In the press

Media coverage during legislation 2005-2009

One of the most consistently authoritative, questioning and witty voices in the media has been John Ozimek writing in The Register, and his Survival Guide on 24 January 2009 is is well worth reading, and he also covers an alleged vigilante operation.

The January 2009 Modern Law Review (Volume 72, Issue 1) carried a lengthy and thorough analysis of the Act by Andrew Murray of the LSE (noting many of the Backlash inspired amendments).

From the Abstract, ‘the final version of s.63 substantially fails to meet the original public policy objective. The article concludes by asking whether s.63 may have unintended consequences in that it fails to criminalise some of the more extreme examples of violent pornography while criminalising consensual BDSM images, and questions whether s.63 will be enforceable in any
meaningful way.’

The Guardian on 26 January 2009 ran what was essentially a poorly substantiated complaint by hard core pro censorship feminists that ACPO had said ‘The police will not be actively targeting members of the public but will be conducting investigations into the unlawful possession of this material where found.’

Ian Dunt on the blog also on 26 Jan flagged the law coming into force and possible problems. ‘If you’re thinking this won’t apply to many people, you’re underestimating the popularity of this sort of thing’ going on to quote Alex Dymock ‘You need to make men who have violated women responsible for themselves and not blame pornography’.

The Scotsman ran a major feature on 19 Jan 2009 in favour of their version of the legislation, which will go further than the British Parliament. The article did at least including a significant contribution by CAAN. It also mentioned ‘it is likely that convictions under the new law will require people actually to download images of ‘extreme’ pornography, rather than by viewing websites alone’, whose legal distinction will be interesting to watch.

This Scottish initiative sparked a flurry of articles, like the hopelessly unbalanced view in the Daily Record with the headline ‘Shock of the sick websites which seek to glorify rape’ which no doubt did wonders for circulation. Their nearest attempt at objectivity was ‘Scottish police say that trying to catch those in possession of extreme pornography will be like trying to catch the wind’. The Scotsman’s sister paper the Evening News who cautioned that Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill ‘is coming over as a kill-joy who cares little for the implications or the detail of his proposals’.

The Reading Evening Post, the local paper of Mrs Longhurst and Martin Salter ex MP, for the first time provided an even handed account of the issue on 15 Jan 2009. Mrs Longhurst concludes ‘I don’t know how much they are willing to spend enforcing this new law’.

The paper followed up on 22 Jan with ‘I’m not another Mary Whitehouse’ and some absurd comments by Martin Salter ex MP, which latter were quickly jumped on by commentators.

The Guardian ran a piece by Symon Hill celebrating diversity to mark International Fetish Day on 16 Jan 2009. ‘I spoke with a Church of England vicar who practises BDSM (bondage, domination and sadomasochism)’.

On 4 Jan 2009 the Daily Mail ran a poorly substantiated article in support of the new law.

The Government’s latest legislation on ‘extreme pornography’ is based on ill-informed notions, writes Julian Petley in Something Must Be done in Index On Censorship.

John Ozimek is in the Index on Censorship with Sex Crime 2008, on the ‘grey area between art and pornography’ under which ‘for the first time, owning a book could land you in jail’.

The New Statesman quotes Deborah Hyde at length in its piece about concern over the law’s impact.

BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat covered the law’s introduction with Violent porn ban gets the green light, in which they interviewed Liz Longhurst and Lucy, a woman whose consensual sexuality now puts her at risk of jail.

Newsbeat invited reader texts and online comments. Of the 40 comments, 38 were against the law, 1 for and 1 had no conclusion either way.

A third piece by Dr Yaman Akdeniz, Extreme Pornography: Sentencing Issues shows the illogicality of treating fake or legal and consensual images just as seriously as images of real abuse.

The Reading Evening Post has Justice for Jane, a piece characteristic of the press in this area, which ignores all public disquiet about the measures and the savaging they got in the House of Lords. ‡

Another Reading Evening Post piece Liz Longhurst wins Royal Assent.

