#IndexDrawTheLine: Engage free speech laggards

As cheers from the World Cup rumbled in the background, Index set up an online platform to debate the tussle between sport and freedom of speech. As part of the Draw the Line series of discussions, last month’s question was: Should repressive regimes be banned from sport? If countries have poor human rights record, do they deserve to participate?

Twitter erupted with opinions. Immediately the question of defining a repressive regime was raised – whose duty would it be to decide? Although many might agree that Iran’s government-controlled press was anti-free speech, would the US’s treatment of whistleblower Edward Snowden fall into the same category?

Others argued that banning offending countries would leave their crimes in the shadows. Instead they believed oppressive regimes should suffer the spotlight of global media – hoping that the publicity would encourage conversation and spark change.

Opinions seemed split at the first Draw the Line event, where ten young human rights activists gathered to discuss the same issue. Although some declared passionately that repressive regimes must be punished, there were fears that a ban would misdirect that punishment – affecting a country’s people rather than its leaders.

Defining the World Cup’s worst countries for free speech – or the “group of death” – seemed to make a much easier task for the young activists. Examining democracy, civil liberties, press regulations, internet freedom and corruption, participants unanimously decided that Cameroon, Iran, Nigeria and Russia qualified as the countries that held freedom of speech in the lowest regard.

As the debate evolved, a common consensus emerged: A campaign should be set up to stop countries that stifle free speech from hosting high profile sports events, like the world cup. With host countries benefiting from huge boosts to the economy, infrastructure and community spirit, this should be incentive enough to halt human rights abuses without punishing innocent citizens by banning countries completely.

More about Draw the Line

Recap report: Draw the Line — play on or red card?

Index hosted the first of our Draw the Line events on Monday, as ten young adults met to discuss issues surrounding the free expression records of the countries participating in the World Cup.

The big question was, should we blow the whistle on free-speech offending countries? During this World Cup, democratic countries will engage with regimes with poor records on freedom of expression, so what should we do? Should some countries be kicked out? Which ones? And what about the hosts of these tournaments? 

Members of the group started off by voicing their opinion on whether or not some repressive countries should be allowed to participate, but the conversation soon developed from there.

The group was split in half and asked to determine which four of this year’s World Cup countries they thought would be included in a free expression “Group of Death”. Index provided cards that gave statistics on each country’s press freedom, democracy, civil liberties, net freedom, and corruption. After much shuffling and discussion, both groups decided on the same four countries: Cameroon, Iran, Nigeria, and Russia.

Participants were split into smaller groups, each researching one country, and made their case for why their country was the “winner” in repressing freedom of expression. This sparked conversations on topics including the idea of government versus civil responsibility, as well as conditioning of citizen behaviour and use of propaganda.

After much debate and idea sharing, the group reached a common consensus: countries repressing free speech should not be banned from global sports, but they believe a campaign should be set up to prevent freedom of expression and human rights offending countries hosting events like the World Cup.

Tweet us your thoughts with #IndexDrawtheLine to participate in the Draw the Line debate.

This article was posted on July 2, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

Padraig Reidy: Why use the “offended” line? Because it works

(Image: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock)

(Image: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock)

World Cup time! Hurray! An entire month of football! Rejoice as the pubs stay open late for weirdly timed matches! Gasp at your workmates’ expertise on Iran’s deployment of a false 9! Repeatedly smash yourself in the face with your iPad as you read yet another article by a broadsheet columnist complaining that people don’t pay as much attention to literary fiction as they do to sport!

While the competition officially kicks off tonight, the Brazilians, or, specifically, the archdiocese of Rio have dived in with an early tackle, reportedly threatening to sue Italian broadcaster RAI for an advert showing Rio’s famous Christ The Redeemer statue wearing the Jersey of Italy’s Azzurri.

Suing for what, exactly, is not clear. The church’s lawyer, Rodrigo Grazioli, has been quoted as saying “The Archdiocese is deeply offended. It’s as if Brazilian TV were to make a commercial in which mulatto girls engaged in lewd behaviour with the gladiators of the Colosseum.”

Leaving aside the bizarrely specific and racist mention of “mulatto girls”, and the fact that people involved with churches have to make absolutely everything, ever, about “lewd behaviour”, it’s still not clear what the exact complaint is. Is it the suggestion that the colossal statue might support Italy? That Jesus himself might support Italy? Is this about putting any jersey at all on Jesus, or specifically an Italian one? Is there something specifically blasphemous about suggesting that the Son of God is a catenaccio man?

Or is it something rather more prosaic, such as, say, the church claiming to hold copyright over the image of the statue?

If it is that, as the original O Globo newspaper report suggests, then Grazioli and his clients are being more than a little disingenuous in their outrage. If the issue is simply an objection to commercial usage of the image, than that’s what the complaint should be about.

So why the offended line? Why the suggestion of an insult to religion? Because, put simply, it works. Who wants to be offensive?

In Ireland this week, national broadcaster RTE refused to show a sketch as part of the Savage Eye sketch show. The sketch, now leaked on the web features a group of “wild nuns” ogling a muscular Jesus, in a spoof of Diet Coke ads of old. Comic David McSavage, the man responsible for the skit, has said the broadcaster is afraid of Ireland’s blasphemy laws; RTE says its own guidelines will not allow for “undue offence”.

I’m not even sure that, even if one was a supporter of laws against blasphemy, images of hunky Jesus, or Azzurri Jesus would necessarily count as blasphemous, at least not for Catholics.

On a panel on religious art a few years ago, I found myself simultaneously playing the role of token secularist and token Roman Catholic. The other panelists – art critics and Anglicans – were quite keen on abstraction in religious art. I found myself defending the more visceral, more Roman depictions of Jesus and God on the basis that the entire point of Jesus was his manifestation as human.

To ascribe certain human possibilities to him, such as lust, or even supporting a particular sports team, should not be considered transgressive; indeed I recall, in my youth, our parish priest would often offer up prayers for the local Gaelic football club, suggesting at least the possibility of partisanship. And the very fact that nuns are “brides of Christ” is suggestive of, well…

Catholicism doesn’t really have a problem with idolatry either. Catholics complaining about depictions of Christ do not have the same theological basis as Orthodox Sunni Muslims, who at least can point to some rules on portrayals (which is not to suggest that everyone should follow those rules). Catholics, with our brightly painted statues, sacred medals and all the rest, don’t really have a leg to stand on this one.

These squeals of “offence” are really demands for “respect”, in the Corleone sense. And since the Danish Muhammad cartoons, religions have been in a respect-based arms war. Every time you hear a conservative Christian moan that this or that comic or writer “wouldn’t say that about the Muslims”, remember, they are not praising their own faith’s humility, but condemning its timidity. The archdiocese of Rio is playing a version of this game with its claim to be offended by a Photoshopped football jersey. There’s no reason we should play along.

This article was published on June 12, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org