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David Miller: Censorship Must Be Stopped

David Miller Online

Censorship Must Be Stopped

The decision by the President of Film and Literature Board of Review to allow the screening of the controversial films, The Piano Teacher and Y tu mamá también at the New Zealand Film Festival last week was the correct one. Although the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards acted within the law and within their brief as a community watchdog, the decision demonstrates that work such as these that is of a of a controversial nature should not have to survive by going underground and it is acceptable for those who wish to push the artistic boundaries to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

The move by the SPCS has sparked heated debate between festival organisers and the watchdog members as to the motivation behind the move to have the classification of the films reviewed. The festival’s director, Bill Gosden has accused SPCS of “maliciousness” due to the timing of its applications and described the moves as “vicious”. Meanwhile the President of the SPCS, Rev. Gordon Dempsey, has rejected this statement saying that move by the society show that it is functioning as an effective public watchdog.

The society is correct in its argument that it acted within the law and its purpose as a public watchdog is to call attention to issues and subject matter that arise in film and literature that are not appropriate to be aired. Had the SPCS cried foul over the possibility that the birth of a child is going to be filmed in New Zealand as part of a pornographic movie then the grounds for their case would be justified. This is not necessarily because the film is pornographic but due to the possibility that the life of an unborn child could be seriously affected if this takes place. However, by raising the alarm over the Film Festival the SPCS overstepped the mark and instead of acting as a watchdog the group acted as a censor.

Mr. Gosden does not let the SPCS off so lightly. He has labelled them the ‘Society for the Promotion of Ignorance and Fear’ and claims that this is an example of a zealous group determined to impose its views on the rest of society. This column is not prepared to argue the strength of their zeal but does warn of the dangers when groups take the moral high ground try and block people’s work and their expression simply because they do not like the content.

Celebrations of art, such as the Film Festival are designed to showcase a variety of work and subjects and so often those responsible for bringing such work to life push the boundaries and explore different subjects that many consider taboo. Art in all its forms, be it film, painting, sculpture or literature has done so for centuries and only through those prepared to push in this direction has it been able to develop and challenge what people think and acknowledge subjects they would look away from. Often such works deal with the darker side of life and this makes people who believe that society’s rules are being broken uncomfortable. This discomfort so often manifests itself in the call that such work is having an adverse influence on people and is not suitable to be aired or that by allowing such work to be exhibited we as New Zealanders are lacking in moral fibre.

This is of course total nonsense. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that allow such freedom of expression and instead of celebrating and embracing it, there are those who continue to protest against it. The debate over the Film Festival was a good reminder that not everyone lives their lives by the values so cherished by others and that as a society New Zealand is made up of so many different people and different views. If you were one of those who felt the content of The Piano Teacher was offensive or some how going to corrupt all those saw it then the advice is simple: don’t go. It is your prerogative not to attend if you object to the content but it is not your prerogative to prevent others from attending and acting as a censor. I wish those at the Film Festival the best of luck with their event.

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