Archive for May, 2005

Beyer subdued at Ofcom ruling

From website:

Given that Ofcom is still using the ill-defined Broadcasting Standards Commission Code of Guidance it is not surprising that they have reached this conclusion and rejected the unprecedented number of complaints. The finding fails to take into account the BBC’s Producers’ Guidelines and it does not express a view on whether the production could be blasphemous within the terms of the criminal law. Ofcom does acknowledge that a very great deal of offence has been caused but the finding gives overriding priority to “freedom of expression” for broadcasters. This is not what might be expected from a regulator with a Content Board that was established by Parliament to represent the public interest.

Er, yes it is.

Click-thru campaigners account for 50% of complaints

According to Ofcom’s report, 50% of the 8,860 post-broadcast complaints were the result of a campaign by the Premier Media Group, owners of Premier Radio, a “Christian” radio station (sarcastic speech marks by Ekklesia). These were also the ones who complained to the ASA about the Channel 4 poster for Shameless (see 26th April article below).

Before the broadcast, this group gave out contacts for the BBC complaints department four times an hour on air, prompting the BBC to complain to Premier for jamming their switchboards. They also conducted a campaign via Political Wizard internet campaigning and lobbying group, which urged Christians to “Click here to petition your MP, the BBC and OFCOM all at once!”

The Christian Broadcasting Council assisted PMG in this campaign by sending this e-mail to its members with a “Please forward this e-mail to as many people as possible” plea at the end.

So, as PMG were such a major force in rallying these one-click whingers, it’s hardly surprising that Peter Kerridge, the chief executive of Premier Christian Radio, is the first to comment on the ruling. He describes it as a

slap in the face for traditional Christian faith and practice

and adds:

“I am extremely disappointed by Ofcom’s decision. Freedom of expression should never be sufficient reason to attack the values of any section of the community and this particular programme appeared to set out to do this to people of Christian faith.

And not a hair shifted out of place as the Whole Point flew right over his head.

Ofcom rules on Springer the Opera – No Breach

The programme as broadcast was not only clearly labelled and signposted, but was preceded by programmes which aimed to put the whole show in context. As always with matters of offence, the context is key. Whilst the show clearly had the potential to offend and indeed the intention to shock it was set in a very clear context as a comment on modern television. The strongest and most offensive language occurred well after the watershed: at 2230 onwards, with the most challenging material after 2300.

You can download the .pdf version here at Ofcom’s website. An html version of just the Springer ruling is viewable here for your convenience.

We will be monitoring closely the reactions of our favourite media would-be censors in the coming days. Should be fun!

Dodgy pope-oshopping riles Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI has been busy showing off his rabid right wing credentials recently. A court has ordered the Italian branch of Indymedia to suspend its activities because it published a photoshopped image of the pope in a Nazi uniform which was “offensive to the Catholic Church” – a crime punishable by up to one year in jail.
Happily, Indymedia have ignored the order, and both the website and the offending image are still up and running. Forza!

In another example of Vatican bullying, the editor of an influential Jesuit weekly mag has been forced to resign. Thomas J Reese edited America for seven years, and was a thorn in the side of the then Cardinal Ratzinger. Hardly surprising when the liberal Jesuit editor can come out with a statement such as this:

A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto.

The cheek of it.

Voice of the Listener and Viewer

The Independent today has an article about a media pressure group called the Voice of the Listener and Viewer. Founded by septuagenarian Jocelyn Hay in 1983, it actually has some clout, although it is not concerned with censorship.

The article is interesting for the insight it gives into how John Beyer’s Mediawatch-UK is regarded by senior figures the BBC. Talking about Mary Whitehouse, the founder of the original National Views and Listeners Association (now Mediawatch-UK), a BBC manager is quoted as saying,

Whitehouse was charismatic and she gave a voice to a lot of people who felt they were not being listened to. Jocelyn Hay is attractive and charismatic. The difference is that she is intelligent, she is not a rentaquote and she can do business at the top table. Mediawatch can’t do that.

Oof. That’s gotta hurt.

