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12th December   Incitement to Political Hatred

Ok, if we can't call a nutter a nutter then we will just have to start labelling swathes of people we disagree with as 'insurgents'. Then it will perfectly Ok to incite all due hatred. Just ask George Warmonger Bush .

David Blunkett puts his case in The Observer

Did you hear the one about the comedian and the Home Secretary? If it wasn't so serious it would be funny.

It's been suggested by some comics that my proposal to make inciting religious hatred an offence prohibits gags about religion. I think that's a joke. By couching their campaign in terms of freedom of speech, they know they have created a flight of fantasy worthy of the most surreal stand-up. But here's the punchline: nothing I've suggested is an attack on people's rights to legitimately criticise religion or make jokes about it.

Instead, what we are doing is offering the same protection to followers of religion as we do to racial minorities. That is, making it illegal to stir up hatred against people because of their religious beliefs.

I believe those who oppose this provision would be dismayed if they understood the current limits and loopholes of the present laws.

For example, how can a modern society say Jews are protected (rightly, because they are covered by race laws, rather than religion), yet Muslims and Christians are not? Can it be right that hatred based on deliberate and provocative untruths about a person's religion remains unchallenged?

I'm as keen as the next person to preserve the right to free speech. That's why strong safeguards will ensure this provision is not used as a catch-all to silence people. But there are worries. And I need to address them. Nor is this a ploy for votes. I suggested precisely this three years ago, just after a general election.

The offence only covers hatred stirred up against people deliberately targeted because of religious beliefs or lack of them. It is not simple dislike or hatred of their beliefs; it's not a new blasphemy law by the back door. Nor is it an assault on people's right to disapprove of beliefs, teachings or practices of a religion. It's about tackling people who set out to whip up hatred, not about stopping people telling jokes - however offensive.

The Attorney General will have to approve each prosecution; courts confronted by such cases must remember their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights so that free speech and freedom of religion are preserved.

We recognise the gravity of what we're proposing, but believe it will help make communities safer. In return, I ask my critics to recognise the violence, damage and pain that extremist groups can cause through their hatred of people characterized only by their faith.

That this offence is needed is not in doubt. Both the police and religious groups back it. In evidence to the Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences, the Association of Chief Police Officers said extremist material distributed in Bradford was a significant factor in the build-up to the Bradford riots. The BNP got nearly one in 10 of the votes in Yorkshire in the European elections. We also know from the police that extremist groups try to avoid the laws on inciting racial hatred by focusing on the religion of their target instead.

I don't believe any of my critics agree with this outrageous behaviour and wish to see it untackled. But we don't currently have the powers to stop it.

Much extremist activity falls short of directly inciting people to violence or other crimes and so is not caught by laws on incitement. Neither does the Public Order Act, used to protect groups of people from harassment, deal with the problem.

Stirring up religious hatred in these circumstances is precisely the kind of activity the new offence would tackle. The provision protects people and not ideologies.

Not only does this clause make sense in itself, it also makes sense as part of the Government's wider reforms to build a fairer, more tolerant society. We've introduced tougher penalties for religious and racial hate crime, supported inter-faith networks and are currently working on a response to the Strength and Diversity consultation paper.

The Government wants to be able to attack extremism and hatred wherever it occurs. We're happy to take criticism of our proposal; indeed we'll look at suggestions for improving it. But it's a shame when those who cherish the right to free speech fail to use it responsibly and criticise a proposal they misunderstand.


5th December   A Law Surely Dreamt up by Baldric

F rom The Times

Actor Rowan Atkinson is taking centre stage at Westminster tomorrow in a bid to persuade the government to drop a “harsh” new law devised to punish those who supposedly incite religious hatred.

The Blackadder star will tell MPs and peers that the legislation will catch comedians in its net. Atkinson, who impersonated the Archbishop of Canterbury in one Blackadder episode and gave mock sermons from the pulpit in Not the Nine O’clock News, says it will criminalise satirical sketches about religious figures.

