Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org the voice of free expression Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:15:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=296 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Free_Speech_Bites_Logo.jpg http://www.indexoncensorship.org Azerbaijani human rights defender charged with high treason http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/leyla-azerbaijan/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/leyla-azerbaijan/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 11:26:56 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59378 Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus has been taken to the prosecutor’s office in Baku for questioning, local media reported.

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UPDATE 30 July 17:30 pm

Leyla Yunus has been charged with “high treason (article 274), tax evasion (article 213), illegal entrepreneurship (article 192), forged documentation (article 320) and fraud (article 178.3.2)”, reports Meydan TV. She has also been given three months of pre-trial detention, according to Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova. Her husband Arif Yunus is reportedly facing two charges; state betrayal (article 274) and fraud. 

Azerbaijani human rights activist Leyla Yunus has been taken to the prosecutor’s office in Baku for questioning, local media reported.

While on her way to a conference this morning, three men entered her taxi and confiscated her and her driver’s mobile phones. According to her husband Arif Yunus, she is not allowed to see her lawyer.

“It is likely [they] are going to try and arrest her as part of Mirkadirov’s case. It is also likely I too will be arrested,” he told BBC Azerbaijan. He was referring to the case of journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, who was arrested in April and charged with espionage, believed to be linked to his contact with Armenian civil society. Leyla Yunus has spoken out in support of him. Mr. Yunus also said people were trying to break into the couple’s apartment this morning.

Leyla Yunus is the director of the Peace and Democracy Institute, which among other things works to establish rule of law in Azerbaijan. She has previously been targeted by authorities, including in April, when she and her husband were detained when trying to board a flight from Baku to Doha, Qatar. Azerbaijan has a notably poor record on human rights and civil liberties. According to recent figures, there are a 142 political prisoners in the country.

This article was posted on July 30, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Only two shades of grey in Azerbaijan http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/two-shades-grey-azerbaijan/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/two-shades-grey-azerbaijan/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 11:25:59 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59369 It does not take a lot of time and effort to see that when it comes to Azerbaijan, views on the country’s freedom of expression record split in two. Azerbaijani blogger Arzu Geybulla writes
Human rights defender Leyla Yunus is detained again

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Human rights defender Leyla Yunus was detained today in Baku.

Human rights defender Leyla Yunus was detained today in Baku.

It does not take a lot of time and effort to see that when it comes to Azerbaijan, views on the country’s freedom of expression record split in two. One–belonging to the president and his cronies–and their limited vision of reality combined with their persistent disregard of truth. And the other–the disregarded citizens–whose life is like an ongoing challenge full of obstacles–arrests, intimidation, murder, detention, beatings and blackmail to name a few. The levels of this marathon get harder to win and even then, there is a price to pay, sooner or later.

Stellar record vs stark reality

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan says, “All fundamental freedoms are guaranteed in Azerbaijan. There are free media and free internet”. International advocates of free speech and their Azerbaijani supporters claim otherwise. Azerbaijan ranks 160th on the World Press Freedom Index; 183rd on the Freedom House Press Freedom Index; and “partly free” on Freedom on the Net report. The list only goes on.

Currently there are at least ten journalists in detention or prison serving long and heavy sentences. There are five bloggers, 8 youth activists and civil society representatives similarly in jail on trumped up charges. According to Amnesty International in 2013, there were at least 19 prisoners of conscience behind bars in Azerbaijan. Just today, human rights defender Leyla Yunus was detained in Baku.

And if the end result of a certain type of work/affiliation/statement/ or action isn’t necessarily time spent in jail, people are often threatened, intimidated, and even blackmailed- the list of “punishments” is creative and has no limits.

One of the country’s prominent investigative journalists, Khadija Ismayil had her share of a punishment for digging out the truth. In March of 2012, Ismayil received a package where not only was she sent a letter full of belittlement and blasphemy but also a video tape of intimate nature of her personal life.

More recently the head of a local NGO from Ganja, Hasan Huseynli was sentenced to six years in jail for allegedly stabbing a man on the street.

