Are we becoming Hungary-lite?

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Picture the scene.

I’m driving a pick-up truck. I’m dressed in a high-vis jacket and white overalls and in the back is a tonne of manure. On the side of the pick-up is the logo “BS Industries UK”. We drive up to and block the front entrance to the Houses of Parliament, immediately drawing a bevy of armed police officers (or, as I like to call them, “supporting artists”) towards us.

“You can’t park here!”

I explain that this is “Grade A bullshit” and that “the MPs ran out of bullshit so they need a fresh batch to feed to the public”.

The prank, filmed in 2013 as part of the promotional campaign for the second series of our Bafta-winning BBC show The Revolution Will Be Televised, was an expression of that quintessentially British tradition of using satire as a tool of protest. Creative direct action dressed up as a comedy sketch, if you will.

For me there is nothing more British than using satire that laughs at the powerful, and that in a very minor way holds the powerful to account. But under clause 59 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is going through the UK parliament now public nuisance is being criminalised and I could get 10 years in jail for such a prank! Ten. Years. In. Jail. I know that’s not the funniest joke but come on…!

History teaches us that things don’t change if the status quo is not disrupted and the intention appears to be to create an environment where you can make a lot of noise, as long as you stay in your lane, but where any movement deemed effective at changing hearts and minds and making a real difference is criminalised.

The passing of the PCSB in Parliament signals an active attack on this cornerstone of British democracy. Perhaps the significance of it is that freedom to speak truth to power without the fear of recrimination or criminal sanction is a British value as well as being a fundamental tenet of freedom of speech!

What does it feel like when the democracy you grew up in starts a gradual slide towards authoritarianism? Perhaps patriotism and flag-waving replace public debate. Perhaps the very fabric of public life starts to warp and change so that rational argument about policy is replaced by questions about how many national flags were printed on said policy paper. Perhaps the worse the state of the nation becomes, the more national greatness is invoked.

But what of those who question this new status quo? In societies where the ruling class wallows in corruption and enjoys total impunity, its enemies are a free press, and those who protest are criminalised. I’m not saying we are suddenly Myanmar. I’m not saying we are even Hungary. But maybe we are becoming Hungary-lite.

In a letter to the government in March co-ordinated by Liberty and Friends of the Earth, 245 organisations said the government’s proposals were cause for “profound concern”. The organisations highlighted numerous threats to our rights, including “draconian” police powers to restrict protests. The signatories represented a wide range of interests from Amnesty International to the Ramblers.

Hundreds of mainstream charities as well as groups such as Sisters Uncut, All Black Lives UK and Reclaim the Streets have committed to building a mass movement to resist the bill. But its protest and public order provisions could result in this very movement having its actions disproportionately criminalised for participating in peaceful activity. Even former prime minister Theresa May has voiced concerns over the proposed bill, insisting that the government has to walk a fine line between being “popular and populist”, and telling lawmakers that “our freedoms depend on it”.

It seems pertinent to ask if any amount of protest will be enough to stop the bill passing into law? The proposed law is indicative of a slide towards authoritarianism deeply at odds with the founding principles and traditions of the ruling Conservative party in the UK, and the democratic principles that many of us in the oldest democracy in the world hold so dear.

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Do crime writers tell us more truths than travel writers?

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When you read a novel, it takes you on a journey to a different time or place. Being an avid reader of crime fiction, my early journeys to Chicago were in the company of Sara Paretsky. I walked the streets with her VI Warshawski. We shot down North Michigan Avenue and headed out to Wrigley Field for the fifth inning. Chicago opened up to me in those books – not always gloriously.

Donna Leon showed me around the small islands of the Venetian Lagoon and Ian Rankin has taken me on numerous tours of the dark closes of Edinburgh, as well as its swankier New Town.

Crime writers have less to lose than many other authors in describing the underside of the cities. After all, their readers don’t expect a fairytale, and their escapism is a different kind from the happy-ever-afters of the perfect beach-read.

Perhaps we get more accurate portrayals of cities or countries by crime writers than in guidebooks or from travel apps.

Take Mexico and the Maldives, for instance. These are sexy holiday destinations, popular with everyone from honeymooners to scuba divers. But when thousands of holidaymakers are packing their sunscreen and swimsuits, do they know of the catastrophic numbers of journalists killed in Mexico in the past few years? Or how journalists in the Maldives are fleeing in fear of their lives?

Ad-hoc, non-scientific research, through the medium of asking friends and family, suggests not. And when that information is received, it is with some shock.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”custom” align=”right” custom_color=”#dd3333″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”The results are stark. Many top tourism destinations do terribly on freedom of expression.” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017

The other side: Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered on 16 October 2017

Mexico is ranked 147th out of 180 in the 2018 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, down from 75th in 2002. During this period, tourist numbers have continued to go up. Meanwhile, 4.6% of the government’s annual spend continues to go on tourism, significantly more than is spent in Brazil and New Zealand, for instance.

Travel and tourism delivers 6.9% of Mexico’s GDP, compared with 3.3% of Brazil’s and 5.1% of New Zealand’s.  No wonder, then, that Mexico’s government is prepared to invest in tourism, and to keep that tap firmly switched on.

