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Monday, May 08, 2006

Fighting the censors

There is an interesting contrast in the Welsh papers today that I thought was worthy of comment. In one article in the Western Mail the Archbishop of Wales has joined criticism of "Jerry Springer:The Opera", saying that it is time to "call a halt" on such "gratuitously offensive" material. In another article in the South Wales Evening Post, another Church group is protesting against the film of the Da Vinci Code.

The difference is that whereas the Archbishop and many of his flock are calling for JS:TO to be banned, the group in Swansea just want to have their say. They are arranging meetings for people to learn the facts behind Dan Brown's fiction and to enable them to discuss and challenge those facts. It is the second approach, which is the mature, liberal one and those who call for anything they find offensive to be banned should learn from it.

Frankly, I find the Archbishop's argument hard to stomach. It is an intellectually lazy approach that argues that our freedoms should be limited by the sensitivities of others:

Speaking at the weekend the archbishop, Dr Barry Morgan, said, "I'm deeply disappointed. On the one hand, I can see that we need freedom for the arts to express what they want to express.

"On the other hand, I think they've crossed a line here, because what they say about Jesus in this opera is likely to cause scandal and they'd never get away with saying the same things about the prophet Muhammad."

Like many other Assembly Members I have had letters calling for the performance of JS:TO in the publicly-funded Wales Millennium Centre to be banned. Up until now I have contented myself with replying that the artistic policies of the WMC are not a matter for the National Assembly and nor should they be. However, I decided to respond a bit more robustly to the latest letter, which effectively accused Assembly Members of sitting on the fence over these issues. This is what I wrote:

Thank you for your letter. The artistic policies of the Wales Millennium Centre are not a matter for the Assembly and nor should they be. Just so that you are aware that I am not retreating to a “comfort zone” on this matter, I think I should be clear.

I do not support censorship of artistic productions or events. People are able to exercise choice as to whether they attend them or not and so can avoid being offended. It is not the role of politicians to use their position to impose their morals on others and nor should it be. I take this position in regard to Jerry Springer as I did with The Last Temptation of Christ and The Life of Brian. I also defend the right of publishers to publish cartoons about Mohammed and the right of Salman Rushdie to publish Satanic Verses.

Finally I do not agree with you that freedom of expression should “be tempered by a responsible attitude so as not to cause gratuitous offence”. It is not possible to have a rigorous and mature debate without sometimes giving offence. When you start to define whether such offence may be gratuitous or not then you start to undermine people’s rights. It is only a short step then to a Police state. That is not a route I wish to go down. I fully respect your right to hold your views but please do not seek to impose them on others.

I offer the same response to the Archbishop. Perhaps he should learn from the Christians in Swansea who rather than trying to ban a piece of work that they are uncomfortable with want to debate the issues instead.
There was an interesting telly prog on BBC4 on Saturday about how a lot of Christian groups had embraced the Da Vinci Code phenomenon as a way of creating a public debate on Christian values. It is a shame that they don't treat Jerry Springer: The Opera in the same way. It has all about morality at the end of the day.
Also, why do so many Christians always trot out that old "you wouldn't dare say that about Mohammed" line? It is a) slightly sinister (the implication is that Christians might choose take violent action if they're pushed too far) and b) surely something to celebrate about Christianity that it is open to criticism in a way that Islam is not?
This blog has become really boring lately.

Might aswell shut it down, methinks.
Balls. Anyone who makes a robust defence civil liberty such freedom of speech (like this) needs keeping going. Especially if their blogcode matches a blog called Kitty Killer. (Sorry James, looking at your avatar.)

A stout defence of freedom. Good on yer.

I'd love to see a religious group discuss the facts of the Da Vinci nonsense as long as they threw in a discussion of the facts of Christianity. Most entertaining
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