Only days following sentencing of Huseynli, two more young men and brothers Faraj and Siraj Kerimli were detained (Faraj was in fact kidnapped) and currently are held in pretrial detention for yet another trumped up charge–drugs possession and promotion of psychedelics via social networks.

There is free media and free speech only if its pro-government media and speech. Most of the working printed papers are either government sponsored, supported, or have cut a deal of some kind.

The internet is the remaining platform for free speech and even online there is surveillance and control. Some independent online outlets have been subject to attacks while users of social media tools are shown their correspondence on Facebook when detained for questioning.

And so the government continues to play the game of cat and mouse while disguising its dismal record of free speech and human rights under the pretext of being a young democracy, in conflict with a neighboring country, and thus occupied by far more pressing issues than addressing biased reports of international organizations on poor record of human rights and free speech.

Index Reports: Locking up free expression: Azerbaijan silences critical voices (Oct 2013) | Running Scared: Azerbaijan’s silenced voices (Mar 2012)

This article was published on July 30, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Cancellation of play causes furore in Poland http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/cancellation-play-causes-furore-poland/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/cancellation-play-causes-furore-poland/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 08:34:11 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59314 The Polish theatre scene has been rocked by controversy since late June after the cancellation of Golgota Picnic, a show by the Argentinian theatre maker Rodrigo Garcìa that had previously aroused protest in France. Jeff James writes

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Golgota Picnic was pulled from a summer theatre festival in Poland after religious groups leveled threats.

Golgota Picnic was pulled from a the Malta Festival in Poland after religious groups leveled threats.

The Polish theatre scene has been rocked by controversy since late June after the cancellation of Golgota Picnic, a show by the Argentinian theatre maker Rodrigo Garcìa that had previously aroused protest in France.

The play’s supposedly blasphemous content meant that Michał Merczyński, director of the Malta Festival, had pulled the headline show of his festival a week before its scheduled performance. The Malta Festival in Poznań is Poland’s answer to the Edinburgh Festival, and I was visiting with other directors from the Young Vic to learn more about Polish theatre culture. Our experience of the festival was derailed by claims and counter claims of blasphemy and censorship.

Merczyński’s decision to pull the show was based on information that a protest of 50,000 was planned and advice from the police that they could not guarantee the safety of the audience or the performers. The festival’s decision enraged large parts of secular Poland’s cultural elite, who feared that the  police warning represented the state’s acquiescence to unofficial censorship by a group of interests centred upon the increasingly powerful Catholic church.

In reaction to the cancellation, there was a proliferation of protest screenings and staged readings of Golgota Picnic in theatres across Poland, some of which were variously picketed by a loose coalition of Catholics, neo-nazis and football hooligans. At the protest screening my group attended, at TR Warzsawa in Warsaw, these three groups all appeared to be embarrassed by each other. They prayed together and held placards warning that “Poland, motherland of Saint John-Paul II must not be a latrine for the trashes of the blasphemer, of the scoffers, of the traitors, of the barbarian and pseudo-artists”.

The Young Vic directors were jostled as we attempted to get in to the theatre and through the double cordon — first the protesters trying to stop us getting into the theatre, and then the police holding back the protesters. In the end we climbed over a low fence around a corner to get in and the police quickly bundled us into the building.

It’s important to say that this was much more exciting than it was scary. Here was evidence that theatre matters: people threatening hostility, if not quite violence, in response to an artwork. As far as I could make out from the DVD, Golgota Picnic (screened in Spanish with Polish subtitles) was a considered and beautiful meditation on the body and on Christ’s body in particular. Although it included a scene where a woman playing Jesus sculpted her gelled hair over another person’s genitalia, I’ve certainly seen more blasphemous plays. The crowd outside were fairly audible in their hymns and their chants, but — in the end, the protesters were defeated by the length of a piece of theatre. When we emerged two and a half hours later, they had given up and gone home.

The cancellation of Golgota Picnic left the Malta Festival deflated, but it felt as if these protests might be a powerful shot in the arm for Polish theatre culture in general. Several people we met were excited by the possibilities of the networks created and issues raised in the fight against religious censorship. Polish theatre provided a central political role in the end years of communism, and then lost its way only to be reinvented at the end of the nineties as a means to interrogate more universal themes in the formally explosive theatre of Gzegorz Jarzyna, Krzystof Warlikowski and Jan Klata, directors who still dominate the scene. It appears that Polish theatre is ripe for a new generation to redefine what theatre means.

