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2014: April-June

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21st June

  Stalinism is alive and well and running local councils...

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Parish councillors banned from speaking to the press
Link Here

northern echo logo Can someone please let me know if we are still living in Britain, where freedom of speech and democracy are supposed to be held dear.

I ask because of the latest advice issued by the National Association of Local Councils to all parish councils.

It advises all member councils to adopt a new media policy barring councillors from speaking to journalists without the written consent of the whole authority.

The policy would also ban journalists from contacting councillors directly - all contact would have to be made through the council clerk.

It is completely outrageous to suggested that people who are elected to represent local communities cannot speak to a journalist - not even their local paper - without being stifled by red tape.

Imagine trying to get a comment on a local issue and having to wait for a council meeting to approve permission for the relevant people to say something on behalf of those who elected them.

I don't always agree with Eric Pickles but I'm pleased to say he's jumped on the daft suggestion from a great height, describing it as Stalinist .

 

19th June

 Update: Arrest first, review the allegations and evidence months later...

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British police harm free speech by siding with complainants, in this case, against street preachers
Link Here  full story: Preachers in the UK...Preachers come under censorship duress
police scotland logo Police in Scotland have dropped all charges against two Christian evangelists who were arrested for supposedly using offensive language whilst preaching in Dundee and Perth.

Tony Miano was arrested under hate-crime legislation during a one-week street-preaching mission in January after a member of the public made al complaint.

Miano protested his innocence and said they could see his preaching on video to prove he had done nothing wrong and that his message was one of hope to be found in Jesus Christ. The officers refused to look at the footage and took the evangelist to the police station where he was detained for 24 hours.

Josh Williamson, an Australian who is a pastor at the Craigie Reformed Baptist Church in Perth was arrested twice in three days in the city last September for an alleged breach of the peace .

All charges have now been dropped against both evangelists after months of representation by the Christian Legal Centre.

Responding to the charges being dropped, Miano said:

It took months for the prosecutors to view the footage despite our best endeavours from the very beginning to get them to do so. When the P rosecutors finally managed to get the video footage off my camera they could plainly see that the accuser had made allegations about my speech that were simply untrue. The Prosecutors found nothing in my preaching that constituted 'hate speech' and came to the conclusion that they had no case against me. Had the officers who arrested me taken a few minutes to review the video footage, they would have seen what I have maintained all along. This has been a stressful time for my family.

Josh Williamson explains that while he no longer faces trial, the matter is not yet over. He said:

There is still the issue of getting back my equipment, including the footage it contains. I am also seeking legal advice as to redress in Scotland's civil courts against the Scottish Police .

Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre who assisted the preachers said:

This case shows yet again how confused the situation has become. A single passer-by can allege 'hurt' 'offence' and an innocent preacher gets arrested, taken to a cell and held for many hours. This has a deeply chilling impact on all of us; on our fundamental freedom to speak out about what we believe in for fear of 'causing offence' and being punished by the state for doing so.'

 

15th June

 Extract: Is it right to jail someone for being offensive on Facebook or Twitter?...

Jake Newsome was jailed last week for posting insulting comments online. His is the latest in a string of cases that have led to prison terms, raising concern that free speech is under threat from over-zealous prosecutors
Link Here  full story: Trivial Insults...Authorities persecuting insulting comments on Facebook and Twitter

HM Courts Service On 30 April, two days after teacher Ann Maguire was stabbed to death by a pupil in Leeds , Jake Newsome, a 21-year-old man who had himself attended a secondary school on the other side of the city, posted on his Facebook page: Personally im glad that teacher got stabbed up, feel sorry for the kid@ he shoulda pissed on her too .

Thats not very nice reads the first of 37 comments on his post. Others soon chipped in, addressing him by his nickname: Greeny come on! You're better than that wrote one. Greeny seriously that's harsh wrote another. Greeny, not sure you should be saying this stuff on facebook man -- people get in trouble for this kind of stuff .

A few days later, after his post had been shared more than 2,000 times, West Yorkshire police arrested and charged Newsome under the 2003 Communications Act with having sent by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing nature . Last week Newsome was jailed for six weeks, after pleading guilty, with the judge quoting his post back to him and saying: I can think of little that could be more upsetting or offensive.

...Read the full article

 

16th May

 Extract: The State Journalism is in...

Edward Snowden and the British Press. By Julian Petley
Link Here  full story: Internet Snooping in the US...Prism and secret internet snooping

edward snowden Media professor Julian Petley has written a lengthy assessment of the way in which The Guardian's revelations NSA and GCHQ surveillance were negatively covered by the rest of the press. For example he notes about the Daily mail coverage:

The third, and overarching theme in the press campaign against the Guardian and on behalf of the government is national security.

Take, for example, an article in the Mail , 8 October, headed ' The Guardian Has Produced a "Handbook" that Will Help Fanatics Strike at Will' , followed by the straps ' Security officials say there was no public interest in Guardian's expose ', and ' They also claim terrorists now know where and where not to communicate '.

