Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 13. 1964.
Censors And Logic Didn't Mix
Censors And Logic Didn't Mix
The recent panel discussion on censorship was notable for the contrast it provided between the clarity of the ideas of the various members.
It quickly became apparent that Dennis Glover was the humourist of the panel, who looked at the subject from its ridiculous side. Being opposed to any form of censorship, he made his point by comparing underwear adverts with photos of models in the latest topless. The undie adverts, however erotic, are always decent, while the topless is indecent to many. He thought that the stock market reports were even more indecent. Life was one gross indecency.
By contrast, Crown prosecutor W. R. Birks had little to say that had not been said ad nauseam in the House of Representatives, during last year's Indecent Publication's Act debate. He talked of adversely affecting the young mind, of leading people to commit acts of sexual violence.
Roy Parsons. Wellington bookseller, had a fresh, and in my opinion very valid approach. His argument that we were obsessed with the sexual matters, while the gross indecencies, the way men treated each other (here he referred to Nazi concentration camps) went unnoticed. Until we could take this indecency on, and decide what we should do about it, we were getting our ideas out of perspective by concentrating on sex.
Rev. Dr. Ian Fraser defended the bible from the attacks of Dennis Glover, who claimed that the old testament was grossly indecent. He also had to answer criticisms that the churches had no right to set the moral standards of the community.
I have left till last the comments of W. J. Scott. Principal of the Wellington Teachers College, and Chairman of the socalled New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties. Mr. Scott opened the evening by giving a general discussion of the topic and its implications, describing how difficult it was to know what was indecent, stating that there was no evidence that literature had ever corrupted anyone, and then, with supreme illogic, emphasising that he still thought censorship to be a good idea. Mr. Scott's views have been reported in Salient at least once before, prior to the Indecent Publications Act, when he said, as he did last night, that censorship was necessary to prevent people exploiting sexual desires in order to make money.
Mr. Scott's organisation, the NZCCL. seems to be nothing more than a resting place for confused ideas about censorship. Their life's work seems to be the present Act (which they made recommendations towards, and which Mr. Scott once told me had been largely accepted) and getting Lolita into the country. They have not protested against the abuses of the present Act practised by the Customs department—in fact, Mr. Scott has written to the Evening Post defending the present situation. It is difficult, to see what claim they have to be a civil liberties organisation—by any comparison with the highly active American Civil Liberties Union or the UK National Council for Civil Liberties, they are a dead loss. There is a lot of truth in the quip that the Constitutional Society has done more for liberty in NZ than the Civil Liberties Union.
Mr. Scott said at the panel discussion, that the 1963 Act was necessary to clear up the mess made of the 1910 Act by the 1954 Amendments, which changed the definition of Indecency. Yet in 1959 he wrote "... the New Zealand Indecent Publications Act is in my opinion, a sensible one that, if properly used, gives us nearly all the protection and allows us nearly all the freedom we can reasonably ask for."
To give Mr. Scott his due, we must remember that the Act had never been tested in the Courts, and was not until 1960 when Mr. Scott's organisation imported six copies of Lolita as a test case. As a result of their efforts, it became clear that the Act was less liberal than Mr. Scott had claimed the year before. Mr. Scott may have learned since to be suspicious of any system which leaves the question of indecency to one unqualified Magistrate. He did not-seem so suspicious then. He had his doubts, but he did not express them over this question.
When I finally get around to writing my book "The Decline of Liberty in New Zealand," you can be sure that the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties will figure prominently in it.