As an outsider, this culture war looked complex and unhappy. Of course I was inside the theatre rather than on the street with a rosary, but it was clear that all the theatre people we met were well educated and well heeled. The Catholic protesters were not, and they felt like a demographic who had been left behind by the neo-liberalism that has replaced communism. It’s hardly surprising that these people are angry to see that “they are mocking us”, as one man complained to us on the steps of TR Warszawa.

It’s worrying to encounter theatre censorship in the EU, and artists should be free to present their work. At the same time, theatre institutions have a responsibility to ensure each piece of work finds its audience in the most productive way possible. With Golgota Picnic, the Malta Festival imported a show that had already caused protests elsewhere. Their marketing presented it as sexily controversial, and when this spectacularly backfired they cancelled the performance. Artists should shock and offend, but theatre makers and producers have to tread thoughtfully to ensure that the presentation of powerful work doesn’t play into the hands of those who would censor it.

Jeff James’s visit to Poland was supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, the Young Vic and the Jerwood Foundation.

This article was posted on July 30, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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House of Lords committee slams “right to be forgotten” http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/house-lords-committee-slams-right-forgotten/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/house-lords-committee-slams-right-forgotten/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 07:49:50 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59389 The British House of Lords has slammed the recent "right to be forgotten" ruling by the court of justice of the European Union, deeming it "unworkable" and "wrong in principle".

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The British House of Lords has slammed the recent “right to be forgotten” ruling by the court of justice of the European Union, deeming it “unworkable” and “wrong in principle”.

The Lords’ Home Affairs, Health and Education EU Sub-Committee stated in a report on the ruling, published Wednesday, that: “It ignores the effect on smaller search engines which, unlike Google, may not have the resources to consider individually large numbers of requests for the deletion of links.”

The committee added that: “It is wrong in principle to leave to search engines the task of deciding many thousands of individual cases against criteria as vague as ‘particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life’. We emphasise again the likelihood that different search engines would come to different and conflicting conclusions on a request for deletion of links.”

The ruling from May this year forces search engines, like Google, to remove links to articles found to be outdated or “irrelevant” at the request of individuals, even if the information in them is true and factual and without the original source material being altered. Following this, Google introduced a removal form which received some 70,000 requests within two months.

The Lords committee recommends, among other things, that the “government should persevere in their stated intention of ensuring that the Regulation no longer includes any provision on the lines of the Commission’s ‘right to be forgotten’”.

Index on Censorship has repeatedly spoken out against the ruling, stating that it “violates the fundamental principles of freedom of expression“, is “a retrograde move that misunderstands the role and responsibility of search engines and the wider internet” and “a blunt instrument ruling that opens the door for widespread censorship and the whitewashing of the past”.

This article was posted on July 30, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Pakistan’s complicated media freedom threats http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/pakistan-complicated-confusing-censorship/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/pakistan-complicated-confusing-censorship/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:07:45 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59296 Pakistan's journalists are daily confronted with a bleak statistic: Since 1992, 30 journalists have been murdered in Pakistan; 28 with impunity. Milana Knezevic reports

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(Image: Aleksandar Mijatovic/Shutterstock)

(Image: Aleksandar Mijatovic/Shutterstock)

In March, Pakistani columnist Raza Rumi was injured in a gun attack that killed his driver. Weeks later, Hamid Mir, star journalist of Geo TV, Pakistan’s biggest TV station, was shot six times. Luckily, both survived, and managed to avoid becoming part of a bleak statistic: Since 1992, 30 journalists have been murdered in Pakistan; 28 with impunity.

Against this backdrop, a group of experts on Pakistan and its media came together, under the auspices of the Commonwealth Journalists Association and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London to discuss the threats facing the country’s journalists. In a discussion chaired by BBC presenter Owen Bennett Jones, former High Commissioner of Pakistan Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Kiran Hassan of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, BBC Urdu Service Editor Aamer Ahmed Khan, New York Times Pakistan Bureau Chief Declan Walsh and renowned journalist and author Babar Ayaz tried to answer the question, How safe is it to be a journalist in Pakistan?