The slant of the article is thus clearly apparent before one even reads it, and the piece itself is dependent entirely upon anonymous 'security officials' and 'Whitehall insiders' who claim variously that 'the publication of the documents stolen by Edward Snowden is considered to have done more damage to the security services than any other event in history ', that

'there was no public interest in publishing top-secret information which details the precise methods used by agents to track terrorist plots', that 'fanatics were signposted to the places they should avoid when communicating', and that 'the Guardian had helped to produce a "handbook" for terrorists' .

Every one of these anonymous quotes is highly contentious, yet there is not the slightest attempt to quote opposing or even merely sceptical viewpoints.

...Read the full article: Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3

 

14th May

 Updated: As always police side with complainant even when the complaint is baseless...

Police menace political tweeter
Link Here
cambridgeshire police logo Index on Censorship have asked the right questions about reprehensible police political censorship in Cambridge:

Dear Home Secretary,

We are writing to ask that you launch an urgent investigation into why Cambridgeshire Police called on a Twitter user at home and demanded he remove a tweet about a political party-- even though he had committed no crime.

We understand from Michael Abberton that police visited him without warning at home following a complaint from a UKIP councillor over a tweet in which Mr Abberton mocked the party. We believe that the actions of the police are a direct affront to freedom of speech, and represent a worrying trend in the UK towards freedom of speech on social media in particular.

The case of Mr Abberton is particularly disturbing because of the political involvement in the complaint. Free speech is vital in a functioning democracy and must be protected at all times, but its importance is often felt most keenly at election time. We believe that the actions of the Cambridgeshire Police set a troubling precedent.

We ask that you investigate this matter immediately and further call on you clarify to police all laws relating to free speech and to elections. That the police saw fit to take this complaint any further than the police station is troubling enough but two further aspects of this case also require address. The first is that the police visited Mr Abberton -- who it was clear had committed no crime -- at his home, without warning. No one should have to fear a knock on their door by police for simply exercising their legitimate right to speak freely.

Secondly, we understand that the police who visited Mr Abberton asked him not to tweet about their visit. Such behaviour would not look out of place in a totalitarian regime and is a further affront to free speech and expression in a country that has often led the way in condemning such behaviour elsewhere.

These questions need answers swiftly. We call for any investigation to include clear recommendations on how such incidents will be prevented in future and look forward to hearing from you on how you plan to deal with this matter.

Yours faithfully,

Jodie Ginsberg, Chief Executive Index on Censorship

Update: Apologies

14th May 2014. See  article from  theguardian.com

On Tuesday there was contrition from Simon Parr, chief constable of Cambridgeshire, who conceded that his force should not have become involved when a Ukip councillor complained about a blogger who had tweeted a fact check of Ukip policies. Officers turned up on the doorstep of Green party activist Michael Abberton, who says he was told to delete a series of critical tweets. The force denies that, but accepts that the intervention was unwise, particularly as officers were not able to make a case that any law had been broken.

Police attendance was not required and should not recur unless there is clear evidence that an offence may have been committed , said an apologetic chief constable .

 

9th May

 Offsite Article: A Passion for Censorship...

Link Here
Exorcist DVD Ellen Burstyn The Exorcist, Monty Python and Crash - just some of the 8 films banned or nearly banned in Bournemouth

See article from bournemouthecho.co.uk

 

7th May

  A Gloomy Gaggle of Killjoy Jobsworths...

BrewDog responds in fine style to its Dead Pony Club beer being banned by the drinks censors of the Portman Group
Link Here
dead pony club Self appointed alcoholic drinks censors at the Portman Group have banned BrewDog's Dead Pony Club 3.8% ale. The censor writes:

The packaging of Dead Pony Club, a pale ale produced by BrewDog, has broken alcohol marketing rules for encouraging both anti-social behaviour and rapid drinking.

The Independent Complaints Panel (ICP) considered the product after Dead Pony Club's packaging was identified as being in potential breach of the Code for its association with bravado and immoderate consumption, and for placing undue emphasis on the strength and intoxicating effect of the alcohol in the product. The producer did not make representations to the Panel.

The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product, the strength of the beer (Alc 3.8% Vol), as well as the text on the back label.

Whilst acknowledging that the beer was of a lower-than-average strength and that one bottle was well within the recommended daily unit guidelines, the ICP concluded the line on the label, rip it up down empty streets , associated the product with anti-social behaviour.

The ICP also concluded that the product did not promote immoderate consumption. However, it did rule that the phrases drink fast, live fast and we believe faster is better could encourage the consumer to drink the product rapidly. Consequently, the product was found by the Panel to be in breach of Code paragraphs 3.2 (b) and (g).

A Retailer Alert Bulletin has been issued instructing licensees and retailers not to place orders for stocks of Dead Pony Club in its current packaging after 8 July 2014.

BrewDog responded to the 'gloomy gaggle of killjoy jobsworths' of the Portman Group in fine style:

On behalf of BrewDog PLC and its 14,691 individual shareholders, I would like to issue a formal apology to the Portman Group for not giving a shit about today's ruling. Indeed, we are sorry for never giving a shit about anything the Portman Group has to say, and treating all of its statements with callous indifference and nonchalance.

