UK Government Watch

 2009: July-Sept



19th September   

Update: Unequal to the Task...

Melon farming Fresh
A website
update service

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Melon Farming Fresh

 

Harriet Hatemen caught speaking bollox about lap dancing on expenses
Link Here
Harriet Harman

  Pursuing her private
pleasures on expenses?

The Treasury has denied firms receive tax breaks for corporate visits to lap-dancing clubs after 'Equalities' Minister Harriet Harman denounced it.

Harman petitioned the chancellor to end tax relief on such events which she argued exclude female employees. However, the Treasury said corporate entertainment of any kind was not deductable for tax or VAT purposes.

Firms can claim back VAT for trips which were genuinely related to developing staf", a spokesman said. He said HM Revenue and Customs would likely have to examine whether such a visit to a lap-dancing club had been wholly and exclusively for the benefit of business , and would more likely be seen as a "gift" or perk.

Harman told a meeting of extreme feminists of the Fawcett Society on Thursday: I will take up the issue of tax relief, because there is a whole host of rules around tax relief. For example you can't get tax relief for childcare, which is necessary for you to go to work. Why should you be able to get tax relief for a night out at a lap-dancing club where effectively you are discriminating against women employees in doing so?"

A Treasury spokesman said it appeared Ms Harman had been misinformed: Corporate entertainment of any kind is not deductible for corporate tax or VAT purposes. Knowingly claiming for corporate entertainment is tax fraud and those who try to evade their legal obligations will face penalties in addition to paying back any evaded tax.

 

18th September   

Update: Pay Per Click...

Video Universe - Buy New Release DVDs, TV on DVD, Music Videos and Much More

Ministry of Justice consults on reining in online libel
Link Here  full story: Libel Tourism...UK prosecutions of books published abroad

Ministry of Justice logo Proposals for radical changes to UK libel laws aimed at updating them for the internet age have been published.

Online publishers currently face the prospect of fresh legal action every time an article is downloaded, even if many years have passed since it first appeared. Newspapers and civil liberties campaigners complain the effect is to drastically limit freedom of speech.

Changes to the law could involve the abolishing of the 160-year-old multiple publication rule , which allows for a new libel claim with every click, providing it is made within a year.

That could be replaced with a single publication rule, allowing only one court action against defamatory material, to prevent open ended liability.

A consultation paper published by the Ministry of Justice also suggests increasing the limitation period of claims to three years after discovery of the article. Publishers of online archives and blogs might also be given a defence of qualified privilege against offending article after the year time limit had expired. They would face action only if they refused to publish a correction on the offending web page.

Media lawyers say the effect of the multiple publication rule has been to make London the libel capital of the world with litigants claiming here against publications based all over the world on the basis of web-based literature.

 

17th September   

Trusting the BBC to Self Censor...

  Video Universe - Buy New Release DVDs, TV on DVD, Music Videos and Much More

US Mainstream DVDs

Video Universe
 

Government questions the role of the BBC regulator
Link Here

BBC Trust The Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, called for an overhaul of the regulatory structure of the BBC yesterday and claimed that the Corporation's governing body, The BBC Trust, should be scrapped.

In a speech to the Royal Television Society's annual convention, Bradshaw said the Trust, which only came into effect in 2007 was an unsustainable model and should be replaced. I know of no other area of public life where – as is the case with the Trust – the same body is both regulator and cheerleader.

The BBC is under intense pressure from commercial media organisations that whinge it has grown too large. The Corporation's senior management is concerned that a future Conservative government would try to reduce the BBC licence fee.

 

15th September   

Update: Must Not Dawdle in the Corridors of Power...

Tanya Byron hurries along the Government's internet censors along
Link Here  full story: The Byron Report...Tanya Byron reports on media child protection

Tanya Byron Tanya Byron is so frustrated at the lack of effort to implement her action plan, which was published 18 months ago, that she is taking matters into her own hands and visiting schools to warn pupils and teachers of the dangers directly.

