Society for the Promotion of Community Standards

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards (SPCS) is a conservative Christian-dominated pro-censorship organisation in New Zealand. The Society's objectives include the encouragement of "self-respect and the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God", the "recognition of the sanctity of human life and its preservation in all stages", and the promotion of "wholesome personal values, including strong family life and the benefits of lasting marriage".


It was founded in 1970 by Patricia Bartlett who was formerly a nun of the Roman Catholic Order of the Sisters of Mercy. Bartlett died of an inherited cardiovascular condition in 2000. From a claimed peak membership of 25,000 in the 1970's, its membership fell to its present level of about 400.

Its current President is Mike Petrus, former Kapiti candidate for the now defunct Christian Heritage Party. Its Vice President is Graeme Fox. The current Secretary is David Lane, who also heads the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society. Lane is the most active figure in the Society, issuing all its press releases and writing its submissions.

The Society appears to be in decline, with a shrinking membership and financial difficulties apparent from its 2005 statement of financial performance. The Society is funded by a diminishing level of member donations and has incurred relatively high legal bills in its unsuccessful challenges to censorship decisions. These bills, coupled with the growth of the part-time secretary's remuneration from NZ$2,000 per annum in 2000 to NZ$18,000 in 2005 have placed considerable financial strain on the organisation. Evidence of its poor financial state can be seen in its request to have a nominal NZ$25 classification fee waived by the Chief Censor. Fee waivers can only be sought when paying the full fee would be an 'undue burden', suggesting that the SPCS has very little money in its coffers.


Initially, the organisation campaigned against pornography in films, videos and magazines. However, Howley v Lawrence Publishing [1986] (Court of Appeal) initiated a string of anti-censorship court and regulatory decisions that came to rely on evidence-based social scientific proof for censorship policy decisions. This culminated in passage of the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993, and marginalised their campaign.

SPCS has issued media releases opposing civil unions, hate speech bans, the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, and the decriminalisation of sex work. The SPCS has repeatedly criticised Bill Hastings, New Zealand's Chief Censor, the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), and the Film and Literature Board of Review for what it believes to be their liberal application of censorship law. It has sought interim restriction orders (temporary injunctions) to prevent the screening of films it considers to have objectionable sexual and violent content such as Baise-Moi, Irreversible, Visitor Q, Bully, Kill Bill, The Piano Teacher and Y Tu Mama Tambien at the Beck's Incredible Film Festival and the New Zealand International Film Festivals. It succeeded only with respect to Baise-Moi, although after several appeals this film subsequently went on to general commercial release. The SPCS has also sought permanent bans of the films Kill Bill, Baise-Moi, Irreversible, Visitor Q, Bully, Ken Park, Anatomie de l'enfer, Twentynine Palms, Y Tu Mama Tambien, 9 Songs and The Piano Teacher, again on the basis of what the SPCS believes is their objectionable sexual and violent content. It has not succeeded in obtaining permanent bans of any of these films. In 2005, the SPCS unsuccessfully sought an R18 classification of the computer game Playboy: The Mansion.

On the other hand, the SPCS campaigned to have the rating of The Passion of the Christ reduced to permit its exhibition to children provided they were accompanied by a parent despite criticisms of the film's graphic violence. As a result of a review brought by Hoyts, the distributor of The Passion of the Christ, the film's classification was reduced from R16 to R15, which meant that most fifth-form (15 year old) students could view it. Also contrary to the SPCS' normal stance, Vice President Graeme Fox has stated on national television that if people wanted to watch hard core porn, that was alright with him. One of the objects of the SPCS is 'to focus attention on the harmful nature and consequences of sexual promiscuity, obscenity, pornography and violence'.

Since 1995, the SPCS has taken 15 appeals to the Film and Literature Board of Review and succeeded in two of them. In 1995 the SPCS succeeded in having one porn video banned and in 1996 it had scenes cut from another on appeal. Since then every appeal that the SPCS has sought has resulted in the same or a lower classification. Interestingly Bill Hastings, whom the SPCS campaigns to remove from Office, was a member of the Board that allowed the two successful appeals.

Having apparently exhausted its avenues of appeal over censorship decisions, in 2006 the SPCS began to criticise the financial management of the OFLC. It complained to the Auditor General that the OFLC was inefficient and mis-managed taxpayer funds. The Auditor General dismissed the SPCS' complaint, stating that "no evidence of waste was found during the course of the audit" of the OFLC.

SPCS is also strongly opposed to lesbian and gay rights. In 2000, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand ruled that the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 could not be interpreted to ban two American anti-gay videos produced by Jeremiah Films. The SPCS was not the originator of the appeal over the videos but is a strong supporter of the Court's decision.

See also



  • New Zealand Administrative Reports (NZAR). The NZAR contain tribunal and court decisions related to New Zealand censorship law (1984- ).
  • Paul Christoffel: Censored: A short history of censorship in New Zealand:Department of Internal Affairs: Wellington: 1989: ISBN 0-477-05633-4
  • Carolyn Moynihan: A Stand for Decency: Patricia Bartlett and the Society for Promotion of Community Standards: SPCS: Upper Hutt: 1995: ISBN 0-473-03340-2

(This is a biographical work related to the life of the late SPCS Secretary Patricia Bartlett, including much detail about relevant censorship policy and law from her organisation's perspective.)

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