Weekly Roundup of News & Reviews, March 14-20, 2011

It’s too late to be a weekend roundup. But I figure better late than never! Below are links to some of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A group comprised of more than 130 artists, curators, writers, and others are calling for a boycott of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi following reports by Human Rights Watch that document exploitation of foreign migrant workers in the UAE. The group is “demanding that the Guggenheim Foundation and its Abu Dhabi partner take immediate and meaningful steps to safeguard the rights of the workers constructing the new branch museum on Saadiyat Island.” Walid Raad, an organizer of the boycott, said: “Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers. Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.” For more information, click here. (Clancco, NYT) [UPDATE: The Guggenheim Foundation responds.]

Last Monday, the UK government released a draft bill that would introduce dramatic reforms to the libel law of England and Wales, including a new public interest defense, a requirement that claimants demonstrate substantial harm, measures to combat libel tourism, and removal of the presumption in favour of jury trials (Guardian). The bill was welcomed as a step in the right direction by the Publishers Association and the Society of Authors, among others (The Bookseller). But many commentators, including spokespersons for the Libel Reform Campaign that has been so instrumental in the push for reform, say that the bill does not go far enough (Press Gazette). For informative and thought-provoking analysis and criticism of the proposed bill, see the New Statesman, Inforrm’s Blog, Lex Ferenda, cearta.ie, the Free Speech Blog, and The Trial Warrior Blog.

The student author of a sexually explicit short story, and the editor of the university newspaper that published it, were acquitted last week by a Maltese court of offending public morals. The Times of Malta reports that the presiding Magistrate found that the story was neither obscene nor pornographic “and that the police had failed to explain how public morality, which changed over time, had been breached.” The trial sparked “heated public debate about the limits of expression and the boundaries between literature and pornography.” According to Index on Censorship: “The court’s decision is a boost for all writers and artists in Malta, many of whom are part of the “Front against Censorship” (FaC) — a protest movement campaigning to liberalise Malta’s censorship laws.” (Times of Malta, Index on Censorship)

Recent weeks brought a flurry of legal challenges to library closures in the UK. But now the government has announced a review of the multitude of statutory obligations with which local authorities are required to comply with a view to doing away with “burdensome” ones. And among those under review is the sole legal grounding for the aforementioned challenges, the duty of local authorities to provide “a comprehensive and efficient library service under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.” Library campaigners are understandably concerned by this development. (Guardian).

A little over a week ago, it was reported that the legal battle between Rick Norsigian and the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust over negatives alleged to be lost Adams’ work had escalated; now comes the news that the dispute has been settled. The precise terms of the settlement are confidential, but the parties indicated in a statement that Norsigian cannot use Ansel Adams name when selling prints from the negatives and that such sales can only continue “subject to a disclaimer approved by the Trust.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Norsigian’s asking price for prints has declined accordingly. (NYT, The Art Law Blog, LA Times)

Scott McLemee has interviewed Susie Linfield about her book The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, a finalist in criticism for the National Book Critics Circle awards, in which, he says, it is apparent that she “holds fast to Twain’s optimism about the power of images of suffering to create enormous moral and political effects.” (Inside Higher Ed)

Brian True-May, producer of British crime drama Midsomer Murders, was suspended from his job last week pending an inquiry after he stated in an interview: “We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved. Because it wouldn’t be the English village with them…. We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.” Critics of True-May’s comments have pointed out that his vision of an all-white rural England is very much at odds with contemporary reality. The series is already on the cusp of great change with the retirement of John Nettles, who played Inspector Tom Barnaby for 16 years, and the introduction of a new star, Neil Dudgeon, playing Tom’s cousin John Barnaby, also conveniently a police detective. It remains to be seen whether True-May’s comments and the ensuing outcry will provoke greater changes still. (Guardian, BBC, Racialicious)

In The Anatomy of a Moment, novelist Javier Cercas turns to non-fiction to explore the 1982 siege of the Spanish parliament. Anthony Cummins writes of the book, translated from Spanish to English by Anne McLean, that “its rigour and intensity are taxing” but that it is “a brilliant study of political conduct, which is well worth the effort required.” (Telegraph)

Alison Flood describes The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris, the first installment in a new mystery series featuring “Douglas Brodie, a policeman turned soldier turned reporter,” as “deft, disturbing and as thoroughly grimy as its 1946 Glasgow setting.” (The Observer)

In a review of Kate Atkinson’s fourth Jackson Brodie novel, Started Early, Took My Dog, Laura Miller writes of the series: “Each one of these books, including this latest, is a delight: an intricate construction that assembles itself before the reader’s eyes, populated by idiosyncratic, multidimensional characters and written with shrewd, mordant grace.” (Salon)

The English translation of Henning Mankell’s latest, and he says his last, Inspector Wallander novel, The Troubled Man, is due out later this month. According to James Urquhart, it provides a worthy conclusion to “the hugely absorbing Wallander casefile.” (Independent)

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