Sunday, November 27, 2011

Freedom to Receive and Impart Information

The Internet is a publishing vehicle for the transmission of information and ideas to the World Wide Web. It isn't unusual that people will use the tools available to them in order to communicate or receive information.

The European Convention on Human Rights states "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers." (Article 10, 1.)1

This is an open statement which does not preclude the type of publication or form the transmission of information and ideas assumes [takes]. It can be argued the Internet has no frontiers or boarders, only ones created by deliberate interference for purposes of good or ill. It would seem to deliberately interfere could be regarded as being in breach of this convention. 
[It is relevant to note that Australia though a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human rights which includes Article 1upon which the European convention is based only recognises this right in a limited form.
Australians have an implied right to freedom of speech on the basis of the UN Declaration but this comes with limitations being that this right is only recognised within the narrow ambit of political commentary. Known as: "Freedom of Political Communication".]

Within the ambit of a publishing an article to the Internet, any claim that the article might contain "defamatory" elements creates confusion in Australian law with regard to who is the publisher. Who can be blamed or held liable on the charge of defamation? The law is confused as to whether the ISP (Internet service provider), who hosts the content, is as much a "publisher" as the author uploading the content. So in Australia who transmits this content as well as who authored and uploaded the content to the Internet is jointly a "publisher". An ISP may host hundreds of thousands of sites, all with different content providers who perform their own uploads; these content providers "author" then "publish" content to the Internet. The basis for this confusion is likely due to the case of Godfrey v Demon Internet Limited2, in which anonymous comment, claimed to be false, was posted on a forum. As the originating author could not be established the court reasonably held the ISP responsible. However, to view all activities surrounding the actions of a known author as complicit in the claimed publication of false comment makes a mockery of this judgement. It is without logic to consider a Host Provider of a connection to infrastructure to be a publisher.

So who is ultimately the publisher? In the case above the author was not known so it was the ISP. As this ISP did not remove the content as it would cyclically self remove anyway, they became the target of the defamation action. In Australia an ISP needs no further warning than the demand to remove claimed defamatory content even if the author and publisher is clearly identified and identifiable. It does not matter here. Even a telco like Telstra will force the removal of the content though they cannot claim to be any more than a connectivity provider, an entity that merely provides connection/transmission to the internet (as happened in our case). A telecommunication provider connects an ISP to the web via the telecommunication infrastructure. With regard to the intent of Article 10, 1 forced removal by an ISP, of claimed - not proven - defamatory content is a true hindrance to the freedom to "...receive and impart information". However, cutting off a self hosting ISP author from the telecommunications infrastructure establishes a vastly different level of "interference" on a "public authority" scale.

Internationally, the publisher of online content is the uploader of the content. Above is a screenshot of Adobe's web publishing and authoring program, Contribute. It is described as "a powerful web publishing and website management tool that integrates authoring, reviewing, and publishing in an easy-to-use WYSIWYG HTML editor". Other html editors such as SeaMonkey, freely available on the internet, include a publishing component, that includes the means by which content can be uploaded, published, to the internet. Somehow Australia's techno-dazzeled legal fraternity disregard the international definition of "publisher". 

In the USA or Sweden for instance a court order must first be obtained, in most cases, before pages or sites are ripped from the World Wide Web. Australia Law fails to protect defendants of defamation claims where the internet is the form of publication and essentially is complicit in an act of censorship on a public scale. All of which is irrelevant to the substance of what is being transmitted being true or false. No hearing or submission of evidence is required, the demand is made and the claimed defamatory information, and more, is immediately suppressed.

Australian Law (a derivative of class defined English Common Law) in prosecuting argument for a defamation case holds the Internet in an unnecessarily separate light to other forms of publication. It basically does not understand the Internet (fears it perhaps?) and views it with suspicion. The Internet is the Gutenberg Printing Press of our time. The transmission of information in terms of its rate and timeliness is extraordinary but is it any different in effect? Information is imparted and received. This discriminating lack of understanding overly complicates the defence position when embroiled in persistent, unreasonable and deliberately damaging defamation action. 

Outside the defences for defamation, Truth, Duty to Inform and Fair Comment, a defendant must additionally justify (against what measure?) the transmission of the claimed Defamation over the World Wide Web. In the context of publishing one format is essentially as public as another, Internet or not. Because the Law misunderstands the Internet as being something other than another publication tool this aspect is then exploited as a weakness by plaintiffs to then be used to delay, suppress, or legally slow the process to trial causing higher and higher expense for a defendant. In the case of a defendant with less financial means than a plaintiff has this ability to legally harass with the aim to delay trial if not make it impossible to get to trial creates an imbalance for equivalent engagement in the legal system by both parties. Where truth is not a problem for the defence and where a  "...claimant is incapable of further defamation..."3 this tactic is utilised.

