The Need to Overhaul the OFCL

The recent debacle over the classification of Hannibal by the OFLC highlights yet again the need for a major shake-up of our chief censorship body.

After strong public outcry, the gruesome film Hannibal has been given an R rating. This means no one under 18 will be allowed to see the shocking film. Originally the Office of Film and Literature Classification had given it the much weaker MA rating, which allowed any child to see the gory and horrific film if accompanied by an adult. The film, which features graphic and explicit scenes of murder, torture and cannibalism, is the follow-up to The Silence of the Lambs.

One could almost argue that the decision to give the film an MA rating was an act of child abuse. To expose young and innocent children to such horrible scenes (eg., the eating of brains of a living person) is cruel in the extreme. Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt wrote recently of how he saw a boy of around 10 at the film with his parents (22 February). Parents are clearly being irresponsible and negligent in such cases, but the OFLC should never have allowed this to happen in the first place.

Many people raised their voices about the film’s lax rating, including film critics and the Queensland Minister for Family, Judy Spence. The backflip by the OFLC shows that concerned citizens can make a difference. And the original decision is a clear example of how our rating system needs to be changed. Not only are the guidelines too weak, but those in charge of viewing the material are clearly out of touch with community sentiment. Indeed, a very strong case could be made that all those involved in censorship work should only be allowed short terms – say 6 or 12 months. Otherwise there is the very real danger of censors becoming desensitised and out of touch. Indeed, to spend hour after hour, day after day, year after year viewing pornographic and violent material must harden and desensitise the viewer. One simply becomes immune to the material, and the ability to make clear and impartial decisions becomes weakened.

There are a number of examples of this. Several years ago there was an article on former deputy chief censor David Haines which was revealing in several respects (The Bulletin, Oct. 8, 1996). After many years reviewing pornography he has now announced he will be promoting Nightmoves, a new adult sex channel on Galaxy pay TV.

This explains a lot. It tells us why standards on pornography have been so poor over the past decade. It also confirms what many of us knew: lengthy exposure to pornography desensitises the viewer.

For years our tax dollars have been paying his wage so that he might protect our family, our children and our community from the harmful effects of pornography. Evidently he wasn’t fulfilling his role.

Whether he has always been pro-pornography, or whether he became that way as a result of his job as censor is unclear. But pro-family groups have long known that chronic exposure to pornography desensitises the viewer. Perhaps from now on all censors should be limited to 6-month stints, to prevent the desensitisation process from taking its full course.

It is time for the Attorney-General’s department to take a stronger stance on the rating of films. He needs to be asked to introduce an immediate review of classification procedures, and term limits for the censors. We need to more carefully select our censors, and they should not be allowed on the job for other than short periods of time.

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