It gives me great pleasure to recommend the Video Recordings Bill, 1987, to the House. It is a measure which is needed urgently and I am confident that it will receive wide support in the House.
Video films are a comparatively new phenomenon. Since the start of this decade, however, they have enjoyed an amazing growth in popularity. Video recorders are now commonplace in homes and the number of outlets for video films continues to grow at a great rate. There are thousands of video film titles available, and the number is being added to at the rate of approximately 1,000 new titles each year. Most of the video films are unobjectionable in their portrayal of comedy, adventure, sport, education, etc.
There are some video films available, however, that are thoroughly objectionable. They depict extreme and graphic violence or unhibited pornography. The extremely violent films have attracted the name "video nasties". They depict the most stomach-turning and ghastly violence. The pornographic ones depict sex in a totally objectionable manner.
I will not mention the titles of the most violent films. They are well enough known. The problem is that while films of this nature are totally uninhibited in their depiction of violence, they are also realistic. They cannot but have an effect on impressionable minds. I would stress that I do not confine the term impressionable minds to young people only. These films depict what are ghastly crimes in a way that can invite imitation by adults as well as by children.
Films of this kind can have an adverse effect on the viewers but, as it is now generally accepted, they can also result in crimes against other innocent people. Apart from that, they tend to increase the general tolerance of what ought to be unacceptable. If people frequently see extremely violent films, some of them will come to regard this type of violence as the norm. The danger is that the more impressionable of them will imitate in real life what they see in the video world.
As I have said already, the pornographic films are totally objectionable in what they portray. Anybody who has not seen these films cannot imagine the depths of degradation to which they stoop. Much of the material could only be described as degrading of human nature generally but all of it is degrading and offensive as far as women are concerned.
It might be appropriate here to relate the proposals in this Bill to the two other areas where censorship applies, that is, books and films. Up to the end of the seventies books and cinema films were two of the most popular forms of entertainment. In the eighties the video recorder has become an equally popular form of entertainment. We have had for a long time control over the material available in books and the material which could be shown in cinema films. The two forms of censorship — censorship of publications and censorship of films — have been in place practically since the founding of the State. Yet the new powerful medium, video film, has no specific form of control.
As is stated in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum some controls are in place in relation to the importation and the showing of some video films. These controls, however, are peripheral to the general video films scene. The key point is that there is no law at present relating specifically to the supply of video films. This is a totally anomalous position having regard to the controls that exist in relation to publications and cinema films. It is a situation that has to be put right and the Bill now before the House will put it right. The Bill will put in place a system of control in relation to video films. It will, as set out in the long title, make provision for the control and regulation of the supply and importation of video recordings.
Perhaps I should now set out the key points of the control system envisaged in the Bill. All new video films will have to be submitted to the film censor for certification before they may be supplied. The film censor will decide on the basis of criteria set out in the Bill whether or not he will allow the supply of any particular video film. If he does not give a certificate he will make a prohibition order and the film may not be supplied. That is, it may not be sold, rented, etc. Should a person be dissatisfied with the decision of the censor not to grant a certificate he may appeal to the Censorship of Films Appeal Board.
The film censor will also have power to decide whether certain video films already on the market should be prohibited. There are certain well known titles of an objectionable nature on the market and when the Bill becomes law the film censor will be able to examine these as a matter of priority. If he decides on the basis of the criteria in the Bill that they should not continue to be supplied he may make a prohibition order. Once he makes a prohibition order any further sale, rental, etc. of the title will be illegal. Again there will be the possibility of an appeal to the Censorship of Films Appeal Board in relation to prohibition orders of this nature.
I think it appropriate at this stage to say a few words about the criteria set out in the Bill for the refusal of a supply certificate and the making of a prohibition order. These criteria have been drafted on the basis of existing legislation and what is considered to be required in today's world. They include obscene or indecent matter, a category which appears in existing legislation on cinema films and publications. They also include material that would be likely to cause persons to commit crime or which would be likely to stir up hatred on grounds of race, nationality and religion. Finally, the criteria refer to material that depicts acts of gross violence or cruelty, including mutilation and torture, towards humans or animals. This type of material does appear in video films. It is necessary that it be referred to specifically in the Bill.
