Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free Speech on Ice

I'm not a fan of the tag-type graffiti that pollutes so much of Budapest's landscape, but this mural of Ice-T is in another category. I noticed it last week along the bike path just south of the Filitorigát HÉV stop. It's an expertly rendered portrait of the American rapper alongside lyrics from his song, "It's on."

This song was at the centre of one of the first controversies concerning Hungary's draconian new media law. Local broadcaster Tilos Radio played the song during the daytime, provoking the newly established Media Council to threaten sanctions based on the law's protection of minors.

When I first heard about the Ice-T controversy, I thought, OK, playing an obscenity-filled song during daytime wouldn't be allowed in most European democracies.

But the lyrics excerpted in this graffito read as a direct and brazen rebuff to the Media Council. As words of political dissent, this kind of speech really does need to be protected, and I have to hand it to the artist for this pointed commentary.

I have to add, though, that the anti-obscenity stricture in the new media law is among its least objectionable parts. It's a sweeping piece of legislation (running more than 200 pages) restricting the public media in astonishing detail, and requiring media outlets to register with the government and report every year on their compliance. Among other things, the law requires news media to ensure "balanced" coverage, limits stories about crime to no more than 20 percent of content, and bans any published speech deemed to "infringe on human dignity." And the members of the arbitrating Media Council have all been elected by the Fidesz-dominated Parliament.

There have been two public protests against the law in Budapest, neither rivaling the crowds that gather twice annually for Critical Mass. I'd have to say it's been a tepid reaction, however every voice raised deserves credit.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bicycling Firebrands

With Iran refusing to ship petrol to Afghanistan, hundreds of protesters in Kabul hit the streets on bicycles brandishing signs that said, "We can live without oil." And why not? In Hungary, at least, we can always use pig grease to lube our chains.

This follows right on the heels of another bit of bicycle protest news from the Middle East. Last month, an Israeli court gave a three-month jail sentence to a left-wing activist for riding in a mini-Critical Mass against the blockade of Gaza.
Somehow, bicycles are becoming the ride of choice for political firebrands the world over.