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Censorship of documentary films

Dear Reader,

People are getting hot and angry about censorship. Before we get started I need to point out that I am neither totally pro or anticensorship, I hold the view that for many problems in the world that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. For example a free and open discussion of how the world will meet its needs for plastic, energy, petrol, drinking water and food is needed.

But at the same time we have a need to protect both society and individuals against information which has clear misuse potential. For example the exact security arrangements of the king of Sweden should not be made public, I hold the view that the less an assassin knows about the way in which the king is protected the less likely the assassin is to be able to harm the king. While some people might think that it does not matter if people know where you sleep and how many guards you have then they should consider the tale of monk who ran a antidrug program in the far east. He was very good at getting drug addicts to give up drugs, so successful that his life was under threat by those in the illegal drug industry. As a result he made it his habit to sleep in a different part of the monastery every night, this is clearly a quite reasonable precaution against being murdered. For this monk if his sleeping arrangements were leaked then his life could be in grave danger.

As well as information which has such clear misuse potential for the good of society we need to protect against some content which is bad for society as its release has the potential to harm the interests of people. For example the woman (Erin Andrews) in the USA sued a man (Michael David Barrett) who tampered with the peephole on her hotel room door before filming her in the nude. To me this is a clear case where Erin Andrews is in the right, she had a perfectly reasonable expectation that she could get changed in private in her hotel room and not be filmed by some perverted peeping tom who puts a film of you on the internet. I think it is quite reasonable for Erin to use criminal and civil law to prevent any further violation of her right to privacy by using what can be called “censorship”.

Also if you look at the sad sorry tale of Jane Longhurst, after very unpleasant death a man (Graham Coutts) was sent to prison for life. It was found that Mr Coutts had a very nasty porn addiction. He was in the habit of viewing porn which revolved around violent and degrading sex, the new UK law outlaws the worst forms of porn.

The author of ‘the joy of sex’ (Alex Comfort) joked that once the term “perverted sex” in a sex manual had the meaning of “sexual activity which the author of the book did not enjoy”, but he did state that some perversions are so harmful to society that they need to be outlawed. Now I suspect that some of my readers look at porn,  I sincerely hope none of them look at anything which would fall foul of sections 63 to 71 of the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration act.

Even if we assume that the majority of people can view this distasteful matter without turning into sexual criminals, it is possible that a minority of people after viewing such porn will be then more likely to commit a serious sexual crime. So I hold the view that to protect society we need to use censorship to prevent this dire porn being circulated in society. I am not alone in these views, the British Board of Film Classification have stated that they need to help to protect society from films which induce “moral harm“.

To quote from their website

moral harm may be caused by, for example, desensitising a potential viewer to the effects of violence, degrading a potential viewer’s sense of empathy, encouraging a dehumanised view of others, suppressing pro-social attitudes, encouraging anti-social attitudes, reinforcing unhealthy fantasies, or eroding a sense of moral responsibility.

But now we will get onto the big issue, in France a woman made a documentary about autism in her country. She interviewed a series of psychiatrists and psychoanalysis practitioners about the subject. Then using the interviews she made a feature film, but then Eric Laurent, Esthela Solano-Suarez and Alexandre Stevens (who were three of those interviewed for the film) have brought a court action against her.

These three people have claimed that Sophie Robert has distorted their words, they want the film to be banned. Prof Travis Thompson has spoken out in defence of the film. He is quoted as saying

The theoretical notions expressed by the several psychoanalysts interviewed have no empirical foundation and would be amusing or simply embarrassing, if it weren’t for the fact that apparently many people take them seriously in France.

I am unable to tell you what to think about Sophie’s film which can be viewed here. But I hold the view that the censorship debate about her film will be more important than any of the debate about porn or peeping toms. I would like to encourage my readers to keep an eye on this court case.


One Response

  1. Thank you for blogging about the court case of Sophie Robert. I don’t know if you have read the NY Times/IHT article. If not, I would highly recommend it.

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