Censorship of Films (Amendment) Bill, 1992: Second Stage.

Thursday, 28 May 1992

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 132 No. 16

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Justice (Mr. Flynn): Information on Pádraig Flynn  Zoom on Pádraig Flynn  The primary purpose of this Bill is to enable the Minister for Justice to appoint persons to be known as assistant censors to assist the film censor in the performance of his duties and functions under the Censorship of Films Acts, 1923 to 1970, and the Video Recordings Act, 1989 — particularly the latter Act.

Basically, the Video Recordings Act, 1989, aimed at three levels of control. First, it contains provison for the licensing of all video wholesalers and retailers. Second, it provides that the censor may, on grounds specified in the Act, prohibit the supply of video films which he considers unsuitable for viewing. Third, it provides for the classification of all video films in terms of their suitability of reviewing by different age groups.

The first two levels of control mentioned — licensing and the censor's [1822] power to prohibit certain videos — are in operation. However, the third level of control — classification of all video films — has yet to be brought into operation and this is where the present Bill becomes relevant. The volume of work which will be involved in classifying all new videos and those already on the market could not be undertaken by the censor alone. He will need considerable assistance and hence the need for assistant censors.

Before I deal with the detail of the provisions of the present Bill I would like to remind the House, briefly, of the circumstances which made it necessary to enact the Video Recordings Act, 1989. In the mid-1980s video films were a comparatively new phenomenon. They enjoyed an amazing growth in popularity during that decade. This growth was evidenced by the fact that video recorders became commonplace in homes and by the proliferation in the number of outlets which supplied video films.

There were thousands of video film titles available and the number was being added to at the rate of approximatley 1,000 new titles each year. Most of these films were unobjectionable in their protrayal of adventure, comedy, romance, sport, education, etc. There were some video films available, however, that were thoroughly objectionable. These films depicted extreme and graphic violence or uninhibited pornography. The extremely violent films contained many scenes of the most stomach turning and ghastly violence and attracted the name “video nasties”. The pornographic video films portrayed sex in a totally objectionable manner.

Films of this kind can have an adverse effect on the viewers and they can also result in crimes against other innocent people. Apart from that, they tend to increase the general tolerance of what ought to be unacceptable. If people frequently see extremely violent films, some of them will come to regard this type of violence as the norm. The danger is that the more impressionble of them will initiate and imitate in real life what they see in the video world.

As I have said already the pornographic [1823] films are totally objectionable in what they portray. I understand that anybody who has not seen these films cannot imagine the depths of degradation to which they stoop. Much of the material could only be described as degrading of human nature generally, but all of it is degrading and offensive as far as women are concerned.

Until the passing of the Video Recording Act, 1989, we had two forms of censorship — censorship of publications and censorship of films — which had been in place practically since the foundation of the State. Yet the new powerful medium, the video film, had no specific form of control. Because of the availability of video films containing extreme and ghastly violence or uninhibited pornography, it was generally recognised that specific legislative provisions were required to control and regulate the supply and importation of video films. Hence the enactment of the Video Recordings Act, 1989. The 1989 Act is, as I said, being brought into operation in stages by ministerial order.

In April 1991, regulations were made which require retail and wholesale video dealers to be licensed with effect from 1 May 1991. These licences are issued by the film censor and authorise the sale or letting on hire of video recordings at or from a particular premises. A licence remains in force for a period of 12 months. Between 1 May 1991 and 30 April 1992,1,534 retail and ten wholesale licences were issued. The fees for licences are: retail: £100, and wholesale £4,000.

In July 1991, a further order was made enabling the film censor to exercise his powers under the Act to prohibit the supply of video films which he considers to be unfit for viewing. To date, the censor has issued prohibition orders in respect of 71 such video films.

A further order and regulations will be required in the coming months to commence the remainder of the Act and enable the film censor to examine all new video films intended for supply and also to commence the systematic examination of all video films already on the market. [1824] The censor will examine the videos to determine whether they are suitable for viewing and, if suitable, will assign one of the following four classifications to them: (i) fit for viewing by persons generally; (ii) fit for viewing by persons generally but for a child under 12 years only in the company of a responsible adult; (iii) fit for viewing by persons aged 15 years or more; and (iv) fit for viewing by persons age 18 years or more. However, because of the volume of work which will be involved it will be necessary, as I said, to first appoint a number of assistant censors to assist the censor.

In addition to the Bill, administrative and computer systems have to be put in place at the Film Censor's Office to cope with the certification process. Extra staff will have to be recruited and trained on those systems. It is estimated that the Censor's Office will be in a position by the autumn to commence certifying and classifying video films.

While it is not possible to quantify accurately the number of video films involved, information received from trade interests suggests that the task could not be performed by the Film Censor in addition to censoring cinema films. The trade say they will be submitting in the region of 700 new video films each year to the censor for examination. This figure does not take account of those video films already on the market. It is estimated that there could be as many as 12,000 to 15,000 video films already on the market which will also require examination.

With that background in mind I would now like to address in broad terms the provisions of the Bill before the House.

As I have said the main purpose of the Bill is to amend existing legislation to enable the Minister for Justice to appoint assisant censors to assist the film censor in the performance of his statutory duties and functions. Section 2 of the Bill deals with this. The Bill also provides for the rectification of anomalies in the existing legislation which relate to the fees to be prescribed for appeals to the Censorship of Films Appeal Board. Sections 3,4 and [1825] 5 are the relevant sections of the Bill in this regard.

In section 2 it is proposed to empower the Minister to appoint as many assistant censors as will be required to assist the film censor in the performance of his duties. The assistant censors will be given the same statutory powers as the film censor to make decisions in relation to the certification and classification or prohibition of cinema and video films with the exception of the following powers which will be confined to the Film Censors: (i) the power under the Censorship of Films Act, 1970, to review a decision made over seven years previously in the case of a cinema film; (ii) the power under section 4 (3) of the Video Recordings Act, 1989, to give a higher classification, that is, one indicating suitability for younger viewers, in the case of a video film; (iii) the power under section 7 (3) of the Video Recordings Act, 1989, to revoke a prohibition order in respect of a video film; and (iv) the making of annual and other reports under section 29 of the Act of 1989 to the Minister for Justice on the censor's activities as to censorship of cinema or video films.

Thought was given to whether a system could be devised whereby the assistant censors could operate in a subordinate role to the censor and where final decisions on classification could be left to him. Such a system would have the advantage of guaranteeing uniformity in determining classifications. However, given the sheer volume of work which is involved and the fact that the video producing companies will need speedy decisions on the classification of new videos, it would make such a system unworkable. However, under the system proposed in the Bill, there are provisions aimed at ensuring a uniform approach to classification.

First, it is proposed that the film censor, subject to any directions that may be given to him by the Minister for Justice, may determine which functions an assistant censor may perform and to what extent he or she may perform such functions.

Second, there is provision that the [1826] assistant censors will perform the functions allotted to them under the general superintendence of the film censor and consult with him from time to time about the performance of these functions. These provisions will provide the film censor with the means to establish classification standards and maintain a consistency in their application.

As to the appointment of persons to the position of assistant censor, there are a number of factors which will have to be taken into account in determining their conditions of employment. For example, the video business is subject to peaks and valleys. Some of the variations are seasonal while others are related to customer trends and demands. Regardless of such variations, however, distributors of video films will demand a consistently speedy service from the Film Censor's Office in having their product examined, certified and classified in time to meet planned release dates into the market place. In addition, experience elsewhere has shown that persons employed on the examination and classification of video films maintain consistently better standards of judgment if employed for short periods and given long breaks.

Also, more assistant censors will be required during the first years of examination of video films until such time as the backlog of films already on the market have been dealt with.

It would seem that the appointment of assistant censors on a full-time basis to examine video films would not be the best way to cope with these factors. Other options would be to appoint assistant censors on a contract basis for a definite period of time or to appoint them on a part-time basis as the need arises, or a mixture of both systems. I am having these matters examined at present, but it may not be possible to determine all the issues involved until the operation of classifying the videos gets under way.

Assistant censors will be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas. The annual cost involved will depend on the volume of new video films released each year and the rate at which those films already on the market can be examined. [1827] It is not possible, therefore, to state accurately what the level of cost is likely to be during the first or second year of operation. All costs involved in the operation of the Video Recordings Act, 1989, will be recovered by the charging of fees for services provided. Accordingly, there will not be any net additional cost to the Exchequer.