In Australia, unlike the EU, we do not have the right to freedom of expression as defined by the EU Convention nor a right to freedom of speech as enshrined by the US Constitution. Neither of these jurisdictions encourage or support a citizen's right to publish lies about another and there are stringent laws protecting an individual or entity with mechanisms and rights for the defence of their true fame. My co-defendant* calls this "natural fame". It is the fame one has developed and earned from their own actions and deeds. Publishing the "natural fame" of another is hardly defamation, the reputation earned and won by their actions has already affected the perceptions of others as to their character and person. Particularly if these actions and behaviours have had years of repetitious airing across countless public forums. The truth will confirm already held opinions rather than form them.

Defamation Laws favour the privileged with an interest in maintaining false reputation. The laws are wielded as a useful weapon against the less privileged whether by a corporate Goliath like McDonald's4 or a well off individual. Both have the financial means to manipulate process via intentional delay5 and censorship in order to affect an opponent's financial or motivational resolve before a complaint ever sees the inside of a court room

Apart from the freedom to do so truth is an essential component of any quest to receive or impart information. Truth is the responsibility of those imparting the information, in fact or by establishing grounds for honest opinion whilst ensuring the receiver has an interest in receiving the information and the freedom to check its validity. If a defendant can tick these boxes then they should simply hang on as "natural fame" will rise to the top.

1Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights
3Wikipedia on Defamation
5The Mickelberg Stitch

*Demetrios Vakras

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Humanist Transhumanist - Is it Racist to Critique Religion?
Is it Racist to Critique Religion?
Humanist Transhumanist the exhibition was declared racist by Guildford Lane Gallery Director Robert Cripps for doing so.

This 2009 show-case exhibition of artworks with accompanying Catalogue - Manifesto produced by myself and Demetrios Vakras was intended to take advantage of a Dali Exhibition held at the same time at the National Gallery of Victoria. Our further intention was to counter the 'modern' surreal-lite interpretation and presentation of surrealism. With such a focus upon Surrealism in our home city it represented a one time opportunity to take advantage of enthusiasm for the genre and generate further interest in living, local artists of the surreal and fantastic.

Months in planning, countless hours at the easel and computer producing the works, publication and promotional material all culminated in high costs financially and it all come to naught.

Our presentation and execution was characteristically professional, on time, content rich and efficiently delivered for viewing.

Robert Cripps, the Director of Guildford Lane Gallery created a scene towards the end of the opening night event, publicly declaring us and our exhibition racist and demanded we leave his gallery. We had another encounter like this when we returned to attempt to properly document our show and examine the posting of disclaimer notices throughout and leading into our exhibition. He rushed towards us  demanding we leave, yelling at us the exhibition was racist and that Demetrios intimidated him (this was new). We offered to remove it for a refund and re-stated our right to attend our show in the hired space during gallery hours and according to the contractual agreement. I attempted to ascertain from him what was racist whilst Demetrios backed away (to avoid appearing "intimidating"). Turns out any critical reference to the religion of Islam was the racist part though he brandished the full show incomprehensible and vaguely with a sweep of his arm all of it racist. He had fixated though on the criticism of Islam from what we could ascertain. Other religions were similarly critiqued within the content and context of the show but this was not racist, this was okay because, according to him, those religions deserve it. So it is okay to critique Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Zoastrianism.

[We left, hounded by him to do so, or he'd call the police.
As the gallery contract instructs if disputes arise the dispute must be raised, communicated and a process followed to produce a mutually agreed resolution. We had attempted to raise our objections in person, this failed so we outlined our objections to his behaviour towards us and to his continual public misrepresentation of our art and character by email. He skirted around our complaints in a reply email, which appears to be drafted by someone else, making the further written claim that both he and his staff were uncomfortable in our presence and that we were to only attend the gallery when he was there and to always make prior arrangement to do so. This libel by him and a further unilateral change to the contract affected our accessing our own exhibition. We could only have attended again if together, not as individuals, as we could not trust what he might do, or might claim we did do, if we each went in alone. We had to forewarn the gallery as he would have to be there whilst we were. Which made us attending at all untenable.]

Our exhibition was from that point on abandoned, unmanaged, misrepresented by his posted disclaimers and his public declarations it was racist. For all we know potentially an ongoing slander of us was conducted in our absence. Not one of his volunteers or staff came forward to correct what he claimed, that he and they were all intimidated and made "uncomfortable" by our art and presence. We gave them opportunity to do so and the opportunity to do so remains available to them. Since none yet have had anything to say we have to assume therefore they were/are in agreement with Cripps claims made on their behalf. 