Although the UK Council for Child Internet Safety has been set up, very little of substance has emerged. Dr Byron, a child psychologist asked by the Prime Minister to draw up proposals on internet safety, said that big ideological divides remained over the scope of online regulations and who should enforce them.

Dr Byron is frustrated that a national strategy on child safety has been delayed from last spring until at least December. A safety campaign pencilled in for the summer has yet to materialise.

A move to adopt the pan-European video game classification system so parents can check if their children's video games are appropriate for their age group is under threat. This summer the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told Dr Byron that there were fears that the existing legislative framework could make it hard to adopt the EU-wide system. She wrote back immediately, asking to meet officials without delay, but has had no response.

She is particularly frustrated that the council appears still to be deadlocked over old issues: the strength of new standards and how to enforce them. Without a figure independent of both the industry, which wants a light touch, and the world of child protection, which is seeking more stringent rules, progress will not be made.

The Government has now set a date of December 8 for a meeting to produce a national strategy, having initially set the spring deadline. Dr Byron has set up her own campaign, the 21st Century Schools Project, and is visiting schools to tell pupils, teachers and parents about safety. The internet moves so much faster than policy. I realised unless I started doing something right now, my own children would be long gone from school before anything changed, she said.

 

7th September   

First Internet Censorship Law...

Government prepares bill to mandate IWF style website blocking
Link Here

IWF logo ISPs that fail to curb child pornography on the web would be criminalised in a crackdown to be introduced in the Queen's Speech this autumn.

The Home Office is drawing up plans for what, in effect, would be the first form of state intervention in Britain in relation to the internet.

British ISPs would face heavy fines for failing to block sites containing images of child sexual abuse, according to the contents of a leaked Home Office document seen by The Independent on Sunday.

Figures show that 98.5% of ISPs already take down or block illegal sites through the Internet Watch Foundation, a self-regulation body created in 1996 that monitors content and reports obscene images to police.

Opponents of the move say the IWF is working well and claim a new crackdown would force ISPs to deal with Scotland Yard, which has less experience of blocking websites, and in the process allow more illegal images to slip through the net.

The leaked Home Office letter says a clause in the Police, Crime and Private Security Bill in the Queen's Speech would compel domestic ISPs to implement the blocking of illegal images of child sexual abuse.

There will be a four-week consultation with ISPs on the proposals, but insiders said the firms had not been informed about the proposed crackdown. A Whitehall source said: "This is a gesture which will undermine the real work that is going on to tackle child porn abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation is already working to take down sites and people are getting arrested.

 

28th August   

Updated: Side Splitting...

Calls for the VRA to be consigned to the dustbin of history
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

  We really need to bring back
weekly collections!

I almost split my sides laughing, until I recalled that for a quarter of a century people have been flung in prison for crimes that never existed. I hope that the government ends up paying massive compensation. As far as my taxes are concerned, it's a worthier cause than bombing Afghans, or prosecuting prostitutes' maids for "controlling" them.

We Brits need to wake up top what our control freak government is doing. Every time some nutter whinges about the opening of a sex shop, we need to point out that such shops are only necessary because of the (illegal) VRA. If M. LeBrun, Herr Braun and Sig. Bruni want a naughty film, they can buy it from a mainstream shop or by mail order, while Mr Brown is obliged (or, it appears, not obliged) to skulk into a sex shop in a sub-prime shopping area.

I suggest that all Melon Farmers write to their MPS asking for this nonsense to be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

From Alan (writing from a civilised country, where the station bookstall has a range of mucky films available to commuters)

Extra Laws

27th August 2009 by Jon Williams, See article from pleasedsheep.com

The 1984 VRA has turned into rather a mess.

