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Say no to censorship

’Give me six lines written by the most honourable of men and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.’ – Cardinal Richelieu

In recent weeks, the authorities have sent a clear warning to the entertainment community by embarking on a system of reviewing tapes of stage shows and summoning entertainers before court who they suspect of obscenity and using foul language.

On the surface, this may seem to be a good move, designed to clean up a genre of music that is as lacking in soul and creativity as it is offensive in content. But censorship is not the way.

Until the music finds – or rather – the entertainers find their way back to the path for which dancehall is intended, we must hold sentinel over the rights of individuals to express themselves through this art form.

If we do not fight for our rights now, we must not cry and hold our heads in disbelief when we wake up one day and suddenly find that these rights are gone.

I am wary of the police’s attempt to censure entertainers because this represents the first move in paralysing freedom of expression. What will come next? Freedom of thought? Movement? Assembly? Religion?

When it comes to matters such as denying individual rights and liberties, only the first step is important.

We must be vigilant.

Disturbing strains of fascism has already cropped up in this country.

Remember the attempt to muzzle the press? Remember the police instituted black-out on statistics of major crimes in Jamaica earlier this year?

Dancehall is the transforming force of the inner-city. It is the voice of the people, the sinews and guts of the ’great unwashed’ of Jamaica. We don’t just eat dancehall, breathe dancehall, we ARE dancehall. The authorities must not be allowed to intervene, or muck it up.

I don’t want some lumbering, out-of-touch state authority telling me what sort of art I can see, songs I should listen to, movies I should watch, or what I should write.

There is no such thing as an absolute constitutional right or freedom.

The constitutional freedom of expression is already circumscribed by a whole battery of concerns for national security, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, libel, and the authority and independence of the courts.

That should be enough.

The Jamaican Constitution, Section 21 (1) states ’Except with his own consent, no persons shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this section, the said freedom includes the freedom of thought and of religion …’

Yet in the 1960s, the State banned certain books, because it did not agree with the contents, some of which are still banned today.

People, we must be vigilant.

What is decency? What are community values? What is obscenity? Talking about the pubic region in a public place? Does the government have the moral authority to decide on matters of taste or probity when it is already besieged by so many of its own scandals?

However, we must be careful we do not lump stupidity, and intolerance under the banner ’Freedom of Speech’. Entertainers must learn to censure themselves, and to think before they spit into a microphone. The public must learn to distinguish between the illiterate moron cursing Really Bad Words onstage for shock value, and someone expressing a God-given democratic right.

I am all for freedom of speech WITH responsibility. The trouble with Jamaicans is that they do not see freedom as a value, they see it as licence to do anything they please whenever they want to do it.

But still…we must be vigilant.

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