It appears that I have a bit of confusion to clear up:
Who is the Ministry of Truth? I used to think the answer to that was simple: it is Unity (whoever the fuck that is). It turns out however that there are two Ministry of Truths. The other Ministry of Truth has been running this advert on Messagespace for the past few days. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Unity (I’m guessing here, but somehow I suspect that if this was one of Unity’s projects, he’d mention it on his own blog). It’s a good job I didn’t start this rant last night though because at that point I hadn’t realised that there were two MoTs and was set on saying very rude things about him.
No, this new ‘pretender’ to the name ‘Ministry of Truth’ has precisely fuck all to do with me…
…and quite frankly I’d be completely fucking offended if, after discovering what this all about, anyone did think that this was my gig.
The MoT to which James is referring can be located at this URL…
And its the ‘brainchild’ – a terms I’m inclined to use very loosely – of a little-known documentary film-maker by the name of Richard Symons of Spirit Level Film, whose previous film-making ‘form’ seems to consist mostly of low-ish budget soma for petrolheads.
Now, first things first, the one thing I don’t have a problem with is other people using the MoT name – its not like I’m about to start applying for trademarks or anything like that.
That said, I do have an issue or two with this particular site/project.
So far as the background to it is concerned, this BBC press release perhaps best explains what’s going on:
The Why Democracy? season is a huge multimedia event – exploring the state of democracy in the world today – with the BBC at its heart.
Beginning in October, the season will run globally on TV, radio and online, on over 40 broadcasters, in over 200 countries and territories – a potential audience of 300 million people.
In the UK, BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC World, BBC Parliament, BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service will all run programming dedicated to the idea of democracy.
Central to the season are ten documentaries, made by filmmakers from around the world, taking a wide-ranging and in-depth look at the nature of democracy. Subjects include US torture in Afghanistan, the election of a class monitor in a Chinese primary school, Che Guevara and the Danish cartoons controversy.
And this is all tied in to a site/project called Why Democracy? that’s seems pretty worthwhile and interesting, if a tad short of real political meat in some places for my personal tastes – but then as the raison d’etre seems to be focussed more on engaging the interest of young people that’s perhaps neither surprising nor particularly to the project’s detriment.
What I’m personally much less keen on is that:
a) The site, itself, amounts to no more than another badly executed attempt at a viral shill for the documentary, one that’s well down to the poor standards set by the fake blog that the Beeb tried to run alongside that dreadful dope show about parliamentary bag carriers (now deceased – the show that is) last year.
(About the only thing I can recall about that particular programme – the name of which escapes me – was that it would have been improved immeasurably had the first episode concluded with a scene showing Francis Urqhart ordering the mass execution of the entire cast).
It even has its own ‘blog’ (on Blogger) with the now obligatory badly researched blogroll – Guido, Dale, RM, Biased BBC… stop me if I’m boring you.
(Actually the name of the bag carrier show was ‘Party Animals’ – I looked it up over at BBF having recalled that Hamer used to take the piss out of the show – and its ‘blog’ was called Village Vermin, which has, like the show, died on its arse)
It’s also got its own Facebook page (yawn) and a frankly hilarious Myspace site on which you’re invited to view the programme’s ‘beginner’s guide’ – if you can hear it over the sound of the Lo-Fidelity Allstars’ ‘Battleflag’ which plays as soon as you hit the page.
b) That the basic premise of the show, which appears to centre on the film-maker hawking a fake bill which purports to attempt to making lying by politicians a criminal offence, is a bag of shite.
Well this is the programme/site’s ‘manifesto’, which clearly demonstrates that the film-maker in question appears not to understand the most basic of principles that underpin our uncodifed constitution.
Believe it or not, there are sound principles behind being able to prosecute our elected representatives for telling porkies…
We, the people, are sovereign.
We grant this sovereignty to our elected representatives in Parliament.
Whilst representing our sovereignty, our elected representatives have fundamental obligations to be honest, transparent and accountable to us.
We are entitled to formal, legal, independent courses of action for a breach of these fundamental obligations.
No. We, the people, are not sovereign – because we live in a constitutional monarchy and not a fucking republic.
