Why do we need a Censorship of Publications Board?

Film Censor's Office former brass plate, via IFCO websiteFine Gael‘s new policy document “Reinventing Government” will no doubt keep a lot of political debates (and perhaps even fires) burning during the long cold November nights, and I look forward to the heat thereby generated. Quick off the mark was Ninth Level Ireland with a summary of its proposals on universities. Glancing through it, I was also taken by two aspects of its list of “Quangos to be abolished” in Appendix 1, one inclusion and one omission. The inclusion is this:

Department of Justice and Law Reform

… Merge Censorship of Publications Board and Office of Film Censor and Irish Film Classification Office into single Censorship Office.

Merge Censorship of Publications Appeals Board and Censorship of Films Appeal Board into single Censorship Appeals Office. …

I can understand why a classification system for movies and computer games is felt to be necessary, but I am at a loss to understand the need for prior restraint upon print publications, and I would therefore achieve the desired savings simply by abolishing the Censorship of Publications Board and Censorship of Publications Appeals Board altogether. (more…)

Film classification and press regulation

Two pieces in yesterday’s Irish Times caught my eye. The first relates to the retirement of the man who has probably the most recognised signature in Ireland. The second relates to the responsibility of those who write other words that many of us read.

IFCO logoFor the past six years, every movie released in Ireland has been classified by his office with a certificate signed by him. He is John Kelleher, and he has just retired as Director of the Irish Film Classification Office:

‘I don’t believe in censoring for adults’

He’s seen nearly 2,000 films personally and supervised the watching of 55,000 others, yet the film censor John Kelleher only banned one film. Mr Kelleher, the director of the Irish Film Classification Office (Ifco), stepped down yesterday just two days short of his 65th birthday. …

He says his biggest achievement in office was to be involved in last year’s Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which changed the name from the Irish Film Censor’s Office to the [the Irish Film Classification Office] Ifco. The Act changed his job title to reflect his primary role in classifying rather than censoring films. The phrase “likely to cause harm to children” was introduced into the legislation for the first time. [He said:]

I don’t believe in film censoring for adults, I believe in film classification for minors. I hope that people realised that I was trying to ensure that adults could look after themselves, that it was the welfare of children which was paramount

Press Council and Ombudsman logoEstablished in 2007, the Office of the Press Ombudsman is part of a system of independent regulation for the printed media in Ireland which provides the public with a quick, fair and free method of resolving any complaints they may have in relation to newspapers and periodicals. Prof John Horgan is the Press Ombudsman and he spoke yesterday of the responsibilities of reporters and editors to the their readers:

Press ombudsman stresses duty of journalists to their readers

The credibility of the media is best defended by journalists who recognise that their loyalty to their readers is at least as important as their loyalty to their employers, the Press Ombudsman, John Horgan, has said.

The licence to print is now ultimately granted by the public and can be withdrawn if credibility, reliability, fairness or honesty was put at risk, he warned. “Credibility is like an iceberg: once it melts, it is impossible to reconstitute it.

Prof Horgan, who was speaking at the launch of a memoir by former Irish Times journalist Dennis Kennedy, said journalists were paid to exercise best judgment, though this could be elusive. Editors could find on occasion that such judgment could put them at odds with advertisers or owners, and journalists could find themselves at odds with editors. …

Free speech means freedom for the thought we hate

Anthony Lewis 'Freedom for the Thought that we Hate' book cover, via Basic Books websiteFreedom of expression matters most where the expression in question is unpopular: if it it is to mean anything, it must mean “freedom for the thought that we hate” (US v Schwimmer 279 US 644, 655 (1929) Holmes J); it covers not only mainstream ideas which hardly need protection, but also those that “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population” (Handyside v United Kingdom 5493/72 [1976] ECHR 5 (7 December 1976) [49]). That is why this blog has defended the right to freedom of expression especially when it involves unpopular opinions or unpopular speakers.

