Every issue of free speech or censorship is not necessarily a “First Amendment” issue. The First Amendment simply says that the government can’t take away your right to free speech (although it can and does, but you know what I’m saying). It’s not the First Amendment when the newspaper won’t print your letter, or your record store only carries censored albums or your friend tells you to shut up, because the government was not involved. And it’s definitely not a First Amendment issue if censorship happens outside of the US. It makes me wince a bit when my fellow Americans occasionally rail against “First Amendment violations” of someone living in the UK, or Spain or someplace.
And of course, we’ve got some examples today.
First off, we’ve got “the gay cowboy movie.” Apparently the movie was schedule to play at Mexaplex 17 in Salt Lake City, but was cancelled literally hours before the first screening was going to begin.
My first thought was that the theater was facing threats of boycotts from local conservative groups. I mean, what else could explain a theater violating its contract with a movie distribution company to turn down a movie that’s earning around $12,000 a week for each theater that shows it? That’s bad business sense any way you look at it.
But I think there’s a different reason. Apparently the owner of Jordan Commons, the shopping center that houses Megaplex 17, had the plot of Brokeback Mountain described to him for the first time about two hours before the theater cancelled the shows. So the smart money’s on the “owner pressured theater” angle. And why did the owner make such a decision? Presumably thinking that gay movies are bad for his family-themed mall, or simple prejudice.
I know that some folks have been brainwashed by their holy books to think that homosexuality is wicked, but come on, the theater didn’t cancel their screenings of Hostel. Have you seen the ads for Hostel? Near as I can figure, it’s 90 minutes of people chained to chairs, being tortured. Gory, sadistic, blowtorch and power drill torture. But at least it doesn’t have men kissing. That could set a bad example for young people.
First Amendment: no.
Next up, we’ve got censorship online. Apparently the newly News Corp.-owned MySpace.com is deleting parts of messages sent to and from MySpace users if they happen to contain links to MySpace rivals. I tried this on my own MySpace page, and so far no deletion. Granted, it’s only been a few hours… I think it would be great if folks left MySpace in droves so that News Corp’s $600+ million investment became worthless.
First Amendment: no.
Then finally, we’ve got the Iraqi journalist who was seized from his home by US troops and then interrogated… several days after the journalist (Ali Fadhil) informed US forces that he was investigating the tens of millions of dollars which have gone missing under US control. The troops are claiming that they were “looking for an Iraqi insurgent”, and took some of Fadhil’s videotapes. If all they did was bust in, take some tapes and leave, that might not be too far-fetched of an explanation. But they bust in after learning about Fadhil’s investigation, shoot the place up, seize tapes for the pending investigation, seize Fadhil, interrogate him, and then send him home… well, fishy doesn’t begin to cover it.
First Amendment: no. First of all, this took place outside of the US and secondly, it was more analogous to a violation of the Fourth Amendment, against unlawful search and seizure. It may indeed have violated the Iraqi constitution as well, as Juan Cole points out.
Censorship: Seems to me that unless this was one of those krazy US military mix-ups we hear so much about, that the intent of this raid was likely to shut Fadhil up. More intimidation than censorship, but with both goals achieved.
Now that I write this, I feel a little silly including movie cancellations and MySpace accounts in the same article with gunfire and illegal detention. If only computers came with delete keys…
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