organisations, an action that has united the French Left and Right in support of free speech. One of Val’s lawyers read out a letter of support from right-wing Presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy saying ‘I prefer an excess of caricature to the absence of caricature.’

Francois Hollande, head of the French Socialist Party and wife of their candidate Segolene Royal, took the stand in support of Val, pointing out that if the magazine is convicted of insulting Islam, ‘newspapers will think twice before publishing articles or drawings, and in a way, censorship will have been established.’

Meanwhile, the Germans continue to push their daft plan to criminalise people for arguing that the Holocaust didn’t take place at EU level and some of the geniuses in the Irish left, especially the so-called left in the SWP, argue for the erosion of civil liberties as part of their campaign against ‘hate speech’. Genuine radicals will remember, as this article in the Weekly Worker on the SWP’s campaign against a ballerina with a BNP membership card points out, that structures of censorship once established, are very easily turned on the left, and historically, far more likely to be used in such a manner.

See Reuters here for more details if you don’t have an Irish Times registration.

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