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Scoop Feedback: Objectionable Content

In This Edition: Feedback On Censorship (Dave Crampton) - Facilitating The Feedback Loop - Scoop, Scoop And More Scoop - The Privy Council - Atomic Warrior


Feedback On Censorship (Dave Crampton)

Responding to David Crampton's piece on "Baise Moi" and "Visitor Q": He asks "is there a difference between an objectionable film and one that has 'objectionable content'?

Well, yes. "Objectionable" in one sense of the term covers the whole spectrum from banned to R13 material. "Definition of objectionable" is the heading to the whole of Section 3 of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act. This subsumes 3(2) - things which are unconditionally objectionable, because they "promote or support" various undesirable matters; 3(3) where the censor is given the latitude to decide whether a publication that "describes or depicts" certain things is objectionable or not; and 3(4) -specifically, 3(4)(d) - which provides for "restricted" showings, even though the publication technically falls under the definition of having "objectionable" content.

If a publication has anything in it that falls under 3(2), then this "taints", as it were, the whole movie, book, magazine, etc, and the whole must be banned, or the 3(2)-objectionable part cut.

If the publication has content which is only objectionable under 3(3), then the censor is given the power to consider the "extent or degree" to which those matters influence the overall impact of the publication. Section 3(3) in general includes milder matters, but the content does not have to "promote or support", merely to "describe or depict" these things.

So a film which is judged not to "promote or support", for example, necrophilia, may still be judged to have content which is objectionable because it "degrades or dehumanises"; but the censor must now consider whether it has *enough* 'objectionable' content to render the publication as a whole, objectionable.

There is room for considerable sophistry in the key decision as to whether something "promotes or supports". When I submitted the annotated edition of "Lolita" a few years ago (a new edition that the Classification Office had not examined before; just to see how it would fare under the 1993 Act) they judged that because Humbert Humbert repents and is shown miserable in jail at the end of the book, then "Lolita" as a whole does not "promote or support the exploitation of children or young persons for sexual purposes" [Section 3(2)(a)], though it clearly has content which "describes or depicts...sexual conduct with or by children or young persons" [Section 3(3)(a)(iv)]. It clearly does not have enough of it to render the book as a whole objectionable.

In my view the Office was exploiting the alleged lack of "promotion or support" to squeak the book through because of its obvious literary merit. "Literary or cinematic merit, per se is not explicitly provided for in the act - an omission which was criticised when it was going through Parliament, in 1992.

From reading reviews and summaries of "Visitor Q", it seems the screenplay author and director might almost have designed the film to test New Zealand's censorship legislation!

It includes:

Necrophilia - unconditionally objectionable under 3(2), but only if it's promoted or supported.

Incest - curiously not mentioned at all in the Act, but something the public (and sometimes the classification office) clearly has concerns about. I am aware of one "porn" video where the phrase "let me show you my family photo album" clearly introduced discussion of the subject (possibly with supporting visual material) and the whole sequence was cut. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the video in question, and never looked up the detail of the decision. On the other hand, another such video showed sex between a male character and his "sister" - now I do remember she was played by "Nikki Charm" - but again the title escapes me.

Considerable violence - only a 3(2) matter if "extreme" and only if promoted or supported; 3(3) allows consideration of material that describes or depicts "serious" infliction of physical harm - but depending on how much there is of it.

"Playing with poop" as one reviewer coyly puts it. Whether this is in association with sexual activity in the film I have no idea, but if it is it would come under 3(2)(d) - a provision which the Chief Censor himself has declared "bizarre," as, unlike anything else in s3(2), it bans promotion of support of a group of activities which is perfectly legal to do. But, he says, Parliament decided to include it, so we have to take it into account. But clearly, again, it's not "promoted or supported" in "Visitor Q". If anyone lets one drop of urine go, never mind faeces, in a "porn" film, of course, it wouldn't stand a chance of passing uncut. This is the fundamental dishonesty; the Office is in reality judging cinematic merit, while pretending it's judging extent of promotion or support.

Lactation: again almost completely banned from "porn" films, though, like incest, it's not mentioned specifically in the Act at all. This despite the fact that again it's legal and something that many couples enjoy as an ingredient of sexual foreplay (I did a straw poll in an internet newsgroup when the subject came up, and within two days found five couples [three in New Zealand] who confessed to doing and enjoying it).

