Wednesday, December 15

The Vacuum: apologies all round

The Vacuum, a free paper in Belfast, has had a run-in with the City Council. Certain councillors objected to the contents of issues on the themes of God and the Devil. Since the paper receives council funding, it was required to apologise by the council. But in typical style, it is now exploiting this demand to comic effect, with a day of atonement.

Sorry Day is a nice piece of japery by Factotum, the paper's publishers. But in their attempts to portray this as a freedom of speech issue, they are as clownish as the councillors they mock. If they want to be free of council interference, then why take the council's money?

If Factotum don't like the council having a say in how its money is spent, then speaking as a rate-payer, I can only offer my profoundest apologies.

UPDATE [21 Dec]: Stephen Hackett replies:
Well City council awarded the grant to Factotum based on their own application process-their criteria –which Factotum fulfilled. So we obviously agree with council having a say in how it spends its money otherwise we would not have entered the application. The fact of the matter is they fucked with the process they put in place. And how did we get this silly notion about freedom of speech....
Belfast City council minutes 18/8/04
The Development committee discuss the recommendation of their Arts Sub-committee. Mr. J. Walsh, Principal Solicitor (of Belfast City Council) attends and recommends that 'any decision to withhold the remainder of the allocation could be considered as a contravention of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights'.

Thanks for the email, Stephen. Obviously, I haven't seen the terms under which The Vacuum receiving funding, or whether this amounted to a contract that the council is trying to wheedle its way out of. If the council has broken a contract like that and the contract said that The Vacuum could print what it wanted, then I agree that this is a freedom of speech issue and I would wholeheartedly support it as such.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm sceptical that such a contract exists.

My broader point remains this: with regard to future funding, The Vacuum has no right to say what it wants at the expense of rate-payers who don't agree with its views.

Imagine a worker on the minimum wage who also happens to be a church-goer. (There must be many more such people in Belfast than Vacuum readers.) His rates money is being taken away from him under threat of legal action, so that he might even be imprisoned if he doesn't pay, to fund a magazine that's openly ridiculing his faith.

Speaking personally, I've enjoyed many an arts event subsidised by the rates-payer. I've even enjoyed The Vacuum on occasion. I'm uncomfortable to think that people poorer than I am were forced to pay for my enjoyment. And when their representatives complain about this, even if it's on religious grounds that I don't share, then it strikes me as bad taste to complain about freedom of speech.