Category Archives: Free Speech

Why I stopped listening to LBC

LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) does pretty well for itself these days. The UK’s most popular speech radio station has cashed in on the glut of wannabe politicos, who’ve relished in the social media boom to believe they’re more important than they actually are.

If you regularly muse on Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr (okay, nobody serious uses Tumblr) you’re guilty of said self-obsession – I know I am. I wish I wasn’t such a narcissist.

One of the most ignored “isms” on the rise, narcissism isn’t shunned because there’s a lot of capital to be made from it. Narcissists tend not to be the smartest eggs but they do fancy themselves, which plays right into LBC’s hands.

LBC loves a narcissist, even more so if they’re an unintelligent one with a big ego, as they can bring in their own big ego host to slap them down, knowing they’ll “win” an argument purely on their debating savvy acquired from hours of droning behind a microphone.

Now, I should point out that it’s not ubiquitous and there are some long-term regular callers who sound thoroughly decent, but they are becoming few and far between.

When you ring into LBC – as I regrettably did on three occasions to talk about the electoral system, the European Union and fat people – you get pre-screened to see whether you’re up to the task. Qualifications, however, seem not to include being smart or having anything original to add to the conversation.

I’m a bit outlandish, a rabble-rouser – you have to be unique, controversial or simply an arse to write for a living nowadays (a combination of all three helps – so I, unwittingly, fit the bill perfectly.

“You simply must hear what this caller had to say about the EU,” their clickbait professional will tweet out. Having a broad Somerset accent would have only added to the circus-like theatre. While none of my calls ever received an ego-satisfying “OMG LISTEN TO THIS” tweet, LBC is usually good for a couple a show. Let’s have a gander at their recent ones:

On 30 January, Iain Dale – who, in fairness, hosts an enjoyable weekday show between 4pm and 7pm – was put up against a fact-free Floridian Trump supporter.

Indeed, Dale himself said that the caller didn’t know what they were talking about. Surely this would have been apparent during pre-screening and they would have recognised this and denied them a spot on air. But no, Sherri from Clearwater, FL, was the perfect low-information Trump fan that they could exploit for, well, not knowing very much.

And then they struck the motherlode – Sherri cut the call. Crazy radio moment: tick. Trump advocate looking like an idiot: tick. Viral material: tick.

If LBC aren’t parading a wacky caller, they’re chucking out bait masquerading as a question to get one on the line.

James O’Brien’s “unmissable reaction” to something – usually Trump or Brexit – will be tweeted, or a deliberately wild quote from new and newish LBC provocateurs, Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins, will be posted. Follow their Twitter feed for a fortnight if you suspect me to be nit-picking.

Don’t get me wrong, radio is better than the telly in the UK as you can say more and get away with more – it’s what makes Fox News and MSNBC appealing to conservative and liberal Americans. Opinionated news and bashful debate is much more attractive than beige reporting which you probably think is biased against you anyway.

That’s why LBC is fun for a bit. If you’re a politics addict – and right now, how could you not be? – the station is mighty enjoyable, at first. But after a few weeks or months you see the flaw: there’s not a lot else to do it.

Listening to LBC’s “debates” will do nothing to improve your knowledge of a topic. With hosts firmly on the Left, staunchly on the Right and a few floating in the centre, there’s not an overall bias issue, just a quality one.

You’ll either be subject to a few minutes of caller-presenter love-in, or a deliberately aggressive battle between two hotheads which is remembered more for insults than substance.

There’s nothing surprising about absurdity on LBC, it’s a stock trait. And once you’ve clocked that they don’t only welcome it, but pre-plan the chaos, the novelty erodes and so does the will to listen.

At least that’s what happened with me.


The hypocrisy of India banning porn given the sexualisation of Bollywood

The Indian government has banned pornography. As many as 857 websites are for the chop, with internet companies ordered to turn off access to a variety of sexually explicit sites. The reason? To prevent children from viewing them and, according to a government official, to stop porn becoming a “social nuisance”.

Adults will still be able to access the sites using virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers, not that it serves to justify the ban. Instead of an adult now being able to freely view porn, they now have a reduced ability to do so and leave themselves open to embarrassment for having a VPN – not that it’s their sole use. But you get the point, it’s not as simple as just deleting your internet history.