[For writing about our experience we are being sued and chased around the internet in his attempts to use whatever means and legal threats he can to have us hound us off the WWW. The truth may hurt but it remains what it is - some prefer to be defined by the truth whilst others prefer to suppress or ignore it because of what it can expose in us.]

So where has this "populist"and in some cases media supported moratorium on any criticism of Islam come from? It does seem to be the case that generally you are accepted to be a racist if you critique Islam.

Australia, purportedly, is a secular democracy as enshrined within The Australian Constitution Act (Chapter V. The States. 116.) Australia can be popularly defined in a number of other ways in addition, which have little to do with politics or religion; beer, sport and beach themes come immediately to mind. Australians (some or most?) like to foster this image and take pride in being considered as characteristically laid-back and even laconic. Citizens may openly critique the government and social systems which includes religions but the permission to do so is awarded conditionally. Laws regarding complaint or dissent limit our ability to publicly complain without fear of litigation, legal persecution and authoritarian intervention. In our adventures with Mr Cripps we've suffered all three in various forms and ultimately for exercising our right to critique all religions which includes Islam. When viewed with a critical eye this not only exposes the sensitivities of Islam to criticism of it but how successfully it has been transmitted that Islam is exempted. As those who do critique it are all labelled racist. That there are serious contradictions in this logic are obvious. Obvious or not it remains the case a tipping point has been reached with regard to public opinion on this matter. If you speak to anyone regarding a criticism of Islam they will clam up, prefer not to discuss it, become faintly horrified or outright state "isn't that racist?" or something to that effect. Why is it racist? The conclusion by many, that it is somehow racist, is not one arrived at by reason but more by absorption. It is a repetitiously received and accepted absorption through the media, through political and religious commentary and opinion, through popular commentators, through a desire to counter negative attitudes (fair or unfair ones), all coloured and shadowed by the not so vague sense of it all being a taboo subject.

Publicly others have already suffered the racism charge and other worse stigma, they are accused of having far-right political leanings and a racist agenda and/or have suffered in some cases much worse persecutions.

In a press-release by Maryam Namazi who opened the 2011 One Law For All's "Passion for Freedom" exhibition she mentions us amongst other artist and free thinkers fighting a much harder battle than we could ever imagine. We hold these people in high esteem and send them our respectful support. They are surviving much worse treatment than we are.

As a citizen of a free secular democracy I am compelled to offer more than a laconic, laid-back acceptance of what prevails on popular winds. Tolerance does not require we decline to critique a human rights abuse or systemic failing because it emanates from a particular religion, religious practice, culture or politic. It does follow that we as citizens and artists must continue to defend human rights even when we are in trouble for doing so and are persecuted for it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Australian Defamation Law Vs the Muscular Citizen

Silence, 2011
A SLAPP is intended to, censor and silence truth.

My partner Demetrios Vakras and I, both artists, are currently experiencing the expensive, contradictory and labyrinthine qualities of current Australian Defamation Law. My research to better understand and defend our legal position led me to the State Library of Victoria transcript of a 2005 Redmond Barry Lecture by publisher Morry Schwartz, "A Balancing Act: The Rightful Place of Defamation Law in Open Society". For this post heading I borrow from a portion of the lecture where Schwartz points out how we in Australia have no legislated right to freedom of speech and how within the context of an "open society..." this undermines the type of "...questioning that makes for muscular citizenship." 

As artists predominately in the Surrealist genre my partner (in particular) and I represent a continuum within the Surrealist ambit of challenge to and criticism of societal structures and mechanisms that make up our socio-political and religious belief systems. It is from within what is supposed to be a free thinking secular democracy that we make our observations and point to contradictions through the vehicle of our visual art and writings.  As Schwartz stated in 2005 we as citizens have a responsibility to question matters "of freedom and democracy". (See the full transcript here)

In 2009 Demetrios and I held a joint exhibition, Humanist Transhumanist, launched with accompanying self published Catalogue. Though much of the exhibition was of the "chance meeting of a sewing machine and umbrella on an operating table" (as was once remarked by Lautreamont), another part sought to reaffirm Surrealism's gritty tradition of challenge and revolution. In our exhibition and our accompanying publication are critiqued the four super religions of our time: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism with strong human rights and socio-political commentary. We challenged the view and assertion that religions represent peace and are just and necessary systems of belief to control human conduct. Our arguments and imagery provide contrast to this mainstream view. We provide reasoned conclusions that religions are not peaceful, are unjust, are gender biased and utilise supporting quotes from the Bible and the Koran. The challenges we make were not undefended nor ignorant statement. 

