All posts by Jerry Barnett

News Site “UK Column” Removes All Videos After Brush with ATVOD

Few people in the UK are yet aware that for the past few years, the huge media regulator (and censor) Ofcom has had the power to regulate online video services. The EU’s Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMS) was intended to extend broadcast regulation to online TV catch-up services. In this country, Ofcom was tasked with implementing the directive, and promptly outsourced the job to a private organisation, ATVOD.

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The regulations were originally expected to apply only to services such as 4oD and the BBC’s iPlayer; but ATVOD had different ideas, taking a far broader view of what constituted a “TV-like” service. ATVOD’s first move was to effectively wipe out the UK porn industry overnight by insisting British porn sites verify the age of all visitors before allowing them to see any naughty bits: a requirement so onerous that no site could possibly hope to implement it and stay in business (ATVOD claims the support of the “responsible” adult industry, but this in fact consists of TV and DVD companies who are delighted to see their online competitors closed down).

In the interest of full disclosure, mine was one of many businesses affected, and I closed my company in 2012. Playboy moved its core operations from London to Canada (losing UK jobs and tax revenues), and many smaller sites were simply forced to shut down. But the new regulation poses a threat far beyond the right to operate a porn site. All websites deemed TV-like by ATVOD are forced to pay the regulator a fee, and then become liable for implementing rules designed for large broadcast corporations. Breaching these complex rules can mean the site’s operator receives a penalty of up to £250,000.

Suddenly, individuals running video websites, or even YouTube channels, must conform to the same rules as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. The corrosive effect on free speech is potentially catastrophic. And this week, the threat proved to be more than theoretical.

The campaigning website UK Column, which reports on corruption within the British establishment, decided to remove all of its video content after being deemed an “on-demand programme service” by ATVOD. The site’s co-editor Brian Gerrish said: “This represents an immediate and dangerous attack on free speech on the internet and should be of massive concern to all Youtube users, as the government seems to be moving to censor individuals directly, putting them on the same regulatory footing as global corporations like the BBC and CNN. As a government agency, ATVOD’s clearly flawed working practices and their alignment to the corporate media pose a direct threat to our personal liberty and freedoms.”

For 20 years, the Internet has threatened the power of the state and corporations to set the message. Ordinary citizens have become publishers of blogs, podcasts and videos. In Britain, this era of unprecedented free speech has now come to an abrupt end. The British state has signalled its intolerance for citizen broadcasters.

Pornography is the canary in the coalmine: it is the playing field upon which censors can hone their methods before turning their gaze elsewhere. The British press, from the Guardian to the Mail, and the political class from Labour to Conservative, has almost universally allowed the Porn Panic to proceed without question. And yet censorship powers developed for one reason can easily be reused elsewhere. This week’s events are a wake-up call to those who had not yet noticed that British democracy is in an increasingly weakened state. Free speech is in undeniable decline. This is no longer about the right to watch pornography: it is about whether Britain is losing the freedoms that are so fundamental a part of this country’s history.

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The Sex Workers’ Opera

One of things that took me by surprise when I launched my porn website a decade ago was the amount of hatred thrown at pornstars. As I got to know the sex industries better, I discovered that strippers and prostitutes are the targets of similar abuse – or worse. But the biggest surprise was the source of much of the hatred: not from a religious-minded “patriarchy”, as I’d expected, but in large part from other women, and especially from feminists.

This was bizarre, given that feminist morality campaigners were claiming they were out to rescue these women. When “rescuing” entails spitting on strippers as they go to work, supporting immigration and drug squad raids on brothels, and calling for well-paid women to be made unemployed, one has to suspect the true motivations of the rescuer.

Pornstars are public performers, and tend not to be particularly shy or retiring. But most prostitutes, out of necessity (partly thanks to the bigotry of the rescue industry), seek privacy. In my campaigning work, I’ve often encountered women who have had their livelihoods attacked, but have chosen to stay silent because of the fear of stigma, should they choose to defend themselves. The video-on-demand regulator ATVOD, for example, chooses to publish the real names and addresses of sex workers who run video websites. It is, of course, purely coincidental that a number of such women have chosen to close down their sites rather than be forced to publicly defend their right to run them.

