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Chief Censor’s Porn Report Cause for Alarm

The Society for Promotion of Community Standards Inc.

15 November 2007

Chief Censor’s Porn Report Cause for Alarm

The latest Annual Report of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) tabled in Parliament yesterday, raises serious issues about its use of tax-payer funds ($3,458,777 held at 30 June 2007) and its lack of disclosure regarding its classification processes, particularly in relation to its clearance of well over 1,000 degrading and gratuitous hard-core pornographic DVD and video publications for “adult entertainment” (R18).

Chief Censor Bill Hastings, his deputy, Ms Nicola McCully, and their team of over about 17 censors regularly view and pass this putrid and toxic moral filth for adult viewing. Hastings receives a salary package of between $200,000 and $210,000 and his deputy receives between $190,000 and $200,000 and both have been in the porn watching censor business for over a decade. Both are “openly gay”, hold statutory positions, and are executive members of the OFLC – a Crown entity that receives Crown revenue of $1,960,000 each year.

During the 2006/07 financial year the OFLC examined and made classification decisions on a total of 2,721 publications. Of these 1,362 (51%) were DVDs – over 80% containing sexually explicit hardcore porn content that degrades, demeans and dehumanises women to a high degree (multiple penetration, orgies, men ejaculating onto the faces of women etc.) [ref. 1].

Others feature young gay ‘barebacking’ porn stars modelling unsafe anal sex (sodomy) – an unnatural sexual practice that is known to be a major conduit of HIV transmission among gay men. In addition, 932 so-called "publications" (34%) classified were simple one page advertising “slicks” for hardcore porn videos and DVDs and a small number of ads for computer games featuring graphic violence, sex, etc. Well over 2000 publications (DVDs plus slicks) examined by Bill Hastings and his team in 2006/07 featured sleazy, offensive toxic hardcore porn.

As part of its core activity (“Output 1”) the OFLC is required to examine and classify and register all films submitted to it from the Film and Video Labelling Body (FVLB) based in Auckland. It has a statutory duty to classify all publications submitted in keeping with the law – The Films, Videos and Publications, Classification Act 1993 (“the Act”).

The FVLC collects an application fee from distributors who submit films: $1,100 for each DVD and 35mm film, and $1,000 for each video. These fees provide a major lucrative source of revenue for the OFLC, - additional income to Crown revenue of $1.96 million. In 2006/07 the OFLC received $1,324,178 from the FVLB via such fees and $1,960,000 of Crown revenue.

The vast bulk of the task of examining and classifying each of the 1,362 DVDs in 2006/07 involved the 2 hour viewing of the material, carried out, according to Nic McCully, by one censor in a private booth [ref. 1]. Bill Hastings has reported that he regularly views the material in his own Office and shows it to guests, including journalists, with the curtains completely drawn – due to complaints he has received from nearby office workers offended by hardcore porn etc.[2]

The total time required by 17 OFLC censors to view all the DVDs submitted in 2006/07 was 2,724 hours. This corresponds to about four weeks work, if each of these 17 censors spent 40 hours a week just watching DVDs – continuously without a break. However, censors are not required to engage in film watching all day. According to McCully they spend only about 30 hours a week watching material on DVD or video. It would therefore take the team of 17 censors a little over 5 weeks to complete the task of viewing all the 1,362 DVDs.

The Annual Report 2006/07 indicates that the OFLC employs 3 senior classification officers, 14.4 full-time equivalent censors plus 2 casuals. Given that DVDs and advertising “slicks” constitute 85% of the publications examined and classified by the OFLC, and the fact that “slicks” can be classified within a matter of minutes, taxpayers should be asking why it cost the tax-payer $1.960,000 for the OFLC to operate, given that it receives $1,560,707 from other non-government sources, including the FVLB revenue.

While watching films censors fill out a check list, but according to a communication received by the Society from the OFLC dated 9 November 2007, since mid-2006 censors have been instructed by Hastings not to produce any more written decisions for films (including DVDs and videos) that contain any sexually explicit content.

The Society is asking why the Chief Censor has failed to make any mention of this important policy change in his Annual Reports. Written decisions that carefully set out the reasoning of censors in reaching their determination to classify hardcore porn film as “restricted” publications, in relation to criteria set out in the Act, have almost always been issued by the OFLC on request, prior to the mid-2006 policy change. In fact there has been the case as far back as the Act came into force about 13 years ago. Such written decisions contained critical information helpful to any applicant seeking to challenge a classification decision via the review process.

Hasting’s decision that has ended the production of a written decision for hardcore sex publications submitted from the FVLB, appears to be a deliberate attempt to deny the public the ability to assess whether the Office is applying the relevant censorship laws correctly. It also appears to be a deliberate and crude method of cost cutting that he has failed to disclose in his Report. All classification decisions on all publications constitute legal documents that can be submitted to the Film and Literature Board of Review or the Courts as part of any review process under the Act – relating to an OFLC classification.

While it is true that section 12 of the Act dealing with submissions from the FVLB does not specify that a written decision must be produced, it is implicit in the procedural structure of the Act that such a report be available to any distributor submitting a publication to the FVLB, once the classification decision is issued. By ordering censors not to produce such reports, the Chief Censor is effectively asking New Zealanders to just believe him that his Office’s classification procedures do take full account of the criteria in the Act.

In response to a request from the Society, made under the Official Information Act, to provide it with copies of written decisions on a series of hardcore gay DVDs that had been classified R18 despite reportedly containing ‘barebare back’ sex, the Chief Censor’s Office relied:

"None of the publications about which information was requested have written decisions. The Office is not legally required to provide written reasons for its decisions on films submitted under section 12 of the Act. Since mid-2006 it has not done so for sexually explicit films, except those requiring excisions or classified as objectionable. The Office does hold a file on each publication it has classified and this contains the relevant consideration sheet which sets out the reasons for the classification of the publication. These are available on request."

In the absence of any written classification decisions being issued by the OFLC on these publications, the Society has responded to the OFLC by requesting copies of all the “consideration sheets” on file - produced by censors who examined all these “unsafe sex” gay DVD titles and other hardcore material. It plans to have this material tabled in Parliament to alert MPs and the public to the objectionable hardcore porn content matter being regularly cleared by Mr Hastings and his team for adult viewing. The Society intends to raise its concerns over the financial performance of the OFLC with the Auditor-General’s Office.

References:

[1] The Tastemaster by Derek Cheng
Canvas Supplement, The NZ Herald October 13, 2007, pp.12-14.

[2] Watching the Defectives by Grant Smithies Sunday Star-Times August 13, 2006.

Hastings has stated: “… My staff get a diet of the worst, which is not healthy! The vast majority of commercial submissions [over 80% of the material submitted for classification]…are sexually explicit videos and DVDs [porn]. We also get lots of child porn sent to us…” Express (10-23 May 2006, pp. 12-13)].

ENDS

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