By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Arcane and secretive censorship laws are to be reviewed by the Irish government and will be challenged in the High Court this week after the 23-year old fortnightly entertainment listing magazine "In Dublin" was banned for six months because it has "usually or frequently been indecent or obscene."
The Censorship of Publications Board is not required to be specific about the content they found objectionable but it is believed to result from complaints about adverts for brothels masquerading as massage parlours or health studios.
It is the first move for many years against a "mainstream
publication" and revives memories of past bans on the News of the World newspaper and leading authors like Edna O’Brien, J P Donleavy, Sean O’Faolain and John McGahern.
The Hoson company, owned by Mike Hogan, which also publishes the political magazine Magill, the Boyzone fan magazine and Banking Ireland, would not comment on the ban pending a judicial review of the decision. A similar magazine simply called Dublin was published last week.
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About 30 people are employed in "In Dublin" and other Hoson publications. National Union of Journalists national organizer Seamus Dooley described the ban as an attempt to "drag Ireland back into the dark ages".
The ban has implications for other periodicals and the Star and Examiner newspapers which carry similar adverts.
The decision of the five member board, which is headed by barrister James Ridge, can be appealed to five member Censorship Appeals Board which is chaired by former Fine Gael junior Minister George Bermingham.
The first decision of Bermingham’s newly appointed appeals board in 1996 was to lift the 23 year ban on "Playboy" magazine.
The whole apparatus of censorship laws date back to 1929 with various legislative amendments since, the last of them piloted by former Tánaiste Brian Lenihan in 1967.
The first censorship laws were introduced on the recommendation of a group calling itself the "Committee on Evil Literature" which found criminal obscenity law by itself was not sufficient to deal with
Previously secret cabinet memoranda show that the government considered completely scrapping censorship in 1966. Then
Justice Minister Lenihan was "extremely doubtful" the courts would consider many of 8,000 books then banned as obscene in the criminal sense unless "the definition was so exhaustive and rigid as to be ridiculous".
Then Bishop of Cork, Dr Con Lucey, wanted a new offence, triable by jury, to keep undesirable literature out. Lenihan said juries, particularly in Dublin, "might not be as severe as the bishop might like".
As a compromise, it was decided to keep censorship, lift the "lifetime" ban on 5,000 books and bring in an automatic lifting of a ban after 12 years.
The censorship administration and decision-making remains shrouded in secrecy and is an anachronism in today’s climate of openness, accountability and freedom of information.
The government said a consultation document on changing the censorship laws will be published before the end of the year in view cultural and social changes.
The NUJ’s Dooley condemned the secrecy surrounding the decision and said any appeal would also be heard in private. "The issue for us is the right to expression and censorship. It is not an issue about pornography. We would certainly be opposed to the exploitation of women and we would favour legislation governing incitement to hatred."
He said that if there was a problem in relation to advertising then that was a question for the Advertising Standards Authority.
The NUJ objected to the whole question of decisions taken in secret about adverts which are not sexually explicit. "Does anyone believe that if there are brothels operating in Dublin that they are going to close because "In Dublin" disappears for six months?" Dooley asked.
"The decision exposes the situation for what it is. It is absurd, it raises a lot of questions about the way in which we look at censorship.
"Everyone, including the NUJ, took our eyes off the ball. We simply forgot that this piece of legislation is there."