The actor is being backed by an all-party group of MPs, the Barnabas Fund, which campaigns to help persecuted Christian minorities and those who have converted to the faith, and the National Secular Society.

He will also give a warning that the law could ban films such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which was criticised on its release in 1979 for being anti-Christian.

Atkinson first took up the cudgels against the proposed law three years ago when it was to have been included in an anti-terrorism bill promoted by David Blunkett, the home secretary, in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

It was dropped from that act but has been included in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill, which is due to get its second reading in the Commons on Tuesday. This would make it an offence to use words or wave a banner deemed to incite religious hatred. The maximum penalty would be six months’ imprisonment. Existing public order offences cover only racial hatred.

Atkinson will argue that while the government will claim comedians are not a target, the new law will attack freedom of speech. Freedom of expression must be protected for artists and entertainers and we must not accept a bar on the lampooning of religion and religious leaders, he said yesterday. There is an obvious difference between the behaviour of racist agitators who can be prosecuted under existing laws and the activities of satirists and writers who may choose to make comedy or criticism of religious belief, practices or leaders, just as they do with politics. It is one of the reasons why we have free speech.

Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, is one of the organisers of tomorrow’s rally at Portcullis House, the block of MPs’ offices opposite the Commons. He said: In a liberal society we have to allow religions to be lampooned and criticised.”

But Nigel McCullough, the Bishop of Manchester, said bishops in the House of Lords would support the new measure. He said that while religious communities such as Judaism and Sikhism were already protected against incitement to hatred, the law needed to be levelled to give protection to other religions, especially Islam.


24th October   Immigrant Censor

From early September

From PA News

Home Secretary David Blunkett may  take legal action to prevent publication of a book which claims to expose the inner workings of the immigration system.

Former Civil Servant Steve Moxon went public earlier this year with claims that immigration visa applications from Eastern Europe were being fast-tracked, contributing to the eventual resignation of Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes.

Moxon’s book The Great Immigration Scandal , due to hit bookshops in September, gives his version of events and reports on the disciplinary procedure which led to him being sacked.

The author claimed he had complied with a Home Office request to submit a copy of the manuscript, but pledged that today’s book launch would go ahead as planned.

The Government insists that civil servants are bound by rules barring them from revealing confidential information obtained during the course of their work, even after they have left the service.

There’s nothing in the book which the Home Office should have any problem with at all, said  Moxon. I’m protected with bells on by the Public Interest Disclosure Act as regards the book. I believe I have plenty of evidence to show that I’ve complied with that Act.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: Moxon and his publisher have been asked to provide a manuscript of his book and have been informed that permission to publish would not be unreasonably withheld. The Home Office would consider its position should Mr Moxon or his publisher refuse to comply with the request.”

Moxon’s publishers, Imprint Academic, have produced an initial print run of 2,000 copies. If Home Office officials decide that content of the book break official rules, Blunkett would have to seek an injunction from the courts banning its publication.


17th October   Globalisation of Italian Censorship

From The Guardian

The independent media organisation that had its website servers seized by the FBI said today that the order to snatch its London-based equipment originated in Italy.

Indymedia, a collective of anti-globalisation and single-issue sites, said it had been told that an Italian judge in charge of investigating alleged bomb threats against the EU Commission president, Romani Prodi, had ordered the seizure.

The FBI raided the London offices of internet hosting company Rackspace last week, grabbing two drives which effectively shut down 21 sites including ones in the UK, Poland and Brazil.

In the face of silence from the FBI, Rackspace and the home secretary, David Blunkett, speculation had arisen that Swiss authorities had ordered the seizure after one of Indymedia's sites ran a picture of two Geneva policemen involved in identifying demonstrators at a G8 summit two years ago.

But the independent organisation, which bills itself as "a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of radical, accurate and passionate tellings of the truth," said today that Italian judge Marina Plazzi ordered the raid after he was instructed to investigate postings on the site.

The servers are understood to contain information from a number of independent journalists, including Mark Covell, who is suing the Italian police after he was left needing a blood transfusion after being attacked at the Genoa G8 summit in 2001.