I would now like to turn to the other proposals in the Bill before the House which are intended to regularise the existing law covering the prescribing of fees for appeals in respect of cinema films and video films — sections 3, 4 and 5 refer.

The effect of the relevant provisions of the Censorship of Films Act, 1923, in relation to appeals in respect of cinema films is that a fee of not more than £5 may be prescribed in each case and, where that appeal is successful the fee should, be refunded. In the case of appeals under the Video Recordings Act, 1989, in respect of video films, the requirement is that the appellant pay such fee as may be prescribed with no provision for repayment of that fee.

If those provisions of the Acts of 1923 and 1989 are allowed to stand further anomalies will exist in that the fee for an appeal in the case of a video could reflect modern day values while the corresponding fee for a cinema film will be set at a limit of £5 and, while this fee may be refunded if the appeal is successful, such is not the case in an appeal involving a video.

What I now propose in the Bill is to regularise the matter by leaving the amounts of the fee in respect of appeals in both cases to be fixed by regulation but to provide that the fees to be paid by the appellant in the case of either a video or a film should be repaid if the appeal is successful.

The provisions in this Bill in relation to the appointment of assistant censors are essential to the implementation of the Video Recordings Act, 1989, that is, the examination and classification or prohibition of all new video films intended for release and the systematic examination of all video films currently on the [1828] market. I would hope, therefore, that I will have the support of this House for the measures proposed. I look forward to an open and informative debate on the proposals.

I wish to assure Members of the House that I will give careful consideration to all views expressed in the course of the debate.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  I welcome the allocation of extra resources and the appointment of assistant censors to the Film Censor's Office. Its objective is to deal with violence and pornography which degrades human life. Our approach to censorship, however, should be put in context. Many of us remember a time when there was an unhealthy approach to censorship. Not alone did it deal with the banning of books and films but it also extended to people not being allowed to speak at meetings in universities because their political views offended the Establishment. They were regarded as being dangerous in some way. By and large, our moves towards a much more liberal regime have been handled with great common sense and sensitivity over the years.

The Irish people are capable of handling the freedom which the absence of a severe form of censorship implies. We must be vigilant to see that censorship is not abused, that it is not interfering with our basic rights of freedom. It is interesting to note that in 1990 the Film Censor's annual report showed that 314 films were presented to the censor, none was banned and three — less than I per cent — were cut; 138 films were issued with limited certificates — 22 films for under 12 year olds with an adult, 51 films for over 15 year olds, 21 films for over 16 year olds and 42 films for over 18 year olds; two films were allowed for limited viewing with cuts — one for over 15 year olds and one for over 18 year olds; three films were referred to the Appeals Board by the distributors and in all three, the decisions to make the cuts were upheld. In the case of limited certificates issued, [1829] three films were also appealed and one was issued with a revised certificate by the Appeals Board. According to the Minister's statement since last July, 71 video films were banned and no film was banned in 1990 for a full year. This shows how different the film industry is from the video industry in its approach to pornography and violence.

The availability of films and videos featuring explicit scenes of sex and violence is outside the area I have just spoken about. We must be extremely concerned at the way in which video nasties depict women in a degrading and dehumanising way. They portray women frequently at the receiving end of the most brutal and sadistic treatment. While we must be liberal and allow adults to view what they decide to view, we must also accept that living in a civilised society demands standards and taking certain stands. We must remove the objectionable and revolting film and video material from circulation in order that its evil influence will be removed.

I welcome the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Bill, 1992, the purpose of which is to provide for the appointment of assistant censors to assist the official censor of films in the performance of his function in relation to the censorship of cinema films and video works.

It is regrettable that such legislation is necessary in our society. It is very sad that there is such exploitation of young people and that there are available video nasties and pornographic and violent films which exploit women and show depraved sex and violence. These are a very big money spinner and are a problem in western society generally. The fact that we must have assistant censors highlights the rapid increase over the last number of years in the availability of video nasties which have created many massive social problems within our communities. The availability of such videos depicting unrestained violence, sexual abuse, mutilation and murder is of extreme public concern.

In recent years there has been a rapid increase in the amount of video equipment purchased. As most outlets rent [1830] rather than sell video cassettes it is easy for young people to obtain and play video material. It is difficult to control that. There are thousands of titles available and the number is being added to by about 1,000 per annum. There is no problem with most of these but some of them are thoroughly objectionable. The objectionable films and videos are totally uninhibited in their depiction of violence and they are also realistic. This must have an effect on impressionable minds not only for young people but also those of more mature years. It is accepted now that they can have an adverse effect on viewers and can result in crimes against innocent people. They also tend to create a general tolerance of what should be unacceptable in society.

If people continue to see violent videos they will regard the type of material shown as the norm. This will lead to increased violence against people and it is our duty as a State to ensure that this does not happen. Pornographic films are totally objectionable. They are degrading to human nature generally, particularly to women. We cannot ignore the fact that there is a heavy responsibility on parents where there are young teenagers or even younger than teenagers involved in viewing such material. The work of the censor of films does not take away the onus on parents to be aware of what kind of videos their young people are watching.

There are those who will say that censorship of films and videos is an unwarranted interference with people's freedom to watch what they like in their homes. While we do not want to be over-restrictive as a society we must accept that there comes a point when the freedom of individuals must be controlled for the good of everybody. There is a need to protect the public from the effects of witnessing scenes such as those portrayed in some of the video nasties available throughout the country.

The primary duty to protect children and young persons rests with the parents and/or guardians or adults having responsibility for young people. It is not practical to expect the Censor's Office to deal with all our problems and the censor [1831] cannot be expected to take over the role of the parent and guardian every time a problem of this nature arises. It is important, however, that the censor and his assistants help in any way they can the parents and guardians of children in their difficult task in today's world.

There are many people who believe that there should be no State control and people should have complete freedom. Other people believe that standards should be imposed. There is no doubt that many people involved in the video business are clear about the fact that they are in the business to make money and that it is up to people themselves to decide what standards they want. Such a situation is very dangerous if it is not controlled.

As a society we must decide for ourselves what standards we set. Just because something is available in another country does not mean it should be available in Ireland. In other countries where there is a lack of such controls the level of violence is out of control and society is totally breaking down. There comes a time when the State must intervene because of the greed of some individuals who disregard their responsibility in order to make as much money as they can.

Censorship creates the danger and the environment for the black market for video nasties and pornographic films. We must do all in our power to prevent this situation arising. In addition to the film and video problem, we have, of course, satellite television available in an ever increasing number of homes. There is no point in having a film censor or a video censor who controls either the video or film business while, at the same time, films or videos which have been banned here are readily available on our television screens. Some agreement should be sought with our European partners in order to decide how to tackle this problem. It is important that the Minister looks seriously at the situation and reports back to us at the earliest possible opportunity as to whether there is a possibility of obtaining agreement with our [1832] European partners on this matter. This is important before our laws become totally farcical in this area.

The availability on our screens of videos or films showing obscenities or violence will bring our censorship laws into disrepute. European controls are necessary and these controls will become more urgent after I January 1993 when the Single European Act comes into force. The objective of this is to have free movement of people and goods throughout the European Community. This will facilitate the importation of violent pornographic films and material. This must not happen and I would ask the Minister to inform the House of the plans of the Government to control the situation. It is important that we do so.

The legitimate video industry employs about 2,000 people and has an annual turnover in excess of £30 million. It is estimated that the illegal pirate trade has a turnover of approximately half this amount and does not pay VAT or PRSI to the Exchequer. There is an urgent need to deal with the problem of piracy in the video industry. Most violent and pornographic videos come from the illegal pirate trade. We must control and eliminate the illegal pirate video trade and I would ask the Minister what his plans are for doing so. People in the illegal piracy areas have no concern about standards; they are only interested in making money. The outcome of their work must be controlled just as crime and violence against the person is controlled.

In the overall context I welcome the Bill.

Mr. Mullooly: Information on Brian Mullooly  Zoom on Brian Mullooly  I welcome the Minister and thank him for introducing the Bill in this House. Like the Bill before us today, the Video Recordings Bill, 1987, was initiated in the Seanad. Despite being interrupted by a general election, it eventually passed through the Oireachtas to become the Video Recordings Act, 1989. During its passage through both Houses it received a very thorough and detailed examination. The debate was very constructive. From the outset, the Minister made it clear that he was open [1833] and willing to consider amendments which would improve the legislation and I welcome the fact that the Minister who is here with us today has stated that he will listen very carefully to any suggestions or proposals made during this debate.