BBC Berkshire as usual falls far short of impartial coverage in Mother’s porn law campaign ends which disregards all dissent.

The BBC warned of the criminalisation of harmless people in an online magazine article ‘When does kinky porn become illegal?’which was one of the ‘most e-mailed’ articles on Tuesday. It has a long interview with Backlash’s Deborah Hyde.

The Unspeak Community’s article Extreme images – Pornography and thoughtcrime in Britain gave another crisp precis of the inconsistencies in the bill.

The QuestionThat blog covers the clauses’ recent progress through the Lords in Illegal Images of Legal Acts.

Many articles have found the law contains a rich vein of unintentional humour. The Daily Mash in Masochists Welcome Kinky Porn Crackdown takes this to its logical and hilarious conclusion. covered growing concern in Porn surfers under threat from government.

Sean Thomas in The First Post has more hard words for the law in No rough sex please, we’re British.

Internet law expert Dr. Yaman Akdeniz highlights other inconsistencies and lack of clarity in Extreme Pornography Offence includes disproportionate penalties and Extreme Porn Provisions: Unanswered Questions

Following the Lords debate on 21 April, The Register ran a piece by John Ozimek headlined
law could criminalise millions.

Early in April 2008 ex Home Secretary David Blunkett misses the point in the Sun claiming that the Bill he championed will ‘end the distribution of website images that would not be tolerated for a second in the print media or terrestrial television’ whereas of course it does not and can not end distribution. He is evidently unaware of the irony in saying ‘It really is time to stop demanding that the Government does everything’.

Zoe Margolis wrote in the Guardian about UK ISP’s using Phorm to track their customers’ web history, linking that capability to this Bill, concluding if we ‘do not fight for online confidentiality, we may soon find that our right to privacy is eroded without our consent’.

Leyton MP Harry Cohen, who had proposed amendments earlier in Parliament, explained in his local paper why he felt the latest wording was acceptable. ‘My own view is that people involved in BDSM will not now be prosecuted. You can clearly show in court that it is ritualistic rather than realistic violence.’

The paper went on to say ‘Deborah Hyde from campaign group Backlash said nothing had changed except the wording of the Bill was now ‘impossible’ and could not be understood even by lawyers.

Writing in Index on Censorship in March 2008, Professor Julian Petley succinctly dissects the arguments raised during the Lords stages of the Bill.

By far the most useful initial analysis of the issues is a Guardian article by David Wilson, currently a Professor of Criminology but previously a Governor of HM Prison Service at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, and Head of Prison Officer and Operational Training for HM Prison Service. Between fantasy and action speaks with authority.

Film censorship expert Professor Julian Petley published an excellent appraisal of Parliament’s scrutiny in Index on Censorship in January 2008, castigating Ministers for “allowing personal tastes to overshadow compelling, factual arguments”.

Academic Clarissa Smith wrote a Guardian article Where’s the evidence ? ‘As a colleague puts it ‘You might as well ask Esso to investigate the role of the oil industry in global warming.’ Academic research which might undermine the central premise that pornography causes harm was completely ignored and now, in parliamentary debates, this document is quoted and used as if it represented a comprehensive review of the current state of research.’

In Red Pepper Peter Tatchell says pornography doesn’t have to be oppressive. It can be liberating and fulfilling. In the same issue, Backlash’s Penny says banning so called ‘extreme porn’
is an insult to female sexuality.

In the run up to the parliamentary debate on the Second Reading on 8th October 2007 several articles appeared at the alternative end of the spectrum, such as in Diva.

For those unaware why S&M has benefits, this article explains why ‘in the 1980s, the American Psychiatric Association removed S&M as a category in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This decision – like the decision to remove homosexuality as a category in 1973 – was a big step toward the societal acceptance of people whose sexual desires aren’t traditional’.