There are no more unpopular ideas than the denial of the Holocaust, and there are no more unpopular speakers than David Irving. Even here, in my view, we should give speech a chance: the best way to ensure that we never forget the Holocaust is to debate it at every turn, not to suppress speech from Irving’s ilk. The Oxford Union got good headlines last year when it invited Irving to debate about freedom of expression. Now it seems that NUI, Galway’s Literary and Debating Society are about to repeat the trick. (more…)

Something must be done – III

House of Commons postern, via the Commons site.The two earlier posts (here and here) to which this is the third related to harmful use of the internet, especially relating to children; while another series of posts (here, here and here) related to the regulation of video games. In the same vein (but coming to it late – apologies) is a report published last month by the UK’s House of Commons Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport, entitled Harmful content on the Internet and in video games. There is a balanced comment by Simon Walden in guardian blogs; see also BBC | OUT-Law | The Register | Times Online). Commenting on the Report, Light Blue Touchpaper says:

You will discern a certain amount of enthusiasm for blocking, and for a “something must be done” approach. However, in coming to their conclusions, they do not, in my view, seem to have listened too hard to the evidence, or sought out expertise elsewhere in the world …


Manhunt II and the value of persistence

Manhunt II logo, via Rockstar Games website.The Manhunt II saga is probably finally over in the UK (hat tip: Daithí­ off-blog), but perhaps there is one further stage left in Ireland.

As readers of this blog will know, last June the Irish Film Censor’s Office (IFCO), exercised its power to ban Rockstar Games’ Manhunt II, following the lead of many other countries’ authorities, including the UK’s BBFC (see here and here) earlier the same month. When an edited version was submitted, the BBFC reaffirmed their decision in October, but the the BBFC’s Video Appeals Committee (VAC) allowed Rockstar’s appeal in December. In turn, the BBFC appealed this decision to the High Court, which allowed the case to go ahead and then held in January 2008 that the VAC had misinterpreted the relevant legislation and had to consider the issue again (see R (on the application of the British Board of Film Classification) v Video Appeals Committee QBD (Admin) (Mr Justice Mitting) (24 January 2008)). And so the matter returned to the VAC, which this week reaffirmed its earlier decision to allow the game to be released. (more…)

Manhunt II again

BBFC logo, via their siteFurther to my post last June about various countries banning the controversial computer game Manhunt II, matters have not stood still. Soon after the various bans, Rockstar made some changes to the gameplay. In the US, these tweaks were sufficient to reduce its classification from an Adults Only (AO) rating to a Mature (M) rating, allowing it to be bought by anyone aged 17 or more. Then Rockstar reapplied to the BBFC in the UK, but, in October, they upheld their June decision not to certify (in effect, to ban) the game (see The Register).

But that has not proved to be the end of the story; this week, the BBFC’s Video Appeals Committee has allowed Rockstar’s appeal against the ban in the UK – by the slimmest of margins, on a vote of 4 to 3 (BBC | The Register | Daily Telegraph). The effect of the appeal is that the BBFC must consider the game again, and if it does nothing, then it will be released with an 18 certificate.

So far as Ireland goes, I’m not aware whether Rockstar has brought an appeal against IFCO‘s original ban on Manhunt II or whether they submitted the revised version of the game for classification, but if they succeed in releasing a version of the game in the UK, can Ireland be far behind?

IFCO bans Manhunt II

IFCO logo, via the IFCO siteFollowing on from my recent posts (here and here) about the role of the Irish Film Censor’s Office (IFCO), last week brought news that the Censor, John Kelleher, had exercised his powers for the first time to ban a computer game on grounds of violence. The Video Recordings Acts, 1989 and 1992 extend the powers in the Censorship of Films Acts, 1923-1992 to cover videos (all of the relevant legislation is collected here). In particular, the Video Recordings Act, 1989 (also here) gives the Censor the power to certify and/or ban “video recordings”. Marie McGonagle discusses the system here (pdf; see pp 23-30; hat tip: TJ McIntyre). Although the definition of “video recording” in section 1 of the 1989 Act is sufficiently wide to cover games, they are (by another definition in the same section) exempted from that definition unless they are “unfit for viewing” (as defined in section 3); and if they are so unfit, then the Censor may ban them under Section 7(1)(b) of the Act, which provides:

If the Official Censor, having examined a video recording containing a video work … is of opinion that the work is unfit for viewing because …

(b) it depicts acts of gross violence or cruelty (including mutilation and torture) towards humans or animals,

he may make an order … prohibiting the supply of video recordings containing the work.

Last week (hat tip: TJ McIntyre, with interesting links), this power was exercised for the first time: (more…)