Satellite X

 2003

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January    Hard Achievements
   
 
US flagInspiration can sometimes be in short supply when writing a column, but this month's tour of the news finds a double helping.

Having recently come of age, Jesse McClure was enjoying a tumble with his girlfriend in her bedroom. Unfortunately she hadn't yet moved from the family home and her mother threw a wobbly when they were discovered. Georgia in the US isn't a good place to be with an angry mom. There still exists a 170 year old law that made it a crime for unmarried people to have sex.

Jesse McClure was prosecuted under this unbelievable law and was ordered to pay a fine and write an essay explaining why he should not have had sex. He wrote in his essay that it wasn't the court's business: "Invading personal privacy just isn't right".

The judge agreed and so the Georgia Supreme Court struck the law off the statute books for ever. Well done to Jesse!


Another inspirational contribution comes from Tony Pitman down under. To protest against Australia's film censorship regime, he organised a sale of banned videos right outside the film censor's office. The organisation was a little sad though. It was planned thinking that the office was on a main street and that the protest would cause a stir amongst the passing crowds. Unfortunately the censor had moved to a quieter location and the crowd was limited to a few radio journalists looking for an interview.

Tony Pitman persevered though and sold his stock of hardcore videos, These are illegal to sell except in the Australian Capital Territory (but they are sold openly in adult shops throughout the country). In the absence of sufficient television publicity, Tony abandoned his plan to call the police and then get himself arrested.

Apparently censorship is a low key issue in Australia as the law is poorly enforced anyway. Adult shops abound and they seem to have come to some sort of arrangement with the local police.



Back in England a little progress has been made in keeping the censorial TV regulators at bay. The Government have said that video on demand services will be able to show 18 rated videos at any time of the day. At present there is a 8pm watershed for pay per view services such as Sky Box Office. (This is in itself a concession from the 10pm watershed imposed on broadcast TV).

More importantly, video on demand operators will be self regulated rather than coming under the new communications super-regulator, Ofcom. Perhaps they can therefore be a little more adventurous when it comes to showing hardcore.

Well if they can't yet show R18 videos they can at least broadcast a little hardcore. In particular they can now transmit Baise-Moi which was awarded a video certificate during Christmas week. This French film easily has the most explicit action to be seen so far in an 18 rated art film. It is well worth looking out for.



On a sadder note, James Ferman, the chief censor from 1975 until 1999, died on Christmas Eve. He had made an enormous impact through out his time at the BBFC. He was always firmly in charge of his board sometimes verging on the dictatorial.

The longevity of his tenure maintained a ludicrous level of censorship way beyond its sell by date. Popular support typical of the 70's had steadily declined ever since video nasties scare. By the end, censorship was only being preserved by Ferman's inertia and conservatism.

Ferman was proud of being the strictest censor in Europe. He was however always uneasy that the prohibition of hardcore was totally ineffective and that it merely resulted in an enormous thriving black market. Indeed he sewed the seeds of his downfall with a brave and unilateral relaxation in the cutting of video hardcore. Jack Straw sacked him for his efforts and then tried to appoint a more censorial board. Of course the genie was now out of the bottle and Straw's efforts backfired. The change of leadership allowed an opportunity for legal challenges to the obscenity law which then resulted in the legalisation of hardcore.


The actual legalisation of hardcore occurred whilst Andreas Whittam Smith was president of the censors. This year's honours saw Whittam Smith awarded a CBE. I wonder if it was in recognition for services to hardcore. It did not always appear obvious that Whittam Smith was of a liberal persuasion but nevertheless, things improved an awful lot throughout his tenure. In particular he was very keen on public transparency into the workings of the censors coupled with public consultation. As a result the BBFC are now the most approachable of regulators and are always ready to explain their decisions.

Let us hope that the good work can be continued to the point of an end to the compulsory state vetting of our film, video and satellite viewing.

 

February    Sex Toys..
   
 
What Satellite logoA couple of weeks ago I cracked open the piggy bank and went shopping in search of the latest sex toys. On this occasion I gave Soho a miss and headed straight on up the Tottenham Court Road in search of the latest video recorders.

It is a commonly held view that sex drives technology but I would like to add a corollary. Technology that excludes sex is doomed to failure. My previous foray into the world of video gizmos was to purchase a Tivo. It proved to be totally unfit for the purpose of recording satellite X. It simply did not maintain a database of programme details for any of the decent sex channels. In addition the Tivo was so arrogant in its belief that it knew best about what you wanted to watch that it neglected to offer the facility to record anything that it didn't know about. (I believe that an upgrade eventually surfaced to allow manual recording, but my Tivo had already been consigned to the Betamax cupboard).