There was a general welcome for the Video Recordings Bill from all parties and from all Members who contributed to the debate. Everyone was agreed that legislation was vitally necessary to control and regulate the sale and the supply of video recordings. In 1987 video outlets were springing up all over the place and video films could be purchased or hired in every town and village throughout the country, and almost every town and village had at least one video shop. There was widespread concern at the wide availability of pornographic and violent videos, or video nasties as they came to be known. Many Members of both Houses referred to the fact that parents, teachers and community leaders were extremely concerned at the kind of obscene material that was available without restriction to children and to young people. Everyone agreed that the situation needed to be controlled and the Bill which was to become the Video Recordings Act, 1989, was regarded as very desirable and very necessary.

Since it was passed, the Act is being brought into operation by degrees. Even though it is being phased in, it would appear that it has already proved to be very effective legislation. There are far fewer complaints now than there were about the availability of so called video nasties. Indeed, the problem would appear to have been eliminated to a great extent and it would appear that many such video films which were in circulation at the time that the Bill was passed have been withdrawn. If this is so, it is a very welcome development and consequence of the Act.

The 1989 Act provides that as a general rule video films which are available to the public have to be certified and classified by the official censor and that video outlets must be licensed. A video film must be classified as being fit for viewing by [1834] persons generally, or being fit for viewing by persons generally but in the case of a child under 12 years of age only in the company of a responsible adult, or fit for viewing by persons aged 15 years or more or fit for viewing by persons aged 18 years or more. Each video passed by the censor will have to be labelled to show the class to which it belongs.

The legislation also provides for the making of prohibition orders in the case of those videos which the official censor considers to be unfit for viewing and there are four grounds on which a prohibition order may be made: first, if the video were likely to cause persons to commit crimes, whether by inciting or encouraging them to do so or by indicating or suggesting ways of doing so or of avoiding detection; second, if the video were likely to stir up hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere because of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation; third, if the video tended, by reason of the inclusion in it of obscene or indecent material, to deprave or corrupt persons who might view it; and fourth, a prohibition order is issued if the video film depicts acts of gross violence or cruelty, including mutilation or torture towards humans or animals. The censor then is obliged to keep a register of certified video works and a register of prohibited video works and severe penalties are provided in the Act for any person found guilty of supplying or distributing a video work in respect of which a prohibition order is in force.

When the 1989 legislation was being debated, there was a general recognition that it would be some time before the situation would be reached when every video film available for sale, hire or supply would be certified and labelled. The Bill before us today is another step towards achieving that goal. It was pointed out that there were thousands of video films already in circulation and it was estimated that approximately 1,000 new titles were coming on the market each year. The Minister today outlined the current situation. He pointed out that [1835] it is estimated that there are 12,000-15,000 video films already on the market which will have to be examined and approximately 1,000 new titles coming on the market each year.

It was inevitable that the legislation would have to be phased in and the three stages decided on were: first, that prohibition orders would be made in respect of some unacceptable video films which were already on the market and in circulation; second, a date would be fixed after which all new video films would have to receive a certificate from the censor and a date would be fixed after which all video outlets would have to be licensed; and third, the fixing of a date by which all video films in circulation would have to be labelled.

It was obvious to everybody when that legislation was going through the Oireachtas that the official censor would not be able to deal with that volume of work on his own and that additional staff would be required. This Bill provides mainly for the additional staff which will be required.

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for the appointment of assistant censors. These assistant censors will assist the official censor of films in the performance of his functions in the censorship of cinema films and video works. The only question I would ask is why is this legislation necessary? In the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Video Recordings Bill in 1987 there was no indication that such legislation would be necessary. The explanatory memorandum simply stated:

Any additional personnel required under the Bill will be attached to the office of the Official Censor of Films and will be provided by way of redeployment from existing staffing resources. It is estimated that four additional administrative and clerical staff will be required as well as three Assistant Censors or their equivalent employed on a part-time basis.

Then the explanatory memorandum went on to give an indication of the [1836] additional expenditure which would be required. As I said, there was no indication that new legislation would be necessary for the appointment of the assistant censors and perhaps the Minister, when he is replying, might indicate why such legislation is necessary.

However, if the legislation is necessary, and I assume it is when it is before the House, I welcome it because it will expedite the situation we all want to see in place where every video film which is available for viewing will be labelled and that label will show the classification that has been given to that film by the censor. Some people have reservations about censorship. I have none and I believe that in recent years particularly, censorship in the case of films and publications has worked well. The Censorship of Films Act and the Censorship of Publications Act are legislation that this country would be much worse off without. The argument is often advanced that censorship impinges on the freedom of the individual but I believe that the general good must take precedence at all times and that material which is likely to deprave or corrupt should be censored and should not be available generally. Of its nature, censorship had to be subjective to some extent, but I welcome the statement in the Minister's speech that every effort will be made to ensure that the censorship will be applied in a consistent way.

I would like to see an even number of male and female assistant censors appointed. I know the Minister will be sympathetically disposed to accepting that suggestion because situations will arise when an assistant censor may feel that a second opinion would be helpful. If a particular video film were viewed by a male and female censor, you would get a very objective asssessment of that film.

As Senator Neville pointed out, in the case of children the parents will always continue to be the best censors. In this day and age parents have to very vigilant in relation to what their children see, read and hear and there is a great onus on them to monitor what their children view both on television and video and to [1837] advise and guide them on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Children and young people will be much more influenced by the advice and guidance they get from their parents than from other sources.

Senator Neville referred to the fact that satellite television is widely available and that crime, violence, sex and murder are shown in many different programmes. There is no question but that what people view on television can influence their attitudes, values and conduct.

I hope that when this legislation is passed, and when the Video Recordings Act is finally in operation, there will be very strict policing of video outlets. As Senator Neville said, there will always be the law breakers, those who are engaged in video piracy and those who, because of the fast buck mentality will never be completely eliminated from society; there will always be those who will stock prohibited materials. I hope that situation would be strictly policed and that no leniency would be shown towards individuals who flout the law.

Under the Bill there is an obligation on the Official Censor to publish a list of banned videos. I happened to see in yesterday's Evening Press a report on the front page of the censor having banned 17 more videos. The report stated:

Seventeen video films have been banned by Official Film Censor Sheamus Smith because in his opinion they would tend to “deprave or corrupt” people viewing them.

The latest prohibition orders under the Video Recordings Act, 1989, follow a number of bans announced earlier this year.

The report then went on to give the titles of some of the 17 video films referred to in the report. I wonder about the wisdom of allowing the titles of such films to be published so widely because that kind of publicity can generate a demand for these particular films and if there is a demand for anything there is always somebody willing and ready to supply that demand if the price is right. Perhaps the Minister [1838] might have a look at this. I know the censor will have to maintain a register of prohibited works, but how widely the titles listed in that register should be published is a matter that the Minister might have examined. Perhaps there should be some restriction to the extent to which the titles should be publicised.

I welcome this Bill and I know it will have a speedy passage through this House.

Professor Murphy: Information on John A Murphy  Zoom on John A Murphy  My colleagues, Senator Neville and Senator Mullooly, will forgive me if I say that at times their tones reminded me of the mercifully faroff days when I had to suffer Redemptorists in my parish chapel in Macroom. Admittedly, their tone was only mildly Redemptorist — it was the nice Redemptorist who softened you up for the other man. I do not doubt the sincerity of their high moral tone; I am not for a moment suggesting it is hypocritical, but for me it really struck a chill into my heart when I heard Senator Mullooly hoping that there would be strict policing involved. I thought we had got away from a lot of that mentality, but it seems to me it has surfaced very much again this morning.

Whatever reservations I have about the Bill — and I have a distinct lack of enthusiasm for any Bill which offers more and better censorship — nonetheless I accept that Seanad Éireann is the proper forum in which to introduce it. I think it falls into the category of those legislative matters which are best dealt with by Seanad Éireann and receive a very good scrutiny in Seanad Éireann. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Bill has been initiated here.

There is also another very appropriate context in which to place this Bill, another reason it is appropriate that it should be brought into Seanad Éireann. It was in this House in 1942 — and it is no harm to remind ourselves of this from time to time — that there took place a notorious debate on the Censorship of Publications Act which mainly centred around a recent publication of an utterly innocuous and quite charming book, the ruminations of a homespun [1839] philosopher, The Tailor and Ansty. Yet, that book was the subject of the most ponderous moralising in this House in which the majority of the Members, I regret to say, shared and in which the name of Sir John Keane must be quoted as an honourable exception.