David Gauntlett summed up the inadequacies of the ‘Effects Model’ approach to media succinctly, referencing articles exposing the conservative agenda behind press campaigns against video nasties and demolishing the myths surrounding the ‘effects’ of ‘media violence’ on children.

‘We’ve had this drivel about ‘effects’ ever since Plato, who wanted to bar poets from the Republic, and it has run through the centuries targeting different media (the penny dreadfulls, comics, cinema, TV and the internet). Sometimes you have to simply grow up and accept that other people like different things’.

On the other hand Professor Clare McGlynn is concerned that ‘it is not clear that the horrific rape websites, which are widely and freely available on the internet, are covered’.

A Frank Fisher article in the Guardian Get your tanks off our porn attracted a lot of comments. ‘If sexual tension interspersed with balletic bloodshed is thought to inspire murder, then why not ban Buffy ?’ Some supporters of the Bill would probably like to do just that.

Film censorship expert Professor Julian Petley published a couple of useful articles in July 2007. Extreme ignorance explains why the UK government’s creation of new pornography offences is not only illiberal but also betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the Internet works, and To the censors, we’re all Aboriginals now points out that Australia was rightly attacked when it banned porn amongst Aboriginals in order to protect them from themselves. New Labour is doing the same here.

Then there’s ‘New Labour cracking the whip over extreme porn’ filed under Po-faced moralists over at Socialist Unity.

In their coverage of the end of the Coutts retrial the BBC provided some balance by including comments from Dr Meg Barker, a senior lecturer in psychology at London South Bank University, and Backlash spokesperson Deborah Hyde ‘I want to make the world a safer place but this law will not help’.

New agency VNU also had a balanced article.

Media coverage following consultation results

In September 2006 the Home Office, prior to handing their proposals over to the Ministry of Justice, announced their conclusions of responses to the consultation, which provoked mixed media reactions.

The Daily Mail ran a second opinion article by Mary Ellen Synon pointing out that ‘extreme sexual violence did not start with the internet’ in their Irish edition on 11 Sept, adding to their earlier one by Tom Utley.

‘Do you imagine that the village elders of rural Pakistan who sanction the gang rape of virgins as a judicial punishment for the transgressions of the girls’ brothers and fathers got the idea from something they recently downloaded from ?’

On Sunday 3rd Sept Carol Sarler of the Observer produced a thoughtful piece pointing out‘the proposal to legislate against violent pornography is not only unworkable, but fundamentally intrusive, putting government where we least want it – in our bedrooms. The proposals have now been assailed from all sides of the political spectrum.’

The Guardian ran an excellent comment section titled See No Evil on the issue.

When the Home Office decision following consultation responses broke on the 30th, the BBC made the running – before the Home Office made their own announcement – from Reading so were probably tipped off by those close to Liz Longhurst and publicity seeking Martin Salter ex MP – who was NOT her MP. The BBC took the obvious human interest angle Mother wins ban on violent porn despite the fact that – officially at least – compared to when they launched the consultation the Home Office were downplaying the Coutts murder rationale.

However at 12 midday on Thursday the BBC also ran a very interesting item titled &quotAll sides of the story?” by Craig Oliver, then editor of the Ten O’Clock News and subsequently Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications chief.

‘We try to challenge the received wisdom on a daily basis – but one of the most interesting examples of this came in our coverage of the decision to make it illegal to view violent porn.’

‘There was an interesting audience response that challenged the assumption of many that there would be almost universal revulsion…. a response we hadn’t entirely expected – and Denise Mahoney reflected it in her item on the Ten O’Clock News.’

‘So, while it was important to give the police and Mrs Longhurst due weight, it was also important to use our position post-watershed to show as much as we could – within the bounds of taste and decency – and raise the questions: can watching this material really trigger murder? If it can’t, should we really ban the stuff that is clearly faked and criminalise those who view it?’

Perceptive stuff.

