Baise Moi ‘Fascists’ And Free Speech
Sunday 19 May 11.30 pm
In an article entitled “Film festival censorship simply fascist”, Scott Wilson, Spokesman on Free Speech for the Libertarianz Party, bemoans “the banning” of the films Visitor Q, Baise Moi, and Bully, calling it “a jackbooted attempt by book-burning busybodies to control free speech”.
Who are these individuals whose “fascist” decisions imposed the “banning” order and provoked Wilson to such a vituperative outburst?
The President of the Film and Literature Board of Review, Rotorua-based lawyer Ms Claudia Elliot, issued the temporary restriction orders imposed on Visitor Q and Bully. She imposed them only after she had viewed both films and carefully considered written submissions from all interested parties affected by the application order, made by the Society for Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS) under section 49 of the Films, Videos and Publications Act 1993.
Ms Elliott considered submissions from Mr Anthony Timpson, director of the Beck’s Incredible Film Festival (the films were part of the programme) and sub-distributor of Visitor Q, as well as Essential Film Ltd, distributor of Bully. Chief Censor, Mr Bill Hastings, on behalf of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) also made submissions. He pointed out the legal issues to be considered but did not express a view regarding whether the restriction orders should go ahead.
Ms Elliott was under no compulsion to impose the orders and made an independent and informed decision in each case, taking full account of “public interest” and NZ Bill of Rights issues.
The applicant had every right, like any other citizen who had been granted leave by the Secretary of Internal Affairs to have an appeal against a publication’s classification reviewed by the Board, to seek the restriction orders. The decisions to impose them rested with the President who clearly determined that the applicant’s case was sufficiently compelling based on the evidence she personally examined.
Ms Elliott’s decision was not a fascist-minded move to close off freedom of expression as suggested by Scott Wilson. This suggestion is offensive and ignores the fact that Ms Elliott was duty-bound to grant a fair-minded decision within the constraints of the law. Mr Wilson has a right to disagree with her decisions and express his views on the matter. However, to suggest that they are a “jackbooted attempt” by a “book-burning busybod[y] to control free speech” is a little unreasonable. Likewise the applicant for the order, SPCS, cannot be accused of fascist tactics as the decision to impose the order rested on the merits of the case in law.
Earlier this year Ms Elliott, along with all members of the Board of Review, issued a decision to downgrade the classification of Baise Moi, rejecting the appeal by the SPCS against the OFLC classification decision. Last year the same Board rejected another appeal brought before it by SPCS regarding another publication. In the decisions relating to Visitor Q and Bully Ms Elliott was entitled to consider a range of viewpoints and did so.
The temporary restriction order imposed on Baise-Moi by the High Court, as a result of the decision of Justice Hammond on 12 April, was likewise a carefully considered one taking full account of “public interest” and NZ Bill of Rights issues. Hammond J. provided a masterly and well-researched legal decision justifying the order after having heard the views of Mr John Cox, the lawyer acting for Mr Timpson. He also considered the submission by Mr Bill Hastings on behalf of the OFLC and allowed himself an extra day following the first Court hearing on 11 April, to carefully consider his decision, before issuing it the following day.
Mr Wilson, in effect, directs his vitriolic outburst at Justice Hammond accusing him of handing down a “fascist” decision, which he calls a “jackbooted attempt … to control free speech.” This is a sad spectacle to see a spokesman for an obscure political party attempt to grab headlines by labelling the decisions of two members of the judiciary as “fascist”. It is enough to make you NOT vote Libertarianz!
Steven Price, a journalist and qualified lawyer, like Wilson, has attacked Justice Hammond over his decision to temporarily shut down Baise-Moi. Price and Wilson are certainly a couple of strange “bedfellows” (to use Morris’ term). Mr Price argued strongly last year for the banning of the two Christian videos on Gayrights and Aids in the Living Word Court of Appeal case, while Libertarianz members such as Lindsay Perrigo argued against the ban because they felt a ban was an assault on the principle of freedom of expression. Neither Price nor Wilson have seen the film Baise-Moi and yet they have both derided Justice Hammond for imposing the ban. Wilson ignores the fact that the Australian Film Board of Review has banned the film throughout Australia in a unanimous decision dated 10 May 2002.
In his opinion piece in The Evening Post of 7 May 2002, Price argued that Justice Hammond’s decision on the restriction order “should be overturned because it is dumb”. So much for showing respect for a High Court Judge who has held a senior academic post in the law faculty of Auckland University when Price was still learning how to tie up his laces and avoid wetting his bed. Price condescendingly states:
“He [Justice Hammond] has cost the organisers of the festivals thousands of dollars in revenue… We sympathise with Justice Hammond. He had to make a quick decision based on limited arguments. But he has made it far too easy for those with tenuous claims to interfere with movie-showers’ and moviegoers’ rights. The decision cannot stand.”