Female ejaculation. The Classification Office had a long discussion on this one - is it a real phenomenon, or are women imitating it by way of urination (banned under 3(2)(d))? They decided it was real and that if real it could be allowed. There is a series of porn flicks called "Rainwoman" which dwells on it extensively. I have viewed one and some alleged ejaculation sequences were obviously cut, though others were included.

And lastly "fireworks abuse" - the son of the dysfunctional family in "Visitor Q" regularly destroys parts of the home, apparently, by letting off fireworks indoors. There was a New Zealand film (the name is on the tip of my tongue but I can't remember it or find it) where holidaymakers were shown tossing a gas canister onto a bonfire, and the film was restricted on that account (the restriction was later successfully appealed). Yet Big Hollywood "action" movies are allowed to blow things and people up with monotonous regularity.

There are some points suited to a detailed clause-by-clause discussion here. I must request the Office for a copy of the original decision, to see what they said on each of these points.

Stephen Bell
(journalist, "Computerworld", with a long-time interest in censorship).


Facilitating The Feedback Loop

Maybe I'm overlooking it, but I can't find an obvious link on the site for "feedback," or, indeed, for submitting "press releases" or "letters to the editor" to your (very useful and readable) publication. As I see it, this misses the big opportunity of the internet - to allow people conveniently to reply to, amplify and comment on, individual news items. It seems to me you have used this unique medium simply to create another newspaper; more immediate, to be sure, but still substantially a one-way vehicle where a series of privileged commentators express their ideas, and make response by the "ordinary people" - or even people moderately informed on the subject - rather difficult. Maybe this was your intention; maybe you simply do not have time to publish a lot of comment (and weed out the rubbish, and make the decisions on what is rubbish and what is valuable). I'd be interested in your thoughts on that; do you have a responsibility to be more of a two-way channel merely because you use a medium that makes it possible?

Stephen Bell


The acting editor replies:

I take your point about a feedback button. It would be useful for people to have an obvious place to go for feedback, and it is something I will discuss with the editor, Alastair Thompson, in the near future. That said, readers are welcome to email Usually readers’ views get aired in a Scoop Feedback item in the Scoops wire, although time pressures sometimes push publishing feedback by the wayside.

Guy MacGibbon


Scoop, Scoop And More Scoop

Being a journalist myself, I am always looking for the raw story, the story as it comes out of the 'horses' mouth, before it has been re-culterd for the newspapers.

That's why I say-"Lay it on Scoop!!! And don't give an inch." Good reporting is telling it like it is and not pulling any punches even if it means putting your job on the line.

You want to send me some inside information-feel free. I could use it in my book. That's all I have to say-for now.

Doug Stahl


The Privy Council


The Helengrad steamroller has the Privy Council lined up for excommunication. This is particularly alarming in view of the fact that a recent Privy Council decision has shown that the Appeal Court has not been dispensing justice in an internationally acceptable manner.

New Zealand has a parliamentary system, which has neither founding public poll, nor a written constitutional definition. We have British acts of Parliament that freed us to go, but we did not establish ourselves in accordance with internationally recognised procedures. Therefore, no more moves should be made to remove the availability of recourse to the justice system of our parent country.

Some recent decisions by both High Court and Appeal Court show that they cannot spot the difference between the letter of the law and its intention. An example of this naivety was contained in summarising decision to reject the Save Our Squadrons appeal. For a learned justice to say that "some aircraft still had weapons and that it was up to the Minister of Defence to decide what they needed to be" ignored the readily available and graphic evidence that a great deal was wrong in the political management of Defence. It also belied the intention of the Defence Act 1990, which was to establish prudence and responsibility in matter of national defence.

Our top legal officials still need a minder, and no regrouping of the same individuals into a Supreme Court will change this fact (for the time being).

Hugh Webb


Atomic Warrior

Concerning the attitude of certain sailors

Respect and a sense of decency must only be values for the unhip.

At Areva, one is not unhip, one is trendy, one is cutting-edge.

Areva outfits sailing vessels, including Black Magic, the mythical boat used by Peter Blake to win the Americas Cup in San Diego in 1995.

One can believe, without being a great psychic or an ill-intentioned exploiter, that Peter Blake, who engaged in a very clear manner in the fight for better management of the planet's resources, would not have allowed his boat to be used to promote the nuclear industry.

As for sailors, they have shown themselves ready to defend any ideology as long as it allows them to make their turns around the buoys.

Our past is full of these collaborations between sportsmen/artists and certain powers of sinister reputation.

What French sailor, navigating on a Black Magic carrying the colors of the nuclear industry, could believe he is not insulting the memory of Peter Blake?

Jo Le Guen

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