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Chief Censor Misuses Living Word

For Immediate Release......
P.O. Box 13-683 Johnsonville spcs.org@gmail.com

Press Release
15 November 2005

Chief Censor Misuses Living Word

In his Office's Annual Report 2005, the Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, has effectively hailed the 22 February 2005 - the day "the first substantial amendments to the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act came into force" - as marking a "fresh era" in censorship: "One would be entitled to observe," he writes, "that the increased penalties, the additional, targeted jurisdiction, and the more comprehensive nature of the labeling system, marked 22 February 2005 as the first day of a fresh era for New Zealand's classification system." (p. 5).

While the Society fully supports "increasing the penalties associated with objectionable publications" as found in the amendments to the Act, it cannot accept the Chief Censor's erroneous claim that "these amendments restore jurisdiction to the Office that had been cast into doubt by the Court of Appeal's ruling in Living Word Distributors Ltd v Human Rights Action Group [2000] 3 NZLR 570." An alternative viewpoint (Professor Paul Rishworth, Law Faculty, Auckland University, forthcoming) is that the Living Word case did not expose but rather closed a loophole in the Act that was beginning to be exploited by the Chief Censor's Office, and that invasion of privacy and other remedies are available. Counsel for the Living Word Distributors who secured a win in the Court of Appeal for their client presented this alternative view in a written submission to the Government Administration Select Committee. It was Bill Hastings, in his former role as Deputy President of the Film and Literature Board of Review, who exploited the Act and secured a banning order against the Living Word Christian videos. In his 2004 Annual Report he admitted for the first time that "The Board had no jurisdiction to hold the review that started the entire Living Word process" (p. 16) because the application for review had been brought out of time by the "gay" rights activist group - Human Rights Action Group. The Board acted outside its jurisdiction in banning the videos and Mr Hastings was party to this injustice.

The Society considers it an exaggerated suggestion that a "fresh era" has begun for the New Zealand classification system. The amendments to the Act have made no difference to the way Mr Hasting's Office classifies films like Baise-Moi (transl. "fu*k Me"), Visitor Q and Irreversible, with their graphic, gratuitous, prolonged and explicit depictions of brutal rape, mutilation of corpses for sexual titillation, necrophilia, sexual acts involving human excrement, incest and other toxic content "injurious to the public good". Hastings continues to publicly and vigorously defend the view that such obscene filth complies with the Classification Act and is suitable material for adult cinema entertainment and university student study courses. His Office continues to clear hundreds of hard-core porn videos and DVDs each year for adult home viewing that degrade, demean and dehumanise women; glorifying promiscuity involving high-risk unhygienic sex practices (sodomy without condoms, oral sex following anal sex, double and triple penetrations etc).

The Chief Censor has seriously misled the New Zealand public over the Living Word Court of Appeal ruling ever since it was released, using each Annual Report and the media to promote his erroneous view that the Court's ruling has undermined the jurisdiction of his Office. The Society believes he has deliberately misconstrued the Court's decision in order to cast doubt on a ruling that completely overturned a flawed decision he was in large part directly responsible for: the banning of the Living Word Christian videos by the Board of Review. As a result of the Court of Appeal's ruling. The Board had to classify both videos, which critique promiscuous homosexual lifestyles and "militant "gay" activism, as "unrestricted". This has forever irked the Chief Censor.

To clarify the situation: At the time the ban was imposed, Hastings was not the Chief Censor, but rather was Deputy President of the Board that reviews classifications issued by the Chief Censor's Office - the Office of Film and Literature Classification. The application for review was lodged with the Board out of time by a Wellington-based "gay-rights" activist group - Human Rights Action Group (HRAG had only one identifiable member Mr Calum Bennachie) and yet the Board proceeded with the review. HRAG wanted the videos banned and could not accept the R18 classification issued by the then Chief Censor Ms Kathryn Paterson.

Mr Hastings, an openly "gay" man, wrote the lengthy Board's decision that banned the Living Word videos. The fact that he wrote it (a decision that was unanimously supported by all of his eight fellow Board members), was disclosed to the Court of Appeal in Wellington on 15 March 2005 by Mr John Oliver, the senior Crown Law Office lawyer who regularly represents the Board in the role of amicus curiae. In this case Mr Oliver "defended' the Board's classification decision in the appeal case involving the sexually violent Japanese film Visitor Q. As noted earlier, in his 2004 OFLC Annual Report, Mr Hastings dropped a shock bombshell when he admitted that the Board he was on at the time, "had no jurisdiction to hold the review that started the entire Living Word process" (p. 16, footnote 14).

Earlier, in the OFLC Annual Report 2001, Mr Hastings devoted three pages to "an extended comment" on the Court of Appeal's ruling in Living Word, advancing the spurious claim that it:

"¡K has put in doubt the Classification Office's ability to classify as restricted or objectionable publications which, for example:

[1] Depict mere nudity which is to some degree "sexualised";

[2] Invade the privacy of people surreptitiously filmed changing clothes;

[3] Contain offensive language and little else;

[4] Treat a group of the public as inherently inferior by reason of a prohibited ground of discrimination;

all of which are status based and which therefore cannot easily relate to an "activity" now required to pass through a gateway."