Informed tourists could be a powerful pressure point on governments that have been practising repression of those voices raised in criticism, or that don’t bother to pursue the criminals who threaten or kill those voicing dissent.

At this year’s Hay Festival, I was on a panel with Paul Caruana Galizia, son of the murdered journalist Daphne, as well as Malta journalist Caroline Muscat of The Shift News, and BBC Europe editor Katya Adler. Paul talked about his mother’s work, the pressures she was under and how she pursued her investigations. We discussed the wider situation in Malta, where 34 libel cases against Daphne have, since her death, rolled over to the rest of the family. During the question and answer session, some members of the audience said they had no idea about what was going on in Malta, even though they went there on holiday, and asked what they could do to help.

Paul suggested that anyone holidaying on the Mediterranean island might mention being aware of the case to local people they met. The island was dependent on tourism, and if the Maltese felt this could be affected there would be more pressure on the government to alter its attitude, and legislation, on media freedom.

He also believed the Maltese government was much more worried about international attitudes than local ones.

In places where freedom of expression is under pressure – and Malta, the Maldives and Mexico are just a few of them – tourism is often a valuable asset. So visitors who are aware of the wider situation could be advocates for change.

According to analysis of travel, tourism, financial and freedom-of-expression data carried out for Index on Censorship magazine by Mark Frary,  there are indications that some tourists want to know more than whether or not a destination has a good beach before they head off on holiday.

Data on travel patterns suggest that travellers also “reward” destinations that change legislation or the environment, his analysis suggests, with Argentina picking up significant tourist numbers after it became the first South American country to make gay marriage legal.

In this issue, we have asked reporters around the world to dig into the details of popular holiday destinations to look at their records on freedoms, such as the right to protest, the right to debate and freedom of the media. The results are stark. Many top tourism destinations do terribly on freedom of expression.

In post civil war Sri Lanka, there was a period of hope after the election of Prime Minister Maithripala Sirisena in 2015. Many hoped that this beautiful island could have a future that was less violent, more equal and more open. Those hopes are now looking tarnished. As Meera Selva reports for the magazine, the country’s tourist numbers grew spectacularly in 2017. But while tourists flocked in, the great improvement was not going as well as Sri Lankans had wished.

The prime minister has reactivated the Press Council – a body with the power to imprison journalists –  and civil rights activists report threats against them. In this potential Eden, the garden is not as green and pleasant as predicted.

Pretty beach paradise Baja California Sur is a popular holiday destination, particularly for Americans. But not many will know that it also has the second-highest murder rate in Mexico, behind the western state of Colima, according to government data. The dangers of being an investigative journalist there are particularly high, with some living under 24-hour protection, as Stephen Woodman reports in the magazine. Again, this is a place where many (probably most) tourists are unaware of the fuller picture of the place where they are happily enjoying the sunshine.

As someone with a heritage collection of guidebooks from publishers including Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and Footprint, it is easy for me to flick through the pages and see that those guides have made a fair effort to inform readers on questions of human rights, politics and safety in the past.

But guidebooks are carried by far fewer travellers these days. According to the Financial Times, from 2005 to 2014, 9% fewer travellers left the UK but guidebook sales fell by 45%.

With most people looking to the web for all their holiday information, are they finding themselves as well-informed as they would have been with a well-thumbed book under their arm?

An April 2018 travel section article about Malta’s capital Valletta on The Guardian’s website doesn’t mention the politics or human rights record of the island. Nor, as far as I could find, did the Lonely Planet website section on Malta. While, of course, it would be possible to find news about those issues on different parts of The Guardian site, or elsewhere on the web, it’s certainly not connecting the dots for travellers.

With the printed travel sections of newspapers under pressure from advertisers – and far smaller than they were a decade ago – there is little space to create in-depth reports, and travel articles that include gritty details as well as the delights seem few and far between.

At the upcoming Index magazine launch and summer party on 4 July, our panel of experts will discuss what responsibility authors might have to tell their readers about the good, the bad and the ugly sides of any destination. It should be an interesting evening, chaired by BBC World reporter Vicky Baker, who also writes for Guardian Travel. If you would like to join us, email [email protected] to grab a free ticket.

And since we are just back from the Hay Festival, we can also recommend our special Hay Festival podcast, where deputy editor Jemimah Steinfeld chats to three authors about taboos. Catch it on

Finally, don’t miss our regular quarterly magazine podcast, also on Soundcloud, including an interview with the founder of the Rough Guides, Mark Ellingham. Come by and visit us.

The latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, Trouble in Paradise, Escape from Reality: what holidaymakers don’t know about their destinations is out now.  Buy a subscription. Buy a print copy from bookshops including BFI, Serpentine  and MagCulture (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), and Red Lion Books (Colchester), or via Amazon. Digital versions available via or iTunes.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row content_placement=”top”][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Trouble in paradise” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]The summer 2018 issue of Index on Censorship magazine takes a special look at how holidaymakers’ images of palm-fringed beaches and crystal clear waters contrast with the reality of freedoms under threat

With: Ian Rankin, Victoria Hislop, Maria Ressa [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”100776″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″ css=”.vc_custom_1481888488328{padding-bottom: 50px !important;}”][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]In print, online. In your mailbox, on your iPad.

