SPCS Calls Minister to replace Board Members
THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF COMMUNITY STANDARDS INC.
Call to Minister to replace Board Members including Governor-General’s husband
The Society is calling on the new Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. Rick Barker, to replace all nine members of the Film & Literature Board of Review ["the Board”], including the Governor-General's husband Peter Cartwright. Mr Cartwright’s term of office, along with those of seven other board members, expired 15 months ago on 31 May 2004. Their re-appointment can only be made by his wife, Governor-General, Dame Sylvia Cartwright, on the recommendation of the Minister. The Society points out that in the case of the appointment or reappointment of husband Peter, this involves obvious conflict of interests on the part of his wife. The former Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. George Hawkins, chose not to reappoint eight of the Board members while he held the ministerial warrant, despite issuing public statements that he had full confidence in them following complaints raised by the Society.
The conflict of interest involving the governor-general has been publicly acknowledged with respect to another statutory appointment involving the Governor-General’s husband. It has been suggested that in this case Rt. Hon. Dame Sian Elias, GNZM, Chief Justice, appointed him to the position, so the government could avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
If Mr Cartwright ever needs to be removed from any statutory office by the governor-general on the recommendation of a Minister for his inability to perform the duties of office, bankruptcy, neglect of duty, or misconduct, proved to the satisfaction of the Governor-General; the conflict of interest will become obvious to the general public.
Mr Cartwright, formerly Chair of the Indecent Publications Tribunal and Chair of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, has demonstrated a consistently liberal approach to the censorship of publications containing sexually explicit content and extreme violence. This liberal mindset among Board members has led to a desensitisation of mind, lack of moral discernment and inability to function with the concerns of young persons and children in mind. How could a man answerable to the governor-general, the minister and the NZ public, approve films like "Baise-Moi", "Visitor Q" and "Irreversible" featuring explicit incendiary scenes of brutal rape, necrophilia, corpse mutilation for sexual gratification, incest etc. for adult entertainment?
The Society challenges the Minister of Internal Affairs or any other MP to publicly defend the Board’s actions in the light of the restrictions established in law under s. 3(2) and s. 3(3) of the Films, Videos and Publications Act 1993 (“the Act”) pertaining to the depiction of sexual violence, necrophilia, incest etc.
Set out below (Appendix) is a copy of letter sent to Mr Rick Barker, Minister of Internal Affairs, Mrs Sandra Goudie, National Party spokesperson for Internal Affairs, Mr Peter Brown, Deputy Leader of NZ First Party, Mr Gordon Copeland, United Future Party, Mr Rodney Hide, Act Party Leader and Mrs Heather Roy, Act Party. It calls for the replacement of every member of the Board by persons of integrity who reflect mainstream New Zealand family values rather than the extremely irresponsible liberal agenda held by the members who have passed their ‘used-by-date’.
THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROMOTION OF COMMUNITY STANDARDS INC.
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville
Mr Rick Barker
Minister of Internal Affairs
31 October 2005
Re: Appointments to nine member Film & Literature Board of Review ["the Board']
Re: Sections 91-102. Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act (1993) ["the Act"]
Note: A copy of a 2-page letter received by SPCS from Andrew Secker, Deputy Secretary of Internal Affairs, (26/10) is referred to below (faxed separately).
Dear Mr Barker
I am writing on behalf of the Society to raise serious concerns about the Labour-led government's inability to fulfil its statutory obligations to ensure that the proper appointment process is adhered to with respect to the nine member Film and Literature Board of Review. The terms of office of eight members of the Board expired on 31 May 2004. While it is true that their continuation in office after their terms expire is allowed for under s.95 of the Act, it is now 15 months since these terms of office expired. The Society has written a number of times to the (former) Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon. George Hawkins, since this expiry date, setting out the reasons and the grounds for the reasons why all eight members should be replaced. If the Minister truly had confidence in them, surely he would have ensured that they all be reappointed for another term. S. 94(1) states that "every member of the Board may be appointed for any period not exceeding 3 years, and may be reappointed for one further period not exceeding 3 years."
You may recall that the Society had to take the former Minister to the High Court in 2002 to force him and his government to appoint a deputy chief censor, after this statutory position had been left vacant for well over two and a half years. Our lawyers were convinced that had the Society not sought and obtained a judicial review of the Minister's actions, which it won, the government would have disestablished this position by amending the Act which states that the Minister "shall" ensure that a deputy chief censor is appointed. This is the same Minister whose competency opposition parties called into question in his role as Minister of Police.
The names of the eight Board members whose term of office expired on 31 May 2004 are:
Claudia Elliott (President); Greg Presland (Deputy President); Mark Anderson, Peter Cartwright; Dr Brian McDonnell; Marion Orme; Dr Lalita Rajasingham and Stephen Stehlin.