Porn is not healthy. Whether it is objectification or the clutches of addiction, there is little benefit to be derived from sitting in front of a computer screen, beating off for a few minutes of unfulfilling pleasure. That, however, doesn’t mean the government should be policing it – it is an obscene violation of freedom.

After all, the porn business is perfectly legitimate and serves as a huge employment industry – especially, one would presume, for the unskilled sector. If somebody wants to consume it, good luck to them. They are doing nothing wrong, nor are those providing the product.

The decision though does come with a tinge of irony. Bollywood – India and the world’s biggest film industry – thrives on its heavily sexualised nature. Gone are the days where even kissing on screen was considered taboo, Hindi movies are now a haven for leggy ladies, muscle men and sexual innuendo. In fact, Bollywood even harbours a former pornstar, whose transition from adult entertainment to the mainstream has been quite remarkable.

Sunny Leone packed in porn after participating in Bigg Boss (the Indian version of Big Brother), where she concealed her identity, posing as a model who worked in the USA. She was soon approached by a film-maker and in 2012 Leone starred in her first Bollywood film, Jism 2, and has risen in prominence ever since.

From what I’ve seen, there is not much substance. Naturally, given her background, she has sex appeal but her acting skills are not about to win her an Oscar, or a Filmfare. Not that the latter matters – Leone’s looks are her selling point and those who hire her are in no rush to disguise that. Here she is in Vishal Pandya’s Hate Story 2, where she made a guest appearance to sing about her “pink lips”. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

While Leone may not have conquered Bollywood, Katrina Kaif certainly has. The actress, born in British Hong Kong, has acted alongside the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan – the kings of Indian cinema – to make some of the highest-grossing films in the industry’s history. Kaif’s dancing skills have seen her regularly indulge in raunchy item numbers – her Sheila Ki Jawani performance in 2010 is one of the most popular Hindi songs in recent times.

Image is everything in the larger-than-life Bollywood where the majority of films set out to send the viewer on an unashamed, three-hour escapist adventure. The idea is to create perfection and heroes without flaws, offering entertainment that caters for the entire population.

Therefore, the heroines often use and promote skin-whitening products which are deemed to make them more attractive. Kaif is one of those and it was her lighter skin that attracted the attention of film-makers in the first place. She is not alone, however. Bollywood’s best invariably have a fairer complex – indeed, it is nigh on impossible to succeed without one.

Katrina Kaif (pictured right) with fellow Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma
Katrina Kaif (pictured right) with fellow Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma

You can argue that the increasing sleaziness in Indian movies and the penchant for fair skin are problems – and perhaps they are – but in light of the porn ban, it highlights a glaring hypocrisy. The message seems to be that while crudeness and objectification in porn – which largely keeps out of the public eye – needs censoring, in the industry which arguably defines the country, it doesn’t. The only discernible difference between the two is the explicitness.

Thus, the themes that the government is trying to suppress are still readily available, and even more so than porn could ever make them, in Bollywood. The state interference which looks to prevent a “social nuisance” is futile. Banning porn will not solve any problems; it just creates more by directly infringing on freedoms and liberties.

If the government is insistent on engineering social change, then surely they should be policing Bollywood too? Of course they shouldn’t. Such interventionist policies evidently do not work, as the requirement for more and more of them demonstrates. It’s just a downward spiral towards oppression.

There is nothing great about internet porn. It is neither real sex nor a plus for the socially liberal movement, and its effects will perhaps only be known once the youth who have been with on-demand porn throughout their lives grow up. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and its availability is essential for a free society. Nobody is forcing anybody else to watch it – at least, I am pretty sure there isn’t a fetish for that.

If India really wants social change and improve treatment towards women, tackling porn isn’t the answer; it’s Bollywood that wields the real influence. There is no reason for sex to be taboo but showcasing it because you can achieves little, but it cannot be denied that sex sells.

Answers? I have few, although seeing Bollywood abandon cheap filth in favour of producing quality films again would not be a bad thing. But restricting porn is not the solution, censorship never is. One hopes the decision is swiftly reversed.