The new toy has restored my faith in technology. I have bought a Panasonic unit combining a hard disk and a DVD recorder. It is truly an excellent tool for satellite X viewers. The general plan is to record an entire night of viewing onto the hard disk and then peruse it at ones leisure the next day. Frequent hassles to the dedicated hardcore viewer are dross, repeats and a lack of published programme details. My new toy deals with them all beautifully. It has the most essential of all features, a mega fast forward. It estimate that it skips the dross at 60x normal speed. Anything that catches my eye at this break neck speed, I can dub down to high quality DVD for even later viewing. Various reusable DVD formats are available but once I found an Internet site selling one shot media for less than a quid a disc I was sorted.


One of the upsides is that I can get to review far more material for this column. The channel that has most impressed me this month is Spice Platinum. They seem to have come up with a nice little formula to provide variety and quality. A typical evening viewing includes a European and a US film interspersed with British made shorts.

As a rule, I find European films far superior to equivalent US films. Perhaps because the US preference for big hair and big false breasts somehow destroys the believability so essential for good porn. After all viewers are surely trying to imagine themselves as participants in the action and it therefore must seem real.

However, US hardcore does compensate somewhat by providing a variety that Europe does not. In particular Spice Platinum has been showing themed movies such as Chica Boom (Hispanic) and My Baby Got Back (Black). This couples well with a competent European movie to make an interesting evening's viewing.

I was also impressed by the British made output. Now that hardcore has been legal for a couple of years it seems the homegrown hardcore makers are learning their trade. Probably not too surprising as an acceptance of hardcore means that more people are willing to take part in production and there is a larger market to reward their efforts. Anyway the material selected by Spice Platinum features very attractive players and yet still maintains a charming freshness which tends to quickly evaporate when performers stay around for too long.

Actually Spice Platinum hack around most of the British videos they show but I think it ends up as an improvement. Most of the British material is sold in the high street as a feature length video but it tends to be very episodic and rightfully doesn't bother with any half hearted attempt at a narrative. For example Making Ends Meet features various students paying their way through college via the sex trade. Perhaps when episodes are played back to back it maybe a little repetitive but an appearance on Spice Platinum spans maybe a week with one episode every two or three days.

Now that I have my hard disk recorder I could (if I wanted), splice all the episodes back together. I bet you can't do that on a Tivo

 

March    Free to Pay Per View...
   
 
What Satellite logoA recurring theme in this column is to ask the regulators why we cannot watch hardcore on UK satellite channels. A recurring response from the regulators is that public opinion does not favour explicit sex on TV. It must have come as something of a surprise to find out how wrong the regulators were.

Each year the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and Broadcasting Standards Commission, the TV and satellite regulators, initiate a survey of the public's views on TV regulation. It is a demographically correct work undertaken by a leading market research company featuring nearly 1200 interviews. In the survey they posed the question: If people want to pay extra to watch particularly sexually explicit programmes not available on other TV channels, should they be allowed to do so? 76% agreed, 23% disagreed and the remainder were don't knows.

It wasn't as if the interviewees were particularly liberal minded on other issues, they generally supported the watershed and found that the current level of regulation was about right for free to air broadcasts. So it seems that a surprisingly large majority of people think they should be able to watch hardcore as long as it isn't imposed upon those who would rather not watch. What a pity that the ITC form part of the minority opinion yet still hold sway over the majority.


My thanks to Paul who recently wrote to Patricia Hodgson, Chief Executive of the ITC. Her reply was certainly interesting in light of the above ITC survey:

"It is true that research does indicate that the British public is now very much less concerned in general terms about sexual material in the media than was once the case, and this is reflected in the ITC's general policy. But it is far from certain that this means that the public wish to see the strongest and most explicit images available on television, even on encrypted services. We believe we are applying the views of Parliament and the majority of the public, in restricting the strongest material"

Of course even if Hodgson is swayed by the majority public view then there is still plenty of scope for the ITC to prevaricate as she explains:

"As you know, the functions of the ITC will be taken over by Ofcom later this year and it would be inappropriate for the ITC to make significant policy changes not resulting from legal necessity at this stage. It will be up to the new body to consider how it wishes to deal with this issue and whether research would be the appropriate mechanism".


It is always worrying when Britain follows the American lead, particularly when empowering regulators. The government recently slipped in a last minute amendment to the communications bill, to supposedly give added protection to the interests of consumers and society. The amendment gives Ofcom a new power to further the interests of the 'community as a whole'.