The night of our opening the Director of the Gallery unexpectedly made a scene, publicly declaring the show and us "racist", and ordered us out of our own exhibition. Upon another return to the gallery he again publicly repeated this charge of racism. Efforts to ascertain what he thought was "racist" revealed he thought only the criticism of Islam was "racist" and that he was "... against the Jews' state in Palestine". This conflict was not mentioned in any of our literature and the contradictory nature of his own statement was completely lost on him. 
He denied ever misrepresenting our work and he further refused us entry to support our exhibition, going so far as to threaten that he would call the police to evict us simply for entering to photograph (document) the show. We had to abandon it entirely until take down some 3 weeks later. 

When this occurred, July 2009, we accepted we may have to put a bad experience behind us, legal considerations were rationally beyond our means and energies. We instead posted each our own account of the experience to our respective art websites. This Gallery Director is suing for what we write, claiming that it is all injurious falsehood.
These website pages and links to them have been pulled by successive web Host providers who caved to legal threats by his lawyers to make them a joint defendant in the defamation case against us. In the latest attack on our websites our entire internet was pulled by Telstra, see the posts immediately prior this one. This "chilling" has dogged us for several months and will no doubt continue. We have now yet again made alternative hosting arrangements and have reinstated our pages and our websites. (see below)

The intention for writing these accounts and maintain them is to counter the claim of the "racism" attack on our character and our art work and art practice spanning some 30 years in the case of Demetrios who has been challenging religions since the early 1980's in his art and writings. To critique religion isn't illegal or menacing it is the nature of secular democracy that we critique it and the systems which do, or are seen to, under-pin or contradict it. Not a novel occurrence. However, now in Australia to critique Islam has been declared "racist". In Australia, it seems, Islam is immune from the same criticism levelled at the other major religions. The result is a mussel of any criticism of not only Islam but a flow on to other religions seeking the same immunity.

If it is the case that to critique religion in Australia is now to be a "racist" then what limited free speech we currently enjoy is under serious threat. To remain silent or be compelled to silence because your argument is not palatable for some is not an acceptable outcome for any society claiming to be free thinking and progressive.

Even with truth as our defence our fate at the hands of the Australian court system and its handling of defamation matters is frighteningly unknowable. It appears to us one we are alone and fairly impotent to alter or affect the outcome, so we will continue to tell our story and hope someone is listening. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Domain Name Hijacking and Telstra, the new Internet Police not available 15/10/11

Last Thursday our internet was cut off by Telstra and we thought that this in itself was bad enough.

Not so.

Sometime under the cover and distraction of Telstra’s removal of our internet connection our Domain names were hijacked (stolen). Read about domain name hijacking via the links at the end of this post. & were taken by unknown persons and were no longer in our control or ownership. If we had still had internet access when our domains were hijacked we would have been alerted.  Our sites associated with these domains were hosted (stored) on our server which connected our sites to the WWW. When we were cut off by Telstra our sites disappeared from the WWW. 

If we had not first been disconnected, then the hijacking of our domains would have made our sites disappear from the WWW instantly. Because of the nature of the hijack we would have been aware of this the moment that it occurred. 

Under the cover of our lack of internet it was likely that the perpetrator held the expectation we would fail to notice in time to retrieve them, or felt that we would not have understood what had occurred. 

Who knew of our lack of internet? That Telstra had disconnected us? When to strike so that they could steal the domain names? Who might benefit from this?

All interesting questions. 

There are protocols and processes to secure domain name ownership. Through impersonation and deception or by the application of technical knowledge (hacking), or because of flawed security procedures these protocols can be breached, as has happened in our case. It is only through timely discovery and persistent, dogged follow-up that we now have both domains back under our ownership.

Fortunately we did discover the theft fairly quickly and alerted every authority we could. Melbourne IT, the domain name registrar, could not do anything over the weekend when we discovered this late Saturday morning15 October 2011.

The type of action Telstra have taken against us, described as "excessive", the timing of Telstra's actions, the consequences which have flowed from Telstra's actions, and the question of who stood to benefit from them, are all in question.

The Victoria Police Fraud Squad are actively investigating.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Addenda to "The SLAPP"

Consequesnces 2007

Telstra (ISP real name now uncensored) has removed our interent access and static IP.

Demands were made to Telstra by Mr Cripps via his lawyers that we were to remove not just references to the 2009 exhibition debacle but our entire websites or Telstra would become a respondent in the Defamation matter brought against myself and Demetrios Vakras by Mr Cripps.

