Article 23

I've been thinking about yesterday's post. I've been puzzling over the 23rd Article of the Constitution, the Article on Freedom of Expression. I'm not entirely sure that it renders the actions of the Censorship Board necessarily unconstitutional. Rather, it creates a grey area, a kind of no-man's (or everyman's) land of potential possibility. After all, we're British in structure and philosophy, and the British don't believe in going around handing out freedom to everyone and anyone. Having lived in Canada and in Britain, I know very well that it's possible to legislate against hate literature, and that it's constitutional to do so in a way that it isn't in the USA; and we are far more likely to fit a British mould than an American one in this respect.So I went back and looked again. Here's what I worked out.The Constitution protects the freedom of expression of the Bahamian citizen. But it's not an absolute protection. There are some limitations, and they obtain in the following cases:to protect defenceto protect public safetyto protect public orderto protect public moralityto protect public health;andto protect the rights, reputations and freedom of others;to preserve confidential information;to maintain judicial authority and independence;to regulate communications, public exhibitions and public entertainment;to uphold restrictions placed on public officers or on members of the armed forces.Now from this interpretation, which I believe is quite clear, the curtailing of absolute freedom of expression is permissible under the Bahamian constitution. The curtailing of that freedom to "protect public morality" is one case in which the exception can be made, and so the banning of Brokeback Mountain would in all likelihood be quite constitutional.Except here's where it gets iffy. There's a caveat to all of this protection of the public, and it's this. If one can demonstrate that the practice of restricting expression is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society, then the constitution will protect freedom of expression.It gets iffy because what is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society changes with time. The goalposts move. This idea makes reference to a global consensus on what is "democratic", and that changes. Forty years ago it was not undemocratic for the state to put its citizens to death for certain offences; today, however, the situation is considerably different, and it is considered undemocratic, even barbaric, to impose the death penalty indiscriminately. Twenty years ago it might have been fine (and was; remember Mapplethorpe) to challenge artwork that was considered indecent, homosexual, or otherwise offensive to public morality; but that is no longer the case. We are living in a world whose boundaries are not fixed, and unless we're prepared to change we're going to be surprised by the international response to our public actions.On an entirely different note, though:Constitution or no constitution, we have to think about the consequences -- and the absurdity -- of our actions in a world which is saturated with information. To me it makes very little sense to ban a movie whose only offence is featuring homosexual love while at the same time ignoring movies full of violence, heterosexual sex acts, oppression, and degradation of women. (And I'm not going to call for a more rigid ban of all of these things, either; that is the easy, and the lazy, response). It's hypocritical, especially as it demonizes a loving and consensual homosexual relationship while remaining silent on coercive behaviour closer to home.I saw a series of images today -- readily available on the internet -- of Bahamian teenagers posing pornographically. I saw a film today -- again available on the net -- of a Bahamian child, no more than ten (if that old), fondling and sucking a dildo while the hand of a full-grown male spread her genitals for the titillation of the video camera. Bahamians are not only consuming this material, they're making it, and they're doing so with complete impunity. While we ban award-winning movies featuring actors who are proud of their work and well-paid to do it, movies that might, god forbid, lead us to think beyond the boxes we have imposed upon ourselves, we condone by silence a native pornography industry that exploits the people it features, either by twisting their minds to believe that what they are doing is normal or desirable, or by forcing them to participate against their will.We never talk about sex. What we do with it, though, is legion.