Tag Archives: atvod

This Anti-Porn Law is Our Clause 28

My earliest memories of a sexual minority being unjustly targeted and criminalised come from the gay scene in the late 80s. Friends who came to London to dance their youth away and to go cottaging, who had never had an interest in politics, suddenly found themselves getting up in arms, angry and belligerent, when the Thatcher government’s notorious Clause 28 came into force.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 banned the promotion, and even the discussion in schools, of homosexuality as a valid form of family relationship. It used the predictable argument of protecting children from harm. But as is often the case, the legislators were twenty years behind the times and unprepared for an urban, unclosetted gay community that was proud of its nascent culture, articulate and ready for battle. According to the papers of the day, lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords; gay activists crashed into the BBC Studios and highjacked the news. It was claimed that:

putting Clause 28 through parliament was one of the greatest promotions of homosexuality we have ever seen.”

Boy George, then demonised on the tabloids as a heroin-fuelled deviant and has-been, released No Clause 28, a single that helped put this legislation in the spotlight. Young people of all sexualities danced to the revolution, presenting gay culture as a fun and creative force, in opposition to their dull, archaic detractors. It was like being tut-tutted by your grandad, only it was real legislation. British gays’ pride in their cult of pleasure whilst denouncing prejudice, was a masterstroke that has paid off ever since. Perhaps the best lesson that the gay movement has taught future activists is: carry on, fiercely, and have fun while doing it. Something that was instinctively followed when independent porn producers, sex workers, groups from the thriving BDSM london scene and their allies, demonstrated in Parliament Square on December 12th of this year.

When the AVMS Regulations came into force two weeks earlier, on December 1st, 2014, it had a similar electrifying effect to Clause 28, mobilising individuals and groups that until then, had had very little interest in politics. Independent fetish porn producers were directly affected by banning the representation of sexual activities that appear regularly, safely and consensually in our work, as were women, LGBT and queer people, and the porn that they make. It felt as if those who wrote this legislation had no knowledge, or rather, no acknowledgement, of any sex that deviates from a narrow, normative, heterosexual, procreative model. It’s no wonder that the deviants came out in force, once again uncloseted, angry and political. Women and gay/queer people know a lot about being demonised for using their bodies for purposes that are neither procreative nor to make a man hard.

The protest was a defiant celebration of, and public pride in, sexual difference. You could feel the stirrings of a nascent movement that was not going to be bullied by shame. Staging a mass facesitting was arguably its master stroke, but was criticised both by insiders and outsiders, for displaying a sex act to a non-consenting public (of mostly London tourists). Personally, I wasn’t too concerned about this. One of the many contributions of modern gay culture to the world is the legitimisation of public sex, challenging bourgeois myths of sex as a fiercely private affair. Plus, this was London in December, and the protesters were wearing three layers of clothing. Unless you were the incarnation of Mary Whitehouse, Sodom and Gomorrah it wasn’t.

But I am still a bit of a natural born killjoy, so my fear, which I vocalised in some interviews, was at first that the spectacle of a mass facesitting would give the media the perfect excuse to exploit the banal and ignore the real purpose of the protest: never underestimate the media circus’ power to trivialise the most serious subjects.

Fortunately for the protesters, the potential for farce had long before been appropriated by the AVMS Regulations, also fabulously monikered Female Ejaculation Ban. Its ridiculousness said more about our rulers, than about those perverts in Parliament Square. There was enough potential for juicy jokes on the state’s weird obsession with spanking and squirting to fill many newspaper pages. Did I just type weird obsession? Surely, I meant predictable. Anyway, I’m digressing.

The AVMS Regulations politicised and united groups that, as I have already mentioned, have not, until now, been known for their interest in politics: namely the porn industry and the fetish scene (sex workers, on the other hand, being traditionally marginalised, have a long history of political activism). Most of the adult industry follows a neoliberal, capitalist model that worships financial gain at any cost, so the big studios aren’t going to come out in defence of the competition. The fetish scene, being very white, male and middle class, suffers from a short-sighted fetishisation of persecution. I have lost count of the many times London kinksters complain about not feeling “special”, in an increasingly tolerant culture. I hear you, you poor snowflake. These complaints can only come from people who have never suffered stigma of any kind.

