Contribution by Torben Søborg at the conference CENSORSHIP A VIRUS IN THE NEW MEDIA SCAPE,
       organied by  Soros Center for Contemporary Arts in Bucharest
       Bucharest, Romania, November 3.4, 1994

The Subtle Ways of Censorship in Democracy

Censorship is for most people - in Western Europe at least - connected with dictatorship and totalitarian states and governments.

If you ask common people in denmark they will say that our democratic constitution (dating back to 1848) will garantee you the right to free speach - and consequently we do not have any form for censorship in Denmark- other than what most peaople fin "common sense" and natural to protect the right of the individual such as that you can't - as an example - call a person a lier or crook in public speach or writing ut - connected unless he in fact is a lier or crook. You have to be responsible for what you say and write and you will be prosecuted as a slanderer, a scandalmonger, if its not true or if you can't prove it to be so.

It is obvious - perhaps - but not known or remembered by most people that we have a film censorship act or statute with the main perpose to protect children and very young people against violence, pornography (blue movies) and such things. The censors can put restrictions on films with such contents: you have to cut the violent or pornografic scenes or you have to forbid children younger than either xx or xx years old to see the movie.

But this goes only if you want to show the film in public. You can show the most violent hard core blue movie in a kindergarden to very young children because the kindergarden is not a public place where everyone can come and go - and you can show anything on television - and everything is shown - because reciweving television is (in most cases at least) not considered public: you look at it in your own living room.

And this has just raised a public discussion two weeks ago in Norway, but also in Denmark because two small six years old boys brutally mall-treated and murdered a four year old girl and the Nordic satellite channel TV-3 showes a disgusting violent television programme as part of the children hours. Many paople asked for censorship on television programmes.

What almost nobody knows is that the film censorship act (in Denmark at least) also applies to video - so if I make a video and want to show it in public at the town library (which our workshop has done regularly as part of the European project "les cent lieux") then I have either to send it (and pay) to the state department of film censorship to get it cleared or I have to have one gardian standing at the intrance and asking people how old they are and telling youngsters 15 years old or less that they can't be allowed to see the video - even if it is something innocent like a documentation about the schoolday of the very same youngsters, ... well, to be honest: since almost nobody knows about this "film" censorship on videos nobody observe this - and I don't, and our workshop don't.... and we do it without bad feelings because what we have shown in public is video art productions - videos which we consider to be a work of art and there is no censorship any more on art: you don't hand in a piece of art to be cleared by the censors before you can exhibite it - and I have argued that video art is art and not "film".

But of course you could ask: should everything be allowed even if it is considered a work of art.? I would say: yes - but then I have to admit that I have seen some video by the Finnish artist xxx xxx that I found so disgusting, so sadistic and Fascist that I almost wanted a total censorship ban on the tapes, their meassage being: "To live is to kill - to kill is to live". I had to leave and I decided never to show the tapes (even though I have one of the tapes here) - but then: you have your own free will to do so, it was argumented in the discussion after the showing of the tapes. Well - the film censorship which I think most western democratic societies still have is rather obvious: it is a censorship and since the abolition of the law against pornography in 1976 the last and only form of real censorship we have left in Denmark.

But it is my argument here is that in spite of this you have also in democratic (or should I say: "so-called" democartic) societies you have other and more subtle ways to exercise different kinds and degrees of a sort of censorship: actions and tiltag which in the end have the same result as censorship.

Let me give you some examples from my part of the world: video art.

We have about 20 public access video & media workshops in Denmark - two financed by the Danish Film Institute and the rest mostly financed by local authorities or some sort of unimployment-programmes etc.

But to get to produce at one of these workshops you have to hand in a very specific and in detail described project to a committee which chose (censors) only a few of the projects - and what is the criteria for the selection?

My first point is that it is often difficult for an artist working intuitively creative to make a specific and detailed description of the final art work. my next point is that even if and when it is possible the committees most often they will chose a documentary project on something locally.