The expiry date for the ninth member, Ani Waaka [former Acting CEO of Maori Television], is 31 August 2006.
1. The Board has demonstrated an extremely liberal approach to censorship. Rather than acting as a vigilant and competent "gate-keeper," it has given its stamp of approval for the release of films, videos and DVDs for public adult cinema containing: extended, explicit and gratuitous depictions of brutal rape (mainstream release of "Baise-Moi" [transl. "Fu** Me"], Irreversible", "Twenty-Nine Palms"), necrophilia, graphic violence involving sexual mutilation ("Visitor Q") and the degradation, demeaning and dehumanising of women (e.g. "Sinners No Doctor") etc. Hundreds of such explicit videos, DVDs and films depicting men ejaculating onto the faces of women, multiple penetration (anal and vaginal), oral sex, "anal mania", sadomasochism (S & M), incest, homosexual and lesbian sex, prostitution, young people masturbating, "how-to-do" drug-taking, obscene language etc. are approved every year by the Office of Film and Literature Classification headed by Chief Censor Mr Bill Hastings. The Board gets to review only a tiny fraction of this toxic material approved by Mr Hastings and his team. Publications are generally only referred to it following applications under the Act by concerned groups such as the Society (which has a public "watchdog role") or by film distributors seeking to get the film's rating downgraded for commercial reasons (so it can reach a wider audience). In the last 12 months since 1 October 2005, the Board has only issued ten decisions. The Society was the applicant for four of these publications ("Irreversible", "9 Songs", "Playboy: The Mansion" and "Visitor Q").
2. The Board has demonstrated its unwillingness to safeguard the interests of children and young persons accessing computer games that teach kids how to promote and succeed in the pornography trade ("Playboy: The Mansion"). It has demonstrated its incompetence by approving films for young people that teach them how to indulge in illicit drugs, indulge in promiscuous sex, carry out gang rape etc.
3. The Board members are not representative of mainstream New Zealanders, the majority of whom oppose the dissemination of "objectionable" content found in films like "Baise-Moi" which was banned in Australia. The Board decisions are almost always unanimous in support of a downgrading of a classification restriction (e.g. "Closer") or more often unanimous in opposition to any tightening to the existing OFLC classification rating so that the public good can be safeguarded. The liberal "mindset" appears to be so dominant and entrenched in this Board that any dissent by a member reflecting a more conservative viewpoint is squashed.
4. A number of the important decisions issued by the Board president against granting relief to the Society, have been shown to be wrong in law when tested in the High Court (e.g. "Irreversible" and "Ken Park"). A number of the Board's decisions have been found to be wrong in law when tested in the High Court and Court of Appeal (e.g. "Baise-Moi" and "Visitor Q"). The Courts have strongly criticised the Board in a number of decisions that span four years of its deliberations.
5. The presence of Mr Peter Cartwright on the Board involves a conflict of interests. His appointment was made by his wife - Governor-General Dame Sylvia Cartwright. If he is reappointed for a further term, this would involve a conflict of interest. This conflict of interest has been publicly acknowledged with respect to another statutory position he currently holds and where his appointment by the Governor-General - his wife - was deemed to be inappropriate. In this case the Rt. Hon. Dame Sian Elias, GNZM, Chief Justice, appointed him so the government could avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest. [The Chief Justice can act for the governor-general in certain circumstances. During the absence overseas of the governor-general from 5 to 11 May 2005, the Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, acted as Administrator of Government].
6. If Mr Cartwright needs to be removed from office by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister for inability to perform the duties of office, bankruptcy, neglect of duty, or misconduct, proved to the satisfaction of the Governor-General; his relationship with the Governor-General involves a conflict of interests. Mr Cartwright, formerly Chair of the Indecent Publications Tribunal, has demonstrated a consistently liberal approach to censorship for decades. This has led to a desensitisation of mind, lack of moral discernment and inability to function with the concerns of young persons and children in mind. How could a man answerable to the Governor-General, his wife, the Minister and the NZ public, approve films like "Baise-Moi", "Visitor Q" and "Irreversible" for adult viewing? No MP would publicly defend his actions.
7. The Society has made a number of submissions to the Government Administration Committee calling for the Board's composition to be more representative of the conservative "family values" held by New Zealanders. The Board in its decisions has been known to defend graphic and explicit content such as sodomy and necrophilia on the basis that its members consider the publication to be a "morality tale" (e.g. "Baise-Moi"). The Society is at a loss to understand why the Board so vehemently opposes every submission it makes that even hints at moral concerns about content and its detrimental effect on some members of the public, especially young persons and children. It concludes that the Board is dominated by a misguided conviction that concerns over the moral corruption of minds and injury to "the public good", are inconsequential to the more important and lofty issues of "freedom of expression" etc. The Society upholds "freedom of expression" too, but certainly not in the morally bankrupt way the Board chooses to interpret this principle.