Indymedia said it was aiming to file an injunction banning the export of any information on its confiscated servers, which were returned to Rackspace's London offices two days ago.

The seizure provoked widespread criticism across the globe. The International Federation of Journalists said it had written to Blunkett and his counterparts in America, Switzerland and Italy demanding to know why the seizure had been authorised.

This intervention is the responsibility of the British authorities because it relates to a hosting company operating on their territory. Closure of websites is a serious step, the reasons for which should definitely be made public, said the letter.

The NUJ, which is acting in conjunction with the federation over the protest, said the seizure was a "direct" affront to media freedom.

To take away a server is like taking away a broadcaster's transmitter. It is simply incredible that American security agents can just walk into a London office and remove equipment, said the NUJ general secretary, Jeremy Dear. In this nightmare world they can apparently close the operation down without any reason being given, without any chance to question or protest.

The FBI raid, which was based on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty that allows far-reaching police co-operation in the fields of international terrorism, kidnapping and money-laundering, was also condemned in the US.

Robert McChesney, founder of Freepress, a non-profit independent media organization in the US said: This action is an assault on freedom of the press that sets a troubling precedent of intergovernmental action to suppress independent journalism.


14th October Globalising the Censors

From The Guardian

Last week, Rackspace, a hosting company with headquarters in Texas, handed two of its London-based web servers to the FBI after a subpoena for their contents was issued by a US district court. The servers contained material belonging to the Independent Media Centre - better known as Indymedia - a conglomeration of global radical anti-globalisation sites produced by ordinary citizens. Indymedia claims it was not informed of the decision to seize its content, nor has it been told the reasons, despite the fact that 20 sites and more than 1m pieces of content were affected.

The FBI has said it was acting on behalf of a foreign government, though for the American subpoena to have power in the UK, it would need approval from either the British courts or the home secretary. Such agreements would usually be made over investigations into terrorism, though nobody involved has been able to confirm this.

Rackspace said it is complying with a court order which establishes procedures for countries to assist each other in investigations such as international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering . Clearly, such serious allegations against any media organisation - even one produced by amateurs - could be devastating.

The site crashed last Thursday at 4pm, says one Indymedia UK volunteer who asked to remain anonymous. Since then, the only official communication we've had was from Rackspace, but they would only say they couldn't tell us what was going on. No one at the FBI has talked to us about this, and we have not been told anything."

With the situation shrouded in a legal fog, the often-controversial grassroots news organisation has struggled to operate its sites across countries including the UK, France, Belgium, Serbia, Portugal, Italy and parts of South America.

This seizure has grave implications for free speech and privacy, says Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney of Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights campaign group working with Indymedia to uncover the root of the FBI action.

It is not the first time Indymedia has come to blows with law enforcement. During the G8 summit in Genoa three years ago, buildings used by Indymedia journalists were among those raided by Italian police. Computers were destroyed and equipment seized in an action that international press watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres described as unprecedented and incredibly violent.

Founded as an anti-globalisation news source covering the protests against the World Trade Organisation summit held in Seattle in 1999, Indymedia quickly turned into an international network of citizen journalists. It provides a voice of underground political opinion around the world, though its open door policy has seen the occasional publication of unsavoury and offensive content, including anti-semitism and incitement to violence - though representatives are quick to disown these.

The latest raid is more than just emblematic of the conflict between one radical anti-government organisation and the establishment. It highlights the potential for conflict between law enforcement agencies and citizen publishers and sends a warning to anyone involved in web publishing operations.

Certainly on face value it looks like an attempt to gag an independent media organisation, says Barry Hugill, a spokesman for civil liberties organisation Liberty. It is just possible that there is a legitimate reason for this action, but we certainly need more clarification.

At a time when mainstream media is being opened up to the masses, such crackdowns deal a blow to citizen journalism. Threats to the freedom of web publishers could damage the amateur investigators and webloggers who are the lifeblood of independent online journalism. The lack of information given about these seizures raises the potential threat that anyone could see their content removed without warning or explanation. It shows how fragile internet publishing can be - even in the hands of major media organisations.

