The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games might get more than they bargained for if they try to gag the Twitter capital of the world, writes Mic Wright.
Is London is about to be gripped by the Streisand effect? I’m not asking if the capital is to be suddenly infected with a mania for musical theatre and beak-like conks, but rather the likely result of a totalitarian suppression of logos, images and even words related to the Olympic Games.
Because I worry that, what with all the attention being drawn to the censorship and pedestrian wickedness of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee, our corporatist overlords might be about to get a nasty shock. No, really, I am concerned.
You see, in the run up to the Games, and for their duration, London will be owned by, operated by and darn well near enslaved to the Olympics and its sponsors. That’s not giant lizard conspiracy theorising, but a fact: one set out in legislation laid down by the previous Labour Government, supported by the Coalition. Let me explain.
In 2006, Tony Blair’s government passed the London Olympics Games and Paralympic Games Act which granted LOCOG the power to enforce its will on the population. LOCOG’s power to “protect” the Olympic brand and those of its sponsor corporations goes as far as banning the use of common words in the English language and empowering the Police to “enter land or premises” and “remove, destroy, conceal or erase any infringing article”.
A bloodless coup has taken place. From now until the end of the Olympics, we are not citizens of the United Kingdom but subjects of the International Olympic Committee, servants to the “Games Family”, which includes representatives of repressive states and notoriously corrupt officials. They will speed through the streets of London in special lanes. They will be housed in luxury. To protect them, London is now more militarised than at any time since the Second World War.
Red, blue or yellow, our politicians have jumped wholeheartedly into the Orwellian refashioning of an entire country for the duration of Stratford’s sports day. Butchers are being banned from arranging their sausages in interlocking ring patterns. Florists are being forbidden from composing Olympic-themed sprays. If censorship itself were an Olympic sport, Britain would currently be jostling with Iran and China for podium position.
Most bewildering are the attempts LOCOG is making to control the use of English. The bans flowing out from LOCOG’s offices are laughably wide-ranging, but also disturbing. Use of the Olympic name, rings, motto and logo are banned without explicit authorisation. (Legal opinion is divided over whether headlines and photos such as those above are permissible. It’s almost certainly prohibited to reproduce images of the ugly and sinister Wenlock and Mandeville.)
And then there’s what they have to say about social media – but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Two lists of words have been provided as a cautionary guide to those planning on talking about the Olympics in print. ”List A” – those words considered particularly verboten by the 2006 Act – includes “Games”; “Two Thousand and Twelve”; “2012″ and “twenty twelve”. Combine a word from List A with a word from “List B”, which includes “Gold”; “Silver”; “Bronze”; “London”; “medals”; “sponsors” and “summer” and you could find yourself in trouble. (Again, some lawyers believe the press has an exemption of sorts – but no one is sure.)
It doesn’t stop with underlining words in the dictionary like a sexually-repressed Soviet functionary; LOCOG is also cracking down on anyone associating themselves with, or even supporting, the Olympic Games or the British athletes participating. And you don’t even have to use words: as Nick Cohen notes in a masterful Spectator article, reprinted on the Daily Mail website:
“To cover all eventualities, [LOCOG] warns everyone in Britain against creating an ‘unlawful association’ with the Games, which can be done without even mentioning the forbidden words! Even the London skyline, believe it or not, is out of bounds if it is combined with, for example, an image of a runner carrying a torch.”
The stated reason for this censorship is to crack down on attempts at “ambush marketing” by rivals of the major sponsors, but it is far smaller organisations, businesses and even individuals who are being hammered. JJ’s Lingerie in Leicester, for example, was forced to remove a display of five mannequins wearing sports bras and hula-hoops in the Olympic colours. An 81-year-old woman was banned from showing a doll she had made wearing a jumper bearing the Olympic rings.
And an Afghan war hero, attending an Olympic torch relay rehearsal, was forced by officials to cover the logos on his trainers, for fear of offending Adidas. At least now we know where those clipboard-toting local authority employees, put out of a job by council cuts, have relocated to: Newham’s bin collection busybodies have restyled themselves as LOCOG brand enforcement officers.