But back to these freshly politicised sexual minorities, who clearly understand the dangers of discrimination and stigma: there are many similarities between the mobilising effect that the AVMS Regulations had in the independent porn producers and BDSM scene, and Clause 28 in the gay community. Neither gays nor women can enjoy their pleasures lawfully, it seems, without becoming a threat to society.

For years, Backlash has looked at the long history of the gay movement for models and references. They are, after all, 30 years ahead of us in terms of political activism. We also share a feminist perspective because sexual stigma is often blatantly gendered. Sexual discrimination, whether it’s against cottaging or against facesitting, is also pretty much the same: it hates anything that does not validate reproduction and a hierarchy that bows to male desire, one where the female is always at the bottom and subservient to it. Anything that doesn’t follow this narrative is, invariably, harmful to children and a the end of civilisation as we know it. Perhaps our unimaginative powers-that-be are taking facesitting and “being on top” too literally.

So yeah, gays, women and those unclassifiable weirdos, the queers: Backlash have defended many of them. Everything that we have encountered in court, at employment tribunals, in law, in the media, the gay movement fought against 30 years ago. When we look for ways to understand, then defend, all sorts of cases against sexual difference, we refer back to gay activism. We stand on the shoulders of giants. When faced with sexual discrimination, I often find myself wondering: what did the gays do before?

There is some hope that the AVMS Regulations will be repealed in the end, and that activism and protest will play a major part. One of the most positive effects of Clause 28 was that it had the exact opposite effect that it sought. Instead of silencing homosexuality, as it thought it would, by banning schools from even discussing it, it highlighted institutional homophobia and a shift in society towards tolerance of sexual minorities. It did indeed catapult gay culture into the mainstream, and found support from many quarters, as well as from the general public, who felt no gay threat, but rather, sympathy, for a persecuted minority.

So what can we do, while this law is still in force, with all its arbitrary, misogynistic, frankly farcical prohibitions? Because farcical or not, it still has the potential to make many people’s lives a living hell. Clause 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003, by the Blair government. Based on cases defended by Backlash, I have seen that these laws are often used to kick people who are already down. The AVMS Regulations, like ATVOD before, will force many independent porn studios that are a model of resilience in the financial crisis, to close down: even though nobody (to our knowledge) has died after a severe facesitting session.

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And what to do next? I get asked that a lot. Carry on sitting on people’s faces on your videos and supporting your independent studios by buying from them. Back in 1988, gay people carried on being gay, doing what gay people do, and becoming an inspiring role model for an increasingly diverse society. Porn, and specifically, independently produced porn, creates cultural artefacts. Contrary to the opinion of our detractors, and of sexually awkward legislators, porn doesn’t exist in a criminal demi-monde or in a cultural vacuum. It’s a product of its time that talks about the world it comes from. Niche porn offers an education into the less discussed forms of sexual expression. It’s worth protesting, disobeying, fighting for our right to a more diverse porn. Thank to gay activism, we have a much richer world, with more ways of living and connecting. We are following in their footsteps.

I keep writing that I saw the beginning of a nascent movement after December 1st, because so many people united against persecution of diversity. So much was written and said. It started a fascinating debate about the role of porn in our culture, as I’ve already mentioned; but also, about misogyny, sexual autonomy, art and porn, porn and feminism, the complexity of porn and those who make it… And last but no least, it fuelled a debate about state censorship. Much more needs to be said, written and shouted. I hope that, after the inevitable lull of Christmas, the anger will still be there.

Last month, many must have realised that they are not alone and that they are not helpless deviants living on the fringes of society. It’s been immensely satisfying to connect with other porn producers who, like me, consider our work legitimate, ethical, creative, relevant. Something that deserves to be respected as a valid profession. Like the gay movement 30 years ago, we all agreed that we were not going to tolerate being criminalised and silenced by outmoded legislators. We were not going to accept sexual stigma as an inevitable result of running a discredited business. And we were fed up with being misrepresented as pimps, as coerced women, as unsophisticated, easily bullied smut-peddlers. The so-called Porn Ban was an unprecedented call to arms for all those who work in the less corporate side of the adult industry but also, for those who enjoy watching and exploring the less trodden paths of human sexuality. So yeah, things have perhaps to get worse before they get better and maybe ATVOD or the AVMS Regulations, much as we resent and oppose them, might be the catalyser. Everybody needs a kick in the arse sometimes, to feel the anger.

