‘When Correctly Viewed, Everything is Lewd’-Art and Censorship in New Zealand

By Ursula Cheer.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In what circumstances should a liberal state enforce a certain view of art as good or bad? New Zealand has attempted to answer this perplexing question by passing comprehensive censorship legislation – the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993. Three years earlier, our parliament enacted a non-supreme Bill of Rights as the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, which contains a right to freedom of expression. This article will examine the interrelationship of these two pieces of legislation and their effect on works of art. The origins and establishment of the New Zealand classification system will be traced, followed by a description of the most important censorship provisions which impact on artwork. A selection of decisions impacting on works of art will then be analysed. Finally, the protection given to freedom of expression in our Bill of Rights will be described, and the approach taken to it within the censorship regime investigated in relation to artworks. I conclude that although a supreme Bill of Rights would lessen the impact of our censorship regime on artworks, nonetheless, our censors currently take great care to ensure that artworks are censored as little as possible in New Zealand.

Keywords: Art, Law, Censorship, New Zealand

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.447-460. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.207MB).

Ursula Cheer

Associate Professor, School of Law, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

I graduated with Honours from Canterbury Law School in 1982 and practised as a lawyer for six years. I then moved to Wellington as a speech writer to the Minister of Justice and later became legal advisor to the Prime Minister. In 1989, I moved to the United Kingdom and spent a year completing my Masters degree at Cambridge University, in which my thesis was on Censorship and Pornography. Appointment in the UK civil service followed, as a Senior Legal Advisor to the Lord Chancellor. In 1994, I and my partner returned to New Zealand, where I took up appointment as a Lecturer in Law at Canterbury Law School. I am currently an Associate Professor, specialising in Media Law.

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