Anti-sex campaigners rely on sex workers’ fear of publicity, knowing that few will openly challenge their campaigns of misinformation. So when I watched the excellent Sex Workers’ Opera at a packed theatre in East London last night, I was deeply impressed by (among other things) the bravery of the performers, many of whom were sex workers.

The performance opened with a rant from a “member of the audience”, who jumped on stage and began shouting about “objectification” and “trafficking”, while screaming SHUT UP! at anybody who dared look in her direction. This rapidly set the scene: in this war of morality-dressed-as-concern, even those sex workers who dare to speak for themselves must be denied a voice. They must be saved, and if they don’t want to be saved, it just shows how badly sex work has fucked them up psychologically, thus reinforcing the need to save them.

The performances were based on sex workers’ own stories, and so were poignant as well as frequently funny; they often struck a chord with sex workers who were present in the audience. The police raid in which women were taken from their workplaces and locked in cells “for their protection”; the women forced to work alone, and made more vulnerable to attack, by laws against brothels; the prostitute who found herself giving marriage guidance counselling to her client; the dominatrix; the submissive. A section of the performance was by webcam workers, and was projected onto a screen rather than performed live on stage. There was an excellent performance by a pole dancer.

Having expected a fairly amateur affair (after all, none of these were professional singers or actors), I was surprised by the quality of the writing, production and performances. For sure, there were some rough edges – but for a two-day play staged by non-professionals, the quality was easily good enough for me to enjoy the entire show.

The overall message was a simple one, which was laid bare in the finale: Listen To Me. How dare outsiders deign to speak on behalf of those whose voices they refuse to hear? How dare moralists insist to know more about sex work than the sex workers themselves?

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Want to see it? Sadly, you’ve probably missed it. Tonight’s is the final performance, and it’s almost certainly sold out, as yesterday’s was. But the show was strong enough that, with professional production, it could be revived as something bigger and better in future. Let’s hope this happens, and that these voices reach an ever wider audience. You can join their Facebook page or follow on Twitter to keep in touch.

Discussion: Censorship of “Sexualised” Music Videos

The BBFC, with its DVD classification business in long-term decline, has lobbied for itself some nice new business, classifying music videos.

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The new move was preceded by a neatly-packaged moral panic in 2013 over “sexualised” music videos, with Miley Cyrus singled out for a particularly strong witch-hunt; Cyrus had committed the  sin of transforming, in recent years, from an innocent little girl into a grown, sexual woman, and then proceeded to appear naked  – something that is seen as unpardonable among sexual morality campaigners.

This month, a conference session was held as part of The Great Escape music industry event, to discuss the issues around sexual music videos and censorship; I took part on behalf of Sex & Censorship. You can read a write-up and listen to a recording of the discussion here.

ASACP Rejects ATVOD Approach to Child Protection

The US-based child protection organisation, the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) today issued a statement to clarify its position on the UK video-on-demand regulator ATVOD‘s approach to child protection.

ATVOD insists that UK-based porn sites must verify the ages of all visitors before displaying any hardcore imagery (even still images that can be freely found on Google Images or Twitter). In practise, this has made operating a British porn website financially non-viable, and the effect has been to close down – or drive offshore – much of Britain’s online adult industry. The only remaining UK-based adult websites are those run by more traditional TV, DVD and magazine companies, which make the bulk of their revenues offline.

This approach to regulation has puzzled observers, since ATVOD has no remit over any website outside the UK. Furthermore, there are already mature and effective parental control systems available. However, the regulator has been lobbying (using dodgy press releases that claim children are routinely watching porn) for the UK government to introduce legislation that would strengthen its powers. Recently, the government has indicated that such legislation will be introduced. Although the nature of the legislation is unclear, it would undoubtedly involve the official commencement of widespread Internet censorship – to be overseen by ATVOD, naturally.

There had been some earlier confusion over ASACP’s position, which had appeared at times to be supportive of ATVOD. However, in today’s release, the organisation stated it believes that:

…the proposed age verification measures are overbroad, and do not address the most important factor in this equation — the role of the parent.