The Girl Next Door Unrated As the Act was written a long time before DVD's and DVD extras, it's all a matter of interpretation as to what, besides the actual film, needed to be classified. In my book audio commentaries would be exempt, but the BBFC tells you that 'Our lawyers suggest that these require classification'. And what about 'the making of...' documentaries, interviews with cast and crew members and so on. Ask the BBFC and they reply with, "It's our job to classify things, it's up to you what you send us, we can't tell you what the law is - look at the Act". I did, and I discovered that it's policed by Trading Standards who only act in response to a complaint. Their concern is actually more with pirate copies. So I put the question to a cross section of Trading Standards departments as to what was exempt when it came to DVD extras. And I got a lot of different replies, ranging from nothing is exempt, to everything other than deleted scenes is. And then others pointed out that the film's classification applies to the whole DVD, so if it's an '18' then the extras can't be separately classified as they've got an '18' by default. What's more they couldn't imagine anyone complaining about any extras not having been classified (how would they know) but they would complain if any of the extras went way beyond the film's classification. Of course none of them wanted me to quote them, on the grounds that only a judge could make any legal interpretations. But I did get the impression that, provided the filmmakers included appropriate extras, they had more important things to be getting on with.

Right now, for the next few months, all this has been made irrelevant. But it is a golden opportunity to push for some sensible reforms, such as the introduction of 'unrated-18' which would bring us into line with the US as well as several other civilised countries.

Help for Small Circulation DVDs

27th August 2009. From John, see also www.myspace.com/julianmarshiii

Titus Andronicus in Inuit An idea that may have appeal even to MPs who don't care about censorship issues...

If I make a film - or even want to release one from the decades ago - I have to obtain a certificate (except for a few special cases - innocuous documentaries and music videos). And that will cost me over £1,000 for a feature length film.

As a new and unknown film maker I may sell only 250 copies of my film (an adaptation of Shakespeare say - and not a Bard Nasty like TITUS ANDRONICUS but an innocuous tale like ROMEO AND JULIET with its street sword fights and under-age lust and... well, maybe one of his other ones *grin*). That means £4 or more has to be added to the final sale price merely to pay the BBFC.

Isn't this a choke on creativity? But aren't we always being told that our creative industries are worth billions to the economy?

The VRA is quite clearly preventing limited interest productions from being seen. (This is as true for our cinematic heritage as it is for new titles. What, for example, is the expected sales figure for a DVD of a silent film, I wonder? Considering the limited appeal, I'd imagine that the BBFC fee makes up a significant proportion of the cost of getting it to market.)

Offsite: Could the UK Video Recordings Act of 1984 get any more useless?

28th August 2009. See article from spiked-online.com by Graham Barnfield

Spiked logo The bottom line is that criminal law needs to butt out of the cinema and home entertainment industries. If consenting participants in film productions emerge unharmed from the production process, then the resulting films would meet a revised, forward-looking minimum legal threshold in future. (Whether they should go ahead on aesthetic or commercial grounds is a separate issue.) This latest humiliation for the Video Recordings Act 1984 should be a chance to wipe the tape clean and treat adult viewers as adults.

...Read the full article

 

27th August   

Update: A Flood of Unclassified Cover Ups...

Barbara Follett tried to keep the lid on the VRA being erased from UK law
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

DCMS logo Wikileaks has published a letter sent from UK Parliament Under Secretary Barbara Follett MP to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC.

The letter is dated 24th of August 2009 and is informing Public Prosecutions of an issue that has risen in relation to the Video Recordings Act 1984, which appears to be that offences under the Act are unenforceable, and existing investigations should not be continued.

After explaining the situation, Follett in an obvious attempt to suppress a spreading public knowledge about this issue asks DPP to consider carefully what reasons are given to the court in relation to any discontinuations, fearing the market could be flooded with unclassified DVDs.

 

27th August   

Offsite: Another Fine Mess...

Julian Petley on the VRA debacle
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

Index on Censorship logo Legislate in haste, repent at leisure — that, most assuredly, is the lesson of the really quite extraordinary news that the Video Recordings Act 1984 was never referred to the European Commission, was thus never officially enacted and now cannot be enforced.

The reason why the Act should have been referred to the European Commission is because it constitutes a restraint on intra-EU trade, in that it entails that videos/DVDs which have not been certificated by the BBFC cannot legally be imported from another EU country and then sold or rented in the UK.