Mistress Tytania vs ATVOD (audio)

A lot has been written over the past week about the new law that empowers ATVOD to regulate British video-on-demand sites. Not all is lost, however: one woman took on, and defeated the regulator. Mistress Tytania runs the only adult website that is currently allowed to operate outside of ATVOD’s censorship regime. I interviewed her to find out more.

With thanks to the Naked Truth Guy for editing and publishing this podcast. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Click here to hear the interview (27:41).

It’s About Censorship, Not Sexism

A year ago, the hideous ISP filters came into force. Although they had been sold as “porn filters”, they ended up blocking all sorts of things that had nothing to do with porn, from drug and self-harm information to nudity, even in non-sexual contexts. Initially, there was a spike of public outrage, but quickly the issue fell into the swamp of identity politics. On discovering that various gay and trans sites were blocked, the outrage became about homophobia and transphobia. ISPs moved to quickly unblock sites that had been identified by the press, and the media lost interest. The filters remained in place, and still today, up to 20% of sites are blocked by them. What could have become a broad-based movement for free speech fizzled out.

On Monday, a new law came into place, extending DVD censorship controls on to Internet videos. None of this was new or unexpected. The censorship rules which have caused so much outrage this week have been in place for many years.

The new law – which I explained on this blog – is probably the greatest attack on free expression that the UK has seen since the BBFC was empowered, in 1984, to censor all video works before they could be released. One of the BBFC’s first policy decisions was to ban all explicit sex on video. And so, the UK became one of the few democratic countries whose population was banned from legally buying porn on DVD, until this rule was eventually challenged by the porn industry in 2000. Forced to accept explicit sex acts, the BBFC (along with the police and CPS) clung to as much power as possible, and still refused to approve many, many “niche” sex acts on DVD.

By mid-decade, this barely mattered any more. Broadband Internet connections made DVD increasingly redundant, and likewise the BBFC, which saw its revenues steadily fall. Pete Johnson, a BBFC manager, tried to reverse this decline by introducing the BBFC Online scheme in 2007. But this had no statutory backing, and never took off.

In 2010, Johnson moved from the BBFC to head a new regulator, ATVOD, and (via a complex use/misuse of EU law), was empowered to implement regulations for VoD sites. His first – and only significant – action was to implement onerous age-verification requirements for UK porn sites: rules that were not implemented anywhere else in Europe. As a result, many businesses (including my own) closed, and others (such as Playboy’s UK operation) moved overseas, shedding jobs in the UK.

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The new law adds power to ATVOD’s existing regulations, and for the first time, enforces the BBFC’s R18 rules online. This year’s fashion among the new-left has been to label everything sexist: toys are sexist, and computer games are sexist, and that comedian is sexist, and he’s sexist, and you’re sexist, and that tree is sexist… and so of course, by cherry-picking BBFC rules, the new law was also deemed to be sexist. Not a huge step towards Chinese-style Internet censorship that will harm everybody’s right to access information. Sexist.

So yes, it’s true (as well as ludicrous) that female ejaculation – aka squirting – is one of the many acts now banned, and easy to assume this is sexism (since, of course, male ejaculation is still allowed to be seen). In fact, within the BBFC’s reasoning process – which makes sense within its own, screwed-up logic – this makes perfect sense. The powers-that-be have deemed urination in a sexual context to be unacceptable, and since the evidence as to the nature of squirting is still far from conclusive, they have also banned that. Commentators have also complained that gagging on cocks is still approved; but in fact, the BBFC will cut such scenes if they are deemed to be “potentially life-threatening”. And they will allow similar acts to be carried out by a woman with a strap-on. And the ban on face-sitting isn’t an attempt by The Patriarchy to attack female domination, any more than the ban on strangulation of female models is an attack on male domination. The rules may be extremely stupid, but they’re not sexist.

