New powers to censor digital media are a threat to free expression

Backlash launches challenge against attempt to shut down British websites with adult content

Today, the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014(1), a new law governing online media, comes into force in the UK. Backlash(2) will challenge the legality of this new regulation as a new threat to free expression.

The law applies to Video on Demand (VoD) services which are regulated by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD). It restricts the types of sexual content that UK VoD providers can provide for their consumers to BBFC R18 classification level.

British digital media producers are now subject to some of the most severe content restrictions in Europe. The regulations will shut down websites and criminalise producers of content that remains legal to produce throughout the European Union. This will have a chilling effect on freedom of sexual expression in the UK. It also makes British media uncompetitive within the EU. This will lead to job cuts and lost revenue for the Treasury.

The regulations will have a disproportionate impact on producers of content for sexual minorities. For example, depictions of many forms of anal sex, including “fisting”, are banned under the regulations, even though such activities are popular and practised safely within the LGBT community. Bondage and sado-masochistic scenarios, commonly practiced by people of all sexual orientations, will also be censored.

The EU AVMS directive states that content that “might seriously impair minors” should be restricted in order to protect those under 18. However, when considering the research of 20 European States(3), Ofcom found that:”No country found conclusive evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors”. As a result, the regulations have been introduced under the aegis of “child protection”, without any evidence that the regulation will contribute to child welfare. It will, however, have an adverse impact on the sexual choices of consenting adults and on the British media industry.

Backlash’s legal advisor, Myles Jackman(4), said:

“Pornography is the canary in the coalmine of free speech: it is the first freedom to die. If this assault on liberty is allowed to go unchallenged, other freedoms will fall as a consequence. Today, Backlash has launched a campaign to challenge this regime of State censorship disguised as regulation.

This declaration of State censorship will affect millions of consenting adults who choose to view British pornography. It will impose an unnecessary trade barrier, which has already caused independent UK producers to shut down and result in a significant loss of revenue to the Treasury. It is practically unworkable as it can be circumvented by proxy servers. It has implications for all forms of freedom of expression on the internet.

Of particular concern in terms of loss of freedom is the underlying intent to allow undesirable foreign websites to be blocked under UK ISPs’ filtering systems. This has serious implications for freedom of information. The fight back must start here”.

Contact: Myles Jackman, Backlash’s legal advisor on 07791436100 or

1. The Statutory Instrument enforcing the AVMS Regs 2014 can be found here:
2. Backlash is a campaign defending freedom of sexual expression.
4. Myles Jackman is a consultant solicitor at top-tier civil liberties law firm Hodge Jones and Allen LLP; former winner of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyer of The Year excellence award 2012; blogs at and tweets at @obscenitylawyer; and successfully acted in the notable obscenity cases: #PornTrial #ObscenityTrial and #TwinkTrial as well as challenging the law with #TigerPorn.
5. More details of the regulation can be read in this note on an ATVOD briefing. This includes discussion of explicit sexual acts.