Having dealt with objectionable films I now turn to the vast numbers of inoffensive titles already on the market. These titles will be phased into the control system over the first few years of the operation of the Act. After a number of years the requirement will be that all video films on the market, apart from those exempt under the Act, should have been examined by the film censor and he will either have granted a certificate or made a prohibition order in each case. A system of mandatory labelling will ensure that the public and the garda will have readily available information as to the certificate granted by the film censor. Any film which should have been submitted to the censor and was not submitted will not, of course, have received a supply certificate and its supply will be illegal. Untitled films will be caught by the control system in this way.
The Bill also contains a prohibition against the exhibition, apart from in a private capacity, of video films that have either been prohibited or have not been certificated. This type of provision is necessary as without it objectionable films could be shown in clubs and clubs could be established specifically for that purpose. Under the Bill it will also be possible for officers of Customs and Excise to detain any prohibited title which is being imported and to refer any video film which it is felt might be obscene to the film censor.
It will be an offence to supply in any manner a video film which has not been certificated or which has been prohibited. Supply has been defined in the Bill to cover such things as sale, rent, etc. It will be possible for the courts to impose heavy penalties on anybody who is convicted of committing an offence under the Act. These penalties may be monetary and they may also include imprisonment. The size of the monetary fines and the possibility of imprisonment are an indication of how seriously I regard any offences under the Act.
There are a number of points that are not covered in the Bill to which I wish to refer. There has been an amount of pressure from various sources that a system of classifying video films should be introduced as is the case in Britain. A system of classification involves dividing films into groups by reference to the age of the viewer. For example, a film could be passed by the film censor as being suitable for supply only to those over the age of 16 years.
The arguments in favour of classification are that the classification system enables an offence to be created in relation to supply of the film to persons below the stated age. It also informs the purchaser or renter of the film of the category of person for whom the film is suitable.
The main arguments against a classification system are as follows. Classification provides for an offence in relation to the supply of the film to persons below a given age. It does not, however, achieve the main objective which is to prevent the viewing of the film by persons below that age. Having regard to the nature of video films and the relative ease of copying, classification could turn out to be pointless. You may control the age of the person to whom the film is supplied but you will not be able to control the age of the person who views it. Either an older person will rent or buy the film and show it to younger people, or the film will be in the home and will be seen by children when the parents are not there.
It should also be remembered that a classification system would be very expensive compared with the system proposed in the Bill. It would necessitate the viewing in full of all films by the censor and his staff. As I have said, this is the system that is in operation in the UK. That system cost almost £1.1 million to operate last year and necessitated the employment of 53 staff. Those figures cover both cinema film and video film censorship. They compare with projected figures for our combined video and cinema film censorship of approximately ten people and an annual expenditure of about £300,000. I should also mention that a classification system would result in delay in achieving control over the video films already on the market. I think it is also relevant that the British system of classification would be particularly unsuitable to our circumstances since it includes a category which allows for supply only through sex shops.
On balance I am satisfied that a classification system should not be provided for and that the only decision which the censor should have to make is whether the film be allowed for supply or not. It has also been urged that all retail outlets for the sale or hire of video films should be licensed and local authorities have been mentioned in this context.
The argument adduced in favour of licensing suppliers is that a licensing system would result in a more effective control on the supply of video films. It is claimed that this is so because nobody could supply films without a licence and that the licence could be withdrawn in the event of the licensee being convicted of supplying prohibited or uncertificated films.
The idea of licensing suppliers is also put forward as a means of combating breaches of copyright law and what is commonly called video piracy. Senators will readily understand, however, that the area of commercial property is totally separate from the issues being addressed in this Bill and is outside its scope. Incidentally, Senators are probably aware that there is legislation in the copyright area before the Dáil at present.
The other side of the coin is that a licensing system would be extremely difficult to administer and would give rise to substantial extra costs. In addition, it would be difficult to frame a provision which would provide the necessary criteria or guidelines for granting a licence.
Accordingly, I am of the view that it has not been established that a system of licensing suppliers is necessary to control the supply of video films. That control can be achieved through heavy penalties on persons convicted of supplying prohibited video films. I want to say a few words now about pornographic films specifically. There may be a difference of opinion as to whether the supply of pornographic films should be prohibited totally, or whether the prohibition should apply only to supply to persons under 18 years. The major argument in favour of confining the prohibition of pornographic films to those over 18 years is that adults should be free to decide what they wish to see unless it is clearly harmful. Pornography can be distinguished in this regard from extremely violent video films.