Although the most immediate casualties of the law will be fetish sites, it’s not especially about targeting fetish either – that just happens to be the first thing in the way of the bulldozer. As already mentioned, the BBFC tried as hard to ban “vanilla” sex as it did to ban kink. It’s just that it lost that particular battle in court.

So what is this about? As the name of our campaign suggests, it’s about both Sex and Censorship. It’s odd that almost nobody noticed what actually happened on Monday: well over 99% of the world’s websites are now technically illegal here in the UK. Not because of the R18 thing, but the other part: the one requiring sites to validate a visitor’s age before they’re allowed to see any naughty bit.

There are multiple interests here: anti-sex moralists (of both religious and feminist varieties) who are truly outraged by sex, and want it all banned; vested interests that stand to earn money and power from censorship (ATVOD and the BBFC, for example); and authoritarian interests that are looking to find excuses to block online content. In the latter case, porn is just one of a number of excuses, as are terrorism and copyright theft. Those familiar with Orwell will recognise that the British state, liberal on the surface, is deeply authoritarian beneath.

This week’s public outrage is an opportunity to build the movement for free expression to a new level, and it would be a shame if certain “It’s all about meeeee!” narratives were allowed to distract from that.

The new law is actually a means to an end, not an end in itself. A process that began (suitably) in 1984 is still rolling along. If you would like to support as we build the case against censorship, please join our list or even send a donation, large or small. Next year is going to be “interesting” for the UK, and not in a good way.

Alert: New ATVOD Anti-Porn Censorship Law to Arrive 1st December

On 1st December a new law governing online porn will come into force in the UK. This is known as the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, and amends the 2003 Communications Act.

The law applies to VoD services regulated by ATVOD, and imposes restrictions on the types of content that can be legally sold by UK VoD providers.

There has been much confusion over what this law means: this post is an attempt to provide some clarity.

Effects on Consumers

There are no (direct) implications for porn consumers. The law affects UK-based providers only. Consumers are still at liberty to access any online porn they want, and will only be affected if their favourite British website happens to be censored by the new law. Of course, existing laws (like the 2008 “extreme porn law”) still apply. However, see further implications below.

Effects on Providers

The new law only affects providers of On Demand Programme Services (ODPS) that are regulated by ATVOD. ATVOD’s power comes from the EU AVMS regulations, which relate only to “TV-like” services. In most European countries, most websites (including adult websites) are not considered to be TV-like. However, in the UK, ATVOD has chosen to apply the regulations far more broadly, and encompass a wide range of services, including adult sites. This gives ATVOD the power to regulate, and control, any website it decides is TV-like.

Note that ATVOD has repeatedly been struck down by Ofcom regarding its broad definition of TV-like. The Sun newspaper, the BBC, and a number of others, have successfully appealed that various services cannot be considered TV-like, and so have escaped regulation by ATVOD. Recently, a dominatrix also appealed that her site, Urban Chick Supremacy Cell (NSFW), was not TV-like, and won. Sites that have removed themselves from ATVOD regulation in this way are not bound by the new law.

What Does the Law Change?

The new law puts a restriction on the strength of porn that can be sold on regulated services. Previously, any pornographic content that did not breach existing content laws (for example “obscene” material, and child abuse imagery) could be sold. Now, only content equivalent to the BBFC’s R18 rating can be sold: this brings VoD services into line with DVD.

R18 is a strange thing: it is a set of weird and arbitrary censorship rules decided between the BBFC, the police and the CPS. There appear to be no rational explanations for most of the R18 rules – they are simply a set of moral judgements designed by people who have struggled endlessly to stop the British people from watching pornography.

In practise, this means that video of various fetish activities can no longer be sold by regulated UK services – the people most affected will be those running fetish sites of various types. This may explain ATVOD’s apparent obsession with chasing down dommes who sell their own videos: most femdom sites would now be illegal to run in the UK (at least, if they are “TV-like”).