We had already acted reasonably and had under protest censored all the sections of our websites as per the demands made by Cripps, Cripps' and Telstra's various lawyers (all "BIG" company legal firm as per their own claims) sent to monster us.

We drew the line at removing our entire sites voluntarily. The removal of our sites and our internet access should constitute an outrage. We view this as unreasonable, unethical, bullying and harrassement by litigation. Without proof, without deference to innocence, without ethic, reason or the application of logic we are harrassed off the internet just as we were kicked out of our own exhibition in 2009.

Telstra'sresponse is that anything that exposes them to liabilty must be dealt with in this manner. Nothing was stored on their servers. They claim they can do this and indeed they have done this. They can do it to anyone. If you don't like what someone says just threaten Telstra or any ISP. Use the standard method, you are frightened, threatened, defamed and you will get what you want relatively cheaply in this country.

Cripps and his kind can merely threaten to make Telstra a respondent and Telstrasimply rolls over and exposes its belly to exhibit they are no threat.

Telstra disconnected us at 10am this morning.

At about midday we received a call from Telstra business customer service(sic) to ask how we "...were enjoying our plan"? I suspect our feedback will not " recorded and utilised for training purposes".

The following sites are currently gone from the internet:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dark Days and the TELnoone Censorship Menace

TELnoone or we will sue!

Is electronic censorship by our service providers, following absurdly risk averse conservative standards, a growing and sinister censorship menace not simply to the internet but to the entire concept of a modern, open society?

In modern Australia we delude ourselves that we have openness, transparency, freedom of opinion, freedom of conclusion and a basic right to free speech. There is a postcard on display in my workplace, one of those free ones with a funny quip or pithy statement which announces..."Everybody has the right to complain!" It is amusing and because we do assume it is the case we immediately think "Yeah, damn right I do" as we read it.

The reality is you do not have the right to complain, not publicly.

If you disagree and think we do have these rights as natural provisions then think on how transparent, open and free you find the following.

The webpages listed below have been censored by Telnoone (1) an ISP I cannot name because they have threatened me that by doing so I will bring their "brand into disrepute" and that this will result it a shut down of my internet. They have informed me of this threat in an email today.

Since 4pm last Friday 7th October, I and my partner have attempted to fight against their first demand " remove the following articles and associated links by 4pm Monday October 10..." I've only altered the company name to "protect" it as per their demand.
(1) Telnoone is not the real ISP name it is the enforced censored version. I take no responsibility for any inference made by any reader further to that. I have not named the company in question.

Dear Lee-Anne, 
It has been drawn to our attention that content hosted using your Telnoone Business Broadband service has breached our Acceptable Usage Policy as it could result in Telnoone incurring a liability to another person.
We therefore require you to remove the following articles and associated links by 4pm Monday October 10:
Failure to remove these articles and the associated links by 4pm Monday October 10 may result in your Telnoone Business Broadband Service being suspended or terminated without further notice. Please note that this will mean that all traffic using this service will cease.
Our Acceptable Usage Policy can be found at: Link removed as it would expose the company.

We obviously did not succeed. At this point we are forced, under duress, to censor these pages to protect our access to the internet. If I could show you the "acceptable use policy" in question you would find it broadly concerns, spamming with email, sending trojans over the internet amongst the listed breaches.

The ISP in question has been threatened with being included as a defendant in a defamation action brought against myself and my artist partner Demetrios by a Melbourne gallery director. This is why TElnoone claim they could "...incur a liability to another person". I as well cannot name the litigious gallery director(sic) because that will expose me to further legal retribution. The law doesn't like it when you talk about the legal(sic) actions being taken against you. This is despite the fact it is a matter of public record with the Supreme Court of Victoria, SCI01484 of 2011. Legal types reading this might also like to know we have brought a VCAT action agains this person see VCAT case number C5251/2011. 

The "articles" (webpages) which Telnoone claim breach their "Acceptable Use Policy" describe an experience where my exhibiting artist partner and I were accused of being racists at our own art show opening by the Melbourne gallery director who cannot be named. This all happened in a public setting in-front of remaining guests at the opening night event (we didn't know anyone by that stage - it would have been nice to have their support now). He kicked us out and would not allow us entry (unmolested) to support our show again.

Any form of reasonable negotiation or use of reason to argue against the charges he brought against us and our art work publicly was rejected. Any recompense or remote chance of an apology was a pure fantasy. We cut our very expensive losses at the time and wrote reviews on this show and our experiences within our own art websites. It was too expensive a proposition to simply ignore, too big an outrage, too offensive and unprofessional an act to leave unaddressed in silence.

