I’m quite torn on this one. David Allen Green (formerly ‘Jack of Kent’) asks in the New Statesman whether it’s correct that Tony Blair’s PR events supporting his book launch are being cancelled:
A retired politician is promoting a publication to those who may wish to purchase it.
This is not some extremist politician, but a former mainstream democratic politician.
And this is not just any former mainstream democratic politician, but the only UK party leader to have won a decisive general election with a sustainable majority since 1987.
But that politician cannot do any events. The events are being cancelled. Is this a cause for concern?
I don’t think it’s an immediate cause for concern because noone is forcing Blair to cancel the promotional events. Stop the War promised to conduct non-violent protests against him at the book signings and the (now-cancelled) event at the Tate Modern, but it was his choice to cancel them. Was he worried about the cost of policing or about the damage to his already destroyed reputation? And should people not be able to protest against a former Prime Minister who many believe to be a war criminal? Green continues:
[Padraig ] Reidy is the news editor for Index on Censorship and is establishing himself as one of the most thoughtful and intellectually-consistent commentators on free expression issues. Reidy says that this raises censorship concerns, even though the politician in question is Tony Blair.
This surely must be correct, if the situation is approached from a principle-based approach. The defence of free expression is often most important when the beneficiary is unpopular.
So, if this is this a case where free expression is threatened, should all people of goodwill now shout out: For Tony Blair and Free Speech?
As comments under the article point out it’s seriously ironic that we should be discussing the protection of free speech of a man who’s done so much to undermine it in this country. And it’s also not true that his free speech is being curtailed – tried to read a single newspaper or look anywhere on the television without him putting his story forward, still with barely any critical evaluation of what he’s saying? The article reeks of bias against Stop the War. Just because Padraig Reidy is a thoughtful commentator on free expression issues doesn’t mean he’s right in this instance.
A superb debate by John Ozimek in Index on Censorship:
Were police right to warn Tate Modern about displaying a naked image of a 10-year-old Brooke Shields, asks John Ozimek
Art or porn? This time the question raises its ugly head in respect of a picture of actress Brooke Shields — originally taken by photographer Gary Gross, and reproduced by artist Richard Prince in a work entitled Spiritual America — shot when she was ten years old. She is naked, posed next to a bathtub, gazing provocatively into the eye of the lens.
The picture’s composition is without doubt sexual in nature — and this has caused a few local difficulties for Tate Modern gallery curators who, following words with the Metropolitan Police, are now considering whether or not to continue to exhibit this particular work.
As the Met put it, they are “keen to work with gallery management to ensure that they do not inadvertently break the law or cause any offence to their visitors”.
As the law stands, the Met almost certainly have a point. The Protection of Children Act 1978 makes it illegal to possess or distribute indecent images of children. Indecency is not defined precisely in law — that is for a jury to determine — but over the years the courts have evolved a categorisation of imagery that ranges from level 1 (least serious) to level 5 (most serious).
For an image to be deemed illegal at level one, Crown Prosecution Service Guidelines require only that it include elements of erotic posing.
Level one is problematic. First, because it is at the lower end of what society considers wrong: in fact, it includes images that significant sections of society do not consider to be wrong at all. So it is the place where police and authorities are most likely to be accused of over-reacting. They have had to retreat before — most notably in respect of images by noted artist Nan Goldin.
It is, too, the site of a fierce debate about whether the law should be quite as prescriptive as it now is: first, because some critics argue that to ban level one imagery is to view children increasingly through the eyes of the paedophile; and second, because even those who are deeply committed to combatting child abuse feel that it can be a distraction, focusing debate on more ambiguous images — when in fact, the real issue lies in those images that depict, in horrific detail, real harm being inflicted.
So how should we react to this latest installment in the developing debate over child porn? First, the curious should be aware that if — as seems likely — this image does breach the law, curiosity is no excuse. Viewing it and, therefore, downloading it into cache may well be a criminal offence. Beware: you have been warned.
So will the Internet Watch Foundation act to block it? Having had their fingers well and truly burned over another popular artistic image of a naked child last year (the Scorpions’ Virgin Killer album cover), it is possible they will not take action this time round.
The problem, as they discovered to their cost then, is that the simple act of banning a widely available image tends to encourage its distribution. In the end they decided, pragmatically, that not banning might be the more sensible course of action.
However, this furore does raise one important issue that may in the end transcend the question of porn and indecency — and that, quite simply, is the question of an individual’s control over their own image. In the case of the Scorpions’ image, the picture was taken by the subject’s mother and the subject — now adult — has since been reported as being perfectly happy with it.
In this case, Brooke Shields is definitely unhappy with the existence of the image in the public sphere. Permission to use these images was signed away by her mother when she was just 10 — and Shields has been to court since in an unsuccessful attempt to regain control of the negatives.
It is clearly one thing for an adult to enter into a contractual arrangement in respect of images of themselves and in most cases, there are strong arguments for upholding that contract. Perhaps it is time to think again about contracts entered into by an adult on behalf of a child: not to outlaw them; but to give the adult that the child eventually becomes the absolute right to review such a contract.
If we genuinely believe that adults may suffer as a result of bad decisions taken when they were children, it is the least we can do.