ASACP also warned that censorship is subject to mission-creep:

Just as the recent UK parental filters turned out to block content ranging from non-erotic nudity to sex education, so this new bill can be expected to be overly broad in its definition of adult entertainment content.

To dispel any misunderstanding over ASACP’s position on ATVOD, the statement concluded:

With this in mind, ASACP cannot support ATVOD’s call for mandatory age verification, but continues to work with all stakeholders to develop a workable solution that protects the needs and interests of children, their parents and guardians as well as adult consumers and publishers of legal erotica, alike.

Jameela Jamil’s Porn Panic

On Thursday evening, BBC3 showed a whole hour of porn panic, hosted by Radio One presenter Jameela Jamil. The programme’s title, Porn What’s The Harm, suggested an open-minded enquiry into the question of whether porn is harmful to teenagers who view it. But this was never going to be an unbiased look at the issue. Jamil has long made clear her dislike of pornography. And the programme was as full of misinformation and panic as we expected.

Jamil’s opening words set the scene: “Porn is everywhere!” Um… is it? Of course it isn’t – this is a standard porn panic statement. And it wasn’t alone. Barely a minute passed without Jamil making clear her shock, horror and disgust: “UNBELIEVABLY explicit sex acts”, “In the homes, in the minds, in the lives of our children”, “This is unbelievable!”, “Ordinary families have to deal with this every day”, “Countless children have already been exposed to shocking images”, “I’m horrified!”, “Bombarded with these pornographic images”, and on and on and on…

According to the Internet, Jamil is 28. Yet I wondered at times if she is perhaps in her 50s. Although Internet porn has been freely available for a full generation, Jamil seems to believe she grew up in an innocent, porn-free age, and that young people today are growing up in a different world to the one she did. The web has been widely available for about 20 years, and porn has always featured very heavily, and has been easy to access. And porn on video has been widely available since the 1980s. Anybody under 30 has had easy access to Internet pornography since their early teens, and most people under 50 will have had some exposure to porn as a teenager.

There was a genuine laugh out loud moment for me, when Jamil describes seeing porn at 15, a scene involving a woman and a cucumber, and says: it “…made me not eat a salad for 12 years!” So now we know: porn is responsible for Britain’s unhealthy diets as well as every other bad thing that’s ever happened.

When talking about teens “sexting” images to each other, she again appears to be far older than she actually is. “I’m so glad that every boyfriend I’ve had until now was before picture messaging”, she says. And since picture messaging has been around for a decade or so, poor Jameela has clearly been single since she was 18!

The programme conducts a survey of teens and finds the average age of first accessing porn is 14 – so no great surprise. It then goes on to look at the effects of porn on teens. Rather than speak to experts, the teenagers themselves are asked how they are affected. Such self-report evidence is of little value. How can teens compare themselves to the person they would be if they hadn’t watched porn? How can teens today compare themselves to the teenagers of the 1970s who didn’t have easy access to pornography?

Predictably, although she claimed to be interested in the effects of porn on teens, Jamil didn’t interview any psychologists. If she had, she’d have discovered there is little evidence that pornography is harmful. Instead, there was a brief appearance by two “experts in sexualisation”. And as has already been covered here, sexualisation is simply another keyword designed to invoke moral panic.

Undaunted by the lack of evidence of harm, Jamil goes into full-blown moral panic mode. She raises the case of an 11 year old boy who raped his 8 year old sister after – we are told – looking at porn. And she interviews a rape victim who is “convinced pornography played a part in the attack”.

Of course, if porn really was causing people to commit sexual violence, there would have been a steep rise in sexual crime in the past 30 years, as porn consumption has increased – and as is now well known, the reverse has happened. There is a reverse correlation between porn consumption and sexual violence.

In linking porn to rape, Jamil is playing a trick that has been employed by morality campaigners since at least the 1980s. And like those campaigners, she is guilty of switching the blame for rape away from the rapist, and giving rapists an excuse for their behaviour: “the porn made me do it”.

And then, like all good purveyors of panic, Jamil casually adds child abuse imagery to the equation, helping blur the line between consenting adult sex and the rape of children.