The people are most certainly sovereign [on paper] over the big pond in the US, which is why the United States Constitution begins as follows:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
But here in dear old blighty, its actually parliament that’s soverign – hence the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty (D’oh) and the constitutional and legislative authority of parliament is derived not from ‘the people’ but was, instead, appropriated from the monarch over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. This is why, amongst other things, Acts of Parliament still have to receive the Royal Assent before passing into law and why a considerable number of the powers of a British Prime Minister, including the power to form a government and appoint ministers of the crown, are still wrapped up in the royal prerogative.
Politicians in the UK do not represent our sovereignty, they are elected to exercise the sovereignty of parliament, as appropriated from the crown, and the express obligations that a parliament has to the British people are, but for three remaining clauses of Magna Carta and a few principles derived from the common law, only those set out by previous parliaments in statute and only then in so far as any given parliament chooses to observe that statutes rather that alter them.
Is that really the best idea that the Beeb could come up with a Britain’s contribution to a global multimedia project about democracy?
An idea that so badly conceived that the film-maker appears not to have understood just about the most basic and fundamental principle of the British parliamentary system?
One where about the only silver lining seems to be that, at least, the programme doesn’t appear to involve Justin Lee Collins?
For fucks sake, if you look at the Beeb’s press release you’ll see some of the other offerings from around the world:
Looking For The Revolution
Rodrigo Vazquez travels to Bolivia to see whether the idea of a revolution started by Che Guevara 40 years ago is still alive today. Evo Morales seems to be trying to keep revolution on the agenda, but others wonder whether it can ever actually happen.
Taxi To The Dark Side
Dilawar, a young Afghani taxi driver, was arrested and tortured to death by United States forces in Bagram. Oscar-nominated director Alex Gibney provides a forensic account of how such abuses became possible, and finds a trail leading to the door of the White House.
Egypt: We Are Watching You
Democracy is nothing without fair elections and Egypt’s record of controlling votes is universally criticised. Three women who founded Shayfeen.com started to do something about it. Leila Menjou followed them as they risked life and livelihood for democracy.
Can a socialist revolution really work in South America?
Are the Americans up to their necks in human rights abuses in Afghanistan?
Can one really campaigning for open and transparent democracy in a corrupt and dangerous state, and if so at what personal risk?
All meaty political questions, and yet when it comes to our contribution the best we can come up with is…
‘Can we think of a cheap way to make our politicians look like a bunch of twats?’
…and we can’t even manage to get our own fucking constitution right in the process.
I’m halfway tempted to label this, a little snarkily, as more evidence of the ‘Guidoisation’ of politics in the UK as a bit of a dig for Messagespace running ads for the damn thing, but that would actually be deeply unfair to Guido who, to give him his due, at least understands the key differences between a constitutional monarchy and a republic and how sovereignty functions in the UK system.
I’m not usually one for levelling criticism directly at the BBC, but given the central theme that it chose to take on board for its contribution to this project – call it lying, spin, propaganda, it all amounts to the same thing – to end up with a sub Michael Moore gimmick documentary based on the premise of pushing a fictitious anti-lying bill in the faces of politicians and then filming their reactions smacks of a deep-seated act of cowardice, as any serious treatment of such question necessarily demands that we should consider not only the role and attitudes of politicians but the entire nexus in which politics interacts with the mainstream media and how the interaction between the two serves to distort public perceptions of political narratives.
(And if one were to make such a programme then a good starting point would, in my opinion, have been to commission Steven Poole to work on the programme).
Perhaps, in the final analysis, the most revealing thing that can be said about this film is that while its one of the ten documentaries that the BBC will be showing in the UK as part of its contribution to this project, its not one of ten films featured on Why Democracy? website – I’m assuming that part of the deal is that each participating country/broadcaster can drop one of core ten films that the project is promoting globally in order to include a film of more local ‘interest’.
And the film that we’re not going to see?
Well, a quick headcount suggests that its this one:
In Search of Gandhi
What kind of democracy does India have today? Using Gandhi’s famous Dandi salt march through Gujarat as a starting point, this road-movie style documentary looks at contemporary India, the world’s biggest democracy, and explores the significance of the Gandhian legacy of peace and non-violence for democratic movements in the twenty first century.
…which is, admittedly, listed as still being production but looks, to my mind, to be a damn sight more interesting and valuable contribution to a project about democracy that our own crass effort.