Satellite X

 2000

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January    Sex & Channel Hopping: Where to put your X...
   
 
XXLIn search of Christmas inspiration, I recently found myself scanning the video shelves of London's Virgin Megastore. I looked up and spotted one of those rare breed of British customers who actually buy 18 rated softcore. My first inclination was to inform him that a far superior product was available in numerous unlicenced sex shops within a half mile walk. I have however learned to treat the subject of porn recommendation with some trepidation and wisely opted to stay silent. On one hand perhaps our porn buyer did in fact lack the knowledge to make an informed decision but on the other hand perhaps he genuinely preferred the softcore option.


When choosing a porn channel, perhaps the first consideration is the country of origin, both of the channel itself and the predominant programming. For example, US porn tends to be characterised by rather stagey fictional videos featuring starlets with big hair and big breasts (usually after a little surgical help). European videos are based more firmly in reality, both in terms of physical appearance and story line. European porn is marketed on the basis of well established series, eg Ben Dover, Excuse Me and Private Stories whereas the American product is sold via a Hollywood-like star system complete with fan clubs and live appearances.


Adult X

This channel boasts a large catalogue of cheap and cheerful French amateur videos from distributors such as Ragtime, Starchild & MST. Before rushing into to condemn such fare, it must be realised that this channel originated from France and that the French are passionate about amateur porn. Maybe they commendably like to participate as much as to watch. There are about seventy swingers clubs in Paris alone and many of these are associated with producers of amateur porn.

A fair amount of US titles are shown with about half of them being dubbed into French. British porn makes an appearance via the Lee Nover series, again featuring amateurs.

The programme buyers at Adult X do realise that there are more attractive titles to buy, but they only shell out when competition with Amore TV dictates. Their programming is therefore sprinkled with a few titles from the major German producers bought in more competitive times.


Amore TV

Much of the programming on Amore TV is similar to that on Adult X. However, it has lately received an injection of some higher quality programming. This was rumoured to be as a result of the purchase of the defunct Channel Bizarre's back catalogue. For example, Amore TV are currently showing titles from a Dutch Company, Seventeen who specialise in teenage films (strictly legal though). Their Excuse Me series is particularly interesting and is the most likely of all hardcore programmes to give our film censors kittens. It consists of a lone video cameraman spending up to 45 minutes at a time pestering a girl to remove her clothes and maybe masturbate a little. It is incredibly well made in terms of believability and the sheer persistence of the guy is very intense.

Other prizes from the 'Channel Bizarre back catalogue' are the slightly more extreme videos particularly popular in Germany. Examples are Teeny Excesse and Maximum Perversion. Whilst not really living up to the their racy titles, they are very well made and feature extremely attractive stars.

On the negative side, Amore TV tends towards unreasonably long advertising breaks between films.


Satisfaction TV

Again a subtle change of tastes as we move across to Italy. The Italian film industry has always favoured an exploitative approach to film but they have always fulfilled this role via some very talented film makers. And so it is with Italian porn. Their films tend to be well crafted, professional and well acted and they even still play occasional lip service to narrative. Good films can best be recognised by their directors. Look out for the likes of Luca Damiano and the late great Joe D'Amato.

Italian films obviously abound on Satisfaction TV but they are actually well represented on all of the channels under review.


XXL (part of the French ABSat package)

Of the four channels considered this month, XXL easily carries the most expensive programming. They generally tease out the best from the enormous US catalogue and select the most glamorous from the top European producers, most notably Private. Private videos are characteristically set in some of the most exotic locations in the world and combine massively high production values with a ruthless sense of perfectionism.


Several different tastes and styles to pick from then. I shall again stay silent on recommendations... but If I ruled a porn channel, I would have French on Monday, German on Tuesday, British on Wednesday,
Dutch on Thursday, Italian on Friday, American on Saturday and I would let someone else decide on Sunday. Fairs fair!

 

February    American X...
   
 
AVN logoIt appears that our very own chief censor has been catching up with a little sex on satellite. Robin Duval recently visited the Netherlands for a conference of European censors. According to the Sunday Times, Duval claimed that the real surprise of the visit was that hardcore porn was available, free of charge, on the hotel TV. Now hardcore is not broadcast on Dutch TV, hotel video systems inevitably attract a charge, so I guess that Duval must have been watching Canal+ on satellite or cable.

