Chief Censor David Shanks ponders porn crackdown

Who gets to decide what is porn and what isn't?

That's a question the Chief Censor says the Government will be struggling with as it looks to keep Kiwi kids shielded from the "avalanche of pornography" they are being exposed to, according to Children's Minister Tracey Martin.

Martin is looking at what can be done to make it more difficult for children to access it, whether deliberately or accidentally. Advice to Martin, who is also Internal Affairs Minister, is that our laws are woefully out-of-date.

"The fact is our regulations today are designed for that world," Chief Censor David Shanks told The AM Show on Monday.

"My Act is 1993, the Broadcasting Standards Act is earlier than that. Our regulations were designed for a media environment that is totally different from what we're faced with today. It does need to change."

Tracey Martin.
Tracey Martin. Photo credit: Getty

A report compiled by the Chief Censor last year found two-thirds of kids 17 and under had seen porn online. A quarter of them saw it before they were 12.

"That is often not when they are looking for it. They are shown it or they come across it accidentally," said Shanks. 

"It's massively accessible. It's one of the most popular content categories on the internet. One of the issues with that is it's highly accessible to children and young people."

Martin says all options are on the table. Shanks told The AM Show there are ethical dilemmas involved in cutting the supply, however.

"Are we going to become like China, in terms of state-imposed restrictions? And who decides where the limits to those are?" These are difficult questions."

He said he once stood in front of a room full of people at a conference and outlined a scenario.

"I said, 'I'm the chief censor. Imagine I've got a box with a button on it - a big red button - and if I push that button, I've terminated all access to pornography for everyone in this country. Should I push the button?' 

"There was a stunned silence from the room, then someone said, 'Who gets to decide what pornography is?' I said, 'I am! I'm the Chief Censor.' But I think that highlights some of the issues underpinning these questions."

No one in the audience urged him to push the button. 

David Shanks
David Shanks Photo credit: The AM Show

A working party has been set up to investigate what can be done, involving the Office of Film and Literature Classification leads the group, and other agencies involved are Netsafe, the Ministry of Health, Internal Affairs, the Ministry for Women, the Ministry of Social Development, ACC and the Ministry of Education.

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