This followed intense lobbying from bodies like the Voice of the Viewer & Listeners, they apparently considered it to be a key victory. I guess that they expect the 'community' clause to be something like the nightmare US concept of 'community standards' so effectively used to limit people's freedom. For example, 'community standards' are cited in Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma as a reason to prevent their population from subscribing to hardcore satellite channels.

I wonder if the legislators in those states researched the view of the public. Or did they ignore it just like the ITC.

 

April    Fighting Censorship
   
 
What Satellite logoIt is part of my nature to have a sensitive ear, ever alert for tales of censorship. In troubled times, the usual background hubbub of censorial chatter rapidly accelerates into a concerto written for a thousand wartime klaxons.

However the mere volume of censorship doesn't make for easy moralisation. Sex on satellite is easy. Only those that want to watch it do so and those that want to stop it are mere nutters who get a kick from being holier than thou. In times of war it is not so clear cut. Those that want to know about what is going on may not actually really really want to know what is going down at the local hospital where the surgeons have run out of anaesthetic. The censors may therefore not be so out of line of what viewer wants or expects.

But on the other hand we should at least be aware of how our satellite TV is being censored at times of war.

MTV are first on the agenda. The management sent a pre-war circular to their staff explaining that "The ITC Programme Code requires us not to broadcast material which offends against good taste or is offensive to public feeling. We therefore recommend that videos featuring the following are not shown at the moment: war, soldiers, war planes, bombs, missiles, social unrest and executions. Furthermore, videos with words such as bomb, missile, war or other sensitive words in the artist or song title should not be shown at the moment".


The new concept of 'embedded' journalism has certainly proved to be a gripping aspect of war coverage. Of course there are pretty strict guidelines on what may be reported. Pentagon rules certainly made for some pretty subtle wording. Reporters were nominally allowed reasonably free rein providing that the material isn't 'sensitive'. Natuarlly sensitive material required vetting. The subtlety was that military commanders were allowed to tell journalists a snippet of news worthy but sensitive information which then immediately required that reports had to be vetted.

Another clause states that all interviews with military personnel should be on the record. An attempt to prevent the leaks that occurred during the Vietnam War, when servicemen anonymously divulged damaging information or expressed disgust about the conduct of the war.

The Pentagon's rules also prevent journalists from using their own transport, so that most of the press get to see only what the military wants them to see. Reporters were also specifically warned that using their satellite phones could make them targets for unfriendly missile fire. And of course it highly unlikely that an embedded journalist will ever divulge anything that may endanger themselves or their unit.


The satellite favourite, CNN imposed even more vetting. In addition to the Pentagon rules, all material had to be vetted by CNN central editors. Not a word could then be changed without re-approval. In fact CNN became notorious during the Gulf War when Pentagon 'trainees' joined this team of central editors.


It is not surprising that the US were so keen on controlling their own reporters. But of course coalition news channels are not the sole broadcasters on satellite. The Quatari news channel al Jazeera came to the fore. The Americans were not impressed. They particularly objected to some early war identification of dead and captured US servicemen. Pressure was somehow brought to bear and subsequent images no longer featured recognisable faces.

In common with other Arabic news services, al Jazeera gave prominence to civilian casualties that hardly reinforced the mythical image of smart bombs always avoiding civilian casualties. The selective use of imagery of mortally wounded children was also a major censorship issue but somehow I am not yet up to pursuing that aspect.

In fact al Jazeera were in the unfortunate state of being targeted by both sides. One week the Iraqi authorities were trying to silence the al-Jazeera Baghdad correspondent, Tariq Ayub. The next he was killed in an American missile strike on the station's studio in the city.

Unsurprisingly the ultimate censorship was also applied to Iraqi TV via missile strike. The attack was strongly criticised by Amnesty International who warned that the attack may have been a "war crime". Bombing a television station "simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda" is illegal under international humanitarian law.


Censorship doesn't end with TV these days. al Jazeera were also broadcasting to the world via their web sites. But these too were under attack. A few hours after al Jazeera broadcast graphic images of dead and captured U.S. soldiers. Its Web site soon began receiving wave after wave of bogus requests, bogging down access. The next day, as al Jazeera introduced an English-language version of its Web pages, the barrage intensified. They countered by doubling their bandwidth But the attackers soon inundated the extra bandwidth.

"No normal hacker can do this. No way," says Salah Alseddiqi, al Jazeera's technology manager. "We can't prove it, but we think for sure it's a big organization" Perhaps to coin a phrase "The Mother of All Censors".

 

May    Off Balance
   
 
Ofcom logo"What I don't like is gratuitous sex and violence. I think it is bad and lazy TV and I don't know why we have to see it".

You may think I am quoting from the late Mary Whitehouse but you would be wrong. I am quoting Jonathan Edwards, the world class triple jumper, who was recently appointed to the TV censors who will soon take over from the ITC.