Censorship in Pakistan used to be straightforward, explained Khan. Certain topics were simply off limits. Today, the situation is more complicated and more confusing. Threats to journalists and press freedom take many different shapes, and come from many different sources, including the government, extremists like the Taliban, the intelligence service ISI and powerful media owners.

There are currently 84 different cases against Geo TV, of which 53 are over blasphemy. You cannot defend yourself against that, said Khan. Ayaz raised a similar point when arguing that extremists are the biggest threat to the media. The government might put a person in jail, but these extremist groups will kill for their beliefs, Ayaz said.

While Geo TV and ISI have long been fighting behind closed doors, the case of Hamid Mir created an “open battlefield”, explained Walsh, who was expelled from Pakistan in May 2013. The station aired reports linking the security services to the attack.

Walsh also brought up the ownership issue within the Pakistani television landscape, which he says has gone from “zero to 100” in the past few years. The country today boasts some 90 TV stations. Editorial control remains with media owners, according to Hassan.

But even journalists themselves did not escape criticism. Sections of the media are responsible for the current situation through irresponsible reporting, said Hasan. Quite a few were “playing with fire” by earlier glorifying the Taliban as peacemakers, he explained. Khan also highlighted corruption within the media as a “novel form of censorship”. However, as Khan pointed out, it is difficult for the Pakistani media to be responsible, without enabling them to be responsible. Most of the information that effects people’s lives is under strict control by authorities, he said.

Hassan, however, argued that there has been some progress. Journalists, and by extension the threats they face, are more visible and garner more attention today. She also pointed out that despite part closures, all Pakistan’s TV stations are still running. There was some talk of the role of media regulation in improving the situation, and Hassan said she had hopes for Pembra, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority.

Yet, the overall conclusion was that Pakistan is not a safe place to be a journalist — illustrated well by Walsh explaining how, for the first time since he’s covered Pakistan, The New York Times recently had to use a pseudonym to protect their reporter on the ground.

Hasan summed it up: “The establishment doesn’t want the media to be as free as it can be.”

 This article was published on July 29, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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“Calling art terrorism is too simplistic”: Lewisham Young Advisers on #IndexDrawtheLine http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/calling-art-terrorism-simplistic-lewisham-young-advisers-indexdrawtheline/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/calling-art-terrorism-simplistic-lewisham-young-advisers-indexdrawtheline/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:23:43 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59294 Index on Censorship was invited to join a meeting of the Lewisham Young Advisers to talk about our Draw the Line programme and discuss “Can art or journalism ever be terrorism?” and how the right to free speech affects every area of our lives. The group dove straight into discussions of how, as a society, we […]

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Index on Censorship was invited to join a meeting of the Lewisham Young Advisers to talk about our Draw the Line programme and discuss “Can art or journalism ever be terrorism?” and how the right to free speech affects every area of our lives.

The group dove straight into discussions of how, as a society, we should all have the right to free speech, but by voicing your opinions or beliefs there is the risk off offending others, so where do you draw the line? Another example offered by the group was exercising your right to free speech through voting and how non-voters can’t complain about a government if they don’t exercise their right to vote in elections.

The debate swiftly moved into this month’s Draw the Line topic, “Can Art or Journalism ever be terrorism?” The group mostly agreed that a piece of art of a piece of journalism could not be considered terrorism, but raised the question “what defines terrorism?” If it just included an act of violence in pursuit of political ideals then it couldn’t be, but at the same time wasn’t a film or a piece of writing capable of inciting hatred? And couldn’t this lead to acts of destruction? The group suggested that although this was true that it was more likely that this person already held these ideas or at least had the capacity to be violent.

The discussion showed that there is no easy answer to these questions, but it is important to keep having these debates and continuing the discussion of ideas to hear the different sides of every idea.

Get involved with the debate and let us know what you think about ‘Can art of journalism ever be terrorism?’ by tweeting using the hashtag #IndexDrawtheLine.