We were given advice at the time in 2009 not to take expensive, stressful legal action, we should have ignored that advice. It is our only regret that we took this advice.

We are not sorry to tell the truth and we are not about to deny our right to speak it, write about it and paint it. We do not regret our actions or where it has brought us because it is the truth. It is never ok to give in to bullies and belligerence yet this is what we are being asked to do at every step.

What keeps us so silent in the face of such offensive threats to our freedom to speak out, to complain and tell the truth?

Dark days indeed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


consequences, 2007

At approximately 4pm Friday 7th October 2011 Australia's leading telco, Telstra, informed us we had until 4pm Monday 10th October 2011 to remove a swathe of our websites or they will cut off our internet.

Our websites will be removed in their entirety.

Robert Raymond Cripps and his lawyers have threatened Telstra with repercussions if they do not act against us.

We have no choice other than to fight what is essentially a SLAPP.

It is more commonly used by large corporations to silence the voice of a smaller less well resourced opponent such as protestors, bloggers...individual critics of any type. The usual characteristic of the recipient of the SLAPP is they are individuals or very small organisations.

This system of manipulation of the law is effective if it works. Silencing a protestor, removing evidence of criticism combined with waiting until the "weaker" opponent's funds or support mechanisms are gone has its advantages to the larger more well resourced complainant.

Cripps has finances and legal connections along the lines of the better resourced. His strategy is to defeat us by removing our ability to defend our position legally. Lawyers are costly, the legal system is costly full stop. The legal processes are very, very slow, plodding. These actions make a plodding process move glacially slower. Lawyers and defences to further challenges need to be maintained. Matters, we discovered, do not go through to the courts in a straight line. It may seem naive but it is more astonishment that the processes do not have logic or relative fairness behind them. Rather it becomes apparent that the more a defendant wishes to see the complaint addressed in court, the more the complainant attempts to have it pushed further aside and outside of the ambit of influence by the court.

The result is costs, delay and further entropy of finances. Individuals with meagre financial resources are hardly equipped to engage on a level that can be considered equal. All this motivates the defendant more, perhaps an underestimated side-effect.

In other words what he and his legal team are doing may, indeed it usually does, work (it may not be ethical in the real world but it is legal) but not yet.

Following posts will include the claimed defamatory content Cripps wants suppressed before we even have a chance to defend the truth in a court of law.

He sued us initially for 180k now it is 100k. For a conclusion outside of court according to his demands, we would have to pay this and more (remembering this doesn't address other costs), take down our pages and agree to never mention, write or reference the claimed defamatory content again.

Not going to happen. Not now, nor if the SLAPP and Chilling succeeds. 

At every opportunity I will continue to warn and establish the truth about the experience I and Demetrios were subjected to by Robert Raymond Cripps at his Guildford Lane Gallery.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Australian Defamation Laws Chill

"In practice, defamation laws are frequently used as a means of chilling speech. A threat of (costly) defamation proceedings and damages, whether or not a plaintiff's claim is likely to be upheld by a court, is often used to silence criticism not only by a particular person or group but also as a threat to others."

Secrets prologue, 1997, oil on canvas, Lee-Anne Raymond

This is Australia 2011, and I am being sued for defamation. What have I learnt?

I have learned freedom of speech as most modern democratic citizens may understand it is not a right of citizens in this country. Indeed laws governing defamation in Australia are weighted against any critics who may publish or publicly present unfavourable or critical opinion, argument and ideas, be they; artists, authors, journalists, publishers, newspapers. Australian defamation law, the way it is framed, even following the unification of the 2005 act, effectively "chills" free speech.

I have learned what is meant by the term "chilling speech" as the direct quote above from Electronic Frontiers' FAQ regarding defamation law defines, it is of course to censor speech. Within the same FAQ is discussed ways to; minimise risk (of action being brought against you, should you be one at 'risk'), dealing with threats (of legal action against you) and, the defences you can employ should you be facing action. All very informative and I have to thank this and other organisations for sharing and making accessible this information online.

Within this particular FAQ I noted the heading of one section which struck a cord, "Defamation and Safe Speech". A tips section for how to say what is needed but not expose yourself to a charge of defamation. Personal and societal ethics and values aside the existence of helpful tips like this make me cringe in horror. It is saying couch the truth because they will come after you if you do not fudge it. This underscores that there is no freedom of speech, not only under our system of law, but in addition, within our conceptual grasp or perhaps societal character (Government ministers enjoy the privilege of a kind of technical parliamentary free speech). We are as a country governed by a secular democracy that is cowed into expression of only flaccid and inoculated "safe" forms free speech.

What does this mean?