She throws in several other tried-and-tested panic tools for good measure, such as blaming porn for women who have cosmetic surgery on their labia. According to this idea, all vulva in pornography are neat and small, and this makes women seek surgery to copy the pornstars. In fact, porn has taught people that vaginas are not all the same, and some scenes (link NSFW!) positively worship generously-proportioned female genitalia. Her evidence that this is happening? “I often see reports in the media linking porn to labiaplasties”. You mean the same media that allows dishonest, moralistic documentaries like yours to be broadcast on TV, Jameela?

It is disappointing that such propaganda is still broadcast by the BBC in the place of informed, panic-free comment. And of course, there’s an agenda. While pretending to be naive of all things porn, Jamil throws in some very current political soundbites. When browsing porn, she expresses shock that she has not been asked to verify her age, thus fitting in surprisingly neatly with ATVOD’s recent campaign aimed at giving ATVOD statutory powers to censor the Internet. If she had tried to access the same sites from a PC on which child protection software was installed, she wouldn’t have been able to access the images that so shocked her.

So come on BBC: this discussion is welcome, but let’s have some honest, evidence based programming, rather than endless panic aimed at building public support for Internet censorship.

17 Anti-Porn Arguments

It’s difficult to pin down and deal with all of the anti-porn arguments flying around. They seem to mutate constantly, and often contradict each other. For those of us who regularly encounter anti-porn activists, it’s hard to explain to others the sheer lack of intelligence in the anti-porn movement. Just as in the climate-change “debate”, there isn’t really much of a debate at all – just facts clashing with dogma to create noise.

So I’m indebted to the anti-porn campaigner (well, anti-porn entrepreneur is probably more accurate) known as One Angry Girl, who seems to be a minor celebrity in the puritanical feminist community, and even has a testimonial on her site from a member of our favourite UK anti-sex group, Object.

OAG has kindly pulled together 17 “pro-porn” statements, and her rebuttals, into one handy crib-sheet. And since I was in the mood for a blogging marathon, here are all 17, with my own comments. Her points are made using a “They say”/”You say” formula, and feature a high venom/fact ratio.

OAG is very, very angry that some women take off their clothes for money. She’s so livid, she’s determined to stop them from doing so. Because that will make her feel better, for some  reason which she never explains. So here it is: proof that porn is evil.

 1) They say: But they’re enjoying themselves

You say: If they enjoy it so much, then they would be willing to do it for $7.50 per hour.

I say: How do you know they wouldn’t? Some do it for free – check out all the amateur porn that people upload themselves.

Or: Women in porn are often screaming with joy, but sometimes they are also screaming in pain. Which should we believe? If their pleasure is real, and not faked, then their pain is also real, and not faked.

I say: Have you tried asking the women how they feel during a scene? No? Why not? Shouldn’t you learn something about how this art-form actually works behind the scenes, before dedicating your life to hating it?

Or: Once Jenna Jameson got very powerful in the industry, she began refusing  do scenes involving anal sex. This suggests to me that she doesn’t actually enjoy anal sex. Yet Im sure if you investigate her earlier movies, you can probably find a scene or two where she is appearing to enjoy it. Why? Its called acting.

I say: Some pornstars I’ve met choose not to have anal sex on camera; some choose to do it. Agencies will ask girls up-front what their “levels” are: anal, boy-girl, girl-girl, solo, etc. The girl gets to choose. The key thing isn’t whether anal sex hurts, or if you find it icky: it is the C-word: Consent. For somebody who sells anti-rape bumper stickers on your site, you don’t seem to care much about consent.

2) They say: Strippers are empowered

You say: If they’re so powerful, then why do strip clubs have security guards protecting the dancers? Why do women working bachelor parties have to take security with them?

I say: Erm… in my experience, they don’t.

Or: How is it empowering for women to give men exactly what they’ve come to expect from us?

I say: I find it empowering when I make a woman cum. Likewise, I know many women find it empowering to give a man a hard-on.

Or: How is it empowering to grovel and compete for male attention and cash…like a trained seal doing flips in a tank to get his fish reward?

I say: You could ask strippers that question. But since you don’t actually care what they think, you won’t. Your comment about being a “trained seal” simply reveals your disdain for the stripper. So be clear: are you trying to rescue them, or do you merely hate them?