On that occasion — and Members may refresh themselves as to what was said then by looking at Vol. 27 of the Seanad Official Report of the debate, which commenced on 18 November 1942 — Sir John Keane read quotations from The Tailor and Ansty into the record of the House. Incredibly from our point of view 50 years on, those quotations were censored by the Cathaoirleach, as far as I can see, because when the report appeared at the next day's sitting when the debate was resumed the report simply read “At this point Sir John Keane quoted from the book” and that was it. Seanad Éireann was able to exercise its own censorship on that occasion; and indeed that it no credit to this House. It is salutary to remind ourselves that this House was guilty of one of the most fatuous examples of censorship in the long and dreary history of that institution.

For those who have not read the The Tailor and Ansty let me assure them that it was a most innocuous and charming book; yet it was described as containing the vilest obscenity. The great fear of people like Professor William McGuinness was that if the excerpts were allowed stand in the Official Report the people of Ireland would be totally corrupted by references to the activities of farmyard animals described in the most innocuous way. It is no wonder then that Sir John Keane suggested to the House it was part of what he called “Literary Gestapo”, which I think is a very good phrase to coin for that particular establishment at that time. As it was, the Official Report while not even containing the offending excerpts from the censored book, was a best seller. It was about the only time in the history of this House that its Official Report was widely purchased by the curious public outside. That is a [1840] context into which we should put today's debate as well.

I have my doubts about the wisdom of any legislation which shores up the existing system. The Bill shows an unfortunate sense of timing, coming before us as it does within the octave of a latter-day piece of fatuous State activity, because whenever censorship is concerned the State makes as ass of itself. With respect to my two previous colleagues, this is the main criticism I would make of their contributions. They assume that somehow it is proper for the State to act as a censor of morals. The State has been notoriously hamfisted in doing so over the years and there is proof in plenty of that when you read the unbelievable list of distinguished figures banned by our Censorship Board in times gone by.

As I said, the Bill shows an unfortunate sense of timing, coming as it does in the octave of the banning of The Guardian newspaper, demonstrating once again what folly it is for the State to posture as the guardian of our morals. What hypocrisies it causes, what confusion if causes. Fortunately, the days of the Seanad debate on The Tailor and Ansty are long behind us.

However — and here I must differ very much from Senator Mullooly who on the whole accepts censorship as a good thing; I regard censorship as at best a necessary evil in particular cases — but there is in our society, and it is reflected in the speeches previously made, a lingering paternalism displayed by the Church and State, the mentality that certain people know best. It is never quite explained, by the way, why the official censor and the new assistant censors to be appointed under this legislation know best. Why do they know better than me about what to censor and what not to censor? What special dispensation have they to discern what can be injurious to the public morality and public order? Who appoints them? Who safeguards them in their decisions? As the old maxim goes, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? and it is very true in this particular case.

I deplore that mentality of lingering paternalism that we are all children to [1841] be protected by wiser and more inspired leaders in Church and State. I suggest that our history has been deplorable in showing up the inadequacies of that mentality, because people have to make their own decisions. I agree that minors have to have decisions made for them and that it would be foolish to question the central role of the parents in this matter, as indeed Senator Neville and Senator Mullooly mentioned, but where grown people are concerned, I suggest that it is backwardness and reaction in every sense to try to stop them making their own moral decisions. That applies to everything — to reading books, looking at videos, deciding whether to vote “yes” or “no” in referenda, etc. We have been kept far too long in that state of childhood.

Admittedly, as far as censorship is concerned the heaviest of the repressive machinery is gone, but the mentality lingers on. I have to say that, regrettably, in addition to the old paternalism there is some evidence of a new maternalism, some evidence that in a section of the feminist movement there is a tendency towards a bizarre alliance between new feminists and old paternalists, between the professional Catholic moralisers and a rather prim type of feminist who wants the old puritanism imposed for new feminist reasons.

I take the point, of course, that there is a kind of pornography which is degrading to women; indeed, one might say that most pornography is degrading to women. However, the answer to that problem is not through censorship but through the mature moral decisions of people to discourage that market. I do not accept that you need censorship and that it is good in any situation to revert to the old censorship. I hope that to the extent that feminists have lent themselves to the old paternalistic purposes they will cease to do so and that they too will recognise that the prohibition of pornography is in the end a matter of personal responsibility.

Turning to the Minister's speech, it is based of course on the Video Recordings Act, 1989. The legislation is there and as [1842] long as the legislation is there it is only sensible, I suppose, to try to make it work. I was not in the Chamber for that debate, I do not recall taking part in it but I am beginning to wonder if that Act is already out of date. Is the business of trying to stop pornographic videos by censorship really an attempt to turn back the tide?

Incidentally, there was no reference in the Minister's speech or in the Bill to the qualifications which these new censors must have. I would like to know what kind of people will occupy part time positions? Is there a provision, for example, that women should be appointed in at least equal numbers to men? I would fully support that view because I think women have a greater sense, less prudery, a greater maturity, a greater earthiness, if you like, combined with commonsense when it comes to matters of this kind. I would like to know who these people are, what are the job specifications, and in his reply I hope the Minister will give us an indication of that.

When I read about thousands of videos having to be censored I find it very depressing — all that drudgery to achieve what end; because it seems to me, as I said, that it goes against the tide in the satellite age. Senator Neville referred to the availability of porn, in various degrees of softness or hardness, on television. There is one channel available in Cork which is, I understand, extremely popular on Saturday nights. It is a German satellite which carries pornography — soft pom as it is called — from about 10 p.m. to 2 o'clock in the morning.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Is it good?

Professor Murphy: Information on John A Murphy  Zoom on John A Murphy  I will discuss these matters with Senator Mooney in private.

I find it very difficult to believe that Senator Neville is serious when he says that the answer to this problem of satellite pornography is to do something about it in Europe. I agree it is serious, but does Senator Neville think our European partners are going to gravely and sagely nod their heads and say “Of course [1843] you Irish are morally superior. We are post-Christian degenerates in Europe. We are very sorry, we will mend our ways and we too will introduce censorship all round?” That is the implication of what the Senator is suggesting, and of course it is totally absurd. What makes it even more absurd is that, in addition to the non-stopability of satellite television, from 1 January 1993 we are to have the virtual disappearance of customs officers. Apart from what is coming through the satellite and the dish and so on, what is the point in censoring videos when people will be able to walk in with them, as they are now, because, for the most part, customs scrutiny has become nominal in recent years and, as I understand it, from I January 1993 will disappear totally.

If we try to decide ourselves that we can establish a pornography free zone in Ireland, we really are compounding the old self-delusion that this is an island of saints. We do it all the time of course, the whole nonsense about saying it is all right if 5,000 women have abortions in England so long as they do not have them here, so long as they do not pollute our soil. We have exactly the same mentality here; it applies all round. It applied long ago to the riots in the Abbey, when people found the mention of shifts in Synge's play The Playboy and the presence of a prostitute in Sean O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars totally unacceptable because it was in Ireland; but in an English music hall, of course, it would be quite all right.

We are the victims of this self-delusion of superiority. We really should grow up if we are thinking we can convert our European partners to our point of view. Censorship is contrary to the spirit of the European Community. Just as protection is in the economic sphere, so also the idea of trying to stop free traffic in goods, including films of various kinds, is totally contrary to the spirit of the European Community.

I would also question whether the availability of pornography — I am not so sure about films which depict extreme [1844] and repellant violence — does really corrupt public morals. The State should not be concerned about this; the State should be concerned about whether pornography corrupts public order — and that is a different matter — whether it contributes to more social mayhem, violence, murder, rape, etc. That is certainly the State's business, but what is the evidence? I have not done any great research on this, but a top off the head reflection is this. Denmark and Holland, two of our degenerate, pagan, immoral European partners, have widespread pornography available, yet they are, as far as I can judge, the most ordered of societies. Conversely, despite the attempt we make here to erect all kinds of shields around ourselves in this island, our level of behaviour in terms of rape and violence is no better than anybody else's because human nature, irrespective of outside stimuli, is a constant phenomenon in its behaviour. So I doubt very much that you can talk about society breaking down where these things are available.

Senator Neville referred to the black market and pirate videos and so on. Surely the black market is a direct consequence of censorship? There is no need for a black market where the law does not prohibit films of this nature.