The DCMS has said that it has received legal advice that people who have been found guilty under the Act would be unable to overturn their convictions or seek compensation. But this is quite simply whistling in the dark.Keith Vaz is surely entirely correct in asserting that if the Act has never been brought into force, prosecutions under it are void. You cannot prosecute someone and convict them on the basis of legislation that has never been in force. If I was one of the unfortunate victims of this un-enacted Act, I would most certainly be consulting m'learned friends without further ado.

The government has made it clear that it intends to re-enact the legislation. However, rather than letting them simply rubber stamp this non-Act and proceed as if nothing has happened, would this not be the perfect opportunity to engage, finally, in a sensible debate about video regulation, a debate which was quite impossible in the over-heated and febrile atmosphere of 1984 and 1994?

...Read the full article

 

25th August   

Video Recordings Act Erased...

1984 Act governing video censorship was never properly enacted
Link Here  full story: Video Recordings Act Erased...VRA was not properly enacted

Shock Horror T he discovery of a Whitehall blunder means that the 1984 law regulating the video industry was never enacted.

The disclosure that for 25 years the Video Recordings Act governing the classification and sale of videos, video games and now DVDs was never brought into force is a big embarrassment to both Conservative and Labour governments.

It also leaves the industry in disarray with the classification system no longer officially in operation.

Police and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs are to be told to stop bringing any prosecutions until the Government brings in emergency legislation to re-enact the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Until then people will be able to sell videos, including violent and pornographic ones, to people without fear of prosecution.

The video industry was stunned by the Government's admission that the Act was not properly enacted 25 years ago. Officials in the Home Office had failed to notify the European Commission of the existence of the Act as they were required to do so under an EU directive.

The mistake was not spotted on two subsequent occasions, in 1993 and 1994. It was finally discovered during plans to update the law and introduce a new video-game classification system.

Barbara Follett, Minister for Culture and Tourism, said last night: Unfortunately, the discovery of this omission means that, a quarter of a century later, the Video Recordings Act is no longer enforceable against individuals in United Kingdom courts. In a letter to representatives of the video industry, Follett said: As the then British Government did not notify the European Commission of the VRA's classification and labelling requirements, they cannot now be enforced against individuals in UK courts.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that it had received legal advice that people who had previously been prosecuted and convicted would be unable to overturn their convictions or seek compensation. [Sounds like bollox to me, how can you not fail to overturn a conviction for a law that was not enacted].

The British Video Association said that it is urging members to continue submitting work to the British Board of Film Classification and to continue labelling them under the system.

 

16th August   

Children Should be Not Seen and Not Heard...

Government to give councils control over children appearing on TV
Link Here

DCSF logo Children could disappear from our television screens if the Government decides to press ahead with plans to tighten regulations covering their appearance in entertainment, broadcasters claim.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is putting the finishing touches to proposals aimed at clarifying the rules governing reality shows such as Britain's Got Talent and Boys and Girls Alone , which campaigners claim can cause children unnecessary distress.

The television industry is braced for a fierce battle with children's charities and the Government over the proposals, which will suggest that programme makers must obtain a licence from a local council virtually every time they want to include a child in a television show. Councils also want the power to do spot checks on production sets.

The department originally intended to publish proposals last week, but last-minute submissions by broadcasters have forced it to delay. The head of one production company said: You've got a whole range of people who want a super-nanny state where kids aren't even allowed to watch television, let alone work on it. This debate will be acrimonious, to say the least.

Legislation covering children in the entertainment industry, which has not been updated for more than 40 years, states that under-16s must be licensed if they take time out of school, or are paid, to “perform” — widely interpreted as singing, acting or dancing.

While this already covers drama and talent shows, it is understood that the Government will suggest widening the licensing requirements to include factual programmes and reality shows. Broadcasters say that forcing them to apply for permission to feature children in documentaries will give local authorities political powers to veto programmes they do not agree with.

 

27th July   

Bouncer Justice...

Bouncers become third tier police with powers to issue fines
Link Here
Nazi soldiers

 An army of security guards and park wardens

Private security companies that employ nightclub bouncers are being licensed to issue on-the-spot fines under a huge extension of police-style powers to 'accredited' civilians.