The list of rules governing R18 is long and often vague, but they include:

  • Urination in various sexual contexts is banned, as is female ejaculation
  • Spanking, caning and whipping beyond a gentle level are not allowed
  • “Life-endangering activities” such as strangulation and facesitting cannot be carried out
  • Fisting is banned (if all knuckles are inserted), as are other large insertions
  • Bound and gagged models may not be featured, as there needs to be a clear way in which the model can withdraw consent

Why Has This Been Done?

The introduction of the R18 standard into law is essentially a way to circumvent European standards. The EU’s AVMS directive specifies that content that “might seriously impair minors” should be restricted so that under-18s cannot normally  view it. However, this is a test to be answered by psychologists, not government censors. The UK media regulator Ofcom looked at the results of research by 20 European governments, and stated: “No country found evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors”.

This is inconvenient for a government that wants an excuse to censor pornography, regardless of any evidence of harm. Introducing the R18 test removes the need for objective evidence, and instead allows censors to make arbitrary decisions.

Although the law is introduced under the pretext of “protecting children”, it actually affects adults and children alike.

Implications

In practise, very few people are directly affected: most businesses selling strong fetish material online left the UK years ago for other European countries or the United States (the well-known fetish site kink.com (NSFW) is run by a Briton who moved to San Francisco to escape our ludicrously censorious climate).

However, this law was clearly introduced to further ATVOD’s plans to restrict what sexual content can be accessed by UK citizens, and will doubtless be used to justify further censorship in various forms. ATVOD have long wanted to stop banks from processing payments for services that don’t meet their tight regulations, and have tried (and failed so far) to introduce licensing of non-UK sites. Watch this space for more news at it emerges (please join our mailing list for updates).

UK web sites to be forced to verify age under new laws!

New laws and legislation have been drawn up to compel British-based web sites to verify the age of their visitors before presenting age-restricted content after dubious statistics have emerged stating one in twenty visitors to adult web sites were ‘children.’

Whilst PornHub.com, who recently displayed an advert in Times Square, and YouPorn.com can provide access to their vast collections of free hardcore pornography to anyone in the World, including British visitors. UK based web sites will however be unable to serve their content as they always have.

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They failed with the ISP filters and ATVOD has largely fallen flat with over five years supposedly regulating the video on demand sector and showing little progress for it.

The Top 100 web sites visited from the UK feature a number of adult tube sites all of which are outside of the UK and will avoid such legal action by the UK government and ATVOD. With piracy and free porn what it is today, all ATVOD and the Government will do by introducing this new legislation and not tackling International distribution is shut down responsible webmasters who would be happy to come to the discussion table if they were invited and only increase the flow of traffic to the typically more extreme and harder content available on the free sites.

I take issue with the statistics and believe them to be deliberately misleading, ATVOD’s language is all about access to children, in their annual reports they claim we prevented xxx number of children accessing adult content based. The simple fact is they do not know, they treat every debit card transaction that either fails verification or is processed without verifying the customer’s age as a child.

ATVOD and anti-porn media use loaded words to ensure their statistics are the ones that people are absorbing. The Daily Mail reports that ‘some 5 per cent of visitors to adult sites were under 18.’ Despite the legal definition of an adult being what it is, those figures would not be half as shocking if people over the age of 16, the UK legal age of consent, were excluded.

Interestingly you will see that Women are always nearly forgotten about when it comes to quoting porn statistics. There are a number of reasons for this but two fundamental factors are the stigma attached to porn consumption by a female audience. The Daily Mail hates them and it does nothing to help the ‘journalist’ and anti-porners use the stats to their own end.

The Daily Mail also reports that ‘one website alone, Pornhub, was visited by 112,000 boys in the UK aged between 12 and 17.’ Pornhub is by far the biggest web site for UK visitors, if you are not familiar with this site – it’s a tube site, a youtube of porn if you like, their is no subscription or payment necessary – that is to say that it is completely FREE – to view its vast library of clips – some full length and others between four and fifteen minutes. Yet as I say is being left alone, this site will not face any kind of restriction under the UK’s AV laws that are expected this November.