Let me give you an example - just a couple of days before I came down here I talked with the Danish video artist Pernille Maegaard. Half a year ago she had a very priced video installation with 28 monitors and the State Art Foundation gave a as recognition 80.000 Danish kr. but the Film institute workshop in Copenhagen (close to where she lives) would not allow her to edit her next project at the workshop.

I know only one Danish video artist who has succeeded in bypassing the workshop committee - and that is the veteran in Danish video art, Niels Lomholt.

So much for the public access workshops run by public support which - I have to add - is getting more and more difficult to get. After 10 years with a conservative govenrment the support has been cut down. The catchwork of the government being: to privatice which in the case of public accesss workshops is the same as closing down.

Of course we have quite a lot of professional video facility houses - but in a bourgois capitalistic society they will only allow you if you pay and they can make a substantial profit on you.

One reason being also that the productions from these workshops often were critical to the conservative policy of the government (one example: exposure of police brutality). whne you can't censor then you can do it indirectly by cutting the support. (well - a certain Karl Max once said something about the rulling thoughts ...)

Art and artists are to some extent supported by the Danish State Arts Foundation, but who get the grants? A survey 5 weeks ago shows that it is the same few persons - the already well established who really don't need the support because most of them already sell good enough through the international art dealers and galleries - those few the dealers and galleries profits from.

The purpose or object of the Danish film Central Office is to support and distribute especially Danish but also foreign short films. Within the last 5 years or so they have also supported the production of and bought videos, also video art works - so far so good. But the criteria for support and bying has always depended on the likes and dislikes of the one person in charge. Perhaps this can not be otherwise but paired with short fundings it has again meant supporting and buying from the same handfull of Danish artists again and again and then also buying from the wellknown and established American video artists.

All the other Danish video artists are refered to distribute through other channels like THE DANISH VIDEO ART DATA BANK or Trekanten Video but since the Danish Film Center Office with government funding is able to distribute without fees it has - after they have started also to distribute videos - not been possible for the other distribution channels to distribute because they have a fee just to exist (not speaking of support to the artists). That means a sort of selection: The so to speak first class video artists who are able to sell to the Film Central Office and get distributed - and the so to speak second rate video artists who are left out in the cold.

It is very seldom that Danish television stations are interested in and show video art - in fact they are not very interested in art at all. Originally we had a monopoly with one nationwide and license financed television station. The we got a second television station to some extent financed by advertisments. And now they are competing to get the viewers - a competion on the lowest common xxxx : that means: American soap, competition programmes, talk shows, but not critical, political or cultural programmes.

The result is that they not very often is interested in the arts - and when they are they treat it very pop-like.

And then of course to day we also have all those satellite stations - in my small town we only recive about 20 through the cabel system, but in most places more than 20.

By the way as another attempt of a sotr of censorship the Danish telecommunication companies (which in Denmark are half private, half state run) tried to control the reception of foreign satellite television by trying to get a monopoly on recieving and distributing the signals through the socalled hybrid cabel network. Thanks mainly to the effort of the cooperative cabel netowork in my small town they did not succeed in this. Now every town or person or group of persons can put up a disc.

Another side, some would say: wrong side, of the age of video, is what is called the surveillance society: Everywhere you go - in a supermarket, a bank, a gas station, a store, a railway station, an airport, a pedestrian street and so on and so on your movements are surveiled by video cameras and tape recorders. It is "Big Brother watching you"! - the eyes of the authorities and the rulers behind your back. And most people don't like it.

But within the last few years and with the smaller and smaller and now rather cheap video camcorders which more and more common people get it is turning the other way round. thise camcorders are not only used to video children birthdays and private blue movies but in more and more cases also to surveil the authorities, the rulers for example - and not only in America but also in Denmark - to surveil and document police brutality.(The Subtle ways of Censorship in Democr.Bukarest-konference

Torben Soeborg

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