SkyNews provided more balanced coverage from the start, including Backlash amd MediaWatch representatives. Here is a YouTube version. Part 1 and Part 2

Sky also ran a seperate Spanner story.

In the print world Philip Johnston of the Telegraph cited the official release thoroughly but then at the end included ‘a ban on adults viewing violent and abusive pornography is thought to be unique in the West and is likely to be challenged under the European human rights convention.’

‘The Home Office consultation paper acknowledged that the source of offensive material cannot be closed off because of the internet and the best that can be done is to discourage interest in it.’

‘It also accepted there was no definitive evidence about the long-term impact of such material either generally or on those predisposed to aberrant sexual behaviour’ which must have spoilt Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ cornflakes a trifle.

Tania Branigan of the Guardian also ranged beyond the press release, regrettably including ‘the British Psychological Society has backed the government’s proposals‘ without mentioning the controversy within the profession about that pronouncement, but also quoted both Backlash and Spanner.

For those complacent enough to think the police will not have resources to use these laws, think again. Said a Nottingham DI ‘This is a huge breakthrough for the police. Previously we have been unable to prosecute people for simply possessing more extreme pornography, such as material that shows the rape of women or bestiality. We will not hesitate in using this new legislation.’

‘Those convicted of this new offence will have to sign the sex offenders’ register which will affect not just their relationship with friends and family but also their careers’ rubbing his hands with glee (ok, we invented that bit). But you get the idea. Their enthusiasm was neatly dented by the first five comments from members of the public on this story being against the legislation.

In a story more thorough than the broadsheets, the Sun was the only mainstream paper thoughtfully to provide the names of the sites Coutts visited which dare not speak their urls, but also cited a nameless BDSM critique against the proposals as ‘Thought Crime’, the only paper to make this point.

The Mirror’s sub-editors displayed their usual mordant humour by headlining the story
Snuff it out thereby helping perpetuate that myth.

Both Richard Ford of the Times and, surprisingly for such a usually radical paper, Genevieve Roberts of the Independent stuck depressingly close to the Home Office release with nary a contrary view. This part of the Fourth Estate were asleep on the job.

And then, an unexpected coup de grace from the Daily Mail. A natural ally, the Home Office might have thought. Not a bit of it. Tom Utley – admittedly a columnist, not a news reporter – went totally off piste as far as the 3,259 PR people in Whitehall were concerned.

In subsequent days the Times carried several letters. Supporters of the government were hard to find. Except for a lone letter in the Telegraph from an ex policeman who claimed ‘many of the participants are far from willing volunteers’ in this ‘vile trade’, naturally without citing any sources (for journalists and producers reading this, Backlash could produce a variety of happy and very much undead models on demand). Esther Addley of the Guardian had an extensive piece on the proposals being ‘part of the therapy’ for Liz Longhurst, but without examining the issues at all.

Ministers should be worried. If they can’t carry the Mail, and the BBC sit up and take notice of the public response, maybe, just maybe, they have badly miscalculated the electoral math. This is one of those subjects where many members of the public say one thing, but do another.

They won’t man any barricades. But they do vote, and this topic affects more people than foxhunting. Including many natural Labour supporters. Utley and Sarler’s arguments are likely to be heard more and more frequently in coming months.

Rebuttal by Backlash Aug 2006

Rebuttal released to counteract misleading spin by the Home Office when they announced their response to the consultation, following the initial Backlash press release the day the Home Office published, without any warning, their response to the consultation together with their press release.

Linked below is earlier coverage from various hues of mainstream opinion formers, followed by comments from the alternative community.

Film censorship expert Professor Julian Petley has published several highly relevant articles.

New Steps to Extend Police Powers to Punish Porn Users explains why new criminal law provisions will do nothing for real victims of sex crimes

Press furore fuels knee-jerk response to “extreme” pornography points out that a violent porn bill may address public anger but will fail to deliver fair law.