3) Porn/prostitution have always been around, they always will be, so what’re you gonna do?

You say: Rape, murder, and incest have always been around too. Should we be okay with those things?

I say: Porn and prostitution involve consent. Rape, murder, incest do not. Consent good, coercion bad. Got it yet?

4) They say: Porn-stars and strippers are celebrating their sexuality

You say: Why does celebrating your sexuality always seem to happen in public for strangers and a paycheck? Does anyone ever get to celebrate their sexuality in private with their partner?

I say: Yes, pornstars (and most of the rest of us) also fuck in private. Many of them are in relationships, and many are married. They’re real people with minds, feelings, and lives beyond the porn set. And they also choose to earn money fucking on camera. And you choose to obsess about it.

5) They say: My partner and I both enjoy using porn, so what’s the problem? Who’s getting hurt?

You say: Some people like to wear fur coats, or eat veal, or shop at Wal-Mart. Your enjoyment of a product does not erase the suffering that went into creating that product.

I say: I’m pretty sure animals don’t surrender their fur or their meat consensually. When pornstars are skinned to make coats or killed for their meat, I’ll join your anti-porn crusade.

6) They say: Ok, maybe some of the women in porn didn’t freely choose their careers, but lots of them did.

You say: If you have a comprehensive research survey of all current and former porn workers, I’d love to see it. There isn’t one available. However, there are major studies involving prostitutes around the world, which found that 90% of them wanted out immediately, but didn’t have the resources.

I say: There’s plenty of research into porn – but you’re clearly not interested in seeing it. For example here’s a study covering 10,000 pornstars, which is around 10,000 more than you’ve researched. But then, facts and prejudice don’t sit well together.

7) They say: Ok, well not everyone who uses porn becomes a rapist/addicted/fucked-up

You say: Not everyone who smokes cigarettes gets lung cancer, and cigarettes still come with warning labels.

I say: Porn use correlates with declining rates of sexual violence. So if porn is creating rapists, why do the statistics not show this?

8) They say: If you hate porn, just don’t watch it

You say: That’s like saying if you hate air pollution, dont breathe. I’m surrounded by porn everywhere I go whether I like it or not. Where’s my free choice not to see it?

I say: If you think you’re surrounded by porn everywhere you go, you might be confusing “porn” with “everything”. You are clearly unusually sensitive to displays of sexuality. Perhaps – as this article in Psychology Today suggests, porn isn’t the problem: You are!

9) They say: Nobody is forcing them to do it. It’s their choice.

You say: The word “choice” implies that there was at least one other viable option available. What was their other option?

I say: They could do a job that doesn’t involve getting naked, but for less money, like the rest of us do. Or are you implying that pornstars are too dumb to do anything else? Who forced you to design and sell shouty T-shirts? It surely wasn’t your choice. Let me rescue you!

10) They say: Pornography and prostitution are different.

You say: Not really, pornography is just prostitution plus a camera.

I say: No, doing porn isn’t exactly the same as prostitution, but for sure they both involve money and sex. And since you don’t seem to be anti-money, you’re quite clearly anti-sex.

11) They say: Porn has always existed. Look at Pompeii.

You say: Three wall paintings in Pompeii do not compare to the multi-billion dollar global industry we have today. That’s like comparing a caveman’s smoke signals to the iPhone.

I say: Pompeii didn’t just have a few wall paintings: it had many explicit statues on public display like the one recently shown in the British Museum of Pan having sex with a goat. Quite possibly, your Roman ancestors were selling angry T-shirts (in Latin).

12) They say: You just hate sex.

You  say: Porn is not sex, but a distorted, for-sale, fictionalized version of sex. If I told you I don’t eat at Burger King, would you tell me I hated food?

I say: No, but if you became upset by pictures of flame-grilled Whoppers, I might think you’re crazy.

Or: I like sex just fine. But I prefer to have sex only with someone I actually know and like, for free, in private with no strangers watching. Why is that weird to you?

