Irish adult shops challenge censor

Image from The Irish adult shop industry is taking the IFCO, countrys film censorship body, to court in order to challenge its right to ban explicit films.

The catalyst for the case - that was originally due to be heard back in May - was a decision by IFCO to increase the charge imposed for reviewing and licensing the films. Since 2004, distributors have been charged €12 per minute to have films reviewed for classification, which they claim eliminates any opportunity to make a profit from titles on limited release.

Individual decisions of the Irish Film Censor’s Office and the Censorship Appeals Board have been challenged in the past. This case is fundamentally different because it is seeking a judicial review on the right of the office to have a say in the distribution of films.

It is one of two cases lodged against the two-tiered system of censorship after papers were filed last year against the IFCO and the Appeals Board by a second party. The other was struck out.

The cases come at a time when the role of the Irish Film Censor John Kelleher is becoming increasingly undermined by new technologies, international distribution and the internet.

A report for the IFCO, commissioned from media consultant Jim Barrett, warned the ease of access and content on the internet could make the system of film classification redundant.

More Manhunt

Manhunt 2 As you may have noticed, Ive been away for the past couple of weeks taking a well earned break in sunny France. But now Im back and slowly catching up with myself. One of the things Ive noticed while surfing through various news sources over the past few days is that a bit of a moral panic has been developing around the Manhunt 2 video game.

As has been previously mentioned, the game was banned in the UK in June. It has also been banned in Italy (via) , Switzerland (via) and Ireland.

And the excitement has crossed the Atlantic (via) with the New York state Senate and Assembly reaching an agreement on proposed legislation making it a felony to rent or sell video games with mature themes to minors. According to Bo Andersen, president of the EMA, a trade association for the retailers of DVDs, computer games, and console games:

The proposal to jail retailers and clerks for up to four years for selling certain video games to persons under age 17 is apparently based on misunderstandings about what retailers are doing currently.

But the bill is expected to receive formal approval when the legislature reconvenes in July and Eliot Spitzer, the New York Governor, has signaled his intent to sign the bill into law.

The furore has attracted a fair bit of press comment, such as this article in the Daily Telegraph that reminds us that the original Manhunt game became notorious on the basis of some deeply inaccurate reporting and goes on to make the point that the game may well be nasty and appeal to something nasty in our instincts. but:

banning something because its nasty wont make our instincts less ugly; and it is not the business of the state to police bad taste.

And in Spiked, Rob Lyons points out that:

[T]he supposed connection between computer games and violence is highly tendentious. And yet it is used to justify blanket censorships such as the banning of Manhunt 2. These games may produce cognitive changes – players can feel elated, frightened or a range of other emotions - but there is no evidence to suggest they produce behavioural changes.

and concludes:

The issue of censorship - whether it targets video games or adverts for eggs - ultimately comes down to this question: who should control our lives? Instead of letting a bunch of unelected regulators determine what we can see, hear, play or eat, we should start to trust ourselves on such matters.

The Melon Farmers have responded by organising a petition calling on he Prime Minister to Restrict the powers of the BBFC with regard to the banning of video games. Click here to see it and sign it.

The changing face of Irish censorship

Gerry McCarthy provides a very readable overview of the history of state censorship in Ireland and a look at how John Kelleher, the current incumbent of the Irish Film Censors Office (IFCO) sees his role.

Kelleher acknowledges that the first fifty years of censorsip in Ireland were extraordinarily repressive, with a censorship board dominated by political appointees who arrogantly assumed that they knew what was best. “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,” he says.

The article goes on to question whether an institution that started out under such authoritarian conditions can mutate into being a provider of consumer services. According to Kelleher it can because the framers of the original 1920s legislation left an important loophole by stating that films may be found to be obscene “in the opinion of the censor”.

The problem with this attitude, of course, is that it is entirely dependent of the prejudices and preferences of whoever happens to be the censor.

McCarthy acknowledges that a classification system performs a useful service, but asserts that the censors 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,” he says. “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.

You can read the entire article here.