As a person no longer simply at risk of being sued for defamation this is moot. Now that I am being sued I know personally about the chill and its insidious effect. My website host were threatened and the page on which I wrote an account of unprofessional practice of a gallery director back in 2009 was pulled down. My partners similar account as well was pulled down. This is the chilling effect. We are not celebrities, rich, influential, nor associated with a publication, our pages being pulled meant no discussion or opinion could be conducted about what was or was not defamatory, nor even available for anyone to have reported the matter.

A reference placed on another page to inform others I was being sued to explain why the link was unavailable was further to this taken down after an additional threat was made to my host provider. Does this mean I do not have the right to convey to a third party that I am being sued? The lack of clarity is universal. I believe I do have a right to inform my, audience (website visitors) that I am being sued and the page you are attempting to link to is down because of what I wrote about a poor experience with this gallery director in 2009. The public writ itself names Robert Raymond Cripps as the Plaintiff vs Demetrios Vakras and Lee-Anne Raymond the Defendants. It is a matter of public record. I must as well, apparently, take care not to too fully explain the context nor circumstance which has led to my being sued, even though this as well is a matter of public record.

In my experience of the law it seems I may discuss or comment only if I am enjoying the rights of parliamentary privilege (doubtful that will ever happen), or as a witness before the court, or a reporter of statements made under privilege in these contexts. As I am neither a parliamentarian or a reporter of my issue or yet a witness to it in court I apparently have no right to provide my audience with information surrounding my being sued. To the rational and logical thinker this is Kafka's, The Castle, a reality in which one must obey pre-prescribed rules and laws which have no rational explanation. As my partner observed, the legal system acts an awful lot like a religion. One is expected to simply "have faith" in the various proclamations and protocol however irrational, ridiculous or inconsistent.

Effectively without proof or conviction I am expected to accept being gagged by multiple threats of further legal retribution by the plaintiff in this matter. I do not accept this is the spirit of the law and, unlike the plaintiff, I take responsibility for my actions and restate the exhibition with his gallery was a disaster at the gallery director's hand. Declaring the show and my partner racist, barring our attending our own show, causing us personal and professional damage from which we are still recovering is no small event. In addition it was a public event and these matters played out in public at our expense. These are the reported facts behind the case and which he claims defame him. Defamation is considered proven if what was disseminated was out of malice (untrue) and caused the complainant's reputation harm. The truth we fully support with evidence. The plaintiff's reputation, good or bad is subjective. However, as our experience with the plaintiff is one shared by others prior to our showing at his gallery it would seem any reputation he had is self-earned and pre-existed our exhibition and commentary.

The penalties, if a ruling (if we ever get to court) is found against you, are indeed odious and severe. Laws are meant to work by modifying behaviour (seen as poor) and gain compliance (good behaviour). I argue that the penalties alone are a form of chilling, preventing free speech. In addition though it is how defamation law in particular is framed in law which is most concerning, as the laws assist to amplify the chilling effect and mussel fair and rigorous criticism.

To elaborate as discussed the cost of responding to the litigation alone represents a burden of such a punitive like nature that one, as an individual defendant becomes pauperised or cowed by this real threat before a matter is even heard in court. I maintain the law *By law, I mean our justice system*, works against individual citizens in this arena. This is not just because the threat of financial devastation is so real, but in reality the law is so badly framed that it appears to hold the defendant as guilty and as having defamed regardless of the court outcome. All that is decided upon is how valid are the defences for the defamation. This means defamation is assumed but perhaps there was a valid reason to do so.

I maintain to be silent is acquiescence, and this can and will be construed as an admission of guilt.
Is this a demonstration of the law working?

What really is chilling is that the law (justice system) may not care if it is working or not.

Post Script:
With different hosting arrangements now in place the pages are available and my professional art website now remains intact.

View the catalogue for Humanist Transhumanist Exhibition

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Burqa and Nicab - A choice or a suppression?

Arguments abound on the purpose and meaning of the burqa, the voluminous head to toe outer garment, and nicab, the full-face veil, of Islam. Critics of these garments are often derided for a lack of cultural savvy resulting from their uninformed prejudice, or, strangely their "racism" or "sexism". Intrinsic to my protest of these garments is that they contribute nothing toward advancing women's rights (as is the claim) and do more to harm the cause for all women's liberation and self determination and in particular harms efforts to advance the human rights of Islamic women.

The inescapable facts surrounding these garments are that they:
- instil and reinforce a religiously endorsed gender inequality (only women are required to cover their person in such a manner in public, Koran 33:59); and
- reinforce a religiously derived idea which regards women as the sexual possession of men to be a normal part of any social contract that might exist between men and women in Islam (Koran 2:223). Women in Islam are the property of men whom they must obey for fear of physical punishment (Koran 4:34).