The following are the arguments in support of a total ban on the supply of video films which the censor finds to be pornographic. Present day legislation in relation to censorship of publications provides for a total prohibition on the sale of banned books, including those banned on the grounds of being indecent. Similarly there is a total ban on the public exhibition of banned films, including those banned on the grounds of being indecent. Accordingly, should video film legislation not provide for a total ban on the supply of pornographic films it would be out of line with existing censorship legislation and, putting it at its lowest, this would provide grounds for demands for extension of the legislation into these other areas. Senators will appreciate, I am sure, that it would be quite inappropriate to hang, as it were, a fundamental review of all censorship law on the back of this measure and that it is preferable to keep the approach to videos in line with the general approach in this regard.
Perhaps the main argument in favour of a total ban is the very nature of the video itself. It seems to me unrealistic to assume that certain videos could be supplied to, say over 18 year olds in this country in circumstances which would ensure that they would not be seen by younger persons.
I have already mentioned that the position in the UK is different. There is a category of video which can be supplied to persons over 18 years in the context of sex shops. On balance I am satisfied that young persons in our community are likely to be able to view pornographic films unless there is total prohibition on their supply.
I am satisfied also that many people are not aware of the extremely offensive nature of some of the pornographic films available. As I have said already, these films are totally uninhibited and totally explicit in what they portray. I cannot imagine that any strong argument can be made for their being available to any particular group. The material in them is obscene and they are particularly offensive and degrading to women.
In this regard I would like to refer to the 1986 report of the United States Attorney General's Commission on Pornography. The commission found that pornography is harmful to viewers. It is significant that the finding of the commission in 1986 is different from the findings of a commission in 1970 which did not conclude that any harm ensued from pornography. The 1986 report of the commission is a very impressive document and was based on a widespread programme of research. I consider its findings very significant.
In all the circumstances I have no hesitation in including pornography in the Bill and in dealing with it by way of a total prohibition on supply. I am satisfied that that is the proper course and is in accordance with current informed thinking on the topic.
I have mentioned already that the work to be done under the Bill will fall to the film censor. You may ask why the film censor? The answer is simple — the film censor is experienced in this area and is the most appropriate person to undertake the work. His office will, of course, have to be strengthened both from the point of view of administrative and clerical staff and examiners or assistant censors who will assist him in examining films. Extra equipment will be needed also. Video recorders and screens and office machinery including computers will be purchased.
All in all I estimate that the extra cost of running the video control system, over and above the cost of the current cinema control system, will be about £200,000 per annum. The extra work will not result in any extra net expense to the State, however, as the cost of the operation will be recouped by the charging of fees in respect of the examination of video films. Senators will notice that there is a provision in the Bill which requires the operation to be self-financing, but no more than that. This is in line with similar situations in other areas — I might just mention cinema film censorship and land registration. By way of comment, however, I should like to say that in framing the provisions of the Bill I have been conscious of the need to avoid very expensive options which would have to be paid for by the legitimate video trade.
Before finishing I want to refer to two sections of the Bill specifically. Section 22 proposes an amendment to section 3 of the Censorship of Films Act, 1923. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to ensure that the Censorship of Films Appeal Board will have both male and female members in future. The current membership of the board comprises seven men and two women but there is no legal requirement at present that both sexes be represented on the board.
The second section to which I wish to refer is section 21. That section provides for the official censor and the appeal board, in each year beginning with the year 1988, preparing reports on their work in the previous year. The year 1988 has been included in the section in the expectation that the Bill will be enacted by the end of this year. Should that not prove to be the case the reference to 1988 will be changed to 1989 by way of amendment.
Although I have referred to some specific provisions of the Bill, Senators will appreciate that my remarks at this stage are of a general nature and deal with the principles underpinning the Bill and the key provisions which implement them. There are a number of sections in the Bill which I have not dealt with. These will, of course, be dealt with on Committee Stage when detailed consideration will be given to all sections of the Bill.
As I said earlier I expect wide support for the Bill. There should be general agreement on the need for a control system in relation to video films. There may be differences of opinion, however, on the best method of control to install and, also, on details of the scheme set out in the Bill. I look forward to having an open and informative debate on the topic and I assure all Members that I will give careful consideration to all views expressed during the debate.
I commend the Bill to the House.