Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Free speech outrage in Britain

One can expect occasional outrages against free speech in lingeringly post-Soviet and post-Communist Eastern Europe (sorry, Ed Lucas) because these people -- the ones running the police and legal systems -- simply have not learned in 20 years. That is why this blog was started in late 2008-- because neo-KGB goons in Latvia arrested a slightly wacky college economics lecturer for remarks he made at a public discussion about banks and the national currency, the lat.  There have been more incidents since then, but after all, this country and places immensely deeper in the not-even-post-Soviet mentality morass (hilariously barbarian Belarus and its Teddy Bear arrest) were never considered cradles of democratic liberties, the rights of free men and all that. That is where both Britain and the US have, at least historically, been beacons of freedom in a world with two, three many Eastern Europes and worse.
But now this from The Guardian:

Lawyers for the BBC are considering making a formal appeal against a court order that has banned the corporation from showing a dramatised film about the experiences of rioters who took part in last summer's disorder.

The ruling from a judge prevented the docu-drama, which had been due to be broadcast on BBC2 at 9pm on Monday, from being broadcast "by any media until further order".

The channel's executives were forced to pull the film, which is based on the testimony of interviews conducted for the Guardian and London School of Economics research into the disorder.

A second BBC film in the two-part series, which is based on personal interviews with police officers and was scheduled for broadcast on Wednesday, is also banned under the order.

For legal reasons*, the Guardian cannot name the judge who made the ruling, the court in which he is sitting or the case he is presiding over. However, it is understood that lawyers for the BBC strongly object to his ruling, the nature of which is believed to be highly unusual.

Hours before Monday's programme was due to be aired, the BBC tried and failed to appeal the order over the telephone. The corporation's lawyers are now working on legal arguments for a second potential appeal, which may be lodged tomorrow.

The programme, part of a two-part series, features actors who play anonymous rioters speaking about their experiences of the riots last August. The BBC said in a statement on Monday: "A court order has been made that has prevented the BBC from broadcasting the programme The Riots: In their own Words tonight. We will put it out at a later date."

The script from the programme, written by the award-winning playwright Alecky Blythe, was produced from verbatim transcripts of interviews conducted as part of the Reading the Riots study, which conducted confidential interviews with 270 rioters.

The ban on the film has created a major headache for BBC executives, who are being forced to reorganise a packed schedule, which includes Olympic coverage and journalism based around next month's anniversary of the riots.

The BBC did not give details about the nature or contents of the court order. However a copy seen by the Guardian states: "It is ordered that the BBC programme 'The Riots: In their Own Words' due for broadcast on BBC 2 tonight is not broadcast by any media by any means until further order." Another part of the ruling states: "Further the clip currently available for viewing on the BBC website be removed forthwith."

The clip referred to by the judge appeared on a blog posted last Friday, in which a BBC producer on the project said that using the "important and illuminating" interviews in the drama would provide insight into "why and how the riots had happened". The clip, a short preview of the actors playing rioters speaking about their experiences, has now been removed from the site - although the blog remains.

Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: "This is a disturbing move. The Reading the Riots project gives a valuable insight into the events of last summer in England. As we approach the anniversary of the riots, it is important that broadcasts and discussion about the events are allowed to take place. Censoring television programmes is not in any way helpful to our understanding of the important issues and factors underlying the disturbances."

*WTF??! Great Britain?? Are we going back to the Star Chamber? Secret trials? Anonymous "judges" who need give no reason or argument for their decisions?  Where is Anonymous when we need them? The film V is Vendetta was about a future dystopian Britain, but it seems that future is arriving.
Curiously, Index on Censorship simply ignored a couple of cases in Latvia that I reported to them, but I am not going to return the "favor". I will express my solidarity with the BBC reporters trying to do their job and tell a story.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Uldis Freimanis, a nationalist radical "goal post" for free speech, is found dead

Uldis Freimanis, a Latvian nationalist with radical public views on many issues, was found dead near his home in Riga. Freimanis, born in 1943, bore no signs of foul play and by some reports, had been suffering from a heart condition. A regular, placard-bearing participant at anti-gay and radical nationalist demonstrations, Freimanis was last seen organizing a commemoration of the end of the first Soviet occupation of Latvia when German troops entered Riga on July 1, 1941. Historically, Latvians' joy at seeing the Red Army driven out vanished quickly as it become apparent that occupation by Nazi Germany simply mean a change of shooters of Latvian citizens and their specific targets. This seemed lost on the organizers of the most recent event.
For me, Freimanis, no matter how strange and repugnant his publicly expressed views, which included strident anti-Semitism and homophobia, was a kind of litmus test of free speech in Latvia. He was a goal post for tolerance (non-censorship) of radical and offensive expression. Free speech is not for "nice" opinions, "moderate and balanced view", political correctness, etc. Freedom of expression is to protect the views that most of us may hate and be shocked by. If we both defend the right to peacefully express such views, at the same time as we express our own rejection of their substance and our arguments as to why they are wrong, we are doing the work of citizens defending both freedom and a democratic society.
I had a slight acquaintance with Freimanis, and he lacked some of the cold hostility and hatefulness I have felt from other, younger Latvian right-wing radicals. In fact, I sent him some digital photos of his son, who is a soldier with the Latvian army honor guard at the Freedom Monument and was hoping to send him a photo of his participation at the latest July 1 commemoration, which gathered a few dozen supporters. He was a cordial man in the few encounters I have had with him, and can only express my condolences to his family and my regrets that he will not have a chance to re-examine his views and convictions, which I see as being outrageous, but which he had every right to express,

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Latvia is not defending freedom for the the thought it hates

Freedom of expression – what is it good for? For your neighbor to say that despite the clouds, it is a nice day? For your workmate to say she prefers mayonnaise to ketchup on her french fries? For some dude on the street to shout that he loves a sports team you absolutely despise? This is everyday stuff.
The real test of freedom of speech is how an allegedly free society treats its really extreme, repulsive, provocative and offensive crackpots. Can we truly grant freedom to the thought we hate? Latvia may be failing that test again in the case of Aleksandrs Giļmans, a member of For Human Rights in a Unified Latvia (PCTVL), a pro-Russian party that was voted out of the Latvian parliament or Saeima.
An article Giļmans said he wrote some six years ago was republished. In it, (according to press reports) he downplayed the deportation of some 15 000 Latvian citizens, saying it was not the tragedy that it is made out to be, and adding that Latvians themselves were involved in the deportation of their countrymen. There is probably some truth to the latter, or it is at least worth researching how the Soviet occupation authorities came over lists of whom to arrest and deport and where to to find them.
What has happened now is that the Latvian Security Police, no friends of free expression in the past, have started a criminal investigation of Giļmans for the “crime” of glorifying and justifying genocide,crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and denying that such crimes had occurred. It is the equivalent of a Holocaust denial case in countries where that is forbidden.
While extreme sensitivity to Holocaust issues may be understandable in Germany and Israel, to forbid the peaceful advocacy of a false and offensive viewpoint is, nonetheless, a serious restriction on speech. I am convinced that granting the state the power to punish any speech is more dangerous than the substance of what a private person without police, prosecutors and jails behind them, may say or publish. Giļmans assertions were answered by Latvian historians, who called them nonsense. In a free, democratic society, as a means of dealing with offensive opinion, that is enough. Call off the Security Police.