It is easy to go after the provider or the hosting company to close down a website, says Yaman Akdeniz, the director of Cyber Rights and Civil Liberties and a lecturer at the University of Leeds cyberlaw research unit.
Unfortunately, arbitrary censorship exists. There are less risky places to publish information and there are more risky places. I do not recommend anybody to rely on a hosting company in the UK, and certainly our servers are run outside the UK for a variety of reasons.


15th September   Blair Witch Hunt Project

Based on an article from the BBC

See the following article for a more considered view:

Tony Blair has told parliament that Manhunt , a violent video game - blamed by nutters for the death of a Leicester boy - should not be used by children. Blair said that the game was "wholly unsuitable for children".

Leicester East MP Keith Vaz asked Tony Blair to investigate links between Manhunt -type games and violence.

Police investigating the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, 14, dismissed its influence. Manhunt was not part of its legal case. While a copy of the game was uncovered during the investigation, detectives have confirmed it was found in Stefan's bedroom.

But the family of Stefan Pakeerah called for the game to be banned and blamed it for inspiring his killer to attack the boy with a claw hammer. They said that Manhunt acted as an "instruction manual" for the murder in February 2003.

Blair said responsible adults had the right to choose what they watched, but children needed to be protected. He agreed to discuss with Home Secretary David Blunkett what action could be taken to combat the problem. (But exactly what is the was not a factor in the murder case)

The game has a BBFC rating of 18+, which means it is not suitable for children. Dixons, Currys, PC World, Game and Virgin Megastores stores removed it from their shelves after the murder court hearing.

Vaz told the House of Commons in Prime Minister's Question Time: The parents of the victim believe that the perpetrator of this savage attack was influenced by the video game Manhunt.  Later today there will be a meeting at Westminster to discuss the link between video games and their effect on children. He urged Mr Blair to commission new research into a possible connection between video games and violence and to meet with a delegation of concerned parents.


31st August

  Hoping for Government Migration

From the BBC

The home secretary wants to vet a potentially damaging book about immigration by a sacked civil servant before it is published. Steve Moxon's The Great Immigration Scandal alleges failings in David Blunkett's immigration policy, according to the Sunday Times. Moxon lost his job in Sheffield after claiming immigration checks had been waived.

The Home Office said it could stop the book if it broke government rules. A spokeswoman told BBC News Online the Home Office had asked to see the book before it is published. Civil servants, serving or retired, may not publish any material whose subject matter touches on the business of their department and is derived from information acquired as part of their employment without first obtaining official permission. Mr Moxon and his publisher have been asked to provide a manuscript of his book and have been assured that permission to publish will not be unreasonably withheld. The Home Office would consider its position should Mr Moxon or his publisher refuse to comply with the request. "

Moxon, first came to prominence when he made claims that key checks were waived by immigration staff in Sheffield to make the numbers coming to Britain seem less dramatic when the EU expanded in May. He insisted he "exhausted all possible routes" before going to the press. The revelations led to the resignation of the then immigration minister Beverley Hughes in April.

Immigration minister Beverley Hughes resigned over the matter. Moxon, who was suspended immediately after he went to the press in March, was told last month he would be sacked for breaking the terms of his contract.

He intends to take the government to an employment tribunal, claiming his actions are covered by the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which allows workers to expose wrongdoing at work.

An extract of his book published in the Sunday Times described his frustration at what he said was Home Office stonewalling when he tried to raise concerns about abuses of the immigration system. Moxon attempted to e-mail his superiors about what he saw as "a progressive institutional failure to apply the rules" but got no response. He writes: The attitude to applications for residency at the department was that if it arrives on your desk then you should grant it, if at all possible, because if you don't the applicant will disappear and stay in the country illegally .


27th June

  Censorship Infighting

Do the Government really believe that quoting terms such as "breaching the official secrets act" or "national security" or money laundering give them a carte-blanche t censor and repress.

