Augusto Boal invented forum theatre, also known as the theatre of the oppressed, in which touring theatre companies go into communities to perform plays about an issue that affects, and in most cases, oppresses the community. The plays end badly, realistically in other words, leaving the bad guys in control and the community powerless to do anything about it. Then a “joker” (a facilitator from the theatre company) invites people to think up different endings — if the community had been better organised, or found themselves a spokesperson, or found strength in numbers by talking to neighbouring communities — and to come on stage and act out more positive outcomes.
It is a major player in giving voice to the voiceless, encouraging people first to imagine and then express what seemed unthinkable. As such it’s very interesting to Index on Censorship which in the main supports individuals who speak out in hostile environments, while Boal’s method in its more evolved form — legislative theatre — provides the means by which ordinary people can collectively speak truth to power.
Watching David Hare’s new play at the National TheatreThe Power of Yes made me think of the theatre of the oppressed. The story of the so-called death of capitalism, the four days in September 2008 when the banking world stopped breathing — was played out in front of the well-heeled community of central London — a community that is both oppressed by and complicit in the story. (more…)
Writing in today’s Times, Index on Censorship trustee Sir Ken Macdonald QC makes a compelling argument against privacy laws, which he sees as a tool of the rich, powerful and famous:
‘[I]f privacy protection were ever to chill our press as it has frozen irascible comment in other parts of the world, we would pay a very high price indeed for underscoring the marketability of film stars and footballers. This is because, like libel, privacy protection is expensive. It is not equally available and it does not belong to everyone. It is almost entirely driven by power and wealth. The rich man may be as free as any tramp to sleep on a bench, but he is rather more likely to be found at the Dorchester — and indeed in the law courts. In contrast the poor, living cheek by jowl, have never been able to put a price on their secrets. A law inhibiting comment to which only the famous have real access is a poor mechanism for protecting human dignity.’
The purpose of last night’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, indeed, the purpose of Index on Censorship, is to highlight the stories of people fighting for free expression around the world, and to ensure that free expression is at the heart of the discourse on rights and liberties.
In carrying out that task this year, we’ve been lucky to collaborate with the Guardian‘s Liberty Central site.
Liberty Central’s Natalie Hanman interviewed award nominee Harrison Nkomo, who explained the difficulty of uphold the rights to a free press, and proper legal processes. You can watch the interview here.
Bindman’s Law and Campaigning award winner Malik Imtiaz Sarwar wrote an article for the site, detailing his struggle in Malaysia, including the defence of Raja Petra Kamarudin of Malaysia Today.
And the top story today is Sir David Hare’s keynote speech from the event, where he admits to some initial scepticism about Index on Censorship (thankfully he then admits he was wrong!).
David Hare also raises his own misgivings on what we might call ‘free-speech abolutism’, saying: ‘I had misgivings about freedom of speech being made the sole criterion of a free society. I still do.’
It’s an interesting point. Free expression may not be the sole criterion of a free, and healthy society, but I think discussion is. Societies flounder and fail when discussion is shut down. As award winner Ma Jian put it in his speech last night, the end result of censorship (and perhaps the desired result of censorship) is stultification and stupefaction of individuals and society.
Liberty Central is a good embodiment of why free expression is important: we need free expression so we have the space to discuss all other rights, liberties and responsibilties — as happens on Liberty Central.