Vacuum High Court hearing starts next week

Factotum, the publishers of the controversial magazine The Vacuum, have been chosen to represent Northern Ireland at the prestigeous Venice Biennale. The magazine will also be appearing in the Belfast High Court next Tuesday 13th September as a result of a year long dispute with the Belfast City Council over its demand for an apology for offence caused in previous issues. The High Court hearings start at 10.30am but if you want to witness proceedings you are advised to arrive by 10am.

From The Vacuum:

A potentially landmark Human Rights case resulting from a year-long dispute between Belfast City Council and the free cultural newspaper The Vacuum is due to take place on Tuesday 13th September 2005.

The Council’s demand that the publication provide an apology to ‘citizens of the city’ and ‘members of the Council’ for offence caused in previous issues is being challenged in the High Court by one of the paper’s editors, Richard West, as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. If successful, this will be the first time, since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, that a local authority will have been held to be in breach of an individual or organisation’s right to freedom of expression as protected under the legislation.

The legal showdown comes amidst heated debate over the new Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill and its potential to curtail free expression. It also follows the debate about the play ‘Behzti’ (Dishonour) which was closed after violent protests by the Sikh community and the BBC received unprecedented numbers of complaints about the broadcast of ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’.

The Belfast controversy arose from a single complaint from a member of the public concerning ‘God’ and ‘Satan’ themed issues of The Vacuum published in June 2004. Councillors reacted by describing it as ‘filth’, claiming that it was ‘encouraging devil worship’ and voting 24-12 to withhold an agreed funding allocation of £3,300 until an apology was provided. This prompted The Vacuum to hold a satirical ‘Sorry Day’ in December ridiculing the council’s demand for an apology, but also raising serious questions about censorship and freedom of speech.

In stark contrast to the attitude of the city authorities towards The Vacuum, its publishers, Factotum, have been selected as part of a delegation of artists to represent Northern Ireland at the Venice Biennale this summer. They have also been nominated for the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Award and received commissions to produce new publications in London and Dublin. The paper currently has a circulation of 15,000, concentrated in Belfast where it is available to pick up in cafes, bars, libraries, galleries, cinemas and hotels, and is lauded for making a valuable contribution to cultural life in the city.

  • G.M.C.

    The current issue and back issues of The Vacuum are available to read from the W.W.W.:

    The two issues mentioned above are published trhough the W.W.W.:
    “Satan”: hyperlink

    “God”: hyperlink

    I thought that the idea of the issues, reading of them for the first time in this post, was a bit facile on initial consideration, though hardly “world’s end” publishing or the event of destruction or even remotely worthy of censorship. And conceivably these were potentially intelligent and positively provocative publications, as well as potentially having the effect of divinely honing and placing our senses of reality, humour, cultural and existential appropriacy and evaluation of what is without, and thus making we denizens more alive, present and of worth in a cultural re-grounding which is seldom in a place of newly seen relevance and personal connection. Thus this notion seemed also not at all facile.

    Browsing both editions they both make very good reading, and the only negative thing I can think to say of the web version is that the graphic icon of the devil looks like a sympathetic figure each time. As someone who grew up in Belfast as a pagan primarily though also mandatorily within a Christian tradition, it being a pagan place in part but also in a very important part a place concerned, if not so hugely in the present then to extents within the underlying culture and heritage, with the culture of Christianism, the original “non-reformed” Roman Church and the succeeding “reformed” churches. Judaism is relevant in the province within belief and spiritual practice and one also feels the connection in Christianism with the rest of the world and the Orthodox churches, in what has been generally an aware and wonder appreciating and inclusive society, odd events with mass publication aside which for many who don’t know have defined the region. Being a pagan, one is very much aware of the New Age influence in the province (and the connection with the New World, particularly America), that which is not alien to the nature, spirit and of the essence of the Enlightenment, which one hopes is sustained in Northern Ireland.

    This underlying fabric has made the two published editions very relevant here in their treatment of the two headings. For some, such has been taught the concern of the Christian cults. It really is very good reading, inoffensive and inducive of positive consciousness, and in the absence of any much real culture here (what are they to do?) it sets in part the scene which is or has been and is part of present truth and identity.

    The cover of the Satan issue, it is thought, should be somewhat disconcerting without further examination to tourists, though hardly to the people of Belfast who see this regular publication often. Though I was reassured by the content I have browsed through.

    But these publications are the opposite of the mindless waste of scarce resources and the holding back of creativity, expression, the search for personality, truth and being and existence and identity in living. These things are though creditable very, very often to the government here with respect to the cultural life, or dearth thereof, of Northern Ireland and the consistent failure to treat this province culturally without patronisingness.

  • El Matador

    Good to see the council taking such an interest in such an important issue. This is clearly more pressing than trying to stop large numbers of their constituents from rioting. Perhaps the Vacuum encourages these activities- after all, it promotes devil worship apparently, so maybe this is the manifestation thereof. Now, let’s think of some other problems in society we can blame on the Vacuum…

  • G.M.C.