So how come the director of the British Board of Film Classification is shocked that hardcore is so readily available on the continent? MAybe because the availability of porn in the UK has always been regulated more by social pressure than by police efforts. The well targeted use of the phrase 'dirty raincoat' has confined porn to the realms of private viewing for years. Certainly not to be offered for public entertainment by fine upstanding hoteliers.

Things are changing rapidly. Magazines, TV and the internet are enthusiastically contributing to the message that sex sells and is good fun too. There is still room for further progress though, and perhaps we should look to the USA for a bit of glitz, glamour and marketing. The recent Adult Video News (AVN) Awards caught my eye as a perfect example. The AVN Awards Show is an annual gathering of the American adult industry where fun and mutual back patting abounds. Most importantly it carries the subliminal message that the porn producers are incredibly proud of what they have achieved.

The AVN Awards Show has been dubbed "the Oscars of adult" and is a lavish award ceremony including a $180 a head dinner. Practically every major star in the business turns up. Nearly 100 awards are given out in categories as diverse as Best Film, Best Video, Best Actor, Most Outrageous Sex Scene, Best Group Sex Scene and Best Selling Tape of the Year. To give a sense of scale, the attendance is approximately 3000 guests and there are many more watching watching via pay-per-view TV.

So what satellite goodies shall we be looking forward to over the coming months? Here is a selection of winners from the 2000 awards:


Double Feature! Best video actor, Randy Spears,
Best Actress, Serenity
Best Screenplay
Best Comedy
Best Video Director, Jonathan Morgan

Seven Deadly Sins Best Film Screenplay
Best Director, Ren Savant
Best Film

Dark Garden Best Video

Cashmere Best Special Effects.
Best DVD

Return to Planet Sexxx Best Foreign Director, Anita Rinaldi

Amanda's Diary 2 Best Foreign Feature

Freaks, Whoes and Flows 10 Best Ethnic Themed Video

Electric Sex Best DVD Extras

The Devil in Miss Jones, Part III & IV Best Classic Release on DVD

Vivid Virtual Vixens Best Interactive DVD

Ben Dover's The Booty Bandit Best Gonzo Video

The Houston 620 Best selling tape 1999

Perverted Stories 22 Most Outrageous Sex Scene

What Makes You Cum? Safe Sex Award

Fetish Information Exchange Best Educational Web Site:

Space Amazones Best Overall Web Site


The assortment of category titles seems to gently mock the political correctness of more mainstream events. It seems commendable to offer up a 'Safe Sex Award', but this is somewhat counterbalanced by applauding 'Perverted Stories 22' for it's most outrageous sex scene. Similarly it is a nice idea to reward the best educational site, but it is being bluntly perverse to present the award to the Fetish Information Exchange.

Congratulations to Steve Perry for 'Ben Dover's The Booty Bandit'.It's good to see a British entry in the prize list, it makes it just like the real Oscars. The slogan, "The Brits are Coming", now sounds even more appropriate!

 

March    Proscribing Censorship
   
 
UK Government armsThe Independent Television Commission (ITC) recently decided to flex their regulatory powers. They recommended to the Government that the satellite channel, Adult X, should be proscribed. This is the first time that this increasingly ineffective measure has been initiated for well over a year. I will try and explain exactly what proscription entails and why there has been a recent reluctance to use this particular method of Government censorship.


On finding a television service to be unacceptable the ITC may recommend a proscription order, they also have to satisfy themselves that trade for the service exists within Britain and that an order would prevent such trade. The Secretary of State must believe that the order would be in the public interest and that it is compatible with the United Kingdom's international obligations.


