Archive for Freedom of Information

Art For Politics: Response to panel on the relationship between literature and politics at the Edinburgh Writers Conference

I’m enjoying the video recording of Ahdaf Soueif’s keynote and the following debate from last Friday (17 August 2012). There is a lot of really inspirational and intellectually stimulating points made during the 2 hour panel, below is my response to one particular audience member’s comment early on in the panel:

One audience member suggested that literature or the novel, based on its prescribed function of providing a reader with an ‘escape’ from the world, should not necessarily be political, as by its very label, it should be *literature* first.  Alternatively, it is the citizens and other bodies which participate in the political struggles who are responsible for being political. From what I understand, there are two points to his argument:

1) the style of writing is the primary concern;
2) the purpose of a piece of literary writing is to entertain.

Though I would not dispute Ben’s argument that there is a line between literature and most writing which is used for political purposes (i.e. the pamphlet, the speech, etc.), I would side with Ahdaf Soueif who says that a writer (or author for those who insist there is a distinction between those who simply write and those you create literary art) cannot necessarily help but be political, as they write about what they experience, feel, and know.

My decision stems predominately from the theory of constructivism, which asserts that an individual both shapes, and is shaped by, their environment. Therefore, if a person is influenced by their – let’s say – social environment, which is highly dependent on the political situation in that area, then of course the writing of this individual will also be affected and, by extension, incorporate political characteristics.

Two very well known example of this in the Western world is Animal Farm by George Orwell, a political satire about the Russian Revolution of 1914, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, both of which are required reading in most American high school English classes. A more contemporary example of this would be Beyond Compromise, which is a collaboration between young Palestinians on the ground in Palestine and exiled Palestinians abroad to provide an outlet for sharing what is happening in Palestine and how it is affecting those who identify with this movement. Both examples are of pieces of literature which were written to provide the authors with an outlet for their experiences, yet those experiences, once written down, clearly exhibit a political influence.

My question would then be, how inappropriate is it really for a novel, or piece of literary work, to have a political focus; particularly when it is rather inevitable for a writer to remove their own outside influences completely?


WIPO Negotiations for Broadcasting Treaty are back at the table

I was wondering how best to segue into the topic of Intellectual Property Rights – never let it be said that WIPO didn’t do anything for spreading information! (Hopefully my readers will get that joke as these posts go along.)

Here is a brief explanation of what this WIPO Treaty is in this post, but WATCH THIS SPACE for more information on the development of this treaty and details on what Intellectual Property Rights are, their function, and how they will and do affect YOU.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation proposed a “Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organisations” back in 2004. According to those trying to ‘sell’ this idea to voters around the world, the new treaty would provide broadcasting organisations (i.e. Radio stations, TV, etc.) 50-years of protection for their intellectual property rights (in the form of something akin to copyright control). Doesn’t sound too bad, you say? Broadcasters should be granted the rights to their own material, you insist?

Yes, perhaps *creators* of the work *should* be granted such rights. However, the original text of this treaty would extend copyright-like rights to broadcasters to include all the property broadcasted by them; including works they did not create (or even own rights to in the first place). One example: a work published under Creative Commons which a radio broadcaster (legally within their right to rebroadcast under the CC agreement) aired, would then give the radio broadcaster rights to demand no other broadcaster air (in more legal jargon ‘redristribute’) it. Including the person who CREATED IT!

Sound a bit dodgier now? Yeah, I thought so, too.

To top it off, some states considering the WIPO Treaty were (and still are) pushing for an inclusion of the internet in the language. This would lead to entities like the ones providing feed services the right to mess with whatever was being run through their service, simply because they would fall under the very vague umbrella term of ‘broadcaster’. If something was already under copyright, the owner would be legally obligated to relinquish those rights to any such entity.

Luckily, negotiations ended in a stalemate in 2004, leaving the treaty unfinished and ‘un’ratified. However, as of June 2012 WIPO has reopened negotiations on this treaty. At this point, we can add WIPO to the list of under-the-radar acts & treaties aimed at restricting information flow. W00t.

Art for Politics: The Edinburgh World Writers Conference

Edinburgh World Writer’s Conference is a series of unique events aimed at bringing together writers from around the world to develop an historic snapshot of the role of literature today. The festival begins this year at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, during which time 50 world-renowned writers will be joined by members of the public every afternoon (17 August – 21 August 2012) to discuss the five topics from the first conference. After the Edinburgh Intl. Book Festival, this conference will travel on to visit 15 additional cities in the next year in hopes of giving writers and readers of different countries a chance to add their voice to the debate about the place writing holds in today’s world.

This festival began as a five day sub-event of the Edinburgh Festival of Music and Drama in August 1962. The original organisers John Calder, Jim Haynes, and Sonia Brownell managed a fantastic first-run lineup of writers including Normal Mailer (USA), Lawrence Durrell (UK), Erich Fried (Austria), and Khushwant Singh (India). Each day the conference focused on a different topic, and openly encouraged freedom of expression and the sharing of alternative opinion.


This year’s topics will include a debate on whether or not literature should be political, censorship today, and the future of the novel. Not only do these topics relate to my current campaign for a Global Banned Book Week, but they also relate acutely to various human rights, international laws (such as importing/exporting published works), and the current debate on the moral/ethical/legal right to censorship.

Watch this space, as I do a follow up on each of those topics listed above, and give an analysis of why it’s important for current events!