Tag Archives: censorship

Comic Book Alliance launches

A few weeks ago, in a fit of enthusiasm, I sent off a series of emails to various people working in the comics industry to express concern about the Coroners and Justice Bill. As the weeks went on, I got ever more busy at work (and with setting up the Social Liberal Forum) and so the whole comics thing took a bit of a back step. Some of the email responses were also less than enthusiastic (at least one could be summed up as “fuck off and stop talking about this or you’ll give the police ideas”), so I didn’t have a huge amount of confidence in anything going forward.

So I was delighted to get an email from John Freeman of downthetubes referring me to his report of the launch of the Comic Book Alliance and their Downing Street Petition.

The whole argument that this is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy is a troubling one. I can’t deny there is a chance of that happening. On the other hand, the alternative is self-censorship. The line being taken by the Comic Book Alliance, requesting reassurance, is a sensible and moderate response.

Coroners and Justice Bill: the most toxic law ever?

The Coroners and Justice Bill went through its second reading at the start of this week. If you read blogs, you will probably have heard about the clauses hidden away at the end of it which threaten to effectively neutralise the Data Protection Act. If you read my first edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty you will have read my comment about it also giving the government the power to hold inquests in secret.

But that isn’t all. Justice outline their concerns about this Bill as follows (emphasis mine):

– the provisions for secret inquests;
– the restriction of public comment by inquest jurors and coroners on matters of legitimate public concern;
– the holding of inquests without juries in relation to some deaths involving public authorities;
– the implementation of new partial defences to murder in the absence of wholesale reform of the law of homicide;
overbroad criteria for the use of anonymous witnesses in criminal trials;
– amendments to bail legislation in murder cases which are on their face incompatible with Article 5 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR);
– the near-total undermining of the Data Protection Act 1998 through allowing ministers to authorise disclosure and use of data to serve policy objectives.

But even that isn’t all. Not content with the prohibition of “extreme pornography” (which also came in this week), the Coroners and Justice Bill will also “ban the possession of any image involving sexual activity and children. For the purpose of the law, an image is said to contain a child if ‘the impression conveyed … is that the person shown is a child’.” I blogged about this proposal last year but didn’t realise it had made it into an actual bill.

Now this is a minefield of an issue to blog about because of its emotive nature. I realise that even by raising the subject I’m leaving myself open to attack. Pornographic images of actual children (as opposed to images of actual children that individuals may happen to find erotic) is obviously wrong as they involve children beneath the age of consent. But what if the image is a cartoon? And what if that cartoon is of an adult character who happens to look young? Fundamentally, if no actual harm is being caused, what is the offence? The mind is repelled by the idea of child pornography, but if we look at it clearly for a second, aren’t we talking here about thoughtcrime?

This isn’t just an issue for “lolicon.” Probably the most significant example of a work which appears to fall foul of this prospective new law is Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, an erotic work about the sex lives of Alice (in Wonderland), Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) and Wendy (Peter Pan). But there are numerous other examples of comics, manga in particular, which feature childlike characters in erotic situations. And how will this law apply to Delirium, from the Sandman series – a character frequently portrayed as childlike in appearance, despite wearing immodest clothing. How will the censors react to this line (illustrated in the book Brief Lives)?

“Touched by her fingers, the two surviving chocolate people copulate desperately, losing themselves in a melting frenzy of lust, spending the last of their brief borrowed lives in a spasm of raspberry cream and fear.”

We seem to have lost this anxiety about prose over forty years ago; so how are images so fundamentally different?

Interestingly, it looks as if these concerns are starting to surface in the comics industry itself, with the Telegraph reporting the website Comic Shop Voice expressing concerns about this new law, along with the broad definition of extreme pornography found in the Criminal Justice Act 2008. To what extent Comic Shop Voice are representative of the industry remains to be seen (I am investigating), but I would suggest that a wakeup call is needed.

This might sound paranoid, but I invite you to consider the following: firstly, the examples of the police using their powers come up with new and ever more authoritarian ways are legion. How many times have we seen photographers and protestors being arrested under terrorism laws for example? The fact that War on Terror boardgame can be confiscated on the grounds that the enclosed balaclava could be used for criminal activities tells me all I need to know. Secondly, there is the Lord Horror case. I seem to recall there being a number of other police raids on comic shops during the 1990s but since they were before the mass expansion of the internet I’m struggling to find confirmation of this.

We may not be living in a police state, but paranoid, authoritarian policing is certainly on the rise (cf. Form 696; Section 27 orders on football supporters). Paul Stephenson’s appointment as head of the Met does not exactly fill me with confidence. I’m pleased that the Lib Dems voted against the Coroners and Justice Bill at second reading (it is notable – and lamentable – that the Tories decided to abstain). What will emerge from the Committee Stage and the Lords remains to be seen.

Jewel of Medina pledge update: should trash be burnt?

My pledge to buy the Jewel of Medina is just one signatory away from being fulfilled, so if you haven’t already signed up, please do.

Since I launched the pledge, the publishers Gibson Square have postponed the publication of the book indefinitely, which means that the firebombers may have won. Shelina Zahra Janmohamed has also written a review of the book on the BBC Magazine.

In Shelina’s view, the book is a bodice-ripping yawn. Having read the book, I will defer to her judgement. But trash deserves the right to be published as much as quality literature. Get the trash taken off the shelves and the quality will follow. And is Islam really so fragile to be vulnerable to shallow nonsense? To be fair on Shelina, she doesn’t suggest otherwise and doesn’t call for the book for be banned. She is right to say that “If our society upholds the right to offend, then the right to be offended goes with it.” The problem is, too many people want a right not to be offended.

In my view, if you value freedom of speech and have enough spare income to afford it, you have a moral duty to buy any book under threat, no matter how dreadful it may or may not be. The book itself is meaningless, it is the precedent that is important. Can I get one more person who feels the same way before the end of the month? More to the point, can I get anyone else to set up more pledges like it?

Finally, note how spineless the BBC are – the picture of a woman reading the book accompanying Shelina’s article carries the disclaimer “Picture posed by a model” as if it would be uneccessarily inflammatory to have a picture of an actual person actually reading. Yet of course, Shelina herself has read the book, so it is completely nonsensical anyway.