Ofcom, the new TV regulators are currently in a set up process so as to be ready towards the end of the year.They have recently announced the composition of their 'Contents Board' which will have a major input into deciding what we will be able to see on TV and in particular, on British satellite sex channels.

The Contents Board has been set up with representation for nations & regions as required by the Communications Act. The eleven part-time members have an age range of36 to 63 and various religious beliefs, including Christian, Jewish, Quaker (ie Puritan), Sikh and non-believers. Five of the eleven part-time members of the Board live a long way from London, two of them in rural areas. It was felt important to get UK-wide thinking rather than London metropolitan thinking. Six of the members are women, five are men.

Rosemary Kelly represents Northern Ireland. She is Deputy Chairman of the Ulster Orchestra, President of Help the Aged, and a founder member of the Board of the Irish Film & Television Academy. The Member for Wales is Sue Balsom who has recently been hosting taste & decency focus groups for the Broadcasting Council. Matthew MacIver is the Gaelic speaking member for Scotland who was until recently a headmaster. Johnathan Edwards represents England and his interests are sport and Christianity. However from his opening remarks about his new job it doesn't sound like he has representation in mind, sounds more like imposition.

With all this politically correct representation going on I wonder if anyone has been appointed to speak for the viewers. Who will speak for those that like soaps, reality TV and Hollywood movies? And of course, which member will represent those of us who would like to see explicit sex on satellite.


All is not necessarily bleak though, the Communications Act is broadly deregulatory. It seems to prefer the concept of self regulation. Ofcom sound keen on public consulation and will be researching their views on 'general principles' during the summer. A colleague of mine is organising a campaign targeted at allowing hardcore entertainment on subscription TV, well worthy of support:

"If there was ever going to be a time to change the rules then this is it. There is unlikely to be such an opportunity again. If Ofcom see there is no support for change, they may simply assume that the current status quo is acceptable and opt to carry on with the existing arrangements. This is where you could make a big difference. All that is needed is for a few people to write to Ofcom this summer in support of a change".

"If you have any interest in freeing British subscription TV from censorship, e-mail me at censorfreetv@hotmail.com and I will send you more details about the arguments, counter arguments and background information to help you produce a targeted letter. I will let you know when Ofcom formally announce their public consultation and can give further advice if you wish".


In fact an assurance has already been solicited from Dominic Morris, a director of Ofcom:

"The Content Board intends to consult both genuinely and widely to secure input from all ages, communities and ranges of view on Ofcom's broadcasting standards codes, the publics evolving expectations of public service broadcasting and broadcast news etc. In addition to direct consultations, citizens juries, regional public seminars and meetings, the Boards decisions will also be informed by a wide ranging audience research programme and large-volume surveys of public opinion. These will address both one-off topics and sustain established surveys which measure how public attitudes to broadcast content change over time, so that content regulation can evolve in step with public expectations".

It should be an interesting summer, so if you would like to keep up with developments at Ofcom, I have set up an OfWatch page at www.melonfarmers.co.uk. There seems to be a general expectant buzz in the air that I may soon be able to review British Satellite X channels. Lets make it so!

 

June    Forbidden X
   
 
Peppermint PalaceAs I strolled into my local go-go bar last week, it wasn't difficult to tell something was up. The topless waitresses weren't topless and the nude dancers were distinctly prim and proper in their brand new bikinis.

All soon became clear, the Thai police had selected the Peppermint Club for one of their infamous raids. The girls were herded off for urine tests and the customers heaved a sigh of relief as they were not required to do the same (not always the case). The raids are of course initiated in the name of drugs prevention but somehow only sex related businesses are ever targeted.

The government minister in charge of pub raids recently wrote about his discoveries from these urine tests. He concluded that a pubic trim was a personal right and did not break any law, but he thought it "morally degrading" and an affront to cultural values.

Inspiration indeed for a quick fire world tour of those that affront MY cultural values.

Since the turn of the year Finnish people have been suffering from their Minister of Culture. Late night hardcore entertainment has been vanquished from the airwaves since the beginning of the year. Of course Minister Karpela only wants to improve ways to protect children and youngsters from sex and violence on TV. I am sure she would be aghast at the suggestion that adults should be denied adult entertainment. Moon-TV have recently resumed adult broadcasts but these are now strictly softcore.

Vancouver Police have also been busy denying adult entertainment. A theatre group planned a stage play featuring oral sex but the police were not willing to play game. An interesting legal debate ensued. Sexual images are legal and freely available at movie theatres and video stores. Why is then legal to watch real sex on screen but not on stage?