I have no enthusiasm for this Bill. I do not know that any useful purpose will be served by a number of people working behind closed doors with thousands of dreary and inferior films. Who is going to be better off that way? Incidentially, I think one of the rather fatuous activities is classifying the videos for home consumption. Are we seriously expecting parents to tell their children they will have to leave the room because the film is for people over 18 or over 15. The idea of applying that kind of standard to a domestic atmosphere boggles the mind. I wonder what criterion will the censors apply to the different categories. They might follow the rather facetious rule which, I understand, was observed in Hollywood at one stage. In the films for general viewing, the hero gets the girl; [1845] over 15, the villain gets the girl; and over 18 everybody gets the girl.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Over 21 the hero gets the villain.

Professor Murphy: Information on John A Murphy  Zoom on John A Murphy  I will not go into other variations, Senator Norris, but I find it hard to believe that this kind of categorisation can be effectively introduced to the domestic sitting room. I have no enthusiasm for this Bill. I will not challenge a division on it, but I do think that people could be better employed.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  As usual with my friend and colleague, Senator Murphy, his elucidation and defence of sometimes the indefensible is breathtaking and most impressive. I say “the indefensible” because, despite everything Senator Murphy said — and I single him out mainly because I think he would reflect a view in this country and in Europe generally that there should be no barriers at all, that censorship is inherently unstable and indefensible — I would pose the questions: what is the alternative? Are we to have a society in which there is no moral order, where there is no code of behaviour, where there is no acceptable or unacceptable level of behaviour? My personal view is that I am against censorship in principle but I am very much for protection of the innocent. I believe that where the State intervenes with legislation of this type, even in places like Denmark and Holland, there is a genuine desire to ensure that, while you have a liberal, open society, you also protect those whose minds are being formed and who are obviously strongly influenced by the visual image.

There is an old cliché in the newspaper business that one picture is worth a thousand words, that the impact of a photograph or of a visual image has an immediacy about it which the written word does not. Perhaps I could briefly refer to a film I saw in this city last evening —“Basic Instinct”. It stars one of Hollywood's leading actors, Michael Douglas. I am a great cinemagoer, and I know [1846] that the Minister of State present is also a great fan of the cinema, but despite the fact that this extremely well put together production is visually very impressive — it has a panoramic sweep of the San Francisco Bay area — this movie is nothing more than unadulterated pornography.

Professor Murphy: Information on John A Murphy  Zoom on John A Murphy  What time is it on?

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Check the papers, Senator. In fact, you had better book because the cinema is, I understand, sold out; it is packed.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  That indicates market forces.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  The Senator is quite right, it indicates market forces. It shows what happens — I know I am going down a dangerous road here — when there is untramelled access and when people identify something as pornography.

Senator Norris will be delighted to hear this but I have no difficulty with what adults do in private, but I do have a difficulty with certain films in the public arena, despite the classifications — and this particular film is classified as adult and over 18. However, a difficulty arises because of the proliferation of videos over the last decade. I have no doubt that “Basic Instinct” will be appearing on video in the not too distant future and it will be available freely throughout the stores in this country.

I like to class myself as being open-minded and liberal. Since I lived outside this country in my formative years and this had a very strong influence on me — and Senator Murphy mentioned the early days of the State — I cannot be accused of being, as a young Catholic Irishman, coralled and not seeing the other point of view. I like to think that I had an open upbringing and that my overseas experience has helped me to come to conclusions about life.

The point I am attempting to make in singling out this particular movie is that much of what takes place is a graphic portrayal of explicit sexual acts — all in wide screen and full living colour —[1847] which in my opinion had very little to do with the story line, which is quite a good story. It is a thriller. Essentially, I went to it because it had a good story line; it is a good murder mystery.

I was amazed — and not because it was in Dublin; I would have had a similar reaction had it been in New York — that into the mainstream cinema has now come the type of graphic sexual detail I thought had been reserved for adult only videos or the type of thing you would watch behind closed doors. It is precisely that type of movie that legislation of this kind should deal with. What will happen with that movie when it comes out on video? When the new censors come to look at it will they be presented by the film distributors with an edited version, or will they be given the full cinema version on the basis that since it had been shown in the public cinema, why should they present an abridged version?

I am only using that film as an example. I believe that movies of this type are increasingly becoming the norm and there is a need to have some form of policing — not for me, not for the adults in the Savoy Cinema last night, but for young minds who might be attracted to that movie by the stars who feature in it or because of the storyline and half-way through will be plunged suddenly into a world of soft porn. I believe there is a will in the EC not confined to Ireland to ensure there is not censorship which is an emotive word to use but a system of checks and balances. I am not going to criticise Dutch or Danish society. I have been in both countries and I have to say that Ireland, warts and all, has less social upheaval and, relatively speaking, fewer sexual crimes than in either of those countries.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Rubbish.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Senator Norris can say whatever he wishes later. I do not say the type of society in Denmark or Holland is the sort of society I would wish to create here and I will leave it at that. I would [1848] not like to see legalised euthanasia or 12-year olds legally allowed, as they are in those countries, to have sexual intercourse. Two days ago the Dutch Parliament passed laws which now allow prostitution and brothel keeping.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  We have them here although they are not allowed.

Mr. Mooney: Information on Paschal Canice Mooney  Zoom on Paschal Canice Mooney  Senator Norris may call it hypocrisy but I call it having a responsible attitude towards those who must be protected. I am talking about young minds. All of my contribution is directed towards those in their formative years who, and I am reluctant to admit it, need some form of guidance because older people are more aware. We live in quite an evil world where we need checks and balances. Some societies that have reduced these checks and balances have spawned a type of entrepreneur who, given any chink in the law, will immediately move to exploit it and could not care less as long as he or she is making a dollar. It does not only apply to censorship but to a range of laws. It applies to the availability of drugs. Surely all Senators must accept that society has to be built on certain basic premises, that we need a consensus on what is not acceptable behaviour. In that context legislation of this nature is vital.

I do not envy the assistant censors. As the Minister has pointed out, thousands of videos are coming through. I agree with Senator Murphy that I do not know how they are going to decide rationally on what is suitable for viewing by the rest of us. They will perform an important function and being human beings, they will make mistakes. No Department could draw up the criteria to decide on who was most qualified to decide on what is acceptable. The principle behind the legislation is to provide some form of checks and balances. The people who will be put in charge of this area will try to do the as best they can.

The type of society Senator Murphy talked about is dead and gone, thank God. It was not only unique to Ireland. He talked about the reference to the [1849] word “shift”. It was not long before that and it may have been at the same time, that people throughout Europe covered piano legs with fabric because they were considered obscene. Times, fashions and trends change. It is not relevant to compare what pertained 50 years ago with today's modes or attitudes.

I support the principle of this Bill. Even though I am not in favour of censorship per se, I accept that we must have some form of social checks and balances. I know that Senator Norris is straining at the leash and far be it from me to prevent him form getting on his hind legs and criticising all I have said. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  I welcome the Minister to the House. I have a lukewarm welcome for the Bill. I share many of the reservations expressed by Senator Murphy in relation to our censorship history and I refer to the manner in which we established the Censorship of Films Board in 1923. It is a considerable irony that in 1923 when we were in the middle of a civil war following the establishment of the new State we should find time to produce relatively extensive legislation to ban and censor in order to protect public morals. We were establishing ourselves as a free State and one of our first acts of independence was to draw a curtain around that free State to protect it from certain types of information. If we look at the definition of censorship in the Act the Minister will agree that it is vague and could be interpreted as a dislike for any graphic treatment of sexual practice and a certain prudity in relation to behavioural details rather than as a real concern for the quality of society. I will go into that in a moment.

As Senator Murphy indicated, we have had an unfortunate tradition and history of the enforcement of censorship, particularly in relation to literary works. We are an extremely prolific nation with a large number of world renowned authors but virtually all of our distinguished writers have come within the ambit of the censor and have had their books banned at one time or another. When we look [1850] back at instances of banning in later years we wonder what the hubbub was about and how it reached the proportions it did. Of course, many writers said that getting a book banned was valuable free publicity and ensured that sales went up around the world and under the counter at home in Ireland.

We have a particularly bad reputation for the exercise of censorship. It seems to have been informed by petty, puerile, prudish considerations in many cases. I know the Minister will probably agree with what I say and would not wish us to continue down that road. It is important to raise these issues because they refer to our self image, to how we perceive ourselves as a nation. We have had from the foundation of the State a certain chauvinistic belief that the Gaels were in some way superior to outsiders. The State came into existence in an atmosphere of triumphalism. It was a form of self-delusion from which we have never recovered. We are continually seeking to put a wall around the island as if this little island out in the Atlantic must be preserved in all its authentic purity and Gaelic goodness. We regard our tradition and history as wonderful with no warts at all. We believe that certain things do not happen in Ireland so, therefore, we do not need legislation to regulate them.

