Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Sack the Censor

So Chief Censor Bill Hastings is stepping down, and after twelve years in the job he maintains the steady diet of sex, violence and bestiality he watches in his day job has left him wholly unaffected.  Since the argument for the Censor's office consists largely of saying that repeated exposure to that sort of material is going to turn you into a beast, seems to me that makes him a walking refutation of his own position.

Seems to me, therefore, that Hastings stepping down is an ideal opportunity to ask, "Why have a censor at all?"

Whose business is it what I watch in the privacy of my home? Not a government flunky, that's for sure.

Whose business is it what a private cinema-owners chooses to show on his own screen?  Not a government-appointed busybody, that's for sure.

Whose business is it what consenting adults choose to make in the privacy of their own motel rooms? Not some prissy puritan arguing that he speaks for all of us.

The resignation of Bill Hastings offers an ideal opportunity to recognise the foolishness of having a bureaucrat whose job it is to determine what your neighbour’s standards are, and then to enforce them on you.

So grasp the opportunity with both hands. Don't appoint a new chief censor, shut the damn place down.


  1. PC, what's your view on the issue of minors (children), and to what extent (if any) a censor is needed to protect them from viewing objectionable material?

  2. Whose business is it what consenting adults choose to make in the privacy of their own motel rooms?

    Well, mine if I'm a taxpayer paying for it :)

    Mark: it is not the role of the State to act as the censor for children: that is the job of parents (that is the purpose of parents, to bring up, instruct, guide and be responsible for their children so that they become responsible adults in their turn. This is the essential linkage the welfare state is breaking down and why the State is the problem here, and not the solution).

  3. @ Mark H: For what it's worth, here's what Ayn Rand said on the subject, which I'm inclined to agree with:

    "Only one aspect of sex is a legitimate field for legislation: the protection of minors and of unconsenting adults. Apart from criminal actions (such as rape), this aspect includes the need to protect people from being confronted with sights they regard as loathsome. (A corollary of the freedom to see and hear, is the freedom not to look or listen.) Legal restraints on certain types of public displays, such as posters or window displays, are proper—but this is an issue of procedure, of etiquette, not of morality . . ."

    Maybe "censor" is the wrong word, but if you accept the above, doesn't it follow that someone from gov't needs to classify what's acceptable to have in public dislays, and what isn't?

    For my part, I wouldn't have a huge problem going to the mall and my childen seeing sex on a TV screen, but I would if they were seeing wanton violence...

  4. Mark and Mark

    I think you will find that the free market will step up and classify material. In the absence of a government censor, many parties have an incentive to provide parents guidance through a voluntary rating system. I know that as a consumer I would demand it before renting a video.

    Further, when property is privately owned, the owner will has an incentive to ensure that material on that property is consistent with the wishes of those that the property owner is trying to attract. A shopping mall seeking custom from families would never permit sex and violence to be openly displayed so that children (or even adults) would be exposed to it.

    The free market has the ability to provide what consumers want - not what some Apparatchik considers appropriate.


  5. What Julian said, and for Mark why is someone in Government better placed to judge what a child should watch than that child's parents?

    It's awfully easy to look around us in 'that mall' at the low quality of some parents and conclude they would need Nanny State's guidance in bringing up their children, but then, that low quality parent was begotten by Nanny in the first instance. So the problem comes back again to Nanny State.

    Hey :) Look at some of Nanny's offspring, curtesy of the wonderful Lindsay Mitchell:



    I missed this story until I found time to rifle through the pages of the DomPost later in the day. It's basically a brawling story with little to recommend the victim either, although the reporting is somewhat ambiguous. 8 women set upon a single woman in retaliation for an earlier incident. The attack was vicious and happened late in the evening in Stokes Valley.

    Acting Senior Sergeant Donna Rider said the attack was linked to an ongoing dispute but said the behaviour was "disgusting". "I'm horrified at the level of violence from these women. The other aspect to it is that two of them are pregnant and several others claim to be pregnant.

    "One of them is eight months pregnant ... [you] can only guess at what kind of parents they'll make."

    "Claiming" to be pregnant to avoid court-ordered consequences no doubt. Exploiting their babies even before they are born.

    My heart, and maybe yours, goes out to the innocent babies that these women will bring into the world. But it won't be going out to them for long.

    A few years down the track they will have grown into replicas of their mothers, in some form or fashion. And it is quite probable that they will all be raised on your money. Time to coin a new phrase. Add to state houses, state wives. Like many state houses they symbolise a seedy side of New Zealand that social policy makers seem unremittingly determined to sponsor.

