I’m not totally closed-minded

Logging into the blog this afternoon I spot there’s another of those WordPress announcements popping up in the dashboard… cos I’m observant like that.
And, good little WP fan that I am, I click the link to see what it’s all about. And what it’s all about apparently is some sort of campaign in America to raise awareness about their First Amendment. To their Constitution, that would be.

Now we here in good old Brit-land don’t actually have a written Constitution, not as such. So why should something for which there’s no parallel over here, and moreover something American no less, prompt me to start bashing away at the keys?

For it’s no big secret amongst those that know me that I’m not what you might call an admirer of America. In fact, it wouldn’t be putting it too strongly to say that I despise a lot of things American, detest a lot of things America does, and resent the way that American “culture” (if that’s not an oxymoron) appears to have infected the entire globe.

Curiously though this is not going to be another of my “bash the Yanks” rants for, surprising as it may seem, I’m not totally closed-minded about them. They have occasionally come up with some fairly good things (inevitable really I suppose, given the size of the country’s population)… WordPress itself for example. And other stuff. Like… like… um… yeah.

Well, ok, their Constitution. I actually think that’s a really good thing to have. Especially that First Amendment thingie. In fact, I’m quite envious of it and rather wish we had something similar (and with similar teeth) over here.
For the benefit of those who don’t know what I’m chuntering on about, here it is:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Apparently, its

the first 45 words of the Bill of Rights, ratified in December 1791, that protect the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. It serves as the blueprint for freedom of expression and religious liberty.

(Quoted from the 1 for All website.)

Ah yes, the freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition. Now we’re getting to the crux of the matter. For some things, it seems to me, transcend national boundaries. And the foregoing, it further seems to me, clearly fall within that category.

Coincidentally, I posted something not entirely unrelated only a few days ago. About two photojournalists who were unlawfully prevented from photographing and filming a protest outside the Greek Embassy in London… by officers of the Metropolitan Police!

There appears to be something of a growing trend in supposedly “free and open” societies for governments and agencies of the State to increasingly curtail the flow of information whilst at the same time gathering ever-increasing data about their citizens.
Here in Britain last year we had the introduction of that disturbing Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, that only served to reinforce the “terrorist paranoia” (fostered by campaigns such as this by, once again, the Metropolitan Police) that now sees photographers (including Press photographers, photojournalists, citizen journalists and the like) being stopped and questioned on the street almost as a matter of course.

Clearly it is sensible for us all to be aware of potential threats to the civilian population by terrorists, but it strikes me that the whole thing has been magnified (was going to say “blown up”… but decided that was probably not the most appropriate phrase) out of all proportion, and there is significant evidence to suggest that legislation introduced to supposedly counter potential terrorist actions has been misused by agencies of the State to curtail peaceful political dissent.

I find this to be an incredibly worrying form of “mission creep”, especially when it spills over into, for example, preventing the Press and even the public at large from monitoring the activities of the police.
The obvious example of why it’s in our interests to monitor how the Police conduct themselves is the one to which I referred in that previous post, the G20 protests in London last year, and the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson that occurred during those protests.

Nor is Britain alone in this bizarre notion that we should not be allowed to photograph the Police in the performance of their “duties”, albeit for different reasons.
For example, it was only recently brought to my attention that at least three States in America (Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland) have now made it virtually illegal to photograph the police absent their consent… which is of course unlikely to be obtained if they’re in the process of abusing their powers. Yet those are precisely the occasions when photographic or video evidence of their activities is most needed.

For that reason, even if only that reason, it seems to me that the freedom to photograph on duty police officers as they go about their business should be one of the hallmarks of a genuinely free and open society.

But agencies of the State are not the only ones who seek to curtail the freedom to gather and disseminate news, either photographically or by other means. Nor is abuse of power by those same agencies the only topic that requires monitoring.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for example, about which stories have circulated of attempts made to prevent, or at the very least “”shape”, reporting of this major environmental disaster.

Very often it is only through news of an event such as this reaching the public’s attention that pressure is brought to bear on the various relevant bodies to render adequate assistance and, hopefully, introduce measures to safeguard against such disasters in the future.

As I’ve previously said elsewhere, much as we may despise the occasional unfettered excesses of a free Press, and much as we may castigate the mainstream Media for being overly biased in some situations, it still remains one of the bulwarks of an open society, exposing dishonesty and corruption in the political arena, and ensuring accountability.

But it’s not just the established Press that merits such freedom. So too such entities as what used to be called (and may still be for all I know) “the blogosphere”.

With blogs such as “tales to tell”, the “Committee to Protect Bloggers” and “Antifascist Calling” all playing their part in fighting for human rights and helping to spread news of human rights abuses in all parts of the world, notions such as freedom of speech and freedom of the Press should be promoted and defended whenever and wherever the need or opportunity arises.

Or so I believe. Well, I would, wouldn’t I? Wot with me being a sort of photojourno-type person meself. And blogger to boot!

About fotdmike

Occasional photographer; occasional writer/blogger; occasional activist; occasional computer-geek. Bit of a fool really.
This entry was posted in History, Issues, Photography Chat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I’m not totally closed-minded

  1. forkboy says:

    I just finished reading a short article regarding a couple of photographers who were harassed (video was provided) while photographing at a very public city of Miami (Florida) train station. The photographers had even contacted the appropriate authorities in advance to be certain there was no restriction against photography at the site.

    Unfortunately that message apparently didn’t make it to the security officers at the station. And I think this may often be the case with both security officers and the police, and I believe you have touched on this in previous postings around the Internet.

    I agree that it is disturbing to see this trend of restricting photography and video in public spaces and of security/police personnel. It flies in the face of basic liberties and the notion of free people. Not unlike the events of 9/11 and the bombings in London, it will likely take some sort of major event against photographers/videographers to sway the masses back to embracing their/our former liberties.

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