As for the freedom of the press – and your freedom to talk about and share images and videos of the Games we are collectively paying billions to host – well, don’t expect leniency there either. Consider the example of the Spectator, which has this week taken a courageous stand by publishing the aforesaid cover article on the Olympic scandal, emblazoning the Olympic rings on its cover, together with a gagged athlete. Editor Fraser Nelson wrote on the magazine’s website:
“At 7am this morning, The Spectator’s managing director emailed me to say the new magazine is on sale at WH Smiths at Victoria station – a good sign, he said. But why shouldn’t it be?
Because this week, we’re running a cover story by Nick Cohen lambasting the thuggish Olympic censors, the people who are stopping chip shops selling chips because the Olympics is sponsored by McDonald’s. And it’s still not quite clear, this morning, if that means we’ll be taken off the shelves.”
Nelson continued by publishing advice he had been given by the magazine’s lawyers, which provides another startling window into the twisted worldview of the LOCOG functionaries:
“… not only are many of the international logos, symbols and text – including but not limited to the words ‘Olympics’, ‘Paralympics’, the ring symbol – protected under the Olympic Symbol etc. (Protection) Act 1995 (OSPA) but the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 (referred to as LOCOG 2006) prohibits the use of the words ‘LOCOG’, ‘London 2012’, ‘Team GB’ or any images, logos or graphics relating to them, amongst many others…
“… As well as these terms prohibited from use by anyone other than official partners but also companies that produce unauthorised products bearing similar words – plurals, translations, deliberately misspelled etc. – are likely to be fined with directors of the firms liable to prosecution.”
Nelson rightly describes the advice as “blood-curdling”. It would likely be a public relations disaster for LOCOG, were the Committee to make use of those legal provisions to silence journalists, but it has the power to do so. Perhaps most petrifying for the public is the fact that while media organisations may be privy to an exemption, that exemption does not cover individual citizens or small businesses. (Nelson concludes that even the Spectator may not be safe from sanctions.)
And it’s here that LOCOG’s strategy turns from tragedy into farce. Now, much has been made of our freedom to each chips rather than McDonalds fries. Ultimately, the ban on chips in the vicinity of the Olympic Park is a comical irritant, rather than cause for serious alarm. Rather, it’s the restrictions on ordinary freedom of speech and assembly, which have been subsumed to the demands of the Olympic beast, that should worry us.
To give you one example: while ticket-holders are permitted to take photographs of the events they attend, they are forbidden from sharing those pictures on social networks. Yes, really.
I need hardly tell you that Britain’s naturally mischievous and technologically savvy populace will not take kindly to such heavy-handed prescriptions. The Kernel would never endorse or encourage illegal activity, but we have to ask the question: if every guest were to disobey these draconian social media injunctions, would LOCOG go after them all?
What would happen if the public were to post its criticisms of the Olympics on Twitter and Facebook, hijack the official hashtags, ride bikes in the VIP lanes, wear “unacceptable” brands and leap in front of television cameras, take pictures where they were not permitted to and post evidence of all this on every social network to which they had access?
Because that, as anyone with even a passing knowledge of what happens in a social media-enabled world when ordinary citizens are placed under extraordinary and unreasonable conditions, is the likely consequence of such preposterous restrictions. Seriously: how stupid are they? Does LOCOG really imagine for a moment that it can control the speech and actions of millions of people in the age of Twitter, in the service of “brand protection”?
I mean, I wouldn’t mind, but have you seen the brand? That font? The execrable logo? Those fucking mascots?
In case it’s not clear: I despise LOCOG. It has won the gold medal for censorship and brought disgrace on the Olympic Games and the Olympic Rings in “twenty twelve”, so, this summer, I will buy nothing from the wicked Olympic sponsors.
Ooh err. Do you think I’ll get in trouble for that?