Archive for May, 2008

Solidarity with Gregorius Nekschot

solidarity with gregorius nekschot

UPDATE: (19 May) The Dutch newspaper Volksrant reports Grerorius Nekschot (Google-translated to “Gregory Execution by shooting”) as saying

In Denmark they protect cartoonists, in Holland they arrest them.

He has received cross-party support from the Dutch parliament, with members calling for an explanation from Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin.

NSS calls for inquiry into Undercover Mosque fiasco

The National Secular Society has called for a full public inquiry into the role of the West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the Undercover Mosque documentary.

Keith Porteus Wood:

While the Police and CPS have now apologised, they have yet to explain why this apology was not issued in response to the widespread public outcry during 2007 about their targeting of Channel 4 or even to the total rejection by OFCOM of Police/CPS complaints on 19 November 2007. It had to be forced on them by the courts. The intransigence of the Police and CPS has seriously undermined public confidence in both institutions.

“We have written to both the Attorney General and the Shadow Attorney General urging a full public inquiry into how what appear to be systematic policy and procedural failures at the Police and Crown Prosecution Service led to the justice system being brought into disrepute in this way. It is essential that lessons are learned from this failure by both the police and the CPS. The debacle raises worrying questions about the motivation behind the activities apologised for, independence of the CPS, whether all parts of the community are being treated equally and whether sufficient value is being attached to freedom of the press.

The CPS’s function is to provide an essential check and balance, but it has spectacularly failed to do so in this high profile case. Hopefully, this is not part of a pattern, but the question needs to be asked.

“The damage caused by these failures went far beyond damage to the reputation of Channel 4’s courageous ‘Undercover Mosque’ documentary makers. Their investigation should have been the foundation for a very important public discourse, essential to the public interest about the role of religion in society. This public debate was largely derailed by the excessive zeal of the WMP and the CPS whose action appeared to signal no-go areas of inquiry. This ‘shooting of the messenger’ is likely to have further intensified the attacks on freedom of expression as editors and journalists self-censor themselves in matters relating to religion to avoid the risk of prosecution. Evading discussions in this area simply allows the problems to fester and grow, giving succour to both religious and right wing extremists.

Godspeed with that one, NSS.

UPDATE (20 May) David Cameron has added his voice to the call for more police accountability as a result. In a speech in Birmingham yesterday, he said:

What I want to see is an elected police commission. Not elected police chiefs – but commissioners that will ensure with an elected mayor that the police are accountable. We do not know who police authority members are or what they do, so as a result we do not get police forces that are held responsible for their actions.
Many of us who watched the programme (Dispatches) were interested in what it had to say on the very real threat of extremists in our society. It was a worthwhile piece of work. It was something that was worth knowing about.
This issue tells us that the police need to be careful and more considered about things

Dutch cartoonist arrested for “discriminatory work”

nekschot toons
A Dutch cartoonist who works under the pseudonym Gregorius Nekschot has been arrested for publishing work considered discriminatory against Muslims and “people with dark skins”.

From the small selection of cartoons available on his website, it seems clear that the “dark skins” allusion is merely an attempt to smear the anti-totalitarian artist with the charge of racism.

The arrest, overnight incarceration, house-search and confiscation of work by Dutch police are a result of a complaint made in 2005 by imam Abdul Jabbar van de Ven.

(Thanks, Feòrag)

Channel 4 wins Undercover Mosque case

The Daily Mail is first with the excellent news that Channel 4 and Hardcash Productions have won their court case against the West Midlands Police and the CPS.

The documentary Undercover Mosque showed candid footage of extremist Muslim preachers in the West Midlands calling for homosexuals to be killed, preaching jihad, and spouting demented medieval bullshit. Such preaching is not a crime in itself, but the West Midlands Police decided, in a shameful display of gesture-policing, that reporting on it was – and accused the documentary makers of distortion, undermining “community cohesion” and “feelings of public reassurance”.

The baffled broadcasters were completely exonerated by Ofcom, but as the police left their initial press release up on their website, the producers felt they had no choice but to pursue damages.

They were awarded £100,000 – to be paid to The Rory Peck Trust – and an apology from the police and CPS.

Kevin Sutcliffe, deputy head of current affairs at C4, is pleased:

We are accused of faking by the police and the CPS, which carries an awful lot of weight.

We had to take this course of action to show it is not true. We were completely baffled. What were they trying to achieve?

Why did they go after the programme in such a way? It seems to us a large amount of public money and time spent trying to bring us down.

David Henshaw of Hardcash is similarly relieved:

This was a thorough and detailed one-hour documentary, made over nine months and at personal risk to the undercover reporter.