  6. Julian and Mark H: With due respect guys, I think you're missing my point.

    I'm not arguing that the free market can't solve a lot of these issues, or that raising children is the state's responsibility. On those broader principles we agree.

    My question is more specific and narrower: If you walk into a public place, and your children see something that's objectionable, you as a parent had no chance to exercise your discretion and stop it happening, did you? The same could arguably be said for turning on your TV at an hour when children are likely to be awake.

    Maybe I wouldn't even go as far as Ayn Rand - in that when it comes to adults perhaps 'anything goes' with public displays. But if impressionable children see objectionable things, and you as a parent had no reason to think they might or chance to stop it, then maybe that is a legitimate role for the state?

    Seeing violence at a young and impressionable stage can have a negative effect on a child's sense of life, I believe. Children cannot put what they see into perspective the way adults can; the world can become a scary place, not a place of excitement and opportunity.

    To the extent I can control it, yes that's my responsibility to manage this. But I'm talking about the situations in which I can't - and have no reason to think my children will be confronted by something objectionable.

    If you say the answer is to throw away my TV, and never take them out in public, then we certainly disagree.

  7. I manage to search and find videos for my son to watch on the internet without a censor being present.
    Other than a couple of morning kids shows the only content he sees comes from DVD's or the internet.
    The idea of a chief censor always seemed ridiculous but now it it also redundant.

  8. @ Paul B: Maybe, just maybe you have a point when it comes to TV. But it still doesn't address my concern about public displays...

    To be clear, I'm in agreement that most of what the chief censor does is unnecessary and undesirable. But if you're gonna convincingly argue the role should be disbanded, you need to reality-check the marginal cases, and ensure you're not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  9. @Mark: If you want to deal at the margins then you would have to consider the case for a censor for the internet then?

  10. @Paul B: Well no, because with the Internet you can reasonably control what your child has access to.

    Not the same as wanderng down the street with your kid and wammo.... there it is right in front of you.

    In any case, with the Internet there are existing laws that prohibit certain material being shown to under 18's. Are you against those?

  11. Only one aspect of sex is a legitimate field for legislation: the protection of minors and of unconsenting adults. Apart from criminal actions (such as rape), this aspect includes the need to protect people from being confronted with sights they regard as loathsome.

    So, I'm a racist: I regard the sight of people with darker skin than myself as loathsome. The government should protect me from such sights, by preventing the darker-hued from walking the streets during daylight?

    No, I think not. If the government is going to protect people seeing things they (the "people", not the "government") consider "loathsome", it should be by locking those people away, not the "loathsome sights".

  12. @Mark, there are lots of legal non-censorial activities that I would be surprised to see walking down the street. I'm not sure what type of neighbourhood you live in?
    My point is that technology has made the job of the censor redundant. Another example: with TV ondemand it is easy to watch a program outside of it watershed.
    The laws against certain types of videos are a police matter - a censor is not required.

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  14. @PaulB: I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you. But I've posed a question that no-one is addressing.

    I started by saying there seemed some legitimate role for the state in these matters, albeit very limited. For instance you seem to agree there should be laws about providing certain objectionable material to minors.

    Who then decides what material is acceptable, and what is not? I think what you're saying is that this is clearly defined in law, so can simply be left to the police to enforce without needing a censor. If that is what you're saying then maybe you're right, but I'm not sure how this would work.

    There's a law against showing R18 movies to minors, and police can enforce that, but who decides what is R18?

    What level of violence can be shown to kids? Is cartoon violence ok - such as road runner sticking it to coyote? I'd say Yes. What about people being shot? Maybe. What about someone being bashed over the head till they die. I don’t think so.

    I struggling to see how this can be defined objectively in law without someone making a judgement call by watching and classifying each movie - but maybe it can..... I don't know. Anyway that's what I'm asking! And it's the issue that needs addressing if you're going to disband the chief censor.

  15. @Mark: If a parent deems their child responsible enough to view certain material that is their choice. Like a 12 yr old viewing a R13 (Harry Potter?) And there are enough freely available reviews available to help parents make that choice.

    I don't know what the law currently is. Is it OK to show internet porn to a minor? I would assume not even though it is not classified.

    The paedophile/bestiality cases are clearly definable in law - they do not need a censor to classify them. I doubt these get tot he censor anyway as they are illegal and everyone knows it.


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