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Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Watch the ad first. It’s yummy.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting of India has written to the Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) asking it to make sure this advertisement is not broadcast any more, terming it indecent, vulgar and repulsive.

I have long believed that of all the useless appendages of the Indian government, the one that has the least rationale for existence is the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

As Ezra Levant would say: Fire. Them. All.

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Adult film producer John Stagliano — facing up to 40 years in jail if convicted in a currently running obscenity case — debates Pepperdine Law School’s Barry McDonald on free speech vs obscenity. Money quote from Stagliano:

Barry, your point is that people must be forced to not think things that you don’t like, and for that you’d have me put in jail. Your comment that it “seems” to you that viewing images “to obtain sexual pleasure cannot be the healthiest way of experiencing sex” seems not a good enough reason to imprison me for 39 years. In fact, using a proper concept of morality based on individual rights, it is you and those who would put me in jail when I did not infringe on anyone’s rights who are behaving immorally.

(Link via Reason Hit and Run)

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This is a disturbing and stark reminder of how much India lags behind the US in free speech.

The cyber cell of the Pune police on Saturday arrested one more suspect for allegedly uploading obscene and derogatory text about Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on a social networking site.

The suspect has been identified as Nithin Chakravarti Suresh Sajja (22) of Begumpeth, Hyderabad. Earlier the crime branch had arrested Rahul Krishnakumar Vaid (22), an IT professional of Gurgaon on May 17.

The Information Technology Act under which the suspect was arrested has been previously used against other people for writing derogatory things about Bal Thackeray, Ambedkar and Shivaji.

Why would this not happen in the United States?

The only law that could conceivably apply in such a scenario in the US is defamation. In order to qualify as defamation under American law, a statement must be both false and injurious to the reputation of an individual. Furthermore, when public figures are involved, the burden is on the accuser to prove malicious intent.

Perhaps the most important qualifier in the above paragraph is the word ‘false’. By definition, opinions cannot be true or false, because they are, well, opinions. Thus, an opinion, however offensive or disgusting, is not legally actionable. A statement that on literal reading is factual but is really just an opinion (e.g “She is a bitch”) is also safe from prosecution.

It seems highly likely that in this particular case, the poor guy currently behind bars was just expressing his opinions about Sonia Gandhi in colorful language. It is also likely that whatever statement he posted did not do any real harm to Ms. Gandhi’s reputation. Thus, if this were the US, the idea that he could be arrested for such an offence would be almost laughable. There is no shortage of offensive humor here against political leaders (check out the Hillary nutcracker) or celebrities in general (in a South Park episode, Paris Hilton is depicted as stuffing a pineapple into her vagina) and no one is ever arrested for such things. 

A second point, I think, is also worth mentioning. Defamation in the US and many other countries is a civil offence, meaning you can be fined for it but not jailed (a few American states still have criminal defamation statutes, but they are almost never enforced). Thus, even if the defamation law did apply to the Sonia Gandhi episode above (that is, if Nithin had made explicit false statements about her), it would not result in jail time.

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One of the many good arguments libertarians and other advocates of complete free speech offer in support of their position is the slippery-slope argument. Basically, once you restrict certain types of speech, the bar is lowered and the censorship gets more and more oppressive with the passage of time. The result is a slow but steady decline into a society without any real freedom of speech.

Just how bad can this slippery slope be, sceptics may wonder? Surely those at the helm of affairs are sensible people and will know where to draw the line?

Well it can be really, really bad. For an example, look at this decision out of Canada, more specifically the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The heroic Ezra Levant, who faced the same commission a few months later in this video, calls it the most revolting order he has ever seen in Canada. Eugene Volokh calls it a “breathtakingly broad prohibition, which extends far beyond the terms of the (already troubling) statute.” So what does the ruling say?

Well, ladies and gentleman, it orders Stephen Boisson, the defendant, and an organization called “The Concerned Christian Coalition” to 

cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.

That’s right. Because a certain letter that Boisson sent to the editor of a newspaper contained his opinion that homosexuality is immoral he can never again express any opinion of that nature in speech, writing or even email. This isn’t China or Iran or some ancient autocracy but 21st century Canada. A country that, unlike rigid US of A, was `progressive’ enough to write a hate-speech exception into its free-speech laws. The result was a hate-speech law which — unlike defamation — does not differentiate between factual claims and opinion nor allow truth as a defence. It was meant to be used in only the most extreme of circumstances. Canada’s Supreme Court dismissed fears of abuse in its upholding of the law, saying,

as long as human rights tribunals continue to be well aware of the purpose of [this law] and pay heed to the ardent and extreme nature of feeling described in that phrase, there is little danger that subjective opinion as to offensiveness will supplant the proper meaning of the section.

Welcome to reality, Sirs. 

(For more accounts of assaults on freedom by Canada’s human rights commissions, check out Ezra Levant’s excellent blog. Also, check out this article on the ongoing Maclean’s trial.)

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From the TOI pages:

The city police have registered a case of sedition and conspiracy against The Times of India, the editor of its Ahmedabad edition, a correspondent and a photographer on the basis of a complaint from the newly-appointed city police commissioner, O P Mathur.

Mathur’s complaint comes in response to a series of documented investigative reports published by the paper, questioning his competence to guarantee the security of the people of Ahmedabad, which is high on the hit list of terrorists.

Hmph. I didn’t even know there was an entire section of the Indian penal code that deals with “sedition.” And apparently in Gujarat it can be used to stop newspapers from publishing stuff the cops don’t like. Wow. One learns new things every day.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the cop thinks free speech is a Pakistani concept.

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“I believe that freedom is the deepest need of every human soul”
George. W. Bush

“Pornography exists everywhere, of course, but when it comes into societies in which it’s difficult for young men and women to get together and do what young men and women often like doing, it satisfies a more general need; and, while doing so, it sometimes becomes a kind of standard-bearer for freedom, even for civilization.”
Salman Rushdie

The Bush administration is in its last few months of office, but that is not stopping it from using taxpayers’ money to vigorously pursue its moral agenda.

I wrote earlier about the Karen Fletcher case. Now, federal prosecuters have charged a Los Angeles based adult movie producer with obscenity. If indicted, he faces $7 million in fines and jail time. Mind you, this is not a child porn case, but regular adult stuff, involving, meant for and sold only to adults.

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The Supreme Court of India has once again put its weight behind freedom of expression, overruling the ban on the film “Jodha Akbar” by three state governments.

It is a sad matter that in India people think they have a moral right to ban things they don’t like. And the ludicrous loopholes in our constitution (think “free-speech for everyone, except those who really need it”) do not help either.

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