There has been a strong Jansenist religious input into our censorship history which is sustained by clerical authority which images private and public morality largely in sexual terms. That tendency has had a malignant influence on the manner in which we perceive private and public morality and Irish legislation has reflected this to our disadvantage as an adult State and society. That is the baggage we bring with us to this debate.

In recent times we have found ourselves questioning rights to information about fundamental entitlements. We saw it most recently in the interpretation by the High Court, and subsequently by the Supreme Court, of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, even though it was an obiter dicta that certain information must be withheld that might lead [1851] to the procurement of abortion. We got ourselves into a dicey situation by introducing that amendment and not making regulations as to how it would operate. I do not want to go into the background of the amendment which has placed us in the ludicrous position where one section of the population enjoy rights to travel refused on gender grounds to another section. If we go back into our history we will find the roots of that situation.

I am very concerned about section 31 of the Broadcasting Act.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Seán Doherty  Zoom on Seán Doherty  We are dealing with the Censorship of Films (Amendment) Bill, 1992.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  I am merely painting in the background to the censorship legislation before us and it is my last point in that respect. We ban people from a particular channel of communication when it may be preferable to take a regulatory position rather than impose an outright ban. We tread on delicate ground in our interpretation of public morality and freedom of expression. The broadcasting medium covered by section 31 of the Broadcasting Act is a State medium and is subject to State controls which should devise appropriate means of processing information and not impose a total ban on certain speakers.

It is important to look at the definition in section 7 (2) of this Bill of what the censor is to look for. A certificate is granted by the official censor “unless he is of opinion that such picture or some part thereof is unfit for general exhibition in public by reason of its being indecent, obscene or blasphemous or because the exhibition thereof in public would tend to inculcate principles contrary to public morality or would be otherwise subversive of public morality”. The Minister will agree that the definition is vague and wideranging. The censor has the power to act on his opinion without even a proviso that it be a reasonable opinion. His power extends from relatively specific areas of concern to something as broad as “or would be otherwise subversive [1852] of public morality”. In other words, there are no parameters to what the opinion of the censor can determine. We all know that opinions change dramatically, not only from decade to decade, but from year to year. A week is a long time in politics and in the present circumstances we seem to change our views quite dramatically within a short space of time. An opinion held by someone ten years ago may be quite different now.

Legislation that is framed so broadly is open to abuse. The Minister will appoint the censor and the assistant censors. These ladies and gentlemen will have within their remit power of decision as to whether a video or film is fit for viewing by the Irish people. The mechanism of appointment is flawed if the Minister makes the appointment. The definition as to how censors will operate within their area of responsibility is also flawed. The criteria for decision making are flawed in that they rest on the opinion of the authorised person. It is unsatisfactory legislation and it is not good enough to express provisions in those terms. The least the Minister could do, seeing that we are in the process of introducing amendments which recommend mostly the addition of extra censors to the list is to extend the criteria and definitions here to match those in the video recordings legislation.

The Minister said the workload of the assistant censors will be largely in the area of video recordings. The video recordings legislation contains clearer parameters than those specified here and includes some of the same provisions. One shared provision is that the official censor will view the material first to determine whether it would be likely to cause persons to commit crimes by inciting or encouraging them to do so or by indicating or suggesting ways of doing so or of avoiding detection and, secondly, in an enlightened provision to determine if it would be likely to stir up hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or [1853] national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation.

That is a more specific type of approach. In the first instance it focuses on crimes that could be committed, not on a question of opinion as to whether something is indecent or otherwise. Secondly, it focuses on the question of racism against minorities or against particular groups in society, an area we should focus on much more. It spoils it all, however, with the last concern, “lest the material would tend by reason of the inclusion in it of obscene or indecent matter to deprave or corrupt persons who might view it”. It gets loose towards the end with questionable effect. At least the Video Recordings Act has attempted to be specific about the categories in which censorship should be permitted. While the official censor is appointed by the Minister with narrow terms of reference and the power to express his opinion as to the suitability of videos or films, then we are going to encourage complaints and risk of abuse of the power to determine what should be banned and so on.

The Appeals Board is the second arm of the censorship mechanism and I place the same question mark around its operation. The appeals mechanism, as I understand it, takes place at the behest of the Minister who appoints the members of the commission or of the Appeals Board. Consequently we are coming very close to allowing an appointed person to be the judge in their own case since the Minister is the appointing authority throughout. We need a more independent approach.

I wonder whether it is proper to have an Appeals Board or censor established by the Minister? It is not properly a judicial function? Is it constitutional that somebody appointed in this fashion should exercise the equivalent of a judicial function? It is a judicial process that should properly be exercised in the courts.

Secondly, is it proper that a decision should be taken in advance? The normal procedure is that something is presented and in the absence of a complaint is not removed. From the Minister's statement [1854] here it appears that what the assistant censors will be doing is looking at the films already in circulation. It will not be a prior examination but a post factum one.

I would like the Minister in his concluding remarks to reveal whether he feels that we are adhering to section 34 of the Constitution which vests judicial process and judicial powers in the courts. We are giving a large body or powers to the official censor who must merely express an opinion and we are giving considerable powers to an Appeals Board which is also appointed by the Minister, thereby ensuring that no independent process is observed in the examination of videos or films that come into the State. We are talking about an industry and about livelihoods and about due process of law taking place in this State.

I listened to Senator Mooney's concerns about some of our neighbours who have gone down the road of debauchery by legislating for certain matters that we seem more anxious to prevent rather than to regulate. I do not know of any statistics that would prove the moral environment in this country is better than in any of the other EC member state. This is a complex issue. There is no doubt that we have a culture of violence on this island. Violence is counter-productive and contrary to public and private morality and no other EC member state has a similar history of violence to Ireland. In terms of sexual morality there is no doubt that we are obsessed with it and that obsession is evident in our attitude towards books and films and video recordings.

Lastly, this legislation obliges us to depend on the opinion of an individual person as to suitable mores for our society. Recently a film came before our censors which did not depict graphic sexual activity but which contained strong feminist message and it seems that the decision taken to ban that film was largely on the basis of what was perceived as a feminist attack on macho attitudes. The opinion of a film censor may reflect the time warp that person occupies and may not reflect the changing cultural mores of society. The Minister should [1855] address the manner in which we conduct our business in this area.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I oppose this Bill. I will not call a vote on it because I think it would be useless, but I would like my opposition to this Bill in principle to be noted by the House. This is despite the fact that I spoke on the video Bill and managed to get inserted some of the clauses to which my colleague Senator Costello referred — the clauses extending the provisions of that Bill to take into account the travelling community and the gay community. I did this although at the time I also expressed my reservations because I am in principle opposed to censorship.

I do not have to go into the historical accounts given by Senator Murphy to remind Senators that this House was disgracefully involved in the saga of the Tailor and Ansty, the tale of Timothy Buckley of Gouganebarra, whose innocent book which reflects the reality of country life in Ireland, was excoriated in this House. The record of the proceedings of the Seanad was removed and mutilated on the pretext that the citizens of Ireland might go out and buy it in large quantities with the intention of self-pollution and corruption. It was a laughable concept.

We have a disgraceful history in terms of censorship. This is linked with hypocrisy. I listened with wry amusement to Senator Mooney's fatuous self-congratulation about the moral standards of this country and the comparisons which could favourably be drawn between this country and Denmark and Holland. Let me put on the record that, in my opinion, the moral climate of both Holland and Denmark is infinitely superior to what obtains here, with its shifting and ambiguous public postures of morality. I was very impressed reading, during the recent controversy about abortion, the fact that in Holland, a society frequently held up to contempt for its liberal postures of various sexual manners, because of the fact that there is extensive and explicit sexual education in schools, free [1856] accessibility and availability of contraceptive devices of all kinds, and abortion on demand, there is a lower level of abortion per capita than we know of in this country despite the fact that it is outlawed. May I say also that there is a considerable appetite for pornography and violence in this country? I hear people round the town talking about various public houses which show obscene videos on Sunday mornings after Mass. That tells the whole story of Ireland in my humble opinion.

