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Harsher penalties in censorship Bill

Harsher penalties in censorship Bill

Ten-fold increases in penalties for dealing in objectionable material are at the heart of Justice Minister Phil Goff's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Amendment Bill, which had its first reading in Parliament today.

"The harsher penalties set out in this Bill reflect the abhorrence with which the government and society regards the production, distribution and possession of child pornography," Mr Goff said.

"Child pornography involves the actual abuse of children. People who trade or possess it are encouraging that abuse by creating a market for the images, and penalties for offenders should reflect that fact.

"Existing sanctions are clearly inadequate. The current maximum sentence for producing, copying or trading objectionable material is one year in jail, while possession is only punishable by a $2000 fine.

"This Bill increases the maximum sentence for dealing in objectionable material to 10 years' jail. It also creates a new offence of 'possession with knowledge' that will carry a maximum penalty of two years' jail.

"The abusive nature of child pornography will be recognised by it being considered as an aggravating factor at sentencing."

Mr Goff said censorship laws had not been reformed since 1993, and since then the explosion of internet-based child pornography had fundamentally changed patterns of offending in New Zealand and around the world.

"Ten years ago censorship laws were concerned mainly with books, films and magazines. Now offenders use the internet on their home computers to access, exchange and store thousands of objectionable images in a way not previously imagined.

"In particular, the internet has seen a proliferation in the trade of child pornography, which can now be traded anonymously and cheaply around the world at an alarming rate.

"Much of that trade is not a commercial transaction, so is not treated as serious offending under existing laws. The penalties in this Bill will cover all forms of distribution, whether or not commercial gain was involved.

"The amendments will also ensure New Zealand can meet our obligations under the United Nations convention covering child prostitution and child pornography, by providing for the extradition of people who have committed offences in other countries. The Bill also introduces importing and exporting offences in recognition that the trade in child porn is an international problem."

Mr Goff said the Bill largely maintained the definition of "objectionable" that sets the standard for banning material.

"The government agrees with the Court of Appeal ruling that censorship laws are fundamentally concerned with sex, horror, cruelty, crime and violence, or similar matters.

"We have, however, taken the opportunity to clarify that 'sexualised' nude images of children are classifiable, and that offensive language or behaviour on their own can be the subject of restrictions."

Mr Goff said that while the government was determined to act against 'hate speech' and covert filming, censorship laws were not the right way to deal with them, and priority was being given to developing appropriate legislation.

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