Lewisham’s Young Advisers are a group of young people who are interested in politics or getting involved in the community. Young advisers have a direct involvement in the process of determining council grant allocation to youth service initiatives, experiencing some of the real complexities of political decision-making and public service delivery.

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Index Awards 2014: Catching up with arts nominee David Cecil http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/david-cecil/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/david-cecil/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 09:28:10 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59231 Having recently opened the first of several new film schools in eastern Africa, playwright and art awards nominee David Cecil spoke to Index about his transition from theatre production to African film production

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Playwright David Cecil was nominated for an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Arts Award 2014 after Ugandan authorities deported him from the country for producing a “pro-gay” play in 2013. Determined to continue his work in the Africa, Cecil is now focusing his attention on film production and education in East Africa. With one film school already set up in Uganda, he spoke to Index about his hopes to expand the project to Rwanda and Tanzania, why he believes film in Africa is going to take off in a big way over the coming years and how the situation for LGBT people in Uganda has deteriorated over recent months.

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Montenegro: Impunity is biggest threat to media freedom http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/montenegro-impunity-biggest-threat-media-freedom/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/montenegro-impunity-biggest-threat-media-freedom/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:33:50 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59208 Seven years after the brutal attack that nearly took the life of journalist Tufik Softic, Montenegrin police detained two men suspected of involvement of his attempted murder. For media unions and observers, the detentions were long overdue, but emblematic of the atmosphere of impunity in Montenegro.

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Seven years after the brutal attack that nearly took the life of journalist Tufik Softic, Montenegrin police detained two men suspected of involvement of his attempted murder. For media unions and observers, the detentions were long overdue, but emblematic of the atmosphere of impunity in Montenegro.

According to police, the men — VL and IA — were arrested in Budva on 17 July and charged with attempted murder in the 2007 attack on Softic, a reporter for the opposition daily newspaper Vijesti. After questioning by the state prosecutor, who confiscated their passports, the men were released the same day. Minister of Interior Rasko Konjevic also issued a statement on the case.

In November 2007, Softic was brutally beaten in front of his home by two hooded assailants wielding baseball bats. Then in August 2013, an explosive device was thrown into the yard of Softic’s family home. The journalist has been provided constant police security since February 2014.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic welcomed the arrest of the two suspects for the attack on Softic. She also urged, “authorities of Montenegro to persist until all attacks on journalists, especially the murder of Dusko Jovanovic in 2004 are resolved and the perpetrators and masterminds are brought to justice”.

Journalists, the Media Union and NGOs emphasize that the atmosphere of impunity that has been created in Montenegro concerning attacks on journalists is the biggest threat to media freedom. The groups put the responsibility for the climate on authorities.

NGO Human Rights Action (HRA) highlighted the perilous state of journalism in their report Prosecution of Attacks on Journalists in Montenegro. The HRA outlined 30 cases of threats, violence and assassinations of journalists as well as attacks on media property between May 2004 and January 2014.

“Most of these attacks have not been clarified to date. In most cases certain patterns can be observed, for example: victims are the media or individuals willing to criticize the government or organized crime,” said the report.

One-third of all the incidents happened in the last year. For HRA, this is clear evidence that the atmosphere of impunity is escalating and inviting more attacks on journalists.

“Such an atmosphere of impunity threatens journalists in particular, who are often victims of unresolved attacks. If the state treats these attacks passively, it becomes responsible for the suppression of freedom of speech, the rule of law and democracy”, the group reported.

The European Parliament issued a resolution on the 2013 progress report on Montenegro expressed “grave concern about the increase in verbal and physical intimidation of journalists,” and “calls for all threats and attacks against journalists to be adequately investigated and prosecuted, including unresolved previous offences.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, undertook an official visit to Montenegro from 11 to 17 June 2013. In the report that followed, he recommended that “the identification of responsibilities in all cases of violence and intimidation against journalists must be achieved without delay, so perpetrators are brought to justice.”

That police needed seven years to question any suspects in the brutal assault on Softic “could be used as an indicator of effectiveness and dedication of the police in resolving these cases”, underlined Marijana Camovic, chief of the Montenegrin Media Union.  “Yes”, she said, “we welcomed the detention of two suspects, but let’s have in mind that this is just one of the many cases that need to be resolved.”