A similar debate arose in London when the play, XXX, opened. The authorities were assured that all sex was simulated with a prosthetic penis, yet the audience were apparently convinced that it was real. Why should a real act be illegal when exactly the same audience experience is legal when generated by special effects?

Elsewhere in London there have been some very positive sounding changes occurring on entertainment licensing. Southwark council are considering granting a license to a private members-only club to allow any legal sexual encounter or performance to take place within its walls, including sexual intercourse. It seems almost unbelievable that any British official body could consider that any sexual activity is legal and acceptable. Of course there are those that disagree, and the nearby Southwark Cathedral have been leading the call for repression and intolerance.

It is guaranteed that the USA will always feature in a round up of censorship stories. This time Wal-Mart come to the fore. America's biggest retailer has dropped three best selling lad magazines, Maxim, FHM and Stuff, because the words are too racy and the pictures too bawdy. Wal-Mart's British subsidiary Asda though, say they will not follow suit. A spokesman said the three titles were among its biggest selling magazines.

Australia have a similar official film censorship body to our own BBFC. They have recently been wound up by Ken Park, a film including scenes of explicit sex, suicide and auto-erotic asphyxiation. They have decided to ban it but the distributors have now decided to appeal the decision. The Australian censors previously had similar problems with the sexually explicit French film Baise-Moi.

Sexual entertainment is pretty tough to prohibit as there always plenty of people willing to vote with their wallets. The Germans take a far more realistic attitude to regulation but of course the power of the wallet still beckons. Politicians in Cologne are planning to put a sex tax on brothels and lap dancing clubs. The city treasurer feels that they should be taxed similarly to nightclubs and casinos. He said "Some people have fun putting coins in slot machines, others have other ways".

My final snippet is from Malaysia, a country notable for strict censorship and a cultural hatred of sexual entertainment. On a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur, I stumbled on a bar with the promise of erotic dancers. I couldn't really believe that a strip show would be allowed but I simply had to investigate. In fact my fears were partially well founded, nudity was not on the agenda. However the girls were pretty, they were scantily clad, and they were up for a hands-on lap dance. It was very stimulating. Like I said, sexual entertainment is pretty tough to prohibit.

 

July    Free Sex...
   
 
What Satellite logoThis month sees a departure from the usual commentary about the encrypted world of hardcore subscription channels. Instead we shall examine the world of sexual entertainment freely available to all Sky viewers.

We start with Friendly TV, who have been attempting to live up to their name with some viewer friendly late night shows. I was first alerted by an internet forum discussion about their show, Girl Talk. A recent programme featured a couple of lap dancers urged on by texts from viewers. They brought the director onto the set and did a dance for him, then gradually stripped him to his boxers. One of the girls pulled down her bikini bottom at one stage, and bent down towards the camera and her genitals were quite visible. She was then told by the presenter that she shouldn't do that again but later he added that it would become a regular thing on Girl Talk if they got enough texts of support in.

Apparently this wasn't the first 'accidental' exposure and it wasn't too much of a surprise when I read that the satellite regulators, The ITC, were looking into it.

In general Men & Motors type programmes tend to be restricted to topless fare. Living TV type 'erotic dramas' show pubic hair but never any explicit details. I don't know if there are any published guidelines from the ITC but as topless shots and pubic hair are allowed in Hollywood sex scenes then they can hardly be prohibited from late night fare.

Another channel hitting the news is softcore magnate David Sullivan's Free Sex TV. It is said to be the first free-view sex channel on UK Satellite. It broadcasts between 11pm and 4am. Sullivan, the publisher of Sport Newspapers, is hoping to capitalise on the popularity of his adult titles by allowing viewers to "interact" with the Sports' glamour models.

Viewers will be encouraged to make premium rate telephone or text calls to the models and the revenue from the calls will fund the channel. This particular viewer won't be encouraged though after trying out the webcasts on the Free Sex TV web site. The name is particularly misleading as the only way to view is via a premium line phone connection at 150 pence a minute. The previous introduction screen promised Free Sex TV Online and that no membership nor credit card are required.

The idea soon wound up Mediawatch-UK, the former National Viewers' and Listeners' Association but for different reasons to my own complaints. Their chairman, John Milton Whatmore, reckons that Free Sex TV erodes public morals and is alarmed that the channel may be seen by those who haven't necessarily signed up to watch it.

Of course the National Viewers and Listeners are not the force they once were, but I was particularly pleased to hear of their current difficulties in attracting supporters. From their latest annual report the chairman said:

"This brings me to one of our biggest issues for concern at present: that of Financial Stability. Mediawatch-UK is at present still losing twice as many members as new ones it is recruiting. If this trend is not halted and reversed Mediawatch-UK in its present form will cease to be viable in two years time. We rely solely on membership subscriptions to resource our activities, and every member who chooses not to renew their membership is hammering another nail into the coffin of our organisation".

