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- Arts + Ents
Wednesday 23 June 2004
Film, EU, House of Commons and others
Film archive should preserve the unique, not the 'significant'
Sir: British Film Institute employees are not the only individuals concerned about the organisation's strategic review ("Britain's film heritage at risk", 12 June). Having dealt extensively with the BFI over three decades, as a professional researcher specialising in archive-based television documentaries, I endorse the view that, while there has long been a need for change, many of the changes now being proposed are the wrong changes.
The core responsibility of the BFI towards our film heritage can be expressed in a nutshell. Resources should primarily - if not exclusively - be dedicated to preserving and restoring (for the enlightenment of all, from academics and media students to National Film Theatre audiences and social historians) those cinema features and television programmes which reside only at the National Film and Television Archive, Berkhamsted, and nowhere else. Any other criterion is totally irresponsible. Arbitrary value judgements which prioritise titles of "cultural significance" are not merely arrogant (and historically discredited) but threaten the survival of any work not conforming to a BFI-ordained "party line".
An inevitable result of the BFI's obsession with "evaluating" or "rationalising" its holding would be to major on established classics of cinema and television, erasing from our history the low-budget movies and modest situation comedies that reveal just as much about contemporary mores as do the epics and masterpieces of an era.
The backlog of such non-classic, but nevertheless important, material is so immense that the National Film and Television Archive should be increasing, not decreasing, its personnel. Only by making such a commitment can it sustain its unique character as the "adoptive parent" of the industry's "orphans", those film and television productions whose makers are no longer in business. For example, the output of London commercial television franchise holder Associated Rediffusion from 1955 to 1968 - even now, more than 30 years after being deposited in good faith with the NFTVA - is neither comprehensively catalogued nor wholly available for use and study in a compatible format.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is recommended to monitor with the utmost vigilance exactly how increased government funding for the BFI is spent from now on.
EU rules will cramp Britain on world stage
Sir: You claim that our position on foreign policy and defence will not be changed by signing the new EU constitution ("A battle between reality and myth", 21 June).
Your usual high standards of journalism have slipped, as you have failed to understand the radical shift represented by the creation of a European Foreign Affairs Minister, the abolition of the intergovernmental pillars of the EU and the clear assertion of the primacy of European law.
Article 15 says: "They [member states] shall refrain from any action contrary to the union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness". This means that any time a UK Foreign Secretary wishes to make a statement, support an ally or take action, he will need to clear it with lawyers and the EU Foreign Affairs Minister. We will be subservient to the wishes of the EU minister and the Foreign Affairs Committee in all matters.
Let us suppose we wanted to support US action in some Arab state. The EU could tell the UK that such action would be against EU interests, or against a common policy, and so we would be unable to take action. The veto over a new common policy on something is useless - this clause gives the EU complete control of our actions.
Similarly, it is true we keep our seat on the UN Security Council - but we lose our voice. The EU Foreign Affairs Minister can decide when he will use our place to put the EU point of view - instead of us putting our point of view.
It is game, set and match for the federalists when it comes to foreign policy. The EU will decide on war and peace, who our friends and enemies are, and ultimately on when and how our forces will be deployed.
JOHN REDWOOD MP
House of Commons
Sir: Bruce Anderson (21 June) says that a parliament plus civil service plus anthem plus flag equals statehood. The UN has an assembly, a civil service and a flag but no one considers it a state.
The truth is that the EU has none of the characteristics of a "superstate" and your front page debunked many of the myths being propagated by the anti-Europeans. There were and are some federalist aspects to the new constitution and it is a pity that the debate in this country has not focused on a rational evaluation of the benefits of a federal constitution.
It is depressing but understandable that most of those who knock the draft constitution offer no alternative. At least Kilroy-Silk was open when he said he wanted to wreck the system. I share with him a desire for change but, in my case, within the structures of the EU, a voluntary association of nation states who have ceded some sovereignty in order to strengthen their economic and political position in the world.
The EU institutions need reform to ensure greater accountability to the people and transparency as well as enhanced efficiency. The anti-Europeans oppose such reforms because they will result in an EU in which the people will feel a greater sense of ownership of this unique achievement.
Sir: So The Independent, a newspaper claiming to report news without a political axe to grind, sums up the Eurosceptic viewpoint as "fiction" and the Europhile viewpoint as "fact".
On giving away sovereignty you say "in all sensitive areas ... Britain cannot be outvoted". To a Europhile only Tony Blair's red lines were sensitive areas. To me every area of government, including those already handed over such as fisheries, is sensitive. Just because you are not bothered that the EU rather than Westminster will, according to the new constitution, control energy does not make other people's concerns "fiction" nor does it make your lack of concern "fact".
The European debate would function much better if you lost your feeling of cultural and mental superiority to those of us who don't agree with you.
Right to palliative care
Sir: My father was given only weeks to live at the end of April this year. He displayed many of the symptoms listed by Dr Nick Maurice (letter, 21 June), and worsened quickly. The pain and his weakened state left him telling everyone that he just didn't want to wake up.
Although my mother, previously a nurse in an old people's home, was administering medication according to prescription, advice from a palliative care doctor adjusted the timing of his pills. Where my father was fed-up and resigned to imminent death, he is now pain-free and more independent than he has been this year.