For the Media Union, it is a common occurrence for criminals and people with political ties to threaten, berate and attack journalists. “Nowadays journalism is the most dangerous profession in Montenegro and that is why we need extra protection,” said Camovic.

Human Rights Action has proposed the introduction of two new and amendments to criminal offenses: “Grave types of murder” and “Serious bodily injury” with the aim of increased protection for journalists in performing professional duties. In the same manner, the Media Union is advocating for similar amendments so journalists could have protection under the law on a par with police officers.

In December 2013, the Montenegrin government established a commission for monitoring actions of authorities in the investigation of cases of attacks on journalists. As a result of their work, in January 2014, Dusko Markovic, a deputy prime minister and justice minister, was questioned because it was alleged that he withheld information on the murder of Dusko Jovanovic, the editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Dan, in 2004.  Montenegrin media reported that Markovic was the head of the secret service at the time.

More reports from Montenegro via mediafreedom.ushahidi.com

Arson attack on vehicles owned by Montenegrin daily

Politician and journalist discredit TV station


This article was posted on July 25, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

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Contra Band: Censored songs from Brazil and the UK http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/contra-band-censored-songs-brazil-uk/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/contra-band-censored-songs-brazil-uk/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 06:40:39 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59255 Join Index and Up Projects tomorrow: Contra Band is a new commission, by Leah Lovett, which brings together musicians and audiences from Brazil and the UK for an experimental live performance of songs censored in both countries between 1964-1985.

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(Photo: Nina Pope for Contra Band)

(Photo: Nina Pope for Contra Band)

Contra Band is a new commission, by Leah Lovett, which brings together musicians and audiences from Brazil and the UK for an experimental live performance of songs censored in both countries between 1964-1985. These dates mark the duration of the military dictatorship in Brazil

Contra Band Tours – Saturday 26th July (6-7pm & 8-9pm)

Audiences are invited on a floating journey, whilst we connect to a live link up with CASA 24, an artist led venue based in Rio De Janeiro. Musicians in both venues will attempt to learn, play and understand their counter parts censored songs.

Contra Band Talk – 3.30-4.30pm

Artist Leah Lovett will be joined by Julia Farrington and Melody Patry from Index on Censorship for a discussion examining issues of cultural censorship within Brazil, explored in Lovett’s new live performance Contra Band for The Floating Cinema. The talk will take place at Kings Place.

Lovett draws on her experience of collaborating with musicians both in London and Rio de Janeiro, and will share her research into cultural creative strategies which respond to political instability and creative invisibility during the Brazilian military regime. Index on Censorship will examine the current challenges facing online freedom of expression, exploring the country’s growing profile in global internet governance debates and the potential consequence of its domestic internet policies.

Index on Censorship is an international organisation that defends and promotes the rights to freedom of expression. The inspiration of poet Stephen Spender, Index was founded in 1972 to publish the untold stories of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Today this organisation fights for free speech, challenging censorship globally whenever and wherever it occurs.

Leah Lovett is an artist and writer currently researching a PhD at the Slade, UCL, with support from the AHRC. Her project investigates the spatial politics of Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal’s invisible theatre as a means of opening up questions and possibilities for her own performance-based practice.

BOOKING DETAILS

Talk: BOOK HERE Free (booking essential) – 15.30 – 16.30 (taking place at Kings Place)

Tour Tickets: BOOK HERE £5.00; £3.00 conc. – timings 18.00 or 20.00 (on-board The Floating Cinema)

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Padraig Reidy: How your well-meaning retweet can do more harm than good http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/padraig-reidy-well-meaning-retweet-can-harm-good/ http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2014/07/padraig-reidy-well-meaning-retweet-can-harm-good/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:09:14 +0000 http://www.indexoncensorship.org/?p=59215 Whatever it is you care about, think before you tweet: Is this too good to be true? Do I have any way of checking this for myself?