Senator Mooney referred to this film “Basic Instinct”. I violently object to the film “Basic Instinct” because of its negative and highly discriminatory attitudes towards the gay community; in fact the filming of this item was picketed in Los Angeles and San Francisco because of its bias against the gay community. Nevertheless, I do not believe that it should be censored. Senator Mooney referred to graphic and explicit treatment of sexual matters, what is wrong with it? Why are people so ashamed of sexuality? Why are they so offended by what the poet William Blake calls the “human form divine”? Why should two people making love, or the visual portrayal thereof, be regarded as disgusting or nauseating? I do not think it is, and I do not see any reason why it should be censored. I do not know what people have to be ashamed of. The naked body is a beautiful thing. Look at the pictures of the Renaissance, Greek statuary, look at the celebrations of the body in books like D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, Women in Love, The Rainbow and The Plumed Serpent. Lawrence rightfully said we know only really one thing, what it is to be alive now and in the flesh. Whatever the dead know, they may know something else but they do not know that. I am, thank God, not dead yet and I glory in being alive and in the flesh, inadequate as I am.

Mr. Neville: Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Hear, hear.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I am not sure if the Senator is praising my inadequacy or my celebration of the flesh. I do not know why Senator Mooney was so fastidious about [1857] what he called graphic treatment of human sexuality which I must say I would find appetising——

Acting Chairman (Mr. Staunton): Information on Myles Staunton  Zoom on Myles Staunton  Senator Norris, if you will forgive me, I would prefer if you did not make repeated remarks on Senator Mooney's comments because he is not in the House to defend himself. A passing reference is all right, but I would prefer you not to continue in that vein.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I am addressing the substance of his argument and I propose to continue addressing it because he made the argument and I am addressing the argument. I am not attacking him personally.

Acting Chairman:  I have no problem with you addressing the broad subject of the debate, but I do not think you should continue to name Senator Mooney because he is not here.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Senator X.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Senator X as my colleague Senator X, Y, Z kindly prompted. This is an argument that must be counted. The Senator said a good murder mystery was spoiled by graphic sex scenes. In other words, blood and gore is fine, it is entertainment for the kiddies and so on, but why do you have to spoil it with all these nasty sensual details? I am sorry to say — perhaps I am a bit odd, and as this House knows, there is well tested evidence of that point — but I would reverse the order and think that a nice story of human sexuality which would gratify many people, not all of them concentrated in the back row of the cinema, was spoilt by the unpleasant details of human murder, evisceration and mutilation. That would be the way I would sort out my values.

When we consider censorship, we must appoint a censor. Who is this person? I notice that the censor is continually referred to as “he.” In other words this is presumably a heterosexual male who will do all our choosing for us and decide [1858] what he considers suitable for viewers. I do not propose to yield my adult choice to some anonymous bureaucrat who is given the powers of choosing what I see, particularly in the light of the extremely vague wording of the criteria as regards the material he will be employed to judge.

“Unsuitable for viewing', films which protray sex in a totally objectionable manner,” what does this mean? We talk about “extreme and ghastly violence” or “uninhibited pornography”. The word “pornography” comes from two Greek roots —porne graphein, meaning the writing of prostitutes. Vera Hollander's, The Happy Hooker, or the book by the blue-blooded New England hostess on massage artistes are specifically what is meant by pornography according to the lexicographical definition, but I do not think that is what is meant. If you look at the vague terminology, books that come to my mind, or films of these books, are Macbeth, the Bible, the Odyssey and Dante's Divine Comedy. They all contain explicit sexual references and murderous details of human savagery. I consider this whole question of definition an extremely difficult one which has not been sufficiently addressed in this Bill.

I would also like to express some compassion for the censor and his or her assistants. We have heard about how frightfully damaging it is to watch even one of these films, yet we propose to subject some unfortunate individual to the concentrated dosage of 600 or 700 of these films. Have the Government made any provision for the containment of this individual when the impact of these videos finally comes home to roost, and he sets off on a trail of carnage and rape all over the country — if, of course, they believe, as I do not, that these films have the directly corrupting effect that is pompously presented to us in the argument for this Bill? What is the fate of these unfortunate people if they are to be shot over the edge by watching all this muck, filth and dirt? It seems to me to be completely illogical, and I am against censorship.

The Minister referred to the history [1859] of literary censorship, and this is a very serious subject. Senator Murphy referred to the Tailor and Ansty controversy. It is not that long ago since issues of the index of prohibited publications were published. I cannot remember exactly their title. It was most extraordinary reading because the censor, whether censoring books, films or videos should possess one special talent, namely, the capacity to discriminate; in other words, to tell the difference between filth and high art. However, apparently during the years the censor was unable to detect any difference between Plato and the “Porno Screw Colourbook Illustrated”, Volume One, or Boccaccio and the bum biters' annual. A mind that cannot detect any difference between this kind of material is, in my opinon, so lacking in discrimination that he or she is unworthy to be a censor.

We may congratulate ourselves that this era is now past, but I wonder if it is. I have had material removed from my post over the years. A postgraduate student of mine sent me a personal letter and included a paperback novel in which he thought I might be interested. Regrettably, it contained no explicit or graphic descriptions of sexuality, but because of the cover it might have been inaccurately assumed to contain lewd material. In Sheriff Street sorting office that book was removed from the package containing the personal letter and a little note put in saying, “the following book has been abstracted and referred to the Censorship of Publications Act”. That was about ten years ago and, in fact, I referred to it in a case I took to the European Court. Let us not assume this is still not happening. I have been advised by the English Department in Trinity College, Dublin where I work that in the past couple of weeks a consignment of books ordered by the English Department in Trinity College, Dublin has been interfered with in the post office. A parcel from Blackwell Publishers in Oxford was posted Royal Mail Parcel Post International Standard Service on 15 May 1992, delivered to the English Department [1860] in Trinity College on Thursday, 21 May 1992 and opened the following afternoon. Instead of the 20 reference books, all Blackwell publications, which were expected, only 13 such books — some damaged and some lacking dust-jackets — were found inside. The only agency intervening between sender and addressee was the Irish Customs service. In substitution, however, there were six non-Blackwell Publications and it is rather interesting to note them. They were Helen Frank's Mummy Doesn't Live Here Anymore; Jennifer Lynch's The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, A Twin Peaks book; Nikki Bradford's The Well Woman Self-Help Directory published in association with Marie Stopes Well Woman Health Clinics, Sidgewick and Jackson, which contains a chapter on abortion and a list of addresses and telephone numbers for clinics and advisory services in Great Britain; The Oxford History of the Classical World; The Hutchinson's Softback Encyclopaedia; and David Crystal's The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language. Those books were substituted for the missing ones which included The Encyclopaedia of the Enlightenment, the Encyclopaedia of the American Revolution and books on the cultural history of the Renaissance.

It is perfectly obvious to me what happened. There was a mass examination of postal material, particularly parcels containing books, and they were scattered all round the place and we got somebody else's parcel, I do not know what on earth they imagine that Mummy Doesn't Live Here Any More has to say to the English Department of Trinity College, Dublin or, although it is very welcome, The Woman's Self Help Directory, including the names of all those abortion clinics and so on. That is not a service of which, I have to say, I stand currently in need. It is extraordinary when we are censoring telephone numbers that we will not allow The Guardian newspaper in, but they abstract material of professional interest to an English Department and substitute this melange of rubbish instead into a list of books. Therefore, I ask the Minister to be very careful in this area.

[1861] I made the point in relation to the video Bill about what would happen the unfortunate censor if he or she were exposed to all this material and part of my reasoning seems to have been taken on board because I note the Minister stated that, “in addition, experience elsewhere has shown that persons employed on the examination, and classification of video films, maintain consistently better standards of judgment if employed for short periods and given long breaks”. Obviously, they show a tendency to crack under the strain.

This is largely a laughable matter. I do not believe it will work. I do not think that people should be subjected unwillingly to offensive material but, just as in the case of the drinks trade in the United States of America in the 1920s, when you prohibit something you automatically create a black market. Professor Murphy argued very cogently with regard to the classification of videos when he said it is really unworkable in terms of home entertainment. It is not practical to imagine that parents would say to a child “you are only 17 years, 11 months and 29 days so off to bed while we watch this video”. However, classification may be helpful in one way that Senator Murphy did not allude to, and that is that when a parent intends to exercise responsible supervision over children, the existence of a classification system will assist them in indicating to children the categories of video they consider to be suitable for viewing by minors.

On the whole, I think this is unworkable. The only thing that could be said in its favour is that it will take a few miserable wretches off the dole queue, probably corrupt and pervert them, but they may well have some kind of a whizz while they are being corrupted. I do not think it is serious legislation and I find it impossible to take it seriously.

