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Living World Distributors vs Human Rights

Sun, 20 Feb 2005

Living World Distributors vs Human Rights Action Group (inc)

The Society for the Protection of Community Standards and Garnet Milne have made several erroneous comments in their latest press releases regarding the case of Living World Distributors vs Human Rights Action Group (inc) Court of Appeal, Wellington 10, 11 July; 31 August 2000. In the releases Mr Milne has stated

We know this because the censor previously tried to punish those who showed two “living Word” videos criticising homosexuality under then existing law. After some excellent work done by SPSC and others the Court of Appeal rejected the censor’s conclusions, because the law as it then stood was intended to prevent videos showing demeaning sex to minors. The law was not intended to prevent pastors or parents warning our youth about the evils of homosexuality.

Mr. Milne has stated that the law declares something as objectionable “ because the law as it then stood was intended to prevent videos showing demeaning sex to minors”. This is not correct, under the act the meaning of objectionable is as follows:

(1) For the purposes of this Act, a publication is objectionable if it describes, depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good. (2) A publication shall be deemed to be objectionable for the purposes of this Act if the publication promotes or supports, or tends to promote or support, – (a) The exploitation of children, or young persons, or both, for sexual purposes; or (b) The use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct; or (c) Sexual conduct with or upon the body of a dead person; or (d) The use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or dehumanising conduct or sexual conduct; or (e) Bestiality; or (f) Acts of torture or the infliction of extreme violence or extreme cruelty.

In making its judgment the Coram of Richardson P, Gault, Thomas, Keith and Tipping JJ had to apply and interpret the law as defined by the act. Under such light, the videos could not be banned. In paragraph 68 of the judgment with particular reference to the last sentence, it is says:

“I do not wish it thought, therefore, that in holding that the board exceeded its jurisdiction I condone the contents of the videos or endorse the view that the publication of the videos is in the public good. Nor, on the other hand, do I wish it thought that I accept the submissions of those who perceive the videos to be blatant bigotry or hate propaganda. In truth, my views are beside the point. What is in point is the question whether videos of this kind fall within the scope and intent of legislation directed at the censorship of unacceptable portrayals of pornographic sex and violence.

I am not prepared to accept that this is the case” In this case, as the videos never satisfied the legislative definition of what is objectionable, and therefore the appeal was overturned. This does not however constitute the ‘victory’ that both SPCS and Mr Milne claims it to be. By simply citing the verdict, they are perhaps losing sight of those comments made in paragraphs 66 and 67 of the document which paint a damning picture of the material contained in the video tapes:

“[66] The videotapes portray the beliefs and prejudices of religious fundamentalism. Marty and Appleby have written that such fundamentalism manifests itself as a strategy or set of strategies by which its believers attempt to preserve a distinctive identity as a people or group.

Feeling that this identity is at risk in the contemporary era they fortify it by a selective retrieval of doctrines, beliefs and practices from a more sacred past. Promoting a rigorous socio-moral code for its followers, the boundaries are set, the “enemy” is identified, converts are sought and institutions are created and sustained in pursuit of a comprehensive reconstruction of society. (Martin E Marty and R Scott Appleby (eds), Fundamentalisms and Society: reclaiming the sciences, the family and education (University of Chicago Press, 1984) at p 3.) [67]

The videos fit this perception. While directed at the danger of an AIDS epidemic in the one case and the threat of an enlarged protection of civil rights embracing homosexuals in the other, both videos reveal an abhorrence of what is called the “homosexual lifestyle”. This phrase is used persistently throughout the videos without being defined. It is, however, identified with promiscuous and irresponsible sexual behaviour by male homosexuals. Lack of balance is evident in the dogmatic way in which these characteristics are attributed to all homosexuals, and there is no recognition of the diversity of homosexual associations which do not accord with this stereotyped description. Nor is any appreciation shown as to the nature and depth of gay and homosexual orientation, such as the appreciation which has resulted in sexual orientation becoming a prohibited ground of discrimination in this and other countries.

The propensity for such presentations to cause harm is apparent: they may mislead the uninformed; they simplify the issues in a manner which is unrealistic; they give credence to false facts and figures; they demean and trivialise homosexual associations which do not fit the popular negative stereotype; they are hurtful and oppressive to the homosexual community; they pose a wounding challenge to the personal belief that sexual orientation is a deeply personal characteristic that is either unchangeable or changeable only at unacceptable personal costs; they may psychologically scar homosexual individuals who would not otherwise repress their sexual orientation; and they tend to victimise and alienate a sizeable proportion of the population.”

We at HappyClappingHomos.com challenge Mr. Milne to respond to the views of the Coram stated in those two paragraphs. While the appeal could not be sustained under the current legal definition of “objectionable” the view of the members of the Judiciary involved was one of concern for the harm that publications such as those distributed by “Living World” are capable of causing. Full text of the judgment, Living World Distributors vs Human Rights Action Group (inc), can be found in [2000] 3 NZLR 570 or by requesting it from the Court of Appeal Registry, Wellington.


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