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SPCS - Chief Censor On “Baise-Moi”

Wednesday 12 June

Chief Censor On “Sexually Violent Images” And “Baise-Moi”

In an article entitled “Censorship is no easy matter” by Graham Reid, published in The NZ Herald (Dec 1, 2001), the Chief Censor, Mr Bill Hastings, is quoted as saying:

“The [Films, Videos and Publications Classification] Act [1993] does not require proof that something be injurious to the public good – the phrase is ‘likely to be’.

“Increasingly, research is telling us how likely it might be. ‘There are now journals and so on which pretty well define that for anyone with a propensity to sexual violence, that [propensity] will be heightened by exposure to sexually violent images. Other studies show that negative attitudes towards women can be maintained by exposure to demeaning images…’ ”

One might well ask why Mr Hastings, in the light of these statements, did not ban or impose cuts to the French sex-violence film Baise-Moi that contains brutal and degrading scenes of gang rape, including lingering voyeuristic close-ups of actual penetration. All the women’s groups who made submissions to the Classification Office asked for the film to be banned or cut prior to release.

An appeal “on question of law”, under section 58 of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, against a classification decision made by the Film & Literature Board of Review on Baise-Moi, comes today before the Hon. Justice Hammond in the High Court in Wellington at 10 a.m. (Wednesday 12 June). Two days (12-13 June) have been set aside for the appeal brought by the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc. (the appellant) which is challenging the Board’s decision. That decision, dated 13 March 2002, gave “Baise-Moi” a general R 18 classification.

Counsel for the appellant are Mr Peter McKenzie QC and Mr Paul Rishworth, Associate Professor of Law at Auckland University and a widely recognised authority on the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. This Act is pertinent to the issues of individual rights to “freedom of expression” which will be undoubtedly be raised and dealt with in this case.

There is no formal respondent in this case as counsel for the distributor of the film, Metropolis Films Ltd, has chosen not to appear and present arguments. Crown Counsel, Mr John Oliver and Mr Ben Keith, will present arguments in defense of the Board’s decision. Barrister, Mr Tony Ellis, representing the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, will appear as an intervenor and will express the Council’s viewpoint on the issues raised.

If convinced that there is an error of law in the Board’s classification decision, the Hon. Justice Hammond has the power to remit the matter back to the Board for reconsideration. If he does so, he will need to provide a clear directive to the board as to how to rectify any errors in law he identifies.

On 12 April 2002, following an application to the High Court by the Society under s. 67 of the Act, Justice Hammond imposed an interim restriction order on the film. Until the classification decision is resolved the interim restriction order placed on the film by the High Court remains in place. Counsel for all parties in the appeal case were required to view the film on Thursday 6 June, together with Justice Hammond.

It is noteworthy that a unanimous decision by the Australian Classification Review Board, dated 10 May 2002, banned “Baise-Moi” throughout Australia, overturning a decision made in October last year by the Australian Office of Film and Literature which classified it R18.

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