I say: It’s not weird to have sex in private. Most people (including pornstars) do that. Nobody is telling you how to conduct your sex life. Why are you so determined to tell other people how to lead their sex lives? Perhaps you’d make a good dominatrix.

13) They say: You’re just jealous because you’re not as pretty as a porn-star

You say: Even porn-stars don’t look like their original selves. After a few rounds of surgery, a dye job, and some makeup I could look exactly like them.

I say: You clearly haven’t looked at much porn. Porn is far more accepting of non-standard ideas of beauty than most other forms of performance. I’ve met pornstars from 18 to 70, and every shape, size and race. You too could be a pornstar, without the need for surgery or a dye job (and don’t worry, makeup will be provided for you on-set). Of course, the only person who can decide whether you should be a pornstar is you.

14) They say: You’re just jealous because men like them better than you.

You say: It’s been successfully proven that just about any naked woman can get any straight man’s attention pretty quickly. It’s not hard to do, and it doesn’t make you special.

I say: Meeeeee-OW!

15) They say: I’ve watched porn and I’ve never raped anyone.

You say: I guess you are arguing that words and images paired together do not have the power to influence human behavior. If that is your argument, then kindly explain:

[1] the multi-billion dollar industry called ‘advertising’
[2] kids learning their ABCs from Sesame Street
[3] people learning to make a meal by watching Martha Stewart
[4] public service announcements telling us not to drink and drive
[5] (insert your own example here)

I say: And horror films make people murder each other with chainsaws, and Grand Theft Auto makes people run over old ladies for fun. Except they don’t. Because the human mind is a little more complex than you think.

16) They say: The women in the industry make more money than men, therefore it’s empowering to them.

You say: It’s true that pornography and prostitution are the only industries where a woman can out-earn her male counterparts. What does that say about our economy, or about women’s power, that the only way for a woman to outearn a man is to get naked and fuck strangers?

I say: So when male bankers earn more than women, women are oppressed? But when female pornstars out-earn male ones, that also means women are oppressed? In fact, you (finally) raise an interesting question. And there are interesting answers. But why aren’t you campaigning for women to earn more in banking rather than attacking the one trade where women do earn more?

17) They say: You want to censor all porn!

You say: I haven’t ever mentioned censorship, which doesn’t address demand for porn. You’re saying that to shut me up and it won’t work.

I say: It’s true, you haven’t mentioned censorship, though most anti-porn campaigners are pro-censorship. In fact, you haven’t mentioned any solution to these “problems” at all. Funny that… perhaps you don’t actually give a damn, and you just want to sell more angry T-shirts? According to your site, you’ve sold 24,000 of them. Yay capitalism!

‘Rape Porn’: Our Response to Parliament

Parliament is currently considering, as part of the upcoming Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, criminalising the possession of what the government refers to as ‘rape porn’. Sex & Censorship have submitted a response to oppose this new law (Clause 16 in the new bill).

The response was written by Jerry Barnett of Sex & Censorship, and Dr David Ley, a psychologist specialising in sexuality. We raised seven issues, which are summarised below (Dr Ley’s response formed point 5).

  1. The proposed law results from a moral panic over ‘rape porn’ rather than any evidence of harm.
  2. Although headlined as ‘rape porn’, the wording of the law would criminalise consenting (but perhaps non-standard) sexual activity.
  3. The law blurs the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sex, and so may hinder, rather than help, attempts to reduce sexual violence.
  4. There has been no evidence presented that viewers of the content in question may be driven to commit sexual violence as a result of viewing it.
  5. Conversely, there is evidence that such content may serve as an outlet for people who are prone to sexual violence and may reduce rather than increase their likelihood to commit harm.
  6. In general, possession laws are draconian as they place an impossible burden of legal and technical knowledge on members of the public.
  7. Censorship itself is harmful to free expression. Censorship laws should, therefore, only be introduced in response to compelling evidence of harm rather than on the basis of moral values alone.

The full response document (PDF) can be downloaded by clicking this link: S&C parliament rape porn submission.

Success! Our London Protest

The build-up to our protest yesterday was hectic, with coverage in the Huffington Post and the Independent in the preceding days.

