I said to the Irish Censor, about a year ago, that the assistant censors were largely female, and married (or had children) or were older, and that all three of these factors had been shown to give a predisposition towards censorship.
He had the nerve to question my basis for saying that!
5 minutes spent reading the public research on either the BBFC or Ofcom websites would convince anybody of that, quite apart from it being plainly obvious to anyone who has talked about these issues to these different groups or just has a grasp
of real life.
Of course I was on the wrong tack, what I didn't know back then was that the assistant censors were largely picked for their present or past membership of the Fianna FÃ¡il political party!
In addition, despite the appeal by Shauna's Adult shop over Anabolic Initiations No.5 to the Supreme Court still not having been resolved, the police here are still seizing adult dvds on the basis that they don't have a certificate from
IFCO which IFCO refuses to grant, of course.
But the censor told me that they were just called in by the police to adjudge whether a seized video was something that would be classifiable or not, ie just an expert witness which is also the BBFC official line.
The sections to do with censorship are sections 9 and 10.
It amends the law on cinema certification and dvd certification, reaffirming as it does so, a ban on a cinema certificate if the film contains blasphemy , something I raised with the censor as they clearly just copied the phrases used in
the Censorship of Films 1923 Act.
The (Irish) Video Recordings Act 1989 in contrast talks about stirring up religious hatred which isn't quite as bad, or out of date as a concept if still objectionable on free expression grounds.
The Censorship of Publications Board is an independent board in Ireland established by law to examine books and periodicals for sale. The Board may prohibit the sale and distribution of books and periodicals if they are found to be obscene. A
prohibition on the sale and distribution of a particular publication means that it is illegal for this book to be bought, sold or distributed around the country. Books that are prohibited may be appealed to the Censorship of Publications Appeal
Board. Both the Censorship of Publications Board and the Appeals Board consist of five members each. Members of both boards are appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Posts on these boards are without remuneration (i.e.,
they are unpaid).
The Censorship of Publications Board will examine any book or periodical referred to it by a Customs and Excise officer and any book referred to it by a member of the public. It may also examine any book or periodical on its own initiative. In
Ireland, there is no category of restricted access - a publication is either prohibited or it is not prohibited. The Board does not prohibit publications very often, and in some years, nothing is prohibited.
The Board has regular meetings to discuss publications referred to it. Every member of the Board will have read the publication before the meeting. For a book to be prohibited, at least three members must agree with the decision and only one can
dissent (i.e., disagree). If the prohibition is passed, it comes into effect as soon as it is announced in Iris Oifigúil (Ireland's official State gazette). A prohibition order on a book ceases on the 31 December following a period of 12
years beginning on the date of the order coming into effect.
Books are prohibited if the Censorship of Publications Board considers them to be indecent or obscene. Periodicals are prohibited if the Censorship of Publications Board considers them to be frequently or usually indecent or obscene. Both books
and periodicals may be prohibited if the Board considers that they advocate abortion or ways of carrying out abortions. Periodicals may also be prohibited if the Board is of the opinion that they have given an unduly large proportion of space to
matters relating to crime. In practice, however, publications are usually only reported to the Board for obscenity. The Board will measure the literary, scientific or historical merit of the publication. It will take note of its general tenor,
the language in which it is written, its likely circulation and readers and anything else it feels is relevant. It may take into account any communication with the author, editor or publisher.
The Gardai may be issued with a search warrant if they suspect that prohibited books or periodicals are being kept anywhere for sale or distribution. If they find prohibited publications, they may remove them. If you are convicted of possessing
prohibited publications, you may be liable for a fine of 63.49 euro or six months imprisonment.
Irish video rental stores and other outlets face fines for supplying children with DVDs classified for older viewers.
Legislation makes it an offence for the first time to breach film classification certificates in over-the- counter rentals and sales and offenders can be fined up to €2,000 or even jailed for three years.
It means younger DVD library members may be asked to provide proof of their age if they try to rent a film with an age specific rating such as 12A, 15A, 16 or 18 and could be refused certain films even if they have parental permission to view
it at home.
The laws also make changes to the Film Censor's Office which is now called the Irish Film Classification Office and no longer has powers to ban a film outright [A bit hard to believe! Somebody should
try resubmitting Manhunt 2 to test this out].
Censor John Kelleher, who becomes director of film classification, welcomed the move, which he said reflected the profound changes in Ireland's recent past. We have moved far away from the nanny state moral guardian censorship of yesteryear
towards an acceptance of the general principle that, in a mature society, adults should be free, subject to the law, to make their own choices.