From The Telegraph

The government is attempting to censor a new book by one of Tony Blair's former key advisers that will reveal embarrassing new details of the fiery relationship between the Prime Minister and Gordon Brown.

Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary, is pressing Derek Scott, who was Blair's chief economics adviser from 1997 until last December, to remove large sections of his account of his time at No 10 on the grounds that they breach the Official Secrets Act.

The book, Off Whitehall, will be published in the autumn. It is said to contain first-hand details of clashes between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

These include accounts of "furious rows" over key issues, including European and pensions policy, "fights for territory" in Whitehall, and the state of "unbearable tension" between them before Budgets and major public spending announcements. The disclosures come from a former colleague of Scott who has seen proofs of the book.

Scott, now an adviser to KPMG, the international accountancy group, is the first member of Blair's inner circle to resign and write a book, a decision that has greatly alarmed Sir Andrew.

The book's publication is planned to coincide with the Labour Party conference in an attempt to create the maximum political impact.

The former colleague said last night: It goes into all the details, the shouting matches, the way Blair defers to Brown, the way the Treasury keeps Downing Street in the dark, phone calls not being returned, that kind of thing. It details their fight for territory over the economy and Europe and the way they played off each other. Some parts are juicy, some are hilarious.

Scott signed both a confidentiality agreement and the Official Secrets Act on taking up his Downing Street post in May 1997. In his call for cuts to the book, Sir Andrew is understood to be focusing on the sections in which certain civil servants are named.

Scott's friends claim that there are "absolutely no security implications" and insist that he and his legal team are resisting the Cabinet Secretary's demand that he remove "huge chunks".

The intervention by Sir Andrew, who was permanent secretary at the Treasury under Brown before being promoted, is not unprecedented. But it leaves him open to claims of using his position as head of the Civil Service to help Blair to deal with a political problem.

Civil servants and senior Whitehall aides have to sign the Official Secrets Act when they begin working for the Government. When they leave, many sign separate confidentiality agreements.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman declined to comment last night.


1st February

  A Tough Attack on Violence

Based on an article from The Observer

Education Secretary Charles Clarke launched a tough attack yesterday on television aimed at children, saying much of it was overly violent, led to bullying in schools and did too little to improve Britain's social and educational good.

Clarke said regular scenes of confrontation on television led to violence among children and too many broadcasters were complacent about this link. His comments, in an interview with The Observer, will reignite the debate about the effect of violent TV imagery on the young.

Studies supposedly show that children mimic what they see on television and that the 9pm 'watershed', the self-imposed borderline that broadcasters are supposed to adhere to before showing adult material, is often ignored.

Asked if the watershed had become too blurred, Clarke said: I do worry about that. I don't think it is clear.

The Education Secretary revealed he will now demand a meeting with broadcasters to discuss ways of improving children's programmes, and he wants the broadcasting authorities, including the new watchdog, Ofcom, to launch an inquiry into the issue.

What goes on television does have an impact on children's view of violence, Clarke said. The main argument I want to challenge, about which there is too much acceptance, is that violence on television has no effect on children. I think it does have an effect on children. It needs investigating and I think it is for the broadcasting standards organisations to do that. Violence on television encourages people to grow up thinking that violence is an acceptable way of operating.'

Clarke said: Not enough resources are put into children's programming. When I was young there were a whole series of programmes for children, classically on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, which the family would watch. That is now very much not the case. The relative cost of children's programming and the very high number of cartoons does not help. Children's television should be educational in its broadest sense, I don't mean teaching them maths, I mean adding to the social good.'

Clarke said the level of violence on TV aimed at children was so high it was undermining Government anti-bullying policies: We all know what a serious problem bullying is at school. Bullying is the classic statement that violence is right, that might is right. It destroys people. We work very hard to try and drive out the culture, to get children to talk about the problems they face rather than bottle it all up inside them, but while TV goes around suggesting that might is right in certain respects then it makes it more of uphill struggle.'

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