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Sex Takes its toll on Censors

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards Inc.
PO BOX 13-683 JOHNSONVILLE

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Sir John Kennedy-Good KBE QSO
Professor TV O'Donnell MD FRACP CBE
Marilyn Pryor
Founder Patricia Bartlett O.B.E.


Media Release 2 September 2002

Sex Takes its toll on Censors

Chief Censor Bill Hastings says that he has psychologists on call to counsel him and his staff, “particularly when we get a run of child pornography from the internet” to view and assess for classification. Without psychological help and the “coping techniques” he claims to have developed and used for himself, he concedes that he’d “just become a basket case” (Critic 5/8/02). He admits that he and his staff are not “immune” from the negative effects of viewing such material and rely on a regular “kind of antidote” paid for by taxpayers to prevent them from ‘going over the edge’.

The 1999 Annual Report of the Office of Film and Literature Classification he heads describes this antidote as a “sanity saver” allowance. This “allowance … acknowledges the potential harmful effects of examining, on a regular basis, material submitted to the Office by paying for classification officers to take stress-relief measures such as yoga, music and art classes…. The sanity saver package seems to have contributed to a happier group of censors…” (p. 6).

Hastings says: “We’ll pay for staff to take out gym memberships and piano lessons – anything positive and nice and creative – as a kind of antidote.” (Critic 5/8). Elsewhere, he has referred to his special “antidote” package as gym-work and night clubbing, with memberships presumably paid for by the tax-payer (?). He receives a salary of around $150-160,000 p.a.

In 1999 Parliament removed the two-term six-year limit on the tenure of the Chief Censor, the Deputy Chief Censor and classification officers. Hastings has confirmed that he will be seeking re-appointment as Chief Censor when his three-year term of office expires on 30 September 2002. He’s clearly very keen on his job and has made it clear that he thinks he has not become desensitised to “objectionable” material containing sexual violence combined with explicit sex. (Critic 5/8).

His many critics strongly disagree. The NZ First Caucus has confirmed that they will not be supporting his reappointment. Deputy leader Peter Brown MP has issued a number of press releases calling for his removal by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon George Hawkins. On the other hand the Minister, who has failed to appoint a Deputy Chief Censor of Film and Literature since the office became vacant in October 1999, has expressed his full confidence in Mr Hastings.

Hastings has stated publicly that he sees little point in appointing a deputy, even though the law requires this statutory appointment to be made. It is incredible that since December 1998 he has been the sole member of an executive, that by law requires two members, and he’s more than happy to remain not only ‘top dog’, but also the only statutory appointment in the Classification Office. At present he alone has the authority to hire and fire any one of his staff (currently about 30 full-time persons) with the exception of the deputy chief censor.

Meanwhile film censors in Britain have been reported as having to call on therapists “to help them cope with the unrelenting tide of sex and violence they have to watch daily.” (International Express 13/8/02). In contrast to our Chief Censor, the 18 censors who work for the British Board of Film Classification, fear becoming desensitised by exposure to such material. One former censor said she threw up after watching a particularly graphic scene in a film.

Throwing up, or “barfing” as Americans love to call it, is not an uncommon response by both censors and some audience members who view films containing unrelenting images of sexual violence and graphic violence. Films like French sex-violence shocker “Baise-Moi” and the putrid Japanese shocker “Visitor Q”, both personally endorsed by Bill Hastings on Radio 95BFM (on 27/3/02), have caused viewers to be sick and storm out of public screenings in disgust. Barbara Sumner-Burstyn, a respected journalist and filmmaker who opposes banning “Baise-Moi”, has stated that she felt sick watching it.

Sydney’s Chauvel cinema, which screened “Baise-Moi” just before it was banned in Australia, is currently exploring the possibility of screening a film called “Irreversible” that reportedly moved some audience members to walk out and be sick at its first showing at Cannes in Sydney. To scandalise a supposedly unshockable Cannes Film Festival audience is some feat! (It is noteworthy that the French-Argentine film-director Gaspar Noe, who directed “Irreversible”, is the subject of a special “dedication” at the end of “Baise-Moi”).

Even just listening to, or reading a description of, the contents of films like “Baise-Moi” is sufficient to make censors sick. Scenes of necrophilia, sexual activity involving human excrement, the making of a snuff movie and the mutilation of corpses for sexual purposes are some of the many sick and offensive components gratuitously depicted in “Visitor Q”, which Mr Hastings refused to ban.

The censors of the British Board of Film Classification vet 10,000 films and videos a year. The new president of the BBFC, Sir Quentin Thomas, has called for stronger laws to ban hardcore porn (International Express 13/8/02). No such calls have ever come from our Chief Censor, Bill Hastings. In New Zealand, the Classification Office grants general R18 classifications to an ever-increasing volume of hard-core pornographic publications, some produced here in this country.

The 2001 Annual Report provides a four-page summary of the findings of a research report commissioned by the Classification Office into hard-core pornography, a report that cost the taxpayer $38,000. Three videos that “comprise the ‘high-end’ of the R18 category” were screened to 152 members of the public to determine which aspects of the material participants regarded as “demeaning, degrading and/or dehumanising” (p. 52). Male audiences viewed the material separately from females.

The report states: “Four sexual activities in this video stood out as being judged far more degrading than others by the respondents. They were: penis going from anus to mouth; double penetration; finger going from anus to mouth; ejaculation on a woman’s face. There was little difference between the activities men ranked as most degrading and those ranked by women.” (pp. 54-55). (This report was tabled in Parliament shortly before the election by Mr Peter Brown MP in the course of his strident call for the removal of the Chief Censor).

Despite the vast majority of the public ‘jury’ taking the view that the availability of material examined “could be harmful” to the “public good” and considering it utterly degrading, almost identical publications are being regularly cleared for adult viewing by the Classification Office. The findings of this costly research report have yet to be put into effect by the censors.

Hard-core pornography is easily accessed and rented by children through video shops as documented in the “Target” programme broadcast 1 st September 2002 on TV3. The film “Baise-Moi” is available on video and may well soon be available to kids if our Film and Literature Board of Review does not take action and ban it. The President of the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, Rev Gordon Dempsey, says “Mr Hastings and the Review Board must be held to account for the increasing volume of sexually violent, degrading and offensive material that is flooding our country. Hastings has personally endorsed as ‘entertainment’ some of the most degrading and objectionable material ever to be submitted for censorship for film festival screenings.”

Mr Hamish Dixon, a registered psychologist and Manager of STOP, an agency that treats adult and adolescent sex offenders and provides support to their families has called for the banning of “Baise-Moi”. In his recent submission (30/8/02) to the Board has stated: “Release of this film sets a new benchmark in terms of sadistic violence … the overall thrust of the film is to glorify the expression of sexual violence… I believe that release of this film as R18 is likely to contribute negatively to our society as a whole and that it is injurious to the public good.” Auckland Rape Crisis as well as other women’s groups have called for its banning as well as the Children’s Commissioner, Hon. Roger McClay.

If Bill Hastings admits to the negative impact upon his staff of exposure to such “objectionable” material, why is he publicly endorsing its value as entertainment and pushing for more of it to be available? Why is he refusing to acknowledge that the vast majority of the public find this offensive filth degrading and demeaning to women and children and with the proper application of the law they agree it should be banned?

Rev Dempsey says: “It is clear that years of exposure to “objectionable” material may have taken its toll on our Chief Censor and impaired his judgement as to what constitutes “degrading, demeaning and dehumanising” material and the injury to the “public good”.

Copyright SPCS Box 13-683 Wellington

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