13 August 2003

INDEX ON CENSORSHIP EXAMINES FREE SPEECH IN AMERICA


Index on Censorship, the quarterly magazine on freedom of expression, has devoted its latest issue to America, a country where free speech is considered sacred yet now appears "inconvenient or unpatriotic" in the wake of September 11. "Rewriting America" looks at the most powerful country in the world through the words of local people on the frontlines of free expression.

In "The Trials of Liberty," Michael McClintock of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) writes that since September 11, virtually every aspect of human rights protection in the United States has been called into question.

The USA Patriot Act was rushed through Congress and enacted on 26 October 2001 with virtually no public debate, notes McClintock. The act gave police greater powers to spy on and collect information on individuals, while establishing new crimes and stiffening penalties.

Freedom of information also suffered a setback that month when Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered government agencies to ignore the Freedom of Information Act, placing the burden on citizens to first prove they had a right to access government records, McClintock says.

Among more recent attempts to expand policing powers, the Bush administration issued a proposal in May 2003 calling for extending government access to personal information. Under the proposal, the Central Intelligence Agency and the military would be authorised, without a court order, to force Internet providers, credit card companies, libraries and other organisations into divulging phone records, bank transactions and e-mail communications, writes McClintock.

In "Clear and Present Danger," the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression's Jim D'Entremont writes about the growing trend of music censorship amidst greater media concentration. With hundreds of formerly independent radio and television stations, record companies and concert venues now owned by such media giants as AOL Time Warner, Viacom and News Corporation, musicians are under more pressure to play it safe and avoid controversial content.

"In the boardrooms of communications conglomerates and retail chains, curtailment of expression arises out of fear that controversial language, imagery or themes might stain the corporate escutcheon or lose money," says D'Entremont.

For example, after September 11, Clear Channel Communications, which owns 1,225 radio stations and 39 television stations in the U.S., sent a memo to its radio stations suggesting they "retire" at least 150 songs whose content might seem anti-American.

Other articles in Index on Censorship's issue include stories on the U.S. government's free-speech restrictions in post-Saddam Iraq, the American media's reporting of the Iraqi war and freedom of expression on university campuses.

Read the articles online at: http://www.indexonline.org/
Meanwhile, Cartoonists Rights International (CRN) notes that the atmosphere for cartoonists in America has changed drastically since September 11 and the enactment of the Patriot Act. "There is less tolerance, more paranoia and a conservative knee jerk response to any critical thinking in the media that could be construed as unpatriotic or anti-American."

A recent incident involved a 20 July cartoon by Mike Ramirez of the "Los Angeles Times," which depicted President George W. Bush with a gun pointed to his head. While meant to portray Bush as a victim of political opponents who have taken him to task for launching a war in Iraq, the cartoon prompted U.S. secret service agents to seek an interview with Ramirez, says CRN.

View the cartoon here: http://www.cartoon-crn.com/news.htm
Visit these links:

- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: http://www.rcfp.org/
- American Civil Liberties Union: http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=12126&c=207
- Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: http://www.fair.org/
- Open Democracy: http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/issue-3-98.jsp
(Graphic Copyright: Index on Censorship)



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