Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sex, drugs, violence and the things that censors get to see.

A couple of news reports on varying types of censorship have bubbled up from Fort Fumble on the Rideau. While they are unrelated, I'll comment on both. They'll remain unrelated, but perhaps it will show why one is necessary and the other is pure puritan politics at play.

First is this little bit describing a new criteria for Canadian-made films expecting to receive a tax credit for their production. (All emphasis mine)
The Conservative government has drafted guidelines that would allow it to pull financial aid for any film or television show that it deems offensive or not in the public's best interest – even if government agencies have invested in them.

The proposed changes to the Income Tax Act would allow the Heritage Minister to deny tax credits to projects deemed offensive, effectively killing the productions. Representatives from Heritage and the Department of Justice will determine which shows or films pass the test.

Game and talk shows, news, sports, reality television and pornography are already excluded from access to the tax credits. The proposed prohibition would cover a sweeping range of material, such as anything of an explicit sexual nature, that denigrates a group or is excessively violent without an educational value.

So, there are already a set of exclusions. This new bill is intended to expand that to meet some new standard, nothing of which is set out in any detail.

“Bill C-10, currently at third reading in the Senate, contains an amendment to the Income Tax Act which would allow the Minister of Canadian Heritage to deny eligibility to tax credits of productions determined to be contrary to public policy,” Charles Drouin, spokesman for Canadian Heritage said in a statement. “... Upon royal assent of C-10, the Department of Canadian Heritage plans to update the eligibility requirements for the [Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit] program.”

He said the department “has recently standardized and updated the list of illegal and other ineligible content.”

There's really no need to take this any further. The "contrary to public policy" statement is all that's necessary. The type of government run by Harper is such that anything can be deemed to be contrary to public policy. With no clearly defined criteria, it doesn't matter what the content is. If the Harperites don't like it, it will be denied tax credits - after it's been produced.

It isn't really censorship. It's actually a back-door method of shutting down the tax advantage to Canadian film and television production. It's just that if the government "reviewers" decide something doesn't meet their standard, whatever that might be, a production which is "in the can" and probably heavily in debt won't make it out of the government screening booth because without the tax credit the production company will probably not be able to afford distribution. In short, you'll never see it.

We shouldn't have expected anything less from the Harper crowd. It satisfies two overwhelmingly powerful instincts of the Harper Party: to eliminate government support of every social and cultural thing they can; and, to get government as deep into your social, cultural and personal life as possible without precipitating an armed revolt.

There is a third element which is truly nefarious. The Harper government plans to use the Income Tax system as a weapon to stifle anything they don't like - after it's made. It's a weapon and it is censorship. Once this bill passes no producer of Canadian film or television will know if they have the advantage of the Income Tax Act. The Canadian Revenue Agency won't be able to determine, based on a set of strict guidelines either. So a producer will never know, until after the government views the finished product, if a Canadian production meets the Harper government's unpublished standards.

In short: If you don't toe our line, we have the power to cause you personal financial damage.

The second item which arose comes from National Defence Headquarters in a message to all Canadian Forces personnel.

The Defence Department is advising Canadian soldiers not to post personal photos and information on social networking websites like Facebook, citing security concerns.

The advisory was circulated in a memo obtained by CBC News. It warns soldiers not to appear in uniform in online photos and not to disclose their military connections.

That isn't really new. In fact, it is a reiteration of previous orders. While it may appear to most Canadians to fly in the face of individual rights and freedoms, the CF has the authority to limit what full-time serving members of the armed forces place in the public domain. It has always possessed that authority and it often varies in intensity depending on the types of operations the CF may be involved in.

"Al Qaeda operatives are monitoring Facebook and other social networking sites," the memo says.

"This may seem overdramatic ... [but] the information can be used to target members for further exploitation. It also opens the door for your families and friends to become potential targets as well."

Well, there is some over-dramatizing involved. It's not just al Qaeda. The truth though is that a load of various groups do keep an eye on things like Facebook and MySpace. In fact, a lot of those groups use social networking sites themselves.

In reality, the direction from NDHQ is nothing but common sense. Putting too much personal information in the public domain is a risk for most people. In the case of service personnel, particularly those who are already in a hostile environment, personal security needs to be carefully monitored, even if it appears to be overdone.

The Defence Department says it is also concerned with postings of photos and information from the battlefront in Afghanistan.

On Feb. 14, military official Brig.-Gen. Peter Atkinson warned against such battle scene postings.

"The insurgents could use this information to determine their success or their lack of it ... and determine better ways to attack us," he told reporters in Ottawa.

I just know there will be a cry that information is being censored here. It is.

There are two sides to a combat action. The other side knows what went on from their view. Giving them the view from your side is a very bad idea. But it goes further than that. Service personnel are subject to all forms of censorship, both in and out of theatre. They always have been. While the photos from the "boots on the ground" may provide some interesting and dramatic scenes, they impact operational security in a multitude of ways.

Censorship of information from an operational theatre has always been a fact of life for service personnel. Given my own experiences, what is being allowed now is far more liberal than at any other time in the past where troops have been committed to combat.

The fact remains that the leadership of the Canadian Forces has the authority to impose strict censorship on information, particularly that originating in an operational theatre, and they are still a long way from imposing it.

Canadian Forces policy has always been that information released to the public is done through official channels. The determination of operational security is made within the CF. Where that goes off the rails is when the government, (in Canada's case that means the Prime Minister's Office), sticks its political nose in. Then it becomes government information control.

In this case, the instructions issued by the CF to its personnel is reasonable and within its authority.

Hat tip Bob and Todd

Update: Take a good read of Beijing York's comment and then take a look at what director David Cronenberger has to say.

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