And finally an update on the Government's position regarding satellite hardcore. Thanks to Ian who emailed Stuart Fox
of the International Broadcasting Department of Culture, Media and Sport. He received the following reply:

"The UK's position is that there is no place for hardcore pornography on UK television.

It should be made clear that the ITC is an independent body, that is responsible for licensing UK licensed broadcasters. The Government does not intervene in programme matters, either on scheduling arrangements or on content. Responsibility for what is broadcast on television rests with the broadcasters and the broadcasting regulatory bodies".

The opening statement isn't particularly encouraging but the fact that they are keen to delegate responsibility to the regulators suggests that they are preparing a way to save face if they can't get their own way. Lets hope this is the case and that they get to need this escape route.

 

August    XXX-ceptable
   
 
What Satellite logoIt has been perfectly legal to watch hardcore in the privacy of one's own home for a couple of years now. Explicit videos are readily available from licensed sex shops and foreign satellite XXX channels are tolerated and no longer proscribed. However it has taken a fair amount of time to get to see hardcore at the cinema. Up until now that is, a hardcore pornographic film has finally been passed by the British censors for a cinema screening.

An R18 cinema certificate has been awarded to a silent black and white compilation of stag loops called The Good Old Naughty Days (Polissons et Galipettes). Now the question is, where will it play? In theory it can play in a licensed sex cinema but I don't think there are any in the UK. If there is a licensed sex cinema somewhere, then the showing will be historic as it would be the debut of a properly licensed hardcore film open to the general public.

R18s certainly seem to have been a hit with the public. Since the legalisation of porn three years ago, 2239 videos have been passed by the censors. These are now being sold from an ever increasing number of licensed sex shops. Three years ago there were about 80 in the UK, now there are about 200. The number of hardcore satellite channels has multiplied in the same time by a similar ratio.

Even the press have been recently been featuring a few pleasantly positive stories. The Sunday Herald wrote a very up-beat article when they discovered that the Private Media Group have made a high budget porn video set in Loch Ness. They reported that far from being outraged by the film, local reaction seems muted. The owner of the Loch Ness Lodge Hotel, said "There's no such thing as bad publicity in this game. If we get on CNN with this, good and well. If we get naked women on Loch Ness-side, well and good".

Another very positive landmark of the month was the final report from the Broadcasting Standards Commission. The BSC were set up with a remit designed to placate the pro-censorial pressure groups. They only ever accepted complaints about too much sex or violence in specific programmes. If one tried to complain that there is too much censorship on TV, the complaint was rejected as being too general and outside of their remit. If one tried to complain about excessive cuts to say sex in a particular programme they would not act as they felt that a broadcaster had the right to cut material as they deemed fit. So a resounding good riddance to a worthless bunch of censors.

There are further encouraging noises from the nascent Ofcom. It appears hopeful that they will drop the concept of 'taste and decency' as the basis of regulation and instead regulate according to the law by simply disallowing illegal and 'harmful' material. This is where the publics enthusiasm for R18 videos will help. Clearly hardcore is now legal and there has been little or no evidence of any harm caused by the widespread availability of porn via licensed sex shops. So surely R18 videos must therefore now be acceptable for broadcast.

Ofcom have also promised a set of very laudable objectives:
- Further the interests of consumers in relevant markets
- Ensure that a wide range of television and radio services are available in the UK
- Ensure effective delivery of customers' and consumers' needs
- Deliver decisions which will be clear and with transparent reasons
- Make decisions based on strong evidence and powerful analysis
- Be flexible and be responsive to the changing realities of the communications sector

It currently seems likely that Ofcom will start public consultations in September. So what better time to let them know your views. Drop them a line, be positive, let them know that we just want our X TV.

 

September    Back To Basics...
   
 
What Satellite logoThis month I will attempt to take the moral high ground with a 'Back to Basics' campaign. It is time to get back to some serious reviewing and I will start with Free-X TV.

Although not yet a familiar name, the channel has been around for some time under the guise of No Zap. The use of the term 'free' has become somewhat exaggerated in the satellite industry. In this case the channel is indeed free of subscription charges but there is instead a one off purchase cost.

Viewers generally must buy a CAM that has been programmed for the Skycrypt system. Having bought the special CAM, there is no need of a viewing card. There are two such CAMS currently been advertised, a dedicated Free-X TV CAM and an IceCrypt CAM. The IceCrypt version has the advantage of being programmable and is generally set up to accept Viaccess cards. So for a viewer with limited Common Interface slots, the CAM itself decodes the Free-X TV channel and a Viaccess card can be inserted for a subscription to another service.