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Kill drill: The death of freedom of expression?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=””][vc_column_text]The right to freedom of expression is considered by many to be a cornerstone of a modern democratic society. Countries that fail to adequately protect this hallowed right – routinely censoring journalists, writers and musicians whose speech challenges and offends those in power – are rightly regarded by the West to be the worst examples of dictatorial, autocratic regimes.

But right here in the UK, artists are fighting the censorship of their work by global corporations bowing to pressure from and, arguably, colluding with the state and its organs. In May of this year YouTube, the video streaming platform owned by Google, succumbed to pressure from the Metropolitan Police and took down 30 music videos made by drill artists. The Met had been trying to persuade YouTube for almost two years to take down between 50 and 60 videos, alleging the material was contributing to the increase in violent crime on London streets.

This attack on the freedom of expression of musicians who make drill music does not stop at the removal of their videos from YouTube. Defendants convicted in criminal cases may in the future be banned from making music for a period up to three years if the offender is under 18 and indefinitely for adult offenders under criminal behaviour orders[1]. Crucially, the prosecution can use evidence to support the making of an order that would not have met the strict rules of admissibility as in a criminal trial[2]. The threat to freedom of expression goes further. The Met have expressed publicly their intention to push for new legislation, similar to anti-terrorism laws, that will criminalise the making of drill videos.

Drill is not for everyone. The lyrics are violent.  There is liberal use of expletives. Descriptions of acts of violence using knives and guns are common themes. The images portrayed in the accompanying videos are similarly hard-hitting. Large groups of mainly young, mainly black men can be seen inhabiting the screen wearing hoodies and tracksuit bottoms – the uniform of the young in some sections of society.

Drill DJs are not, however, pioneers of explicit lyrics and violent images in music. The genesis of what is known as drill in the UK today sprang from a trap-style rap that originated in Chicago in the early 2010s. The hip hop of the 1980s and the gangsta rap of the 1990s are all part of the same family tree of poetic verse poured over a thumping beat. Drill is a close relative.

Nor is it new to blame this type of music for inciting violence. In the 1990s C. Delores Tucker campaigned against violent lyrics aimed at women in rap music. Then, as now, there was little direct evidence of a causal link between rap music and particular acts of violence. What the critics of this music fail to grasp is that the lyrics of this genre of music are inspired by, and not the cause of, the violence that infects the lives of many of these young men.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Censorship of a form of music which affords an already marginalised minority a rare opportunity to express themselves publicly is an attack against their fundamental rights as human beings.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]Looked at in its true context then, drill is less about inspiring violence and more about providing a narrative of lives defined by violence. They are telling the stories of their lives, minus the sugar-coating, just as other writers, poets and musicians have done before them.

The courtroom has often been the battleground of the clash between the values of the young minority against those of the old majority. In 1960 Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscenity Act 1959[3] for the publication of a book entitled Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The prosecution’s case was that the book had a tendency “to deprave and corrupt” those who read it in daring to portray the affair of a married woman with the family’s gamekeeper. Penguin Books was acquitted[4].

In 1971, the publishers of a satirical magazine were prosecuted when an issue of the magazine featured a sexualised cartoon of the children’s literary character Rupert the Bear. Known as the Oz trial, the three defendants were convicted by the Crown Court but were then acquitted on appeal[5].

Today, UK common law has arguably been strengthened by the enactment of the Human Rights Act 2000 by enshrining in law article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights[6]. One former Court of Appeal judge said this of the importance of freedom of expression: “Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”[7]

You or I may not wish to stream drill music videos on our mobile device. Many people may find the content offensive. The videos may even be performed by individuals who are suspected of a crime or have criminal convictions[8]. None of this should confer on the state, aided and abetted by global corporations, a wide-ranging power that ultimately infringes the right of musicians to express themselves freely.

This censorship of a form of music which affords an already marginalised minority a rare opportunity to express themselves publicly is an attack against their fundamental rights as human beings.

We all need to sit up and take notice.

1. Under Part 2 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Such an order may contain requirements for the defendant to inform the police of any activity that may be in breach of the order. The order may be varied, reviewed or discharged. Breach of the order is in itself a criminal offence.

2. An CBO was made recently against 1011 members Micah Bedeau, Jordean Bedeau, Yonas Girma, Isaac Marshall and Rhys Herbert. They are required under the CBO to inform the police 24 hours in advance of their intention to publish any videos online and are required to give a 48 hours warning of the date and locations any live performance.

3. The 1959 Act is still on the statute books.

4. R v Penguin Books Ltd. [1961] Crim LR 176.

5. R v Neville, Dennis & Anderson, The Times, 24 June 1971.

6. Article 10 (1) ECHR states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent states from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.” Article 10 (2) sets out limitations to this right.

7. Sir Stephen Sedley in Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions [1999] Crim LR 998.

8. A number of successful high-profile rap artists have criminal convictions.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column][three_column_post title=”Artistic Freedom” full_width_heading=”true” category_id=”15469″][/vc_column][/vc_row]