Professor Raftery: Information on Tom Raftery  Zoom on Tom Raftery  I want to put a few points on the record. This House has a miserable history as far as censorship is concerned, making an absolute laughing stock of itself in relation to The Tailor and Ansty. I read that book some 25 years [1862] after it was dealt with in this House and I could not understand what Senators at that time found so objectionable about it.

Having said that, I believe censorship will not work in this case. The State feels obliged or under pressure by certain sections of society to legislate for morality. That is not possible. We are meddling about with morality in the area of contraceptives. We talk about whether contraceptives should be available to children or teenagers at 18, 17 or 16 years of age, when the whole world knows that if an 18-year old can buy them the obvious thing he or she will do is to sell them on the black market to younger children. We feel that if we have legislation on the Statute Book then that is enough; whether it can be enforced or not does not seem to matter and that is not good enough.

There is a particular concern here about sexual morality, but there are other kinds of morality — or lack of morality — that are very disturbing and to which we do not seem to give much thought. We have plenty of evidence in regard to a lack of morality in certain circles over the past number of years. However, as far as video nasties are concerned, minors should be protected, but that is not the function of the State. That is the function of parents but parents nowadays seem to want to abdicate their responsibility in this area and call upon the legislators to protect their children from the influences of bad books, bad television or videos. It is impractical for the State to do that. How can we keep out video nasties that are beamed by satellite into our homes, how can we control the videos coming into this country when we have complete freedom of goods and services. It is just impractical.

I will not oppose the Bill but at the same time, I will not support it; I just want to put on the record that I believe it is ineffective. If it works, fine, but in the final analysis the only way minors can be protected is by parents taking responsibility to protect them and not expecting the Government to employ people to read books, view videos, films [1863] and so on. That simply does not work; as a previous speaker said, it creates a black market and there is evidence of this worldwide. As Senator Norris said there is the evidence of the prohibition in the United States and the European Community have enacted legislation banning products. It has made millionaires out of gangsters and criminals out of hard working people. That is all I have to say on the subject, but I hope parents will realise that the State cannot protect their children; their protection is the parents' responsibility and theirs alone.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Mr. Daly): Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I thank Senators for their contributions to the debate. As the Minister explained in his introductory speech, this Bill is simply to enable the provision of the Video Recordings Act, 1989, to be brought fully into operation. I think there is general agreement that the video market needs to be adequately controlled to prevent the circulation of violent and pornographic material. All the necessary controls were provided for in the 1989 Act.

What we are about now is simply providing the necessary resources to the Censor's Office so that the last link in the chain of controls provided for in the 1989 Act can be brought into operation — the classification of all videos.

I will deal briefly with some points raised by Senators during the debate and I will try to amalgamate as many of the points as I can.

Censorship, whether of books, films or videos, is a difficult issue. There are those in society on the one hand who would like to see very strict standards, one might say very conservative standards, applied in deciding what books, films or videos should reach the marketplace. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that any form of censorship is wrong and that people should be totally free to read or view what they want. Therefore, in operating a system of censorship in a democratic State one must, like in all things, try to achieve a consensus and a balance.

[1864] Censorship cannot be so strict as to prohibit anything which might give offence or be unacceptable even if only to the most conservative of citizens. It can only be aimed at preventing the circulation of what the majority of society find unacceptable or that which clearly presents a threat to the common good. People who earn their livelihood in the book trade or the film and video trade should not be unduly restricted in conducting their business. Neither should readers or viewers be unduly obstructed in their choice of reading or viewing material.

The Video Recordings Act, 1989, was drafted on the basis of this philosophy. It aims only to prevent the supply of those video films which the public generally would not wish to see circulating in the country and to provide a system of safeguards especially for young persons. While Senator Murphy agrees that minors need to be directed, on the one hand he seemed to think that in some cases there was a necessity for this and in others there was not. I found it difficult to decide whether he supported the Bill or was against it.

It must be emphasised that the legislation does not regard the censor or the assistants as omnipotent moral arbiters.

With regard to prohibiting the supply of videos, they must exercise their powers stricly in accordance with the criteria set out in the Act. They can only refuse to supply a certificate for a video if they are satisfied that it is unfit for viewing for a number of reasons; first, if it would be likely to cause persons to commit crimes, whether by inciting or encouraging them to do so or by indicating or suggesting ways of doing so or of avoiding detection; second, if it would be likely to stir up hatred against a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation; and third, if it would tend by reason of the inclusion in it of obscene or indecent matter, to deprave or corrupt persons who might view it. That is the [1865] general trend of the type of things covered in this Bill.

In terms of classifying a video as being suitable for general viewing or suitable for over 18s only, the censor, and the assistant censors under his or her guidance, will be doing no more than ensuring that videos are labelled in such a way as to offer a guidance to parents as to the type of subject matter which may be on the video. For example, simply because a particular video may be classified by the censor as being suitable only for viewing by persons over 18 years, this will not guarantee that it will not be viewed by a person under that age. Once the video is taken home from the shop it is a matter for parents to supervise its viewing.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide guidance so that people will know what is on the video. To a large degree, it is for parents and others to ensure that the rating classification is complied with.

I want to deal with a few other points raised. I was asked what powers will be given to assistant censors and how will the film censor maintain a consistency in standards.

The Bill proposes to reserve four specific functions to the film censor. These are the power to review a decision made over seven years previously in the case of a cinema film; the power to give a higher classification, that is, one indicating suitability for younger viewers in the case of a video film; the power to revoke a prohibition order in respect of a video film and the making of reports to the Minister for Justice on the censor's activities.

Assistant censors will be conferred with all the other powers under the legislation. However, they will only perform the functions allocated to them by the film censor and, in performing these functions they will be subject to the general superintendence of the film censor and obliged to consult with him. In other words, they will act for the censor and will be obliged to consult with him.

It would be the intention that all persons appointed to the position of assistant censor would receive individual and collective training when appointed and that [1866] regular consultations and group meetings will be held by the film censor. Such measures will ensure that a consistency in the standards of certification and classification will be maintained.

Senator Neville referred to satellite television and the Minister shares his concern about satellite television broadcasting video nasties. This is the responsibility of another Minister, the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications. I understand that the broadcasting of television between states in Europe is being dealt with by a European Community directive at present and I suggest that point should be taken up with the appropriate Minister.

Senator Mullooly raised the problems in relation to the publication of prohibited titles. The 1989 Act requires a censor to publish each prohibition order in Iris Oifigiúil. These orders only take effect when they are published and it is questionable if the courts or the Garda would take action against any persons supplying prohibited videos if the titles of the videos were not made know in advance.

A number of Senators asked about the qualifications for the position of assistant censor and if women will be appointed. Of course women can be appointed and I have asked the technical people to examine why the words “he or she” cannot be inserted in the legislation. The Minister for Justice makes the appointments and there are no special academic or technical qualifications for the position of assistants provided persons have a practical common sense attitude and possibily have an interest in films and videos, would be non-prejudicial and could perform their functions and tasks objectively.

Senator Costello raised an important point — whether there may be a conflict between the powers given to the Censor and the Appeals Board and Articles of our Constitution. I have asked that the points he raised be examined before Committee Stage because I am not in a position to deal with that point now, but between now and Committee Stage it will [1867] be possible to deal with it effectively. Senators Norris and Murphy both raised important points but it is not possible to go into great detail on them now. May I draw the Senators' attention to the Tenth Report of the Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism on the control of video nasties which was dealt with in this House. It was argued that the introduction of controls was an unwarranted interference with people's freedom to watch what they like in their own homes, However, the committee considered——

Acting Chairman:  The House agreed to adjourn at 1 o'clock until 2 o'clock. If it is your intention to conclude, and if the House consents, you may continue for a couple of minutes.

Mr. Daly: Information on Brendan Daly  Zoom on Brendan Daly  I will conclude now. The commitee considered that there comes a point when the freedom of individuals must be controlled for the common good. There is a need to protect the public and particularly young people. The report of the Select Committee on Crime, Lawlessness and Vandalism refers to the effects of witnessing scenes such as those protrayed in some of the video nasties available in this country at present. The aim is to remove the objectionable and revolting material from circulation. At that time the committee considered that the general availability of video nasties had a corrupting influence on some members of our society and that some controls were required to combat this evil influence.

I thank Members for their valuable contributions. Between now and Committee Stage it will be possible to consider some of the individual points made in more detail.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 3 June 1992.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.


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