“They were just jokes!” – The comedy show that has divided India

Imagine some of the most well-known in  the British entertainment industry getting together to mercilessly poke fun at a couple of willing victims, utilising race jokes, gay jokes, a multitude of sexual references, the odd terrorism jibe, and even a cancer gag.

You can’t really, for it would never happen. But that is precisely what has occurred in India. The AIB Knockout – a comedy roast show staged by All India Bakchod in December – was released on YouTube in late January, and its contents have created a swarm of furore on social media over the past fortnight. Hashtags including #AIBRoast and #AIBNationalShame emerged in the aftermath, with stark viewpoints being formed almost immediately.

Roasting, a type of insult comedy which serves solely to humiliate, originated at the New York Friars Club  in 1949. The edgy form of humour has enjoyed success, notably on the USA’s Comedy Central. Britain also briefly trialled the concept on Channel 4 in 2010, with Comedy Roast, but the show was only afforded one series.

For those without any Bollywood qualifications, here is a brief introduction of those involved in the Knockout, to help provide some context. The roasted, Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, are two of the industry’s biggest young stars. Their girlfriends – Sonakshi Sinha and Deepika Padukone, also Bollywood stars – were present in the audience as well.  The host – or the ‘Roastmaster’ as he was coined – Karan Johar, has directed some of India’s most successful films of all-time, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham to name two, and he also presents a popular chat show, Koffee with Karan. In addition, Johar’s sexuality is often scrutinised by the media, a theme mocked regularly by both he and others throughout the show. Amongst the roasters were an array of popular stand-up comedians and other popular figures. Quite simply, this was a who’s who of contemporary Bollywood: and that’s what makes it so relevant, and divisive.

Deepika Padukone (left) was the butt of many jokes. Karan Johar's butt was subject to many more
Deepika Padukone (left) was the butt of many jokes. Karan Johar’s butt was subject to many more

They have been quite vociferous in defending their antics via Twitter, claiming they “were just jokes“, and remininding those offended they were forewarned of what the show would entail.

In an India whose new generations are looking to break the shackles of their more socially conservative elders, an event such as this was always going to arouse controversy. It is not a new battle. Take Bangalore, a vibrant cosmopolitan city, with a superb nightlife. That is until 11.30pm, when the curfew arrives and the police sends everybody home. It is quite surreal.

While the country’s modern entertainment industry has shown somewhat of a desire to align itself with its western counterparts, a wanting to maintain a respectful culture remains strong.

Highly respected actor, Aamir Khan, is one of the latest big names to voice his thoughts. Damning the roast as “verbally violent“, Khan argued those involved have a moral responsibility to consider when producing content – he also produced a special episode of his investigative talk show, Satyamev Jayate, to tackle the issue. However, the 49-year-old’s remarks have been criticised for being hypocritical, due to the nature of the humour in some of his previous productions.

Aamir Khan is one of the latest to weigh in on the AIB Knockout
Aamir Khan is one of the latest big names to weigh in on the AIB Knockout

I agree to an extent. Filthy comedy is not something I would wish forced upon me on a regular basis. But occasionally where all concerned have consented, why not? We enter dangerous territory when those who claim a moral high ground preach to us what we can and cannot consume.

After watching the show – which can still be found on the internet despite being pulled from YouTube by AIB – I came to the following conclusions. It was vulgar, extremely vulgar. No holds barred and crass, it was Sickipedia brought to life. The sort of comedy your more sensible self says you oughtn’t enjoy, but the sort the mischievous oik in you cannot help but snigger at. I saw it as entertainment that most certainly still has a niche, and long may our commitment to free expression continue. Since the show was not on primetime television and only available online, anyone offended would have had to go out of their way to find it. Not to mention a warning on what to expect was given before proceedings began. This alone makes me believe any so-called offence to be slightly phoney. All parties involved appeared to have a great evening, and no one has the right to deny them that.

Yet the saga looks unlikely to conclude on that note. A First Information Report (FIR) has now been filed by Lucknow police, something which threatens a three-year jail term for Singh, Johar and Kapoor.

Vulgarness is not always attractive, but policing the ability to be vulgar is far worse. As the gap between what India’s young and old deem to be socially acceptable, further incidents similar to the Knockout can be expected in the future. I only hope those in the UK who face their free speech being eradicated, fight their oppressors with the same ferocity India’s youth have.