The 1990 Broadcasting Act the allows the Government to make a proscription order for a foreign satellite service, the effect of which is to make it a criminal offence to:
- supply any equipment for use in connection with the operation of the service
- supply programme material or arrange for its supply
- place advertisements in the service
- publish any programme details of the service
- supply any decoding equipment enabling the programmes to be received

An EC Broadcasting Directive contains several relevant sections that supposedly allow the Government to make such an order:
- Programmes which might 'seriously' impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors, particularly those involving pornography or gratuitous violence are not allowed.
- Programmes likely to impair the physical mental or moral development of minors may be shown if children are unlikely to have access because they are broadcast late at night or are encrypted.
- Programmes which incite hatred on grounds of race, sex, religion or nationality are forbidden

In addition the broadcaster must have breached the Broadcasting Directive at least twice in the previous 12 months. The complaining state must inform the European Commission and the broadcaster of its intention to take measures should such an infringement occur again. The Commission and broadcaster have 15 days to produce an amicable settlement. A proscription order then comes into force 21 days after it is laid.


In the past, successive Governments have used this power pretty freely and have previously proscribed Red Hot Television, TV Erotica, Rendez-Vous, Satisfaction Club Television, Eurotica/Rendez-Vous, Eros TV, Channel Bizzarre and Satisfaction. There has been a bit of a recent lull due to the spanner thrown in the works by the acceptance of the European Convention of Human Rights. In fact a Home Office spokesman said that they were waiting for the human rights test from Eurotica/Rendez-Vous before they proscribe any more adult channels.


The problem for the authorities is that Article 10 of the convention states that citizens have a right to freedom of expression and that this right is held to be fundamental. There are however restrictions on this right where the state can identify harm that may arise from such freedoms. Thankfully these restrictions are not trivial to impose. According to the Lord Chief Justice, any such restrictions must be "strictly justified" by the authorities that decide to impose them on their citizens.


Now the original ITC press release stated that: "Adult X is unacceptable on the grounds that it repeatedly contains material which offends against good taste and decency. The output of the channel consists almost entirely of unacceptable pornography".

This is hardly the "strict justification" required by European law. In fact the authorities will always struggle to find any real evidence. Most of the civilised world has allowed adult consensual porn for many a year without any discernable collapse in civilisation.


The European Convention of Human Rights is already part of British law but the mechanism to challenge the authorities in court is not in place until October. This has the interesting consequence that proscription of Adult X is possible but if it were to be successfully challenged in October, then the Government would have to compensate Adult X for lost revenue. That would certainly lead to a few interesting press headlines..."Shock horror. Government pay for 10,000 Adult X viewing cards". I can't wait.

 

May    Sex 4 Fun
   
 
Channel 4 logoWhen it comes to satellite TV, hardcore sex is usually associated with certain foreign channels. It is a pleasant diversion to report that hardcore material has recently been made available, courtesy of a well respected British channel. Of course we are talking about FilmFour and of course the regulators wouldn't actually allow the explicit images to be broadcast. A typical British compromise was arrived at and we found that we could watch a censored version on satellite TV and then log on to Channel 4's website to view the bits cut out. Not ideal, but its a start.

The story behind this little episode has been bubbling away for some time now and lots of British regulators have been happily sticking their oars in.

FilmFour (from Channel 4) has always had a rather uneasy relationship with the commercial TV regulator, the Independent Television Commission (ITC). They try to sell themselves as the film buff's film channel who show films in the best and most complete form possible. Yet the ITC simply won't allow this and insist that films can only be shown in the version approved for a video certificate by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The video version is often more severely cut than the cinema version and so immediately fails the quality control test demanded by the channel's knowledgeable customers.

Given that FilmFour has reluctantly been forced into accepting BBFC versions of films then they must have been keenly anticipating some cutting edge films that 'have' been approved by the BBFC. One such film is Lars Von Trier's The Idiots which originally caused a bit of a stir as it features a few fleeting scenes of explicit penetrative sex. The BBFC kept their cool on this occasion and granted the film an uncut 18 certificate for both cinema and video. Unfortunately, it wasn't Channel 4's lucky day and the ITC stepped in to insist that penetrative sex has no place on TV. (Although they previously seemed OK about it when the Adult Channel broadcast the Lover's Guide video).

The BBFC certificate has set a minor precedent in that the hardcore images contained are now perfectly legal. The authorities are currently reluctant to use obscenity law against adult consensual porn as juries rarely convict and each such failure diminishes the state's ability to claim that porn is obscene. The preferred method to control porn is to prosecute video traders for simply not having a BBFC certificate. These prosecutions under the Video Recordings Act can occur regardless of the contents of the video and so are more easily enforced. The BBFC certificate for The Idiots therefore ensures its legality and Channel 4 must have been confident that they could use the explicit images on their website to highlight their case against excessive ITC regulation. The offending hardcore scenes were censored for satellite/cable transmission via pixelation but the completely uncensored versions were made available on the Channel 4 website in streaming video format.