Unfortunately, the Portman Group is a gloomy gaggle of killjoy jobsworths, funded by navel-gazing international drinks giants. Their raison d'etre is to provide a diversion for the true evils of this industry, perpetrated by the gigantic faceless brands that pay their wages. Blinkered by this soulless mission, they treat beer drinkers like brain dead zombies and vilify creativity and competition. Therefore, we have never given a second thought to any of the grubby newspeak they disseminate periodically.

While the Portman Group lives out its days deliberating whether a joke on a bottle of beer is responsible or irresponsible use of humour, at BrewDog we will just get on with brewing awesome beer and treating our customers like adults. I'm sure that makes Henry Ashworth cry a salty tear into his shatterproof tankard of Directors as he tries to enforce his futile and toothless little marketing code, but we couldn't give a shit about that, either.

The Portman Group took objection to the phrase rip it up down empty streets ? Mr Portman, you seem to like taking things literally. Can you please explain how something can be anti-social if the streets are empty? Anti-social is defined as contrary to the laws and customs of society, in a way that causes annoyance and disapproval in others. If the streets are empty, there are no others to annoy.

As for not agreeing with we believe faster is better , well I think the archaic existence of the Portman Group proves just how bad slow can really be. Maybe they should try and catch up with the rest of the world instead of insulting the intelligence of consumers with such a thin veneer of impartiality. It is an embarrassing condemnation of the mega brewers who provide their funding, the same mega brewers whose pricing wreaks havoc on society.

Mr Portman, we'd be appreciative if you could now kindly save some trees and stop sending us meaningless letters.

We sincerely hope that the sarcasm of this message fits the Portman Group criteria of responsible use of humour.

 

17th April

  Oxford Council Plays Herod in Church Passion Play...

Incompetence sees Easter church play banned on a misinformed whim
Link Here
oxford city council logo An Oxford church has had to cancel its Passion play after a council worker in charge of censorship apparently thought that it was a sex show and could cause grave offence .

The performance, telling the story of the crucifixion of Christ, had been planned for Good Friday by St Stephen's House Theological College and Saints Mary and John Church in Oxford.

The worker in question apparently did not know that a Passion play was a religious affair, and thought it was an obscene production.

The Oxford performance was previously held in 2012, without a licence, when an audience of some 200 watched Jesus, haul a wooden cross from Cowley Road Methodist church to Saints Mary and John. This year, the organisers decided to stage a repeat, but were told they must apply to the council's censors for a licence, and were astonished when they were turned down.

A church source told MailOnline:

A council official didn't read the paperwork properly and didn't realise it was a religious play, so told us we needed an events licence when we didn't. If they'd told us 24 hours earlier, we would have had time to apply for and get one, but we ran out of time. It's frustrating because we didn't need one in any case - they just hadn't read what the play was about.

LMPs and religious groups criticised the unbelievable actions of Oxford City Council. Local government minister Brandon Lewis said:

This is typical health and safety bureaucracy that one can sadly expect from a Labour run-council.

Julian Alison, licensing team leader at Oxford City Council, apologised:

I would like to apologise for a wrong decision that I made late on Friday afternoon in relation to the planned Passion play on Cowley Road.

At the time of processing the application, I did not appreciate that this was a religious event. I made a mistake and by the time I realised my mistake, the organisers had cancelled the event. Such a mistake will not happen again.

This statement surely asks a lot of questions about how one person is given the power to censor productions on a personal whim, and without due consideration, just because she thought there was a sexual connection. She should be forced to pay compensation for her gross negligence to all those participants who have wasted their time and effort.

 

1st April

  It's Not the Police's Fault...

Inspector of the Constabulary blames crime on porn, violent media, and all those pesky things you read about in the Daily Mail
Link Here
hmic logo The Telegraph explains

Smartphones risk turning children into criminals because they provide easy access to online pornography and violent images which desensitise them, the police watchdog has warned. Exposure to violence and sexually explicit material can distort and confuse their perceptions of normal behaviour , according to Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Winsor issued the warnings in his first annual assessment of British policing, in which he launched a scathing attack on the state of modern policing and warned the service's reputation had been severely shaken by recent scandals.

Winsor said parents had a role to play in crime prevention in general, which was the obligation of every citizen and not just the police:

Parents and families, as well as schools and other educational institutions, must instill in children a strong appreciation of right and wrong, and the reality, instincts and inclinations, motivations and means, to behave as responsible, law-abiding citizens .

He said the criminal justice system was concerned with the consequences of a failure to prevent crime before listing an array of causes. They included:

  • social dysfunctionality,
  • families in crisis,
  • the failings of parents and communities,
  • the disintegration of deference and respect for authority,
  • envy,
  • greed,
  • materialism
  • the corrosive effects of readily-available hard-core pornography
  • the suppression of instincts of revulsion to violence through the conditioning effect of exposure to distasteful and extreme computer games and films .

But he added: And some people are just selfish, greedy or wicked.