There are now more than 1,400 people enrolled across England and Wales to issue fines for offences from dog fouling to public disorder.

A private security company in Norfolk is the latest group to be accredited to issue instant fines. The company, Norwich-based EventGuard, has won accreditation for the first 25 of its employees to help police with antisocial behaviour and to issue fixed penalties. The company manages crowds and traffic at  events such as the Royal Norfolk Show but also carries out 'door supervision'.

It is licensed to direct traffic on the highway; control antisocial behaviour including harassment; prevent drinking in certain places and issue fixed penalty notices for offences including graffiti, flyposting, dog fouling, littering and public disorder.

EventGuard is understood to have spent about £10,000 on the accreditation including uniforms of yellow jackets and T-shirts emblazoned with a logo indicating they are authorised by the police to issue the tickets.

The powers are granted by chief constables under the Police Reform Act 2001 to organisations that contribute towards community safety. They must undergo extensive vetting and training and wear a badge and uniform approved by the chief constable.

Security guards and others accredited, such as park wardens, parking attendants and shopping centre guards, have access to the Police National Computer and must use it before issuing an on-the-spot fine. Where the offender has a criminal record, a ticket should not be issued but the police called and the offender dealt with through the courts system.

Magistrates are not impressed, they are lodging a protest with Jack Straw, the Injustice Secretary, amid concerns that guards will have a gung-ho approach to issuing fines.

John Howson, deputy chairman of the 30,000 Magistrates' Association in England and Wales, said there were already numerous examples of such tickets being issued inappropriately. Our concern is that here we have essentially a 'third-tier' police force that is now including security guards and door supervisors. These people need to check the Police National Computer to see if the person has a criminal record. We don't think it appropriate for these people to have that access.

 

23rd July   

Olympic Sport of Gagging...

UK government gold medal contenders
Link Here

China flag Police have been handed 'Chinese-style' powers to enter private homes and seize political posters during the London 2012 Olympics.

Little-noticed measures passed by the Government will allow officers and Olympics officials to enter homes and shops near official venues to confiscate any protest material.

Breaking the rules could land offenders with a fine of up to £20,000.

Civil liberties groups compared the powers to those used by the Communist Chinese government to stop political protest during the 2008 Beijing Games.

Anita Coles, of Liberty, said: Powers of entry should be for fighting crime, not policing poster displays. Didn't we learn last time that the Olympics should not be about stifling free expression?

The powers were introduced by the Olympics Act of 2006, passed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, supposedly to preserve the monopoly of official advertisers on the London 2012 site. They would allow advertising posters or hoardings placed in shop or home to be removed. But the law has been drawn so widely that it also includes non-commercial material - which could extend its reach to include legitimate campaign literature.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: This is a Government who just doesn't understand civil liberties. They may claim these powers won't be used but the frank truth is no one will believe them.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Chris Huhne said: This sort of police action runs the risk of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. 'We should aim to show the Chinese that you can run a successful Olympics without cracking down on protestors and free speech.

 

19th July   

Update: Playing a Fascist Tune...

UK government insist on vetting the bands at your local pub
Link Here  full story: Licensed Music Censors...Licensing sets up authorities as music censors

DCMS logo Live music is fast disappearing from pubs, clubs, wine bars, restaurants and other small venues, musicians claim, because of a law passed in 2003.

Hopes were raised recently when the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport ended a lengthy investigation into the 2003 Licensing Act by recommending that venues with a capacity of fewer than 200 people should be exempt.

But this week, the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw surely, gave the Government's reply: it does not matter how small a venue is, it can still attract trouble. Bradshaw has agreed to revisit the issue, but not for at least a year, by which time there could be a different government.

If there is a folk singer or rapper in the pub, there has to be a special licence called a Temporary Event Notice (TEN). According to the Musicians' Union, small venues have stopped putting on live music because managements do not want the hassle of filling out lengthy and intrusive forms.

In London, which has perhaps the most vibrant live music scene of all, there is the additional hazard of form 696, compiled by Scotland Yard, which some people suspect is a deliberate device for suppressing the forms of music that black and Asian teenagers enjoy – dubstep, hip hop, ragga, and the rest. The original version of form 696, since amended, asked after the ethnic background of all performers, and for their mobile phone numbers.