The abhorrent and extreme comments made by fundamentalist preachers in the film speak for themselves.

They later claimed they had been taken out of context – but no one has explained the correct context for arguing that women are ‘born deficient’, that homosexuals should be thrown off mountains and that ten-year-old girls should be hit if they refuse to wear the hijab.

Just as a reminder of the sort of talk that was going on at Birmingham’s Green Lane mosque, here’s a clip of the dribbling half-wit Abu Usamah in full flow, from the Dispatches in question:

UPDATE: The West Midlands Police apology is now online

On 8 August 2007 we published, jointly with the Crown Prosecution Service, a press release relating to the Channel Four Dispatches programme “Undercover Mosque”. This press release alleged that footage of the speakers shown had been so “heavily edited” and taken out of context that it had “completely distorted” their meaning. Reference was made to the CPS having been asked to consider (although against advice) instituting proceedings against those involved in making the programme for inciting racial hatred.

Following an independent investigation by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, we now accept that we were wrong to make these allegations. We now accept that there was no evidence that the broadcaster or programme makers had misled the audience or that the programme was likely to encourage or incite criminal activity. A review of the evidence (including untransmitted footage and scripts) by Ofcom demonstrated that the programme had accurately represented the material it had gathered and dealt with the subject matter responsibly and in context.

We accept, without reservation, the conclusions of Ofcom and apologise to the programme makers for the damage and distress caused by our original press release.

Let us hope that their ill-advised foray into the world of TV criticism will not be repeated. Let us also hope that there will be a full independent inquiry into the affair.

Mo-stomp pulpit upsets Turks

mo pulpitThe Brussels Journal has caused a bit of a stir in Turkey with a photo of a pulpit in Belgium which allegedly depicts the “prophet” Mohammed being trampled upon by a pair of angels.

The photo was first published by the BJ in April 2006 to illustrate the long tradition of depicting Mo in European art. It was only last week, however, that the Turkish newspaper Yeniçag took note of it, and ran a front-page story with the headline STOP THIS HIDEOUS INSULT.

We have had the crusades and now they are still trying to humiliate us. This is as bad as the Danish cartoons and Geert Wilders’s Fitna movie in the Netherlands. Even Pope Benedict does nothing to stop these humiliations.

The pulpit, thought to represent the triumph of a supernatural world-view known “Christianity” over a rival supernatural world-view known as “Islam”, belongs to a church in the town of Dendermonde. It was carved in wood by Mattheus van Beveren in 1685, two years after the Battle of Vienna. It is now under police protection.

The BJ has also received threats of an internetty nature.

“I want millions” cartoon dubbed a “hate crime”

This cartoon, published in April by the Chronicle Herald in Canada, has been reported to police as a “hate crime” by the director of the Centre for Islamic Development (CID).

It depicts Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal, whose husband Qayyum Abdul Jamal was held for 17 months on suspicion of terrorism. On his release without charge, she stated in an interview that she wanted millions in government compensation.

The cartoon by Bruce Mackinnon was printed on April 18, and immediately drew the ire of Zia Khan of the CID. He claimed that it went beyond the boundaries of free speech.

It doesn’t.

Dan Leger, the Herald’s director of news content:

The whole purpose of that cartoon was to comment on the outrageous demands of this individual for compensation long before any hearing into her case had ever been held […]

[MacKinnon] depicted her exactly the way she looks and used her own words, and that’s the genius of cartooning that you’re able to do that

Khan sees things differently.

This is a horrendous thing in this day and age where you are feeding the seeds of hatred toward a whole community of 1.8 billion people.

You would not put a native American Indian with feathers and say I need money in order to cull white people’s heads. You wouldn’t do that. This would be libellous.

(Hat tips to The Freethinker and the Comics Reporter)

Death-wish anchorman reprimanded by Ofcom

Ofcom’s latest report (PDF download) tells of how an anchorman’s prayer led to his station being reprimanded for breaching Rule 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code (broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence must be justified by the context).

The Pakistan-based Geo TV were unable to justify the words of their presenter, Dr Aamer Liaquat Hussain, who prayed on air that Sir Salman Rushdie be put to death.

O God I beg you for the sake of this night; ruin those who have blasphemed against Your beloved [Prophet Muhammad, (Peace be upon Him)]. Ruin them. Ruin Rushdie, I beg you for his death. O God, give him death, O Provider; he has blasphemed your beloved. Oh God, we beg in Your Court for his death.