Another hardcore channel, Don't Panic, may also be decoded via the IceCrypt CAM. In this case the price is based upon subscription. Other services will follow in the near future.

Although not 'free', long term viewing will certainly prove cheaper than other hardcore channels. Obviously the service needs to make money, so they are relying on a large take up bby viewers. One of the ways that they hope to achieve this is to link up with satellite receiver manufacturers. They charge a license fee to build the Skycrypt decryption format into the receiver and this charge is then passed onto the customer in the purchase price. Look out for @sat receivers with Free-X TV built in.

Free-X TV claim that these subscription options have been very successful and that they now have 400,000 viewers.

So what about the content? For a start, it is a 24 hour hardcore service that shows about 20 videos a day. There are no repeats within the day but after about 5 days you will see films re-appearing in the cycle. For those watching the full 24 hours, day in day out, there will be one new film a day shown at about 11pm.

Don't expect to see any premium films though, the programme budget clearly does not stretch that far. There are no titles from the likes of Private, Ben Dover, Marc Dorcel, Magma etc but that's not to say that it is a bad service. The programme buyers seem to have done a good job with funds available. The usual cheap programming approach is to buy in American packages. Thankfully Free-X TV have avoided this pitfall and have decided to concentrate on European programming. They have a good selection of offerings from various genres and countries. They seem to have chosen carefully and most films have an attractive cast and are reasonably well made. Perhaps the main failing is to broadcast too many films that are based upon just one or two scenes.

The films are separated by about 5 minutes of telephone sex advertisements. These are slightly less tiresome than some ads as they often play over the background of 'making of' programmes etc. There are only a few such fillers so they soon become wearisome.

I always find it a very positive advantage to be able to obtain program details. Free-X TV make no attempt to broadcast schedules but they do maintain them on their website at www.free-xtv.com. In the period under review these were accurate and up to date.

The Free-X TV signal can be received in all of Europe and beyond (the footprint is shown on their website but it is unreadably small). The channel is broadcast on Hotbird at a frequency of 11.137 horizontal (symbol rate 27500 FEC 3/4). It also appears on Astra 1 (19.2 degrees) at a frequency of 12.633 horizontal (Symbol rate 22000 FEC 5/6).

In conclusion, Free-X TV is a very reasonably priced service with few frills which surely deserves to do very well.

 

October    No Censorship BUT no Sex...
   
 
Sweden flagI don't believe in censorship BUT...

How many times have you heard politicians proclaim that they don't believe in censorship but they are going to enforce it anyway. If you haven't noticed the phraseology then I am sure you will now that you have been alerted. The theme certainly crops up a few times in this month's world tour of censorship.

We start in Norway where their film censorship board have recently announced that they will no longer pre-vet films for a cinema. In addition, about 300 existing bans will be repealed, eg the 1994 Steven Seagal action movie On Deadly Ground, Robocop 2 and Halloween 2.

The board changed its policy after its 1999 decision to ban the Japanese movie In the Realm of the Senses by Nagisa Oshima was overturned by its complaints panel in 2001. The board banned the film because of its explicit depiction of sexual acts and sadomasochism and were found to be out of touch when film was shown on Norwegian TV, uncut and uncensored.

Of course there has to be a 'but'. The law still forbids hardcore pornography in cinemas, on TV or on videos or DVDs. However there are several buts about the effectiveness of the ban on satellite.

TV1000 and Canal Plus broadcast across Scandinavia to more enlightened nations where hardcore is both legal and popular. The Norwegian service is censored by using setting the subtitles to obscure the action. It hardly takes much research to realise that the prohibition can be removed by turning off the subtitles. The Norwegians can generally speak perfect English and can get by in Swedish so the lack of subtitles presents little problem.

This voluntary censorship surely pleases the satellite viewers but the cable companies aren't so happy. It hardly makes for a level playing field. The Cable-TV company UPC accused Norwegian authorities of double standards after recently renewed state efforts to prevent uncensored cable broadcasts of pornographic films. UPC wonders why Canal Digital, partially state owned, can broadcast porn film via satellite,

UPC has been ordered to make its censorship of pornographic films shown on its stations TV1000 and Canal Plus foolproof or drop them, and the Mass Media Authority has been given European clearance to enforce this directive. UPC will therefore be dropping its uncensored films. They also plan to appeal the European decision supporting the ban and are unsure how much the hardcore ban will hurt their business. Interestingly UPC say that they have never done any studies to determine if their customers want pornography, or how important it is for them.