8. Board members have become so desensitised to the "objectionable" content they have viewed over four years, that their flawed reasoning and liberal pronouncements have made them a liability to the community and they are well past their "used-by-date".
The Official Response of the Department of Internal Affairs to the issue:
Expiry Dates for members of the Film and Literature Board of Review.
Mr Andrew Secker, Deputy Secretary for Internal Affairs has stated in his letter to the Society dated 26 October 2005, that was a response to our Official Information request of 13 October 2005:
"Although the terms of office of eight of the nine Board members expired on 31 May 2004, the previous Government asked the affected members to remain in office (in accordance with the Films, Videos, and Publication Act 1993) until the passage of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Amendment Bill, because there was a provision in the Bill as introduced dealing with the membership of the Board. Once the Bill was enacted earlier this year, there was then insufficient time to carry through the appointments process before the commencement of the three-month period of restraint on significant appointments preceding any General Election. This process is being recommended now that the new Government is in place."
The FVPC Amendment Bill did have a provision in it that recommended the number of Board members be reduced from nine to six. There was no support for this amendment either during the select committee stages of the bill, or during parliamentary debating in the second and third reading stages. The bill came into force on 22 February 2005, the day after the Royal Assent was given to it. There was never any real suggestion that MPs would support the number of Board members being reduced. Therefore it would appear very strange, if it were indeed true, that "the previous Government asked the affected members [all eight of them] to remain in office (in accordance with the .... Act 1993) until the passage of the ..... Amendment Bill..." The Society will be seeking through the Official Information Act copies of all correspondence between the Minister and Board members on this matter to verify Mr Secker's statement.
The Government announced earlier this year that the 2005 election was to be held on 17 September 2005. The "three-month period of restraint" Mr Secker refers to would therefore run from 17 June until 17 September 2005. Even if we accept all of his explanations for why the government had reason to not make the eight re-appointments to the Board (after 31 May 2004), there was still a four month period in which he could and SHOULD have acted - 22 February 2005 to 17 June 2005.
The Society is calling on the National Party, United First Party, NZ First Party, ACT and the Maori Party, to strongly oppose the reappointment of the present eight members of the Film and Literature Board of Review. We believe you must recommend new appointments to the Board: including community-minded persons of the highest integrity who hold to conservative family values and whose track record in community and family life demonstrate commitment to the welfare and care of children and young persons. If any MP remains in doubt as to the suitability of the present Board members they only need to view a film like "Baise-Moi", "Visitor Q" or "Irreversible" (all passed for R18 viewing by the Board and OFLC) to recognise how detrimental it is for NZ society for such members to continue in office. Alternatively they need only talk to an MP who had the misfortune of viewing "Baise-Moi" as part of the consultative process leading to its classification review (e.g. Peter Brown MP, Deputy Leader NZ First).
We look forward to your response to the issues raised. We would like the opportunity to meet with you asap to discuss these matters if it can be arranged.
Mike Petrus (President)
Graham Fox (Vice-President)
David Lane (Secretary & spokesperson)
Relevant sections of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993
93 (2) The members of the Board shall be appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister acting with the concurrence of the Minister of Women's Affairs and the Minister of Justice
93. (6) No act or proceeding of the Board, or of any person acting as a member of the Board, shall be invalidated because there was a vacancy in the membership of the Board at the time of the act or proceeding, or because of the subsequent discovery that there was a defect in the appointment of a person so acting, or that the person was incapable of being, or had ceased to be, a member.
94. Term of Office
(1) Subject to section 96 of this Act, every member of the Board may be appointed for any period not exceeding 3 years, and may be reappointed for one further period not exceeding 3 years.
(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section prevents the appointment under section 93 of this Act of any person who has previously held office under that section, but no such person shall be so appointed unless at least 3 years have elapsed since that person last held office under that section.
95. Continuation in office after term expires— Notwithstanding section 94 of this Act, every member of the Board whose term of office has expired shall, unless he or she sooner dies or vacates office under section 96 of this Act, continue to hold office, by virtue of the appointment for the term that has expired, until— (a) That member is reappointed; or (b)A successor to that member is [appointed]; or (c)That member is informed in writing by the Minister that the member is not to be reappointed and is not to hold office until a successor is appointed.
96. Extraordinary vacancies — (1) Any member of the Board may at any time be removed from office by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Minister for inability to perform the duties of office, bankruptcy, neglect of duty, or misconduct, proved to the satisfaction of the Governor-General, (2) Any member of the Board may at any time resign his or her office by giving written notice to that effect to the Minister, (3) If a member dies, resigns, or is removed from office, the vacancy so created shall be filled in the same manner as the appointment of the member vacating office.