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(Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Last week, the social web, at one end of its endless, pendulum-like swings between mawkishness and self-righteous fury, discovered a letter from the head teacher at Barrowford primary school, East Lancashire. It was a sweet-natured letter, congratulating students on their exam results and then going on to note all the things exams can’t measure and examiners don’t know:

“The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do.

“They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.”

…and so on; examiners did not that “know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story ” etc etc etc.

All very sweet sentiments, and new and traditional outlets went crazy for it. The letter went viral, and then the mainstream media, including BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme, covered the fact the letter had gone viral.

There were a few problems with the well-meaning letter, though. As Toby Young pointed out in the Telegraph, it was incorrect to say the people who “scored” the children’s Key Stage 2 achievements “do not know each of you the way your teachers do”; part of the assessment is done by teachers at the schools.

Meanwhile, children in East Lancashire do not, generally, go to “really neat” places. American kids go to “really neat” places. Barrowford kids might, say, get taken to Turf Moor to see a Burnley match, or more likely at this time of year, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and it would be proper good.

The reason for these disparities was simple: large sections of the letter had been lifted from elsewhere; apparently, it’s been circulating in various forms since originally being written by a Mary Ginley of Massachusetts in 1999.

When various people (including me) pointed this out on Twitter, they were seen as being somewhere between the Grinch and ISIS in terms of spoilsport misanthropy. “So what if it wasn’t original?” we were told. The sentiment was correct, and that’s what was important.

It may seem unduly curmudgeonly to complain about a rural school’s end of term letter, but the point of interest here is how quickly it spread, and how blase people have been about the basics of who actually wrote it.

Consider another example: after Algeria went out of the World Cup, it was widely rumoured on Facebook, Twitter and other networks that the team had donated its fee for the tournament to “Gaza”; not the ICRC or MSF, or even Hamas, just vague “Gaza”.

It felt good, and it felt nice, and it was plainly not true. But no one really cared whether it was true or not because (a) Algeria had been quite an enjoyable team to watch, b) people wanted to think someone was doing something about Gaza, and c) well, the Algerian team were Muslims, so they’re probably concerned about Palestine (I never said this was a well-thought out view).

This pattern was repeated when German Muslim player Mesut Ozil was similarly reported to have donated his fee to “Gaza” after his team’s eventual World Cup triumph. The news spread like wildfire, because people wanted it to be true. It wasn’t. Ozil had already pledged his cash to projects in Brazil.

The Gaza conflict has provided more of these moments: a picture of thousands of Orthodox Jewish men protesting in New York is widely touted as a pro-Palestine protest; it is not. It is taken from a protest against Israeli conscription laws in March; a meme circulates quoting actor Robert De Niro comparing Israel to a mad dog; there is no evidence that he has ever said this.

But these things, like the school letter, circulate because they feel right and they make us feel good.

As the old line says “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on”. The speed with which we can now move information around surely compels us to be even more mindful of this fact. And yet, what’s the answer? Social media thrives on the instantaneous; slowing it down could be severely damaging to the positive aspects of it. Draconian Chinese laws on “spreading rumours” are reported to have severely affected the number of interactions on social media. In democracies, it would likely be impossible to prevent feelgood-but-false memes, as well as straighforward propaganda, to spread without a massive crackdown on free expression.

For a long time, the web has demanded that we “become our own editors”, ensuring that we take in a broad amount of information rather than merely reading the sites we like on the topics we like, avoiding challenging or new ideas.

But the editorial process must always involve a high level of scepticism; some of the greatest journalistic failures of the past 40 years, such as the Hitler Diaries Hoax, or Piers Morgan’s disastrous publishing of fake pictures of Iraq war abuses in the Daily Mirror, came down to an editor’s and others involved required scepticism being overwhelmed by a story that was simply too good to be true. Disaster ensued.

The same must apply for anyone who thinks themselves vaguely “active” in the political sense on the web. Inaccurate information ultimately damages your cause. So the next time you see a meme on  NHS spending, Israel, or whatever it is you care about, think before you tweet: Is this too good to be true? Do I have any way of checking this for myself?

This article was published on July 24, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

The post Padraig Reidy: How your well-meaning retweet can do more harm than good appeared first on Index on Censorship.

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