Lowkey, a British-Iraqi rapper, added: I've seen it doing the clubs. On a night when they are expecting the white audience, there will be one bouncer on the door. On the next night, when there is a black audience, there will be bouncers everywhere, metal detectors, you have to show your passport and give your address. that kind of thing. They just assume that where there is a lot of brown people, there is going to be violence.

But Bradshaw said that his department has considered exemptions for small venues, but has not been able to reach agreement on exemptions that will deliver an increase in live music whilst still retaining essential protections for local residents. There is no direct link between size of audience or number of performers and potential for noise nuisance or disorder, he claimed.

His decision provoked a furious reaction from musicians. Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of the charity UK Music, and former lead singer of the punk rock group the Undertones, said: After six years of legislation, eight consultations, two government research projects, two national review processes and a parliamentary select committee report, all of which have highlighted the harmful impact these regulations are having on the British music industry, the Government's only reaction is yet another review.

The Met says that the form is simply a tool for protecting the public, including the young people at these gigs, and that, even when there is a high risk of trouble, it is very unlikely that police will close the venue. It happened eight times last year.

But on the Downing Street website there is a petition, organised by the singer Jon McClure, to scrap the unnecessary and draconian usage of the 696 form from London music events. It has attracted 17,405 signatures. Gordon Brown has not yet responded.

 

11th July   

Porn is Wrong Because...

A mean minded, expenses milking politician says so
Link Here  full story: UK Parliament Expenses Scandal...Claiming Television X on expenses

Mondo Extreme: Milking Expenses The former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has revealed for the first time that she used to argue with her husband about porn before the couple were caught out claiming for adult movies on her expenses.

In her first interview since her resignation, Smith reveals in The Guardian how she knew her husband Richard Timney had watched porn before.

In March, Smith became the first of many politicians forced to confess to embarrassing claims on their allowances. It emerged that she has claimed for four films, two of which had been pornographic.

She admitted that she knew her husband watched adult movies, but had never sat down and watched them with him.

I would argue with him. I would say to him I think porn is wrong because of my feminist background, she said.

[Talk of mean minded, no concept of reasoned justification, just porn is wrong because I say so...And we allow ourselves to be ruled by such self centred egotistical ratbags].

 

3rd July   

The Terrorist Hunters...

UK governments bans book
Link Here

Terrorist Hunters book The publication of a book by a former top counter-terrorism officer has been blocked by the Attorney General.

Baroness Scotland obtained an injunction preventing The Terrorist Hunters from hitting the shelves as planned today.

The book, by the retired Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Andy Hayman and the former BBC home affairs correspondent Margaret Gilmore, focused on the struggle against terrorism since the July 7 attacks. It also looked at the murder of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko and gave a glimpse of top-level political and intelligence work.

The reasons behind the injunction cannot be published for legal reasons. Sources said it had been vetted by the Cabinet Office, MI5 and MI6.

 

1st July   

Update: Beyer's Board of Film Classification...

Gordon Brown proposes nutters' rights of appeal against BBFC decisions
Link Here  full story: BBFC Parliamentary Accountability...Julian Brazier BBFC Bill

Gordon Brown weilding scissors Gordon Brown unveiled his plan to supposedly rebuild the country.

The Prime Minister promised a series of measures in the 11 months before the general election that will form the basis of the Labour manifesto.

This plan included a section on censorship most of which has been well telegraphed by recent government reports on game censorship:

Video Games

Compulsory age ratings will be given to all video games.

The voluntary system will be replaced by a "new and strengthened system of statutory age ratings", said the Prime Minister.

There has been increasing concern among MPs at the way the British Board of Film Classification rates games.

Critics say that, in recent years, it has adopted a perilous policy of allowing practically anything to be seen by adults - and offensive material to be shown to children.

A review of the impact of violent films and games on children was headed by TV psychologist Dr Tanya Byron.

It is also expected that the public will be given new rights to appeal against the rulings of the BBFC.