Today, we don't censor, we classify. We don't decline to explain or justify our decisions. Rather, we welcome the fact that we can provide the public, and parents, with age-related classification and consumer advice. We have gone from stop sign
The censor still has a role in protecting under-18s, however, and his powers in that area have been strengthened with specific reference in the law to his duty to apply restrictive classifications where a film is likely to cause harm to
Much of the existing law, the 85-year-old Censorship of Film Act of 1923, survives and the censor still has to take into consideration scenes that render a film indecent, obscene or blasphemous or would tend to inculcate principles
contrary to public morality.
As part of the changes, a scale of fees is being introduced to ease the cost of applying for classification for independent film makers, foreign movie distributors and art house films that get a very limited cinema release. Instead of paying
€12 per minute of film for every copy distributed to a cinema, they will pay €3.
So how do Ireland deal with R18 hardcore films? As far as I know they are still banned yet they are clearly on sale yet they seem to be openly on sale in sex shops.
Ireland's film censors were once notoriously severe on matters sexual and religious. But the latest incumbent, John Kelleher, says his role is to advise and inform, not to cut out good wholesome shagging
The current censor, says that historically censors arrogantly assumed they knew what was best. They banned or mutilated movies that now appear innocent, including many that have gone on to achieve classic status.
As with the censorship of books, no allowances were made for artistic quality: filth was filth. Just as writers such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and John McGahern had their work banned, so Irish audiences were deprived of the chance to see
cinematic artworks by directors such as Eisenstein and Fellini.
The first 50 years were extraordinarily repressive, admits Kelleher: It was paternalist. You had a new state where the power of the church was extremely strong and the politicians were nervous.
But everything, it seems, is different now. Literary censorship has all but vanished. Although the office of film censor is still maintained by the state — indeed, it has expanded in recent years to deal with videos and DVDs — it is no longer
in the banning business. Under Kelleher, the office has rebranded itself as a consumer service. Its role is to determine what movies are fit for adult viewing and which should come with a warning: A guide dog rather than a watchdog,
Yet something of the old paternalism remains. The urge to exercise control is wired into the censor's DNA. It is far from clear whether one incumbent such as Kelleher, with his liberal instincts, can alter that.
The background of successive film censors tells its own story. The early ones were political appointees with no real knowledge of cinema. This began to change from the 1960s, when Dermot Breen and the television personality Frank Hall had at
least some connection to the film business. But Kelleher and his predecessor, Sheamus Smith, were the first censors to have come from a film-making background.
Smith, censor from 1986 to 2003, initiated a more liberal regime. He banned some films, such as Bad Lieutenant. His other decisions could appear arbitrary, even contradictory. He lifted the ban on Monty Python's Life of Brian, only to ban
other films by Terry Jones, including Monty Python's Meaning of Life and the sex comedy Personal Services.
In the 1980s and 1990s, however, sexual content alone was rarely enough to get a film banned. Smith began to follow the Scandinavian model, where violence was seen as potentially more harmful. But some of the old reflexes lingered on: a
mixture of sexuality and religion, as seen in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Kelleher, in contrast, does not see himself as being in the business of banning films. It is a weapon he rarely deploys, and so far never against cinema releases, only against the uglier end of the video/DVD trade.
The question of where pornography begins is a subjective one and the definition shifts accordingly. Sixty years ago, Casablanca was seen as pornographic. But Kelleher passed the film 9 Songs for adult viewing, despite its extreme sexual
This has led to an odd phenomenon in Ireland, with the film censor drawing flak for being unduly lenient. Yet, he insists, he wants to listen to the public. He believes strongly in the virtues of market research, communication and focus
groups. Part of his vision for the office of film censor, a name he dislikes and hopes to have changed to something more user-friendly such as film classifier, is openness and transparency.
But the office retains powers that, in modern Ireland, are disturbing. These include control over posters and ancillary materials, as well as the power to give a film a special imprimatur, as happened in 1996 with Michael Collins, because it
is deemed historically important.
The fact these powers are almost never used does not dilute their incongruity in a free society. The old Ireland was proud of its restrictive regime: it felt it was doing its duty to God and to the people. In contrast, contemporary Ireland
often seems proud of having swung the other way.
It is hard to deny that the classification system performs a useful service, but the censor's office, with all its historical baggage, is not necessarily the ideal provider of that service.
Kelleher has certainly transformed the office. The biggest change is a recognition that people who are 18 are adults, they should be able to make up their own minds. Our role would be to advise — a consumer guide.
If we are really so grown-up, though, maybe it's time to try living without any film censor; there are other ways of enforcing the restrictions that a sane society needs. Perhaps it is time to make those decisions for ourselves, without
needing a government watchdog, or even a guide dog.