Geo TV tried to excuse themselves by saying Rushdie had “exercised his freedom of expession” to commit “serious blasphemy”, and that they, in turn, were exercising their right by “condemning the blasphemous act”. Apparently they are unaware of the difference between condemning an act and calling for the death of its perpetrator.

Amusingly, they also pointed out that Hussain:

neither instigated nor incited any individual to harm
the author of the book, nor did he suggest any such expression. All his prayers were
addressed to the God and not to an individual.

Ofcom were not convinced, and decided that Geo TV had broadcast “offensive material” and therefore breached Rule 2.3.

Free speech clause inserted into “gay hate” law

It is not often that we have cause to celebrate alongside the zombie-worshipping bigots of the Christian Institute, but a victory for free speech is a victory for free speech.

Last night the Lords voted to keep the so-called Free Speech Amendment in the “homophobic hatred” section of the new Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The clause states:

In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.

The unamended law to outlaw “gay hate speech” was supported by a government whip and the Liberal Democrats. Many gay commentators including Johann Hari, Matthew Parris and Peter Tatchell, argued strongly against it in favour of free speech.

Of course, the Christian Institute – always selective about what speech it believes should be free, and what should be outlawed – is cock-a-hoop because the amendment means that they can continue to harangue gay people about how sinful they are.

Whatever turns you on.

You could be Jesus!

Stephen Green, national director of the failed fundamentalist lobby group Stephen Green’s Voice (aka Christian Voice), has threatened direct action against a planned TV show by the BBC and Andrew Lloyd-Webber.

Lloyd-Webber is planning a fourth series of his popular casting show to follow on from How do you solve a problem like Maria (which auditioned hopefuls for the lead role in The Sound of Music), Joseph (for Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat), and I’d do anything (for Oliver). This time it’s the hit 70s musical Jesus Christ Superstar which is the target vehicle, although the TV show does not yet have a title (Just a man, Blessed are the weak, or Burning round the corner on a Yamaha are possibilities. Other suggestions welcome.)

Green is practically wetting himself with excitement at the prospect of another Jerry Springer: The Opera type campaign, apparently unconcerned by the fact that his actions then were counterproductive to the extent that they helped put paid to the blasphemy law.

If it were to go ahead, the show would then become for Christian Voice very much a ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ operation, with witness and evangelism at every venue. There are still plenty of veterans of the early protests over Jesus Christ Superstar around who would love to share the Gospel with the queuing wanabees. It might even be that we could encourage Christian singers to enrol in order to tell Andrew Lloyd-Webber just what they think of his project in the audition room itself.

The so-called veterans from the 70s West End run of the show objected to Jesus’ portrayal as a mere man, buffeted by events, who was ultimately laid in a tomb without the subsequent Resurrection.

UPDATE: There is no such thing as the Resurrection.

Where time stands still

Is there something in the water supply, or are all tabloid journos thick? It’s sloppy journalism time again, because the subeditor who wrote the headline for  this story seems to think that what’s on the Net should comply with the BBC’s 9 p.m. watershed if it’s from the BBC. Er, isn’t he or she missing something?

The row is over the BBC’s iPlayer, which allows you to see programmes again. But what upsets the Daily Mail, a Tory MP and Mediawatch-UK‘s  John Beyer is that young people can have access to it.

The Mail‘s headline screams, “How the BBC’s iPlayer is making a mockery of the 9pm watershed by making explicit material available 24 hours a day”, yet neither of its two interviewees makes any reference to the watershed, just to the availability generally of material to young people.

However, let’s put journalistic tidiness aside for a moment. The BBC iPlayer is available 24 hours a day because it’s on the Internet, and the Internet is available throughout the world, throughout all time zones. Is the Mail really suggesting that the BBC block access to the iPlayer until nine o’clock in the evening here in Blighty, denying its use to, say, New Yorkers from around 6 p.m. and those in Los Angeles from the middle of the afternoon?

To illustrate its story, the Daily Mail prints a picture of a leggy bit of female totty from the programme Glamour Girls, looking provocatively gorgeous in the sort of swimwear we feature in our earlier story about billboards in Brum. Oh, but of course, the paper has a childproof lock on it. How silly of us to forget that! Children can’t pick up the Daily Mail without their parents’ knowledge.

A Beeb spokesman brings some common sense to bear on the issue: “The BBC takes its responsibility to enable parents or guardians to protect younger viewers from unsuitable BBC content on its websites very seriously and provides a number of tools to do this.

“For example, BBC iPlayer clearly labels programmes which may be unsuitable for young audiences. A lock system allows parents or guardians to prevent younger viewers from watching guidance-rated programmes unless they have a password. Setting up these systems is optional but they can be easily activated at any time.”

All sorted, then.