Thursday, May 13News For London

UK to ban ‘unsuitable’ porn to protect children

The government is attempting to pass a Digital Economy Bill that would ban certain ‘non-conventional’ porn websites in the UK. 

Photo: geralt (Pixabay/CC)
Photo: geralt (Pixabay/CC)

The new media regulating bill is making an appearance in the House of Lords for its second hearing today. The bill is intended to shelter the children from  improper images/videos and is already becoming a controversial topic within free speech campaigners across the country. What does the bill entail for the online porn consumption by the people? Is online censorship and surveillance going to help protect children?

The Digital Economy Bill acts a new law that aims to simply ban any kind of ‘non-conventional’ porn websites. This includes sexual acts of violence, face-sitting, urinating and incest related porn. The government announced that non-compliant sites won’t just be fined, as was proposed in early drafts of the Bill, but blocked outright.

British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) shook hands with the government on this bill and decided to implement it in order to ‘protect children’ from viewing violent material online. According to Catherine Anderson, Head of communications in BBFC, “The Digital Economy Bill proposes that the BBFC check whether robust age verification is in place on websites containing pornographic content and whether the website or app contains pornographic content that is prohibited.” The manifesto commitment statement on the bill published in July 2016 says ‘We will stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material’. They even make a promise to establish a new regulatory framework to underpin age verification.

The BBFC’s key remit is to not only protect children from unsuitable or harmful content, but also to empower the public to make informed viewing choices. The BBFC is aiming to ‘respond to and reflect changing social attitudes towards media content through proactive public consultation and research’. But does the public feel ‘empowered’ by the bill? The news of the bill being passed provoked anger and resistance from people as it simply bans anything from being made available online in the UK. This ban also applies to any material  that would not be allowed on a commercially available DVD.  Several activists, sex campaigners and experts are criticizing the bill by calling it “censorship”.

Jerry Barnett, an author and head of the Sex & Censorship campaign shared his view on the ban. “We should look beyond the fact that they’re talking about porn and look at the fact that they’re blocking websites. This kind of censorship is incompatible with democratic government, whether it relates to porn or any other kind of content. I have no doubt that the scope of censorship will broaden once the mechanism is in place.”

The banning of porn is set to promote safe porn viewing online. Barnett disagrees and believes that such restrictions just push people “underground”. “People will find ways to access porn using VPNs, the Tor network, or other means. It’s very foolish to force law-abiding people to behave like criminals – it undermines faith in government and the legal system.”

In light of people being able to access sexual content online through other websites, former culture secretary John Whittingdale recently warned that children are increasingly accessing porn through social media sites such as Twitter. This acts as a contradicting factor to the purpose of the bill. Culture minister Matt Hancock acknowledged the issue and said although the changes in online porn distribution will see children protected, the proposals are “not a utopia” and will not cover Twitter.

With the government implanting new laws and activists fighting against it, it is easy to forget the hundreds of people of appropriate age who view porn online. Seth, a university student commented:,”banning porn is not an answer to anything. I agree that kids should not be exposed to violent images online but to ban websites is not a way to control that.”

Yet there are those who support the bill. “As a person who comes from a very conservative society, I would agree with the porn ban because our society contains too much sexuality in terms of R-rated movies and online content. The ban is one first step in the right direction of protecting our young ones”, commented Sarah, a member of Church of England who holds strict religious beliefs.

In order to understand the purpose and the reasoning behind this move, one must look deep into the law and regulations of the bill. Catherine Anderson gives a detailed description of the bill passed. “The Digital Economy Bill aims to create parity of protection online and offline. Offline, the BBFC’s statutory obligations to consider harm are set out in the Video Recordings Act 1984. Under this legislation, the BBFC is required to consider harm when it classifies any content including 18 and R18 rated sex works.” The main examples of material that the BBFC refuses to classify include pornographic works that: depict and encourage rape, including gang rape; depict non-consensual violent abuse against women; promote an interest in incestuous behavior; promote an interest in sex with children; and bestiality. The bill defines this type of unclassifiable material as “prohibited”.

The UK is not the first country to put a ban on certain websites or porn in total. Reporters without Borders published a list of “Enemies of the Internet” in 2006, which classifies a country as an enemy of the internet because the country not only censors news and information online but also represses Internet users from freely accessing the internet. UK currently sits on number 16 under the ‘Current enemies of the Internet category’, with Bahrain being on the top. Jerry, along with many other campaigners believe that the government uses such mechanism as an excuse to increase state power. “There is already a good mechanism in place to block imagery of child abuse. Beyond that category, I don’t believe we need to block anything. There is no evidence that blocking such material prevents harm. Rather, such mechanisms are excuses to increase state power”, he commented.

With the bill still being considered in the House of Lords, the Digital Economy bill could become a law if no further amendments are made. It could change the face of UK online surveillance and censorship, as well as create an uproar within free expression campaigners.

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