This incident is not the first time that the ITC has proved itself to be even more censorial than the BBFC. Previously they whinged about the showing of John Woo's The Killer and forced FilmFour to cut approximately 10s from the BBFC approved version. The ITC have also complained about FilmFour's clustering of violent films. Each film may be OK but several in a row somehow becomes a no-no.

Channel 4 are to be commended for their campaign to show the cinema versions of films but it must be noted that they are laying claim to success before it has actually been achieved. They have recently been ticked off by the Advertisting Standards Authority (ASA) for misleading potential subscribers. In national press advertisements, direct mailings and an internet advertisement, they have claimed that their Films are "uncut and uninterrupted. Just as the director intended. No compromises". The ASA considered that this claim was not true of all films broadcast by the channel. The Authority asked the Channel 4 to consult the Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice team before advertising again.

Channel 4 are at least trying to push the case against excessive censorship but for those waiting to see hardcore on British TV, I suggest that a foreign viewing card may be the quicker option.

 

July    Mainstream Porn
   
 
amromance.jpgLast month's article described how Britain has begrudgingly been forced to accept that hardcore is 'tolerable' as a form of adult entertainment. I wonder if Britain is ready for a possible development of pornography from merely being tolerable into a genre that is both fashionable and mainstream.

The censors in France have recently been addressing this problem. The French operate an admirably simple classification system with three age restricted categories, 12, 16 and 18. In most cases the ages restrictions are lower than in the UK. Many British 15's and 18's have a 12 certificate in France. A French 16 certificate is reserved for the most violent films and for softcore sex titles. The French 18 certificate is exclusively for hardcore porn which also incurs additional taxation. The sex cinemas that show 18 films are a dying breed that are neither salubrious nor attractive.

An interesting little sub-genre has been bubbling away in France where art-house has merged with hardcore porn. Seul Contre Tous by Gaspar No had a scene set in a porno cinema where the explicit screen action was clearly visible. More famously, Romance by Catherine Breillat featured some sexual penetration, oral sex, ejaculation and bondage. However the film that really caused a stir is Baise Moi (translated variably as Fuck Me, Screw Me or Rape Me) by Coralie Trinh-Thi. It may be an exaggeration but it is said to offer 90 minutes of almost non-stop hardcore sex and violence.

The French censor initially awarded the film a 16 certificate for its June release. It played to a good audience totalling 30,000 in the first week but was withdrawn after pressure from a campaign group linked to the far Right. It seemed that the film would have to be re-released with an 18 certificate which would banish the film to the sex cinema circuit. Of course this would not accommodate anywhere near the hoped for audience. However, the relevant parties seem to have rapidly found a solution. A new version of the 18 certificate has been defined that imposes the age restriction but allows for the film to play at ordinary cinemas. So porn is now considered mainstream, at least in France.

The art-house route is not the only method of blurring the edges of the hardcore genre. A fascinating offering from the USA sees a respected feminist director having a go at directing a porn movie. Lizzy Borden's Pornoflick makes no compromises, it is a no-holes-barred video that will not be out of place on any satellite sex channel. It doesn't even try and impose any sort of plot or narrative. All it does, is to intersperse the porn scenes with behind the camera interludes showing the director learning about the hardcore genre. She seems to rapidly come to terms with the stylised
requirements of a porn scene and her non judgemental, non sniggering, probing of her starlets provides an excellent insight into the industry.

Several companies are trying to move the image of porn more up market. Vivid in the States generate glossy features sold in packaging that only gives the most subtle hints as to its hardcore content. Probably less overtly sexual packaging than a typical Playboy video. Back in Europe, Private are doing a similar range of discreetly packaged titles and cleverly trying to associate their product with the fashion trade.