Things are changing in Singapore too. It appears that the city state will soon be treating adults as brain dead and in need of protection from sex and violence. I suppose this must be considered a step up from treating them as 2 year old children.

Singapore currently has a video censorship system where only those videos with PG (Parental Guidance) and G (General) ratings can be sold over the counter. The Censorship Review Committee has proposed changes so that video distributors will also be able to offer titles to viewers 15 and older (NC15), and 18 and older (M18).

Of course there is always the but...

The National Council of Churches of Singapore's associate general secretary said: "We are not against the CRC giving people more choice, flexibility and freedom. [BUT...] We hope that the CRC will be able to safeguard the moral and core values of society even as it eases the rules. Those pushing for the relaxation of censorship rules must recognise that they are part of a wider society, and should do so with a sense of social responsibility".


Whilst smiling at problems in other countries we shouldn't lose track of our own slow progress towards hardcore on satellite. A process that is now even slower.

Ofcom have announced their plans for a series of public consultations covering a variety of regulatory matters over the remainder of 2003 and the first quarter of 2004. Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of a public consultation concerning content standards and the new program codes.

The Communications Act requires that the existing ITC program codes remain in force for the transitional period between the vesting of Ofcom and the publication of any new program codes.

It would appear that Ofcom is either not intending to consult the public on this matter or if they are, that any such consultation will not occur until at least the second quarter of 2004. The question must be asked why such a fundamental issue is not being addressed first? Or at least before the consultations on electronic program guides and the eligibility of religious bodies to own Broadcasting licences? To keep up with the latest from Ofcom why not visit www.Ofwatch.org.uk.

I am now just waiting for the Ofcom statement. We don't believe in censorship BUT it may be around for some time yet.

 

November    Watching Mediawatch
   
 
Mediawatch-UK bannerNo stone is left unturned in the eternal quest for Satellite X news. This month's column owes a debt of gratitude to Mediawatch-UK as founded by Mary Whitehouse. Maybe the news items will be presented from a slightly different perspective though...

Mediawatch noticed that the current satellite regulator, the ITC, announced the results of an inquiry into Friendly TV. I reported on the channel's healthy approach to overstepping the ITC guidelines for a free-to-air channel. Unfortunately the ITC did not concur and upheld complaints about it being too explicit. The ITC went further and said that they considered the breaches of the Programme and Advertising Codes to be so serious that Friendly TV were warned about its future conduct. They were advised that any further breaches are likely to incur sanctions.

The ITC reported that Friendly TV began broadcasting a nightly programme called Free Sex TV between 11.00pm and 3.00am. A tiny proportion of viewers complained that the programme was too sexually explicit for transmission on a free-to-air channel, even though it was transmitted very late in the evening. Friendly TV replied that they agreed with the ITC that the output was unsuitable for an unencrypted entertainment channel and gave assurances that the breaches in the Programme Code would not be repeated. The ITC ruled that Free Sex TV was in breach of the general requirement on taste and decency, in breach of the Advertising Code for promoting premium rate sex telephone lines and for promoting a commercial web site. The ITC also held that Friendly TV had failed in its obligation to ensure proper compliance of material transmitted under its licence.

More than three years ago, the ITC recommended that a Proscription Order be issued by the Government against the hardcore Satisfaction Channel. Mediawtach-UK have taken this delay up with successive Secretaries and Ministers of State and have learned from Lord McIntosh that the matter is still under consideration by Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell MP.

Also three years ago, the Home Office issued a Consultation Paper on the Regulation of Pornographic 'R18' Videos. Responsibility for this since passed to the Culture Department. It now appears to have sunk has sunk without trace.

Mediawatch-UK were encouraged by remarks about pornography made by Tessa Jowell in May 2002. She said that "it demeans and belittles women". They were therefore not impressed when they learned that a Government official involved in discussions in Brussels to amend the Television Without Frontiers Directive refused to countenance action that would mean a total ban on pornographic satellite channels.

On a lighter note, the up 'n' coming satellite regulators, Ofcom, recently averted a truly nightmarish scenario. The Mediawatch-UK director, John Beyer, was interviewed for the position of Ofcom's Head of Standards. Thankfully Ofcom weren't so impressed and refused the application due to an unwillingness to compromise on standards. Good job! If you think otherwise you can always visit www.mediawatchuk.org.


The months hot debate on www.MelonFarmers.co.uk/chat.asp centred on a worrying addition to the film censors, advice for personal imports:

"It is legal to import foreign DVDs for the sole use of the importer. However, consumers should be aware that if an unclassified video or DVD is purchased within the UK via a non-UK web site, the arrival of that video or DVD in the UK constitutes part of a