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If the regulators and officials dabbling with regulation of the content available over the internet had any idea of they were doing, ATVOD and others should really be paying more focused attention to the tubes but specifically PornHub as this particular site enjoys a healthy mainstream reputation and in addition to the big-budget marketing campaign it recently launched it is often featured in TV shows and films such as Californication and the site have now launched its own record label.

What does the Daily Mail, the DCMS or ATVOD for that matter think is going to happen to the 112,000 ‘boys’ that visited Pornhub? They should be acting as Pornhub’s marketing team, if they enforce stricter policies on UK sites to verify age the ones that can’t or are unwilling to do so will move to a venue that doesn’t ask for the verification.

Interestingly with this move the government will inadvertently be pushing young porn consumers to the tubes, the torrents and be ultimately responsible for stimulating a renewed piracy market for the adult industry.

The focus tends to be around porn web sites but I would be interested to find out exactly what other sites will be affected by these laws. The Sunday Times reported ‘It would cover pornography sites, as well as those selling guns and other age-restricted material.’

Is Netflix, Amazon, LoveFilm etc etc… be caught by the UK AV legislation? No of course not, for one they are not UK based but it is also unclear whether the ‘age restricted content’ description will just apply to R18 equivalent video which ATVOD stole from the BBFC in order to provide a standard for what constituted adult content which in turn required a secure pay wall with either credit card only payments or debit card payments with additional steps in place to verify the age of the account holder.

Twitter too, twitter will not be caught and anyone who has a twitter can find access to an increasing amount of porn for free through the social media service. There is no filter or age verification step to ‘protect’ twitter uses from embedded media content sent through potentially millions of active Twitter accounts.

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.

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.

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.

Wired Tears Down ATVOD’s Most Recent Report

In an article published over at Wired.co.uk, ATVOD’s latest statistics are torn to shreds as Liat Clark takes a look at ‘why we’re afraid of Internet porn‘.

Clark reminds us all that hardcore pornography is banned on TV and surmises that its no surprise we turn to the internet for our hardcore fix.

the figure that is meant to surprise you: “At least 44,000 primary school children accessed an adult website in one month alone,” screamed Atvod

Clark explains that the 44,000 figure is being used by ATVOD as a means to justify charging content providers a fee, forcing them into compliance or banning their service from operating entirely.

What Atvod didn’t tell you is that the survey it based this argument on classed Ann Summers as “adult content” and came with this caveat from Nielsen, the marketing agency behind it: “The sample size for 6-11 year-olds on the panel is very low. Figures for this age range are still reported, but they are always issued with a ‘health warning’ as being potentially too unstable to accurately project audience size.”

Clark hits on an important point that has been played down significantly in the recent mainstream news coverage by all the major news outlets.

ATVOD was able to achieve headline exposure over the last couple of weeks due to the distortion their press release created. Sure ATVOD’s report carries caveats in relation to the data but their press releases and subsequent news appearances did not.

To my mind this is blatant misrepresentation of their facts. Naturally I don’t dispute that children access online pornography and I don’t dispute that in some cases it’s easily accessed by them.

However I fundamentally believe we are heading in the wrong direction, Government regulation is not the answer.  How can the Government or ATVOD for that matter regulate an industry and technology they don’t understand? Instead of legislating against us they should be talking to us and seeking to learn from us on how better to ensure children or vulnerable people are not exposed to adult content online.

why, when we can watch Rihanna simulate sex with the floor wearing a thong and nipple tassels (it’s a skill), and visceral amputations in game trailers, do we consider real sex to be the most harmful thing on the internet today that is not illegal.

The Wired article continues to ask similar questions to those that I put to the ATVOD CEO, Pete Johnson, in June 2013.

Good Cop s1 Cast 002

I asked Johnson why does he consider sexual imagery more likely to morally deprave a child than the violence shown on TV (The Good Cop was my example at the time which featured the graphic beating of a Police Officer) and video games such as GTA.

His response was simply that he believes there is “something inherently damaging to a child in sexual material.” Needless to say he didn’t share my view and it was clear that regardless of whether ATVOD’s remit is to drive porn out of the UK or not, their CEO is firmly against it. It makes me believe that any kind of communication with ATVOD is likely to only be one way.