High production values and an attempt to target an up market audience does not in itself advance the porn genre. However if these companies have realised that there is a good profit in trying to make better porn films then perhaps they will turn towards some of the mainstream directors and cast for inspiration. Of course it is not obvious that many would be willing to take such a step. One commentator argued that actors and actresses are natural exhibitionists and that all that it would take to achieve a merging with the hardcore genre is that the resulting films should be good and generate respect for all those involved.

I am not entirely convinced by the argument but we can always hope.

 

August    New Age Porn
   
 
R18 StoryI wrote a few weeks ago about the surprise news that there was movement at the Home Office towards the legalisation of hardcore porn. At that time various organisations were debating how far this process should go. The surprises continued as it became clear that the authorities were about to go pretty much all the way. The first set of guidelines to be published were from the BBFC and these basically said that the vast majority of adult consensual material available in the US or Europe would be certificated uncut. Films that we are used to on late night satellite channels such as Canal+, TV1000, AdultX and XXL are now nearly all acceptable for sale in British sex shops.

The BBFC revised its R18 Guidelines in line with the previously reported High Court Judgement. As well as changing the guidelines the BBFC have spelt out more clearly what is acceptable as well as what is not:

1. The following content may be permitted in both heterosexual and homosexual videos

- Aroused genitalia.
- Masturbation.
- Oral-genital contact including kissing, licking and sucking.
- Penetration by finger, penis, tongue, vibrator or dildo.
- Non-harmful fetish material.
- Group sexual activity.
- Ejaculation and semen.

2. The following content is not acceptable

- Any material which is in breach of the criminal law.
- Material likely to encourage an interest in abusive sexual activity (e.g. paedophilia, incest)
- The portrayal of any sexual activity, whether real or simulated, which involves lack of consent.
- The infliction of pain or physical harm, real or (in a sexual context) simulated.
- Any sexual threats or humiliation which do not form part of a clearly consenting role-playing game.
- The use of any form of physical restraint which prevents participants from withdrawing consent
- Penetration by any object likely to cause actual harm or associated with violence.
- Activity which is degrading or dehumanising (eg bestiality, necrophilia, defecation, urolagnia).

The BBFC continued: "There is no question of anything which is illegal being shown, or of any material which is likely to encourage an interest in abusive sexual activity. Violent sex continues to be unacceptable and it must be clear that all activity is fully consensual". "The 'R18' category is a special and legally restricted classification primarily for explicit videos of consenting sex between adults. Such videos may be supplied to adults only in licensed sex shops. 'R18' videos may not be supplied by mail order".


These changes have been forced upon the authorities by a more liberal public attitude towards porn. Predictably this tolerance is not shared by the politicians presently incumbent at the Home Office. It is not surprising then that the Home Office have rapidly produced a consultation paper suggesting several severe options for further controls upon the supply of porn:

- To amend the current law to assume that some children would be watching any video given a certificate regardless of the controls on sale. This could in fact be an opportunity to reverse the progress made to date.
- The creation of new offences under the Video Recordings Act of deliberately showing an R18 video to a child; allowing
a child to watch an R18 video, and failing to take reasonable care to prevent a child from watching an R18 video.
- An increase in the levels of fines and sentences for the supply of R18 material outside of the licensed sex shop. In particular the Home Office have included mail order as a suggested illegal supply method. It seems a little draconian to criminalise mail order when it would be so easy to arrange a postal service to deliver R18 material only to an adult with ID.
- The Home Office have vengefully suggested that the Video Appeals Committee, which started the liberalisation bandwagon rolling, should be sacked and replaced by a Government appointed alternative.


It will be interesting to see how the new approach to porn will be interpreted by other agencies. For example, early indications from Customs suggest that they are not keen to relax their guidelines. They have argued that personal importation via mail order is still somehow illegal.

Finally, the most relevant of censors to satellite viewers is the Department for Culture, Media & Sport. So far they seem to have quietly dropped proscription proceedings against AdultX. I guess that it is a little difficult to pursue such an order if the material concerned is no longer illegal. This could legitimise sales of foreign hardcore channels which would in turn severely damage the viability of UK softcore channels. Who knows, perhaps even the ITC will one day have to sanction hardcore.