The word "Islam" literally translates as "submission". Whether one cares to acknowledge it or not the burqa and nicab are more than a symbolic submission of the female. The female submits before what is arguably the most patriarchal of religions. Where it claims that it protects and elevates, it instead makes the wearer, visibly invisible in order to control and in so doing devalues the gender due to its gender. When the sound of a woman's walk is prohibited (in strict Islamic regimes) and the visibility and presence of women directed to be hidden (Koran 24:31), then any culture, religion or society should weep for it is not in tune to its humanity.

In 2010 I exhibited four new paintings, physically and in video format, illustrating this contradiction that women have choice and are free in Islam and are protected by the burqa or nicab if not elevated by these garments. I intend my paintings challenge the "elevation" and "protection" argument as well as highlight the misconception that the burqa and nicab are somehow a matter of fashion or choice, thus providing the wearer with security and empowerment. Rather, I contend that the evidence suggests they represent symbols of ongoing, antiquated religious and cultural suppression of female sexuality, independence and self-determination.
Baleful Worship - Submission, Isochronos - Metamorphosis with Niqab, Freedom I and Freedom II are a continuation on my general theme of religious protest, this suite of four are remarking on the characteristics of Islam in it's attitudes to women as well as what is expected of its pious followers. Traditionally a key is symbolic of control. However, in Isochronos - Metamorphosis with Niqab, Freedom I and Freedom II, control, independence, time (progress) is illusory. In Freedom II the keys are rendered useless and the subject slowly disintegrates behind her veil. Indeed in three of the works the figure is barely animate and whereas a metamorphosis such as with Isochronos..., normally produces improvement and new life a stasis results.
My work deliberately attempts to pose what can be challenging questions about life, sex, death, religion, politics and ethics. The thematic arena of my work ranges from human rights to the philosophical. The figure is the pivot and focus for the viewer, the figure is humanity.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Women (1939)

"The Women" (1939)
A movie review of sorts...
I recently watched this movie for the first time out of surprise I think due to the simple fact I had never before encountered it.

Gorgeous cinematography and costuming is intended by design to please the fashion conscious palette of a particular audience. Perhaps one also seeking relief from more serious matters going on at the time (like WWII)? It contains a soft porn Dalie-esque fashion show, irrationally plonked, in the middle which unlike the rest of the movie is presented in colour for effect. It was meaningless escapism mechanism and a little ludicrous, particularly as it went on forever until, its whole purpose was revealed, to stage a hostile meeting in the changing rooms for the two main protagonists. Enter evil Shop Girl husband thief and jilted especially saintly wife. Following and equally ludicrous there was an exercise class scene which confused me and I lost track of a few chatty characters. I couldn't keep up with the super fast talking. It was all a little too "Lucile Ball".

Not one man enters the frame, hence "The Women", though several "cads", "cowboys" and "poor schmucks" are referenced. The lack of any physical male presence was the not so subtle subtext of the movie. Men may have been subsumed to become merely referenced but they are still immensely important. This device, making men invisible though clashed a bit with how important they were to our women's lives. Though it was a comment on how men are possibly over represented by most cultures, and including in most movies, making them visually absent didn't reduce this emphasis. The viewer does not miss them though strangely. This device may have some believing we are therefore privy to a pure feminine world? Hmmm... as it is utterly filled with obsessions about and surrounding men it is hard to accept this idea has much existence outside fantasy. Though it isn't wrong that female relationships take a firm back seat as a relationship between a couple strengthens, is this also the case for male friendships?

Our "heroine's" lost love was a misguided fellow lead astray by a gold digging "shop girl" from the perfume counter. The movie ends with the idea that a "wife" should forgive her "husband" of all and any unfaithful discretion because after-all he is "only a man", manipulated by an evil woman who desires what her rival already has. Envy is big in this movie. After-all a woman, her standing in the community etc. etc., is only held as a result of the man she is permanently attached to so she must protect him and that alliance. Without it she may as well go to Reno get her divorce and become invisible. Unless she has fallen pregnant to the "cad" first and then all is forgiven immediately! If she is unfortunate not to be suddenly pregnant then she must relinquish her pride because this is all which has been preventing her from forgiving him and saving him from himself! Astonishing. Even for the early part of the 20th century, the main premise of the movie is a bit of a shocker.

So many unruly gender angles, contradiction and dishonesty.
Perhaps I took it all too seriously but I can't dismiss the niggle I felt about the subtext which was heavily reinforced behind all the fluff and drivel.

About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.