Christian Voice voting advice

If you haven’t voted yet, and could use some advice from a wild-eyed Christian blackmailer of cancer charities, Stephen Green has written a handy summary of all the main parties which you can view here.

To sum up: probably UKIP, who would at least get us out of “the godless, bureaucratic, corrupt, oligargic, anti-democratic European Union”. But don’t forget to ask your candidate “if Jesus is King of Kings”.

As with the Tories, it all depends on the candidate. But if there is no God-fearing candidate standing you have the choice of staying at home or voting tactically. It is a matter for prayer. I am praying for a hung Parliament, and I fear a further dose of Labour would signal God’s judgment.

Gracious Lord, do not send us the government we deserve, have mercy on us, we pray.

Mercy indeed.

Beyer furious at TV rating proposal

The Daily Mail (no link as yet) is quoted on Mediawatch-UK’s news snippets page, reporting on an Ofcom proposal to rate TV programmes according to how much sex, swearing and violence they contain. This would help viewers and parents to make informed choices about what to watch, which of course John Beyer fiercely opposes.

Rating programmes is not a new idea and the practicalities involved make it a very expensive and lengthy process. There are thousands of hours of television programmes in archives in this country, and around the world, that would have to reviewed and rated by someone. New programmes would have to viewed in advance in order to be rated. Does Ofcom envisage viewing all this material in order to rate it? The Communications Act 2003 does not provide for the previewing of programmes and so some explanation of how Ofcom’s suggestion is to be achieved is needed. And what standards will prevail in the ratings scheme? Ofcom has been in existence for only 17 months and already it is foreseeing that regulation will pass to the viewing public. In these circumstances one wonders why a regulator costing around £150 million a year in needed!

He rants.

UPDATE: According to Broadcastnow (subscription may be necessary), the BBC are set to preempt Ofcom by introducing their own PG-style classification system. The controller of editorial policy, Stephen Whittle, says:

Ofcom is thinking about it as a concept, we’re testing the means by which it might be achieved. We think it’s better we should keep control of how this is done, so it doesn’t become excessive.

Heart of the Beholder refused at Cannes

beholder adHeart of the Beholder is an independent US film based on a true story about a family-run video shop which was forced to close by Christian fundamentalists. Ironically, just as the fundies in the film stoop to gutter level to shut the shop, so do the real-life ones in their efforts to stop the film being made and distributed.

The producer Darlene Lieblich has been bombarded with threats, e-mail viruses, fake credit-card donations, and phoney e-mails from prominent people; festivals such as Sundance and Cannes have been flooded with e-mails urging that the film not be shown. This last was orchestrated by Rev Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association.

The reasons for its rejection by Cannes are not known, but in Darlene’s words the AFA campaign “can’t have helped”.

Big brains and brutality

The Sunday Times carries an article about a new book, Everything Bad is Good For You by Steven Johnson, which controversially claims that the traditional bête noires of the censorious right, computer games and television, are actually making people more intelligent.

John Beyer is unmoved:

All these advances are morally neutral in themselves. But if you become skilful at brutally killing people on screen, it dulls the brain and the conscience and may damage the psychology of the player. We become desensitised and are less likely to be shocked when we see it in real life.

comments the smut-campaigner.

Thou shalt not offend

Writer/broadcaster Sarfraz Manzoor has an article in the latest Index on Censorship entitled Thou Shalt Not Offend. Starting with The Satanic Verses protest – where Muslims were seen as isolated and marginal – through to Behzti watershed – where the Bishop of Birmingham expressed his support of the Sikhs in a kind of you-support-my-imaginary-friend-and-I’ll-support-yours show of religious solidarity – the article provides a useful summary of the growth in confidence and unity amongst religious groups when it comes to challenging the principles of freedom of expression.

The challenge for unbelievers is how to continue to ask awkward questions and uncover uncomfortable truths when the supporters of religion are armed with ever more sophisticated tools of protest. In this environment, the media and governments must be resolute in arguing that the right to offend might sometimes be the price to be paid to expose truths or produce challenging art.