 

September    Great Xpectations
   
 
What Satellite logoOne of the bosses at Channel 5 recently made the newspaper headlines for speculating that hardcore pornography would become available on British TV by 2003. Adam Perry claimed that the UK were in an illogical and indefensible situation where we are lagging behind Europe in what we can see on subscription TV. He provided evidence of a desire for change by revealing that a Channel 5 poll of sexual attitudes found that 59% of people in the UK think that our laws on sexually explicit material should be the same as those in the rest of the EU.

Well if Perry can speculate on the future of hardcore on TV then so can I.

First of all, a brief summary of where we are currently at. Hardcore is now legally sold in licensed sex shops assuming that it has received an R18 certificate from the BBFC. Outside of sex shops, only 18 rated videos may be sold which do not contain hardcore material. Satellite and cable channels licensed in the UK are limited to the broadcasting of these softcore 18 rated videos. ITC rules clearly state that R18 films are not to be broadcast by British channels regardless of the access controls employed.

The commercial viability of maintaining the status quo with respect to British satellite services depends upon how many people are willing to pay for softcore when they can stroll down to the local sex shop and buy hardcore instead. The liberalisation of video porn will certainly have a large and increasing effect on the customer base for The Adult Channel and TVX. In the short term there are less than a hundred sex shops in the whole of the UK so this will severely limit customers who can immediately cancel their viewing cards. In addition the Home Office seem pretty keen on ensuring that shops are not allowed to sell via mail order.

However, there are currently few sex shops because there has never been a very large market for softcore. Now that shops are allowed to sell hardcore it is not surprising that several large companies have already announced intentions to establish and expand large chains of outlets. Beate Uhse and Ann Summers shops will be particularly effective because they specialise in high street locations.

Such an expansion will have several consequences. Firstly, more people will have the option to purchase porn. Secondly more people will become aware of the option to buy porn. Thirdly, society will become more used to the fact that a lot of people buy and enjoy porn.

The first two points will lead to a diminishing market for our current satellite services. I would estimate that few people who have the option to buy hardcore would elect to pay for a softcore satellite channel. As the subscriptions dry up there will be an ever increasing pressure on the channel owners to try and get the ITC rules changed. This is where the third point becomes important. However large the market for porn gets, it will certainly remain a minority pastime. To get rules changed, the majority must at least become convinced that hardcore is not such a bad thing even if they themselves are not interested.

As British society adopts a more tolerant attitude to porn then it will become more likely that television executives will be willing to listen to suggestions that they should carry such programming. Similarly a greater tolerance will be needed before TV regulators will approve a change to guidelines.

Adam Perry suggests that this process will take up to 3 years before we see the Adult Channel, TVX, or even Sky moving over to hardcore programming. The current massive rate at which R18 videos are being pushed through the BBFC suggests to me that Britain will quickly embrace pornography and that Perry's estimate will prove pessimistic. In the meantime I don't see that the Government can or will pursue any further proscription actions against foreign porn channels, so if British rules don't change soon, then our fellow Europeans will certainly fill the void. There's too much money to be made in porn to hang around waiting for long. I give it just a year before we see hardcore on UK satellite TV.

 

October    Customary Procedure
   
 
Bound & Gagged book coverFor those of you who would like to read more on UK censorship, I can heartily recommend Alan Travis' Bound and Gagged: A Secret History of Obscenity in Britain (Profile Books). It follows the stories of several dictatorial Home Secretaries who found that the prosecuting authorities, police and customs all proved more than willing helpers to the cause of censorship and book burning.

Back in the 1920s it was the works of DH Lawrence and James Joyce that were causing grief but if one substitutes Red Hot Dutch, TV Erotica, Nympho Nurse Nancy or Horny Catbabe one could easily be reading a story form the 1990s. The book describes tales of Customs and their secret seizure list; police raids and the censorial prejudices of senior officers; and politicians who collude with whatever grabs the biggest headlines. Also just like the modern day, Europe was seen as the source of all moral corruption. The only real difference to the modern day is that Customs were once able to impose a pretty nearly perfect prohibition on import, they must have been able to open every package in those days.

Luckily after 80 years of censorship things have changed on October 2nd 2000. The incorporation of Human Rights into UK law finally forced even Customs into taking a more moderate line. I have previously reported on the censors capitulation back in the summer, but it was predictably Customs who would delay longest. They just about scraped in before the October deadline via the following announcement in a letter sent to interested parties.