When we originally planned the event, we thought it would be great if a dozen people turned up: after all, that’s about the size of the typical pro-censorship protest held by Object and other anti-sex campaigners. In fact, at least 50 people turned out, including pornstars, strippers and sex workers.

We’d like to thank those who came – especially former pornstar Renee Richards, who helped build for the event, and turned up to make a speech, despite being seven months pregnant!

Click here for full event coverage and photos from XBIZ.

Censored UK: Where Are We Now?

While we at Sex & Censorship are following – with increasing trepidation – the endless drift towards censorship in the UK, we’re sometimes reminded that many of our supporters can’t keep up with all the news and events. That’s hardly surprising: Britain is currently experiencing wave after wave of moral panic, and it seems that hardly a week goes by without more bad news for free expression. So here is a brief round-up of some of the main issues comprising British censorship at present. I’ve undoubtedly missed stuff: feel free to add it below. Of course, a short blog post can’t hope to explain everything that’s taking place. I’m currently documenting British censorship in a book, Porn Panic: please join our mailing list to be alerted when this is published.

Law

  • The Obscene Publications Act: the grandaddy of all censorship laws, outlawing the distribution of content that might “deprave and corrupt” its audience.
  • Video Recordings Act: since 1984(!) the BBFC (a private organisation) has had the right to censor videos and DVDs, and they seem to have a particular problem with pornography, making UK video among the most censored in Europe.
  • Protection of Children Act: originally designed to criminalise images of child abuse, but sometimes misused, even to harass viewers of legitimate pornography.
  • Dangerous Cartoons Act: yes, you can become a sex offender for possessing a sexual cartoon featuring a character that might appear to be under-age – such as seen in popular Japanese anime cartoons.
  • Extreme Porn Law: three years in jail for possessing images of what the government considers to be “extreme pornography” – even if they are images of yourself participating in consensual sex with your own partner.
  • Rape Porn: a planned extension to the extreme porn law whereby you can be jailed for possessing an image of a sexual act that appears to be non-consensual (whether it is actually consensual or not). Quick, delete those bondage photos!
  • Gagging law: no, it’s not about blowjobs: it’s a serious attack on the rights of political campaigning organisations to speak freely, disguised as a law to regulate lobbying.

Regulation

  • Although they’ve never been mandated by Parliament or the British people to do so, Ofcom have consistently refused to allow hardcore sex on TV: even on adult channels at 3am. Almost all other EU countries, and the US, allow porn to be broadcast.
  • A private body, ATVOD, has taken it upon itself to drive much of the online porn industry out of the country, or out of business, by mandating strict website guidelines that make profitable business effectively impossible. They claim an EU directive gives them this right, although strangely, none of the other 26 EU member states have taken this action, and erotic/sexual material continues to be sold legally elsewhere in Europe without such restrictions.
  • Internet blocking: There were at least two attempts to introduce mandatory Internet censorship laws into Parliament last year; while these both failed, we expect similar laws to have more success in the near future.

ISPs

  • Mobile networks: since 2004, mobile operators have voluntarily censored Internet access from phones until the owner proves they are over 18. This censorship covers all sorts of material, and many adults as well as teenagers are denied access to much of the Internet from their mobile phones.
  • Broadband filtering: since December, ISPs have voluntarily begun to offer “porn filters” to home-owners, under the pretext of “protecting children”. However, these filters block, not just porn, but dozens of categories of content for entire households, and offer the bill payer a means of restricting Internet access for others in the same household.

Policing Speech

A raft of laws against “malicious communication” and “terrorism” have been used to jail people for speech alone. Increasingly, the important line between expression and action is becoming blurred in the eyes of the UK authorities. These days, writing can be considered terrorism, and jokes tweeted in poor taste can see you dragged into court.

Academia

There is a worrying trend towards increasing censorship within universities, which (one would have hoped) should be beacons of free expression, debate and discussion. For example, several student unions have banned the Sun newspaper, not for its dodgy news or political bias, but for displaying that most terrible thing, the female nipple.

What now?

Censored UK is a reality. We struggle with limited resources to expose these attacks on free expression, and campaign against those who try to push us even further in this direction. If any of this worries or outrages you, please donate to our campaign and help us restore some sanity!