Friday 18 June 2010

Censor's Office

I'd previously noted that the Police referred NORML News to the Censor's Office. NORML has received some of the background documents by OIA request. From their press release:
A request by NORML under the Official Information Act has revealed police had a secret meeting with Internal Affairs departmental heads, and asked them to try to get marijuana law reform magazine Norml News completely banned.

Three issues of Norml News were referred to the censors on 7 May (no decision has been made yet) after massive raids on indoor gardening stores across the country, code named Operation Lime.

The documents reveal Police hope to have Norml News completely banned, as well as High Times and Cannabis Culture magazines.

Police had previously denied being involved with sending the publication to the censors, and a spokesperson for the Censorship unit told media at the time that there was nothing to suggest the request for a ban had come from the police. The Secretary of Internal Affairs said he was just "seeking guidance".

Suspecting there was more to it, NORML News editor Chris Fowlie wrote to the Secretary of Internal Affairs under the Official Information Act, requesting any documents he held on the magazine.

The documents arrived today and reveal two police officers arranged a meeting with Internal Affairs department heads on 31 May 2010 "during which the existence of several publications dealing with the cultivation of cannabis and other illegal activity was discussed."

The names of the police officers have been withheld because apparently making the information available would "be likely to prejudice the maintenance of the law."

Police provided to Internal Affairs a property sheet that provides a strong link to the Operation Lime raids.

Police also asked the Secretary of Internal Affairs to pursue a Serial Publication Order - which would mean all existing and future copies of the magazine would be prohibited - for Norml News, High Times and Cannabis Culture magazines.

In a letter to his subordinates at the Censorship Office, dated 3 May 2010, Jon Peacock on behalf of the Secretary of Internal Affairs requests a ban of not only the three issues submitted, but also requests "consideration is given to issuing a serial publication order on the publication."

A serial publication order would mean all existing issues would be banned and the magazine would be prohibited from publishing any more issues.

"We are outraged at this blatant political interference in our campaign for sensible drug laws," said editor Chris Fowlie. "Police are lying to the media and misleading the public. They should admit they are behind this censorship, rather than hiding behind the faceless grey suits of Wellington."

"If the police succeed in banning Norml News, this could criminalise thousands of people who have an old copy somewhere," said Mr Fowlie. "We have printed more than one million copies which all found happy homes and a recall would be impossible."
The decision is now out. The three examined issues are to be treated as R18. At least the Censor's Office is more sensible than the New Zealand Police. From the decision:
Norml News is produced for mature readers with a specific interest in cannabis culture and cannabis law reform issues and is well-known for consistently advocating the legalisation of cannabis in New Zealand. It has social and political merit as a forum for these views and as a source of information about local and international developments. The issues under review contain some material designed to assist growers and users, and the Winter 2009 issue has a feature interview that contains some instruction (albeit limited) on how to produce the Class B drug hashish. However, the most significant influence on the dominant effect that the magazines will have on their intended adult audience is their editorial content, made up largely of reports and articles that inform readers about the political, legal, historical and cultural contexts of the current cannabis law reform debate. As vehicles for the expression of political views in favour of cannabis law reform, the magazines have a legitimate purpose. These three issues cannot fairly be said to promote or encourage criminal activity to an extent that their availability to New Zealand adults is likely to be injurious.

The magazines do not deliberately pitch their appeal to a young readership. They are obviously intended for mature readers who are already familiar with cannabis: they "speak to the converted". Nevertheless, magazines dealing with this subject matter are capable of attracting the interest of young persons. Adults must be presumed to know which behaviours the law criminalises and must take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Not only does this presumption generally not apply to persons under the age of 18 years, but such persons may not have the maturity of judgement to appreciate that the magazines' support for currently criminal behaviour is in the context of law reform advocacy. The magazines are therefore likely to injure the public good if they are made available to people under the age of 18 years, who may read them as encouraging experimentation with criminal behaviour. This decision is consistent with the classification of publications advocating cannabis law reform since the Film and Literature Board of Review’s 1998 High Times decision.7

Section 14 of the NZBR Act requires that any classification should impinge on the freedom of expression no more than is necessary to make it unlikely that the publication’s restricted availability would injure the public good. Given the considerations above, a ban is neither reasonable nor demonstrably justified. However, there is a likelihood of injury to the public good if the publication were to be made available to children and young persons. Restricting the availability of the three issues of Norml News to adults limits the rights of some New Zealanders to access reading material of their choice, but the restriction allows adults access to information and opinion that contributes to the ongoing debate over the legalisation of cannabis. In this instance, the limitation represents the minimum interference with the freedom of expression that is consistent with preventing injury to the public good.
The Department of Internal Affairs has requested that consideration be given to issuing a serial publication order on Norml News magazine. However, publications such as this magazine position themselves at the borderline of acceptable content with instructional or promotional articles such as the "Bubbleman" interview. Consequently, each issue requires separate consideration.
So presumably the folks at NORML will avoid articles like the cited on one preferred methods of hashish production so that future issues won't be R18 if referred to the Censor's Office.

1 comment:

  1. Good to see common sense prevail. It's a shame police feel the need to exert pressure on the censors office, they'd be better placed exerting pressure on govt towards legalising, then they could spend their valuable resources on finding and catching real criminals and/or traffic infringement revenue gathering.