Enter Anthony Timpson
Anthony Timpson has been less restrained in his attack on Justice Hammond compared to his bedfellows Price and Wilson. He states on his website:
“Dangerous precedents are being put in place, mainly because that winging conservative, ill-informed Judge didn’t have the balls to acknowledge the big picture.”
Playing the man rather than the ball is one of Mr Timpson’s notable ‘strengths’ as he grapples with the big censorship picture. One has only to examine his Beck’s Incredible Film Festival website (www.becksincrediblefilmfest.co.nz) to discover his charming command of the English language when discussing individuals whose views on censorship differ from his own.
Scott Wilson has expounded his party’s views on censorship thus:
“Libertarianz would repeal all laws that prohibit or restrict access to films that do not portray actual violence, sexual or otherwise, against any individuals. If no sex crime or crime of violence has been committed in the making of a film, it will be freely available to all”.
Such views may explain why his party receives such little support from thinking people.
If his party’s position was ever adopted (God save us!) it would mean that films like Baise Moi depicting simulated rape with explicit violent penetration and lingering voyeuristic close-ups designed to arousal, would be freely available for anyone of any age to view. Those with Wilson’s extreme views were recently reported handing out 100 pirated copies of the film on CD free to people in Wellington City. Timpson appears to gloat on his website over this daring escapade by his “freedom of expression” troops marching the streets of Wellington in their jackboots.
Members of the Society’s executive committee did view Baise Moi, contrary to Wilson’s bald assertion that they did not. As applicants for review they were entitled to do so. In fact two screenings at the Office of Film and Literature Classification were funded by the Society so that its advisers could view it as well. (The Society made its application for the review and restriction order totally independent of the Christian Heritage Party, contrary to another bald assertion by Mr Wilson that they were “bedfellows” in the action).
Mr Wilson has stated publicly that his party would abolish the Office of Film and Literature Classification so no films or videos would be rated. If it ever did, there would be no restrictions or legal requirements for any descriptive warning notes on film and video advertising. Baise Moi could be legally advertised in a Libertarianz paradise as “ an action thriller full of sexual energy” or as “a harmless exploration of the joys of revenge”, with no additional information on content.
R 18 films like “Visitor Q” depicting simulated sex with a female corpse (necrophilia) and degrading sex acts involving human faeces, would require no warning labels or rating restrictions. Films like Bully could be screened to primary and secondary school children to teach them about the sexual ‘triumphs’ of bulleys who rape women.
Mr Scott states that his party opposes any depiction of real crimes against individuals, particularly those involving violence, and would presumably allow for censorship controls of such material. All real-life actions captured on film, which depict any crime involving individuals (e.g. road rage) and subsequently used in filmmaking, would have to be excised and given the jackboot. All historical footage of violence, such as wars (which I suspect involve violence against individuals occasionally!), domestic violence, burglaries and assault, recorded via hidden surveillance cameras or as part of media reporting, would have to be trashed.
Ironically, all this sounds like the activities of a fascist state where jackboots and playing the man rather than the ball are commonplace.
Mr Wilson commenting on the types of films and videos that should be accessible to the public in cinemas and for home use, states:
“Adults should be free to act out whatever behaviours they wish, no matter how offensive they may seen to many people, as long as all involved parties are consenting.”
Does this include films, videos and pictures of adults defaecating and urinating on each other in the context of explicit sex? The Classification Office regularly bans videos of such consensual activities. What about films that tend to promote degrading and dehumanising treatment of women in the context of explicit sex?
Despite claims to the contrary from the Libertarianz minority, most people recognise the need for some form of state censorship. The only issue for most is how much is needful.
Simone Weil (1907-1943), the famous French religious thinker and philosopher, is one of many highly respected scholars worldwide who have presented a coherent case for a very limited form of censorship with respect to the exchange of ideas and opinions, but the need for rigorous censorship when it comes to the public presentation of ‘in-your-face’ provocative and offensive publications that are injurious to the public good.
This is the very same viewpoint shared by the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc. As Society president Rev. Gordon Dempsey has stated: “our view on censorship is not a bigoted view held by a narrow-minded fundamentalist group, but rather one shared by the majority of New Zealanders. The Society has a right in a free and democratic society such as ours, to pitch its viewpoint into the ‘marketplace of ideas’ and seek to influence the landscape carved out via the interaction of divergent ideas.”