You may recall that literally the following day after episode one of the Good Cop aired with the graphic murder of a Police Officer, In Manchester two Police Women were called out to a house, it became clear they were being lured into a trip where the were shot and killed in a grenade attack.

There was not a single shot of sex in the entire series just an episode after episode of bloody violence. The Good Cop aired at 9PM on terrestrial TV.

Clark points out that Johnson himself says evidence for harm will always be inconclusive given the ethical and moral obstacles to collecting it – ie having to expose minors to prolonged periods of adult content for research purposes. Which rightly is a route completely closed off.

“reasonable people must make reasonable judgements based on the balance of probabilities and cannot rely on conclusive proof”

My point would be, given my meetings and e-mail communication with ATVOD they are not able to be reasonable. Johnson is against the availability of pornography which I, and others, consider is an unreasonable starting point.

The recent clampdown seems to be triggered by recent murders, abductions and rapes that have been heavily reported in the media with further pressure being applied to the Government from the Parents of victims such as Paul Jones, April Jones’s father, who has taken to campaigning for what seems to be the complete eradication of adult entertainment.

Mark Bridger, one of the men convicted of the abduction and murder of April Jones, a five-year-old girl, was also found to have been in possession of images of child abuse. The media seem to associate images of child abuse as adult content and pornography – they are not, they are illegal images depicting child abuse and have no place in the adult entertainment industry.

Such images also very clearly appeal to a different and much smaller audience so it is a mus-representation to present them as anything but images depicting child abuse. If anything calling it child porn only serves to soften what they actually are.

It seems to be that finding sexual images of children or in fact any kind of adult content – legal or otherwise –  on an individual’s computer, even during a search for a minor offense (on your phone for example) is enough for the person in possession to be deemed a monster in the eyes of the media and then society but also, much more worryingly, such a discovery can be allowed to be accepted as an indictment of an entire industry.

We never hear the reports of how many million of people who regularly consume pornography yet somehow don’t turn into this raging, foaming at the mouth, sex crazed monster like something out of a sexploitation film in the 80’s.

The wired article is worth checking out, there is a lot of info in there including ‘a history of fear’ and a summary of our ‘cultural relationship’ with pornography.

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!

#CensoredUK – We Trended!

#CensoredUK copyYesterday’s #CensoredUK Twitter campaign made a splash online, trending nationwide across the UK. We launched the campaign to supporters late on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, regular tweets were being made and by late afternoon, the hashtag was spotted trending in London and across the UK. We often hear people say that the British are more concerned with security or prudery than free expression, but yesterday suggested otherwise. Many British people are outraged with attempts to censor our media.

As of this morning at least The Telegraph had covered the campaign.

The twin strands of this campaign – Sex and Censorship – are deliberately chosen. Today’s push towards Internet censorship comes from two camps: puritans who think sexual expression is harmful, and those who seek to gain power by controlling information. These two groups came together at the ATVOD conference on child protection which was held in London yesterday afternoon. We heard a series of hysterical claims about the effects of pornography, but were offered no evidence to back them.

The Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, described in detail a gang rape of an 11 year old; she claimed that participants had said the experience was “like being in a porn film”; and then claimed that this was all the evidence she needed to conclude that porn causes sexual violence.

But (even assuming that the story is true as she related), anecdotes are not a substitute for statistical evidence. We know that porn availability does not correlate with a rise in sexual violence; in fact, we know that the opposite is true. Sexual violence has fallen sharply in most developed countries in the past three decades, as have most other forms of violence.

They do not have the moral high ground – we do! We do not “protect our children” by trying to hide the world away from them. We don’t make them safer by allowing them to hit puberty without knowing what is happening to their bodies, and what the implications are.

We live in an increasingly safe society, but a coalition of campaigners want to convince us that thing are getting worse. A rising moral panic is under way; the purpose of the Sex & Censorship campaign is counter those messages, and replace hysteria with evidence-based thinking.

We thank everyone who has followed so far, and look forward to your support in coming campaigns!