Here Mr Hastings signaled that he was calling on parliament to amend the s. 3(1) "subject gateway" because of "doubt" cast by the Court of Appeal decision on his Office's ability to classify publications containing activities described above, as "restricted" or "objectionable" publications. He wrote:

"At the time of writing, the Government Administration Select Committee is holding an inquiry into the operation of the Act which includes consideration of whether s3(1) [of the Act] should be amended following the Court of Appeal's decision." [p. 17].

Politicians were hoodwinked by Mr Hasting's legal mumbo-jumbo. Nothing in the Living Word ruling altered the fact that the Classification Office still had the backing of the law to classify publications depicting activities Hastings had highlighted in [1] to [4], as restricted or objectionable; provided they dealt 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."

In fact the Office continued to classify publications containing nude images of young persons that were to some degree "sexualised", as "objectionable" for four years after the Living Word decision was issued. Publications containing offensive language almost always contain explicit and degrading sexual content. The Classification Office has continued to restrict such material since the Living Word decision even though sexual acts as such are not depicted. The Chief Censor knows full well that surreptitious filming of people in changing sheds is almost always done to record sexually titillating images and not for recording trends in swimwear fashion! Such salacious material with its focus on exposed "private parts" is rarely if ever released for commercial distribution, clearly comes within the gateway of "sex" under s. 3(1) of the Act. Other content of a non-sexual content obtained through covert filming can be dealt with under existing privacy laws.

Mr Hasting's real agenda in protesting the Court of Appeal decision on the "talking head" Living Word videos, is on account of their spoken content that dared to call into question the sexual promiscuity of some homosexuals and criticised their militant "gay" rights activism. The decision he wrote for the Board banning the videos, focused on the claimed "hate speech" content of the videos: the accusation that the videos deliberately presented "gays" - homosexuals and bisexuals - as inherently inferior by reason of a prohibited ground of discrimination [sexuality and HIV status].

In the OFLC Report 2004 Hastings devoted six pages to a distorted analysis of the Living Word Court of Appeal findings. Under the heading "Ongoing Consequences of Living Word" he made all manner of spurious claims about Living Word, in order to promote the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Amendment Bill. For example he wrote:

"The Bill contained a provision that removed any doubt caused by Living Word that images which sexualised the nudity of children and younger persons but which contained no sexual activity, were to be included in the scope of censorship law by the phrase "matters such as sex" in s. 3(1)." [pp. 12-13]

The "doubt" was clearly of Mr Hasting's own making: myths can be generated by an obsession. As noted, the Living Word decision did not in any way hinder the Office continuing to classify a large number of computer images as objectionable that contained the sort of sexualised nudity involving "no sexual activity" as described by Hastings.

The real focus of the Chief Censor's interest as a "gay" man whose writings led to the banning of Living Word videos, was unmasked - surprise, surprise - in the "evidence" his Office presented to the Government Select Committee considering the Amendment Bill. He stated in his 2004 report:

"The Committee was provided [by the Chief Censor's Office] with evidence of a range of publications that have been restricted or banned but which, as a result of Living Word, could now be considered to have been incorrectly classified. These include publications that:

represent classes of people as inherently inferior (which may or may not include what some people loosely refer to as "hate speech", a term of no legal significance in New Zealand law)." [p. 13]

In other words the Chief Censor's Office had lobbied for a widening of the jurisdictional gateway in s. 3(1) of the Act so that the clear ruling of the Court of Appeal could be by-passed or side-stepped, to allow the Office to restrict or ban publications such as the Living Word videos that his Office could classify as "hate speech".

However, the Committee ruled against making depictions of classes of people (such as homosexuals and bisexuals) as inferior, subject to restrictions for age.

Following the failures of the "gay" lobby to get anti - "hate speech" provisions into s. 3(1) of the Classification Act, there was a successful attempt to get new legislation introducing "hate speech" before the parliament by means of yet another select committee inquiry. This Inquiry into "Hate Speech" has floundered in the present parliamentary climate. The Government Administration Committee is expected to abandon its current inquiry following huge public opposition to the proposed legislation, which has been widely recognised as a special provision designed to stifle free speech.

The Chief Censor appears to be on a mission to use his Office to stifle all criticism of homosexual lifestyle. The Human Rights Commission, which is fully behind this mission (it acted as intervenor in the Living Word case supporting HRAG) states:

The Chief Censor says the Court of Appeal's interpretation of section 3 in Living Word Distributors v Human Rights Action Group ( Wellington) continues to affect the operation of the classification system. He cites three examples that could not be appropriately restricted:

- a trailer for the feature film Crackerjack, which contained offensive language

- secretly filmed video footage of boys changing into their togs at a Papatoetoe public swimming pool, taken by their teacher

- a website offering biblical support for the proposition that homosexuality was "an abominable and death-worthy crime'.


The material from the overseas website on homosexuality received considerable attention by Mr Hastings in two of his recent Annual Reports. One would be entitled to observe that he used his reports to decry the fact that the Living Word Court of Appeal ruling had made his Office impotent to act against this material to ban it. . One would be entitled to observe that the real agenda at the heart of the anti-Living Word Crusade mounted by the Chief Censor appears not to be the protection of young persons and children from he corrupting influence of "objectionable" content; but rather an attempt to grant homosexuals, bisexuals, lesbians and transgender persons, special rights in law, to protect their chosen lifestyles from criticism.


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