Having seen the result of just one consultation in palliative care, I believe that in addition to the right to euthanasia, good palliative care should be a standard specialist service for everyone requiring it - well before such final "sentences" are passed.
Sir: It is outrageous if, as your story on living wills (19 June) implies, the Roman Catholic Church was singled out by the Government for "lengthy discussions ... on safeguards against euthanasia". Catholics should be protected from having to participate in voluntary euthanasia, but the Catholic Church has no right to prevent the rest of us from making decisions about how or when we die.
I hope to read one day that the Government has had "lengthy discussions" with the British Humanist Association on safeguards against interference in our lives by Roman Catholic and other religious organisations.
British Humanist Association
Sir: Just a couple of footnotes to Bill Hagerty's otherwise commendably fair summary of the internecine warfare currently preoccupying the Drama Critics Circle (Media, 15 June).
I have in fact been writing "overnight" (as well as weekly) reviews of plays for most of my life - most recently for five years on Teletext.
Journalism may well be, as Hagerty says, "a cut-throat business", but I have never wanted to be associated with that aspect of it. Only when I was assured by the Daily Express that Robert Gore-Langton had no liking for overnight reviewing, and that he had been offered (though apparently declined) several other roles on the paper, did I agree that it would make sense for me to restart the overnights which had once been a pride of the paper. Indeed my original suggestion, as the Express will confirm, was that the paper should have two drama critics, in line with common Fleet Street practice - count up how many, Sir, are in your columns.
That way I would have taken care of the overnights, and Robert of the weekly round-ups: we could also have split the work when there was more than one play opening in London on the same night. Through no fault of mine or the paper's it did not work out, but I still object to the adverse publicity.
Sir: One paragraph in your report on the Gary Mann affair ("I'm an innocent victim, says riot 'ringleader' ", 22 June) is of more general importance: "The Home Office said yesterday that it was waiting for the Portuguese legal process to be completed before seeing whether a European arrest warrant could secure Mr Mann's return to Portugal to serve his prison term."
Those of us who have been concerned at the opportunities given by the European arrest warrant system for abuse of process by forum shopping and intergovernmental conspiracy appear to have had our fears confirmed.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular matter the basis of the arrest warrant system, so we were told, is that it is up to the country where the trial took place to decide to enforce its judgement and have it recognised. The citizen's country of residence has no status or powers at that stage. The statement would appear to be gratuitous interference in Portuguese affairs.
Director, Fair Trials Abroad
Stigma of poverty
Sir: Are travellers "invading" High Ham? ("Prescott will give councils new powers to curb travellers", 17 June). Or are they just migrating?
You say villagers are "angry" and suffering "torment". At no point do we hear the travellers' views. Having grown up near a common used by travellers, I've grown sick of the casual, acceptable discrimination meted out to people whose worst crime is poverty. The "gypo" taunts and the "no travellers" signs on pubs are no better than the signs that said "no blacks, no dogs, no Irish" a generation ago.
I'm shocked that The Independent should reinforce such prejudice. If you want to cover this issue intelligently you could look at the scandalous centralisation of land ownership enjoyed by a wealthy few since the legalised theft of the Enclosures Acts. That would be preferable to scapegoating a group of people for the sin of clubbing together to buy a field to live in.
Sir: I was shocked to see, in your report (16 June) of the Vatican summit to combat " 'New Age' religions and fads", that along with ancient Egyptian occult practices, medieval alchemy etc, the Vatican includes the Sufi strand within Islam, Buddhism in its Zen form, and Celtic Christianity.
This shows deplorable ignorance and/or prejudice in the Vatican. Sufism is the most tolerant form of Islam - as in Rumi's famous saying about the religions, "The lamps are different, but the light is the same." Zen meditation has proved successful in many lives in transcending the grasping ego point of view which lies at the root of hostility and violence. And the rediscovered spirituality of Celtic Christianity has much to teach other Christians.
Professor JOHN HICK
Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Research in Arts & Social Sciences
University of Birmingham
Democracy in danger
Sir: Politicians already enjoy enormous power to bully broadcast commentators, especially those on the state-funded BBC. Once they vote themselves powers to bully opinion pollsters too ("MPs claim opinion polls are used to 'fix' elections", 22 June), we should really worry for the future of our democracy.
Dr EAMONN BUTLER
Director, Adam Smith Institute
Sir: Christopher Parker (letter, 21 June) repeats the canards about lack of public confidence in speed cameras and "the real damage ... being done between the police and the public". The use of the phrase "the public" when in fact he's talking about people who get caught breaking the speed limit is dishonest. The arguments are not between public and police but between bad drivers and the rest of us. The more the bad drivers whinge, the more convinced I am that speed cameras are doing a good job. I wish there was one on my road.
Ditchling, East Sussex
Breath of air
Sir: If Carolyn Beckingham (letter, 15 June) could take a bike ride in the Netherlands from Rotterdam to the Kinderdijk, she would see at least seven windmills "in the same neighbourhood". And a charming sight it is, especially on summer Saturday afternoons when the sails turn.
Take no notice
Sir: Two notices have puzzled me. The first is on a park gate on Richmond Hill. It says: "These gates are closed one hour before the advertised time." The second I saw in a shop window in Enniskillen: "Bargain basement on the first floor."
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