Friday, January 30, 2009

2012 Olympic Free Speech Threat

Well done to IOC (that's Index on Censorship, by the way) for this alarming story on the draconian powers that have been passed into law through the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006.

Among the more penicious clauses in the Act are the following:

  • dedicated road lanes in London for government ministers, games officials and sponsors
  • fines of up to £5,000 for motorists who use these dedicated lanes
  • regulation of advertising in and around the Olympic area by the executive (not Parliament)
  • restrictions to extend to "non-commercial" advertising and "announcements or notices of any kind"
  • advertising to be defined as including the "distribution or provision of documents or articles...the display or projection of words, images, lights or sounds..."
  • unlimited fines as punishment for breaches of the above regulations
  • permission for the police to forcibly enter property to "remove, destroy, conceal or erase" anything deemed inconsistent with the advertising regulations
You get the picture.

Essentially, the Act codifies the legal basis for the executive branch of government to create a sponsor-friendly zone around the Olympic venues (possibly including those outside London) within which citizens may not be permittted to advertise non-sponsor companies.

Of even greater concern, however, is the legal basis for restricting speech of any kind which might be regarded as harmful to the commercial sponsors of the Games. This could include, among other possible actions, protests about employment practices of sponsors, even posters in private house windows expressing views critical of sponsors.

Let's imagine a possible scenario. Imagine you were on your way to the Velodrome to see Britain's finest cycle their way to glory and gold. On your way, you pass a row of houses whose enlightened citizens have decided to let the world know how angry they are about the hundreds of abductions, tortures and kidnappings of trades union officials at Coca Cola bottling plants in Columbia and how these crimes, plus numerous murders of union leaders at Coca Cola factories, are alleged to be the work of paramilitary units with links to managers within Coca Cola in these same factories.

Imagine as you passsed these houses, whose residents had displayed posters highlighting these crimes, how outraged you would be to see police raiding these houses and "removing, destroying or erasing" these posters before your very eyes so that senior managers at Coca Cola would not have their commercial hegemony of the 2012 Olympics challenged.

Wouldn't you think that such actions were:

  • un-just: all the force of the law is placed in defence of powerful commercial interests at the expense of the rights of the ordinary citizen
  • un-British: we are essentially a people who believe in free speech, unhindered by the agents of the state
  • un-Olympic: Olympism is defined in the opening statements of its charter, as a philosophy which seeks to create "a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and further states that a key goal of Olympism is to promote "a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

Of course, it will be argued that in the end the courts will not pass heavy penalties for peaceful protestors who happen to fall foul of this Law.

The fact is that peaceful protestors should not even be brouight before the courts in the first place and should not be required to face the intimidation of arrest, charge and trial just for exercing their ancient right to speak and stick up posters, even if they do offend Coca Cola, Visa, General Electric or McDonalds.

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