"Customs will no longer seize material depicting sexual activity between consenting adults which falls within the BBFC published guidelines. This will avoid conflict with The Human Rights Act, and existing European legislation and will sustain our policy of seeking to maintain common standards as accepted by the courts, and other enforcement agencies.

Sexual acts which are excluded from the BBFC criteria for R18 certification will continue to be considered obscene. This includes anal and vaginal fisting, urination, defecation, sado masochism and bondage. We will also maintain controls on material involving children or animals, and also material depicting rape, excessive violence or animal cruelty".

I guess that Customs feel that there are not quite enough prohibitions left to justify their existence and seem pretty reluctant to give up the ones they have. So it didn't come of much of surprise to hear that within a week of the change to their guidelines they were still seizing disputed material. In something of a predictable mix up, Customs seized the up-market hardcore video, Latex by Michael Ninn, pretty much at the same time that the BBFC passed it uncut with an R18 certificate.

The confusion seems to arise in the area of S&M. The seized video does not contain any pain or suffering, it just uses some mild fetish images such as leather and latex. The Customs guidelines leave S&M as liable to an absolute ban, no mention of degree. In contrast, the BBFC far more sensibly relate prohibitions to the degree of harm caused to the participants and/or audience. Clearly a lot of very mild material may involve S&M imagery yet does not come anywhere near what could be described as harmful.

Customs have been seizing and prohibiting for 80 years. Now its finally our turn to have some fun. Here are a few practical rules to consider when taking advantage of our newly won freedoms.

Mail order from outside of the EU attracts a 20% surcharge assuming that the total price paid for the packet is above 18. (36 if an unsolicited gift). This money will be extracted by the postman along with his cut for performing this service. If you are actually travelling with the goods, the allowance rises to 145. Note that if these allowances are breached then duty will be charged on the full value, not just the amount above the allowance. Of course no additional charges are levied on imports from the EU.

Another very important consideration is that if any part of that consignment is judged obscene then Customs are allowed to confiscate the entire consignment . This applies to both postal packets and goods you are travelling with. Do not take unnecessary risks by packaging acceptable films together with those that Customs are likely to have problems with.

On a final note, Customs do not appear to have any interest in material downloaded via the Internet nor do they have problems

 

November    Making Sense of Censorship
   
 
Channel 4 logoA couple of months ago I optimistically suggested that within a year we would be seeing hardcore porn on British satellite TV. It was therefore gratifying to see that Channel 4's satellite offshoot, FilmFour, are so enthusiastically supporting my cause.

Firstly FilmFour has been broadcasting art house movies complete with hardcore scenes. The Idiots for instance was screened uncut on FilmFour whereas it suffered the pixellation of its naughty bits when broadcast on terrestrial Channel 4.

Secondly FilmFour recently organised a high profile event: Making Sense of Censorship. A conference dedicated to the sorting out the mess that is British censorship. The delegate list included law enforcement, the regulators, TV companies, film makers, child related organisation, political representatives, pro &anti censorship pressure groups and me.

FilmFour submitted a discussion proposal based upon surveys showing that the public now believe that censorship for adults is largely unnecessary. The only thing we need of the regulators is for them to confirm legality and to provide age classification information that may be used by parents.

The proposal suggests that adult restriction should be limited to: any non-consensual activity during the making of the material; the abuse & sexual depiction of children and cruelty to animals. Increased freedoms should only be available where technology supports controlled access. Free to air material would continue to be regulated via the current mechanisms, eg the watershed.

In fact the conference proved to be pretty liberal on some of these points. For example a sensible debate occurred about 16 being a better age than 18 for the viewing of porn. It was also widely accepted that S&M material is inherently consensual and should be removed from the current list of prohibitions.

Two fascinating surveys were presented for discussion. The organisers had commissioned a survey of households with the following results

- An overwhelming 77% of those polled stated that the cutting of films on television is the least favoured method of controlling the content.

- Those polled preferred warnings and information prior to transmission over cuts to the content. Only 11% favoured cuts as the preferred method of control

- 82% believed that it was their responsibility to decide on what is acceptable viewing for their families and households and that their choices on what to watch required clear information on content. The figures rises to 98% in homes with children, as parents believe it is their responsibility to decide for their families.

- 64% of those surveyed believed that the Internet was a more significant issue than television anyway.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) also provided a report on public opinions. The BBFC had interestingly contrasted different groups of viewers. Probably an over simplification of the conclusion but it seems that if you ask people on the street then 50% are censorial and 50% are liberal. However the BBFC demonstrated that after a protracted course of listening to reasoned debate and detailed explanation of BBFC policies then only 25% maintained their censorial stance compared with the 75% who joined the liberal camp. The final group surveyed were those that responded to an Internet questionnaire. The predominately young, computer using males were predictably a liberal lot with only 10% registering as censorial and 90% living in the land of the living.

The conference wrapped up with a panel discussion. The thoughtful BBFC examiner gave the impression that the censors are well at ease with their recent decision to allow hardcore porn. This seemed to be appreciated by a large proportion of the audience. I think everyone involved is glad that public and even press response to porn legalisation has been that of quiet acceptance. Instead the focus of public concern is shifting more towards the perceived demonic powers of the Internet, An AOL representative was certainly picking up more than a fair share of censorial questions.

The only negative indicator to my sex on satellite prediction was unfortunately the man from the ITC (the satellite TV regula

 

December    Handcuffs & Erotica
   
 
Erotica logoReaders of this column will surely have realised that global warming is affecting Britain's sexual climate almost as swiftly as it affects the meteorological climate. Some of our authorities have not been quite so attentive and they have been recently caught unawares by the autumn floods. Unfortunately they still have a few sandbags left though and their threatened properties are not quite waterlogged yet. This was well demonstrated by some strange goings-on prior to the recent Erotica Show.

This is an annual sex fair in London's Olympia featuring a wide variety of trade stands along with a series of spectacular stage shows, (or so we were promised). 30,000+ attendees were expected over the weekend making it temporarily, the largest licensed sex shop in the country. And of course this was the first Erotica Show in which legal hardcore pornography would be available. Worthing Police thought otherwise.

The Devlin Media Group were busy preparing a batch of Phil McCavity videos for the show when they were visited by the police. It needed 16-20 officers to carry away 4000 items which had all been passed R18 by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The police were shown the BBFC certificates and also the current BBFC R18 guidelines along with an explanation of recent High Court judgements. But all to no avail, the videos were taken away.

The next stage was for the police to submit the videos to the Crown Prosecution Service for further consideration. Of course this consultation revealed the error in their ways and a few days later the police were forced to revisit the Devlin Media Group with cap in hand and an apology (and of course the returned stock). I presume all turned out well as they seemed to be doing a roaring trade when I popped into their stand at Erotica.

Worthing Police were not the only ones ill at ease with Britain's changing attitudes to sex. Hammersmith & Fulham Council along with the vice squad were also keen to occupy the moral high ground. Vice squad officers attended the dress rehearsals for the stage shows and were offended by a fire eating routine by dancers from the Torture Garden Club. They euphemistically objected to "the method a female fire eater was planning to use to put out the flame". Of course the council easily got their own way and the act was abridged, after all the council possess the ultimate sanction of refusing to grant a licence for the show.

Further ludicrously restrictive council rules on sex and nudity ensured that the stage shows were some of the tamest that I have ever witnessed. It certainly provided a surreal contrast to the unedited hardcore that was being simultaneously shown within some of the trade stands. The show organiser also commented on this rather strange contrast. He said that despite there being hardcore sex videos on display he was determined to keep the show above the "fine line" between erotica and pornography.

This was not quite the end of the control freakery though, press reports suggested that undercover vice squad officers would be continually patrolling the proceedings. A tough job but someone's got to do it.

As for the show itself it certainly proved to be an interesting evening. The variety of the stands helped make up for a disappointing lack of representation from any satellite TV companies. Prices were generally on the high side but it is not that often that one gets the opportunity with some of the treats on display.

The amazing diversity of sexual tastes on exhibition certainly makes one think, perhaps I have been too quick to criticise. Perhaps there are people who enjoy police raids; perhaps there are people who enjoy being bossed around by jumped up officials; perhaps there are people who like to be told no sex allowed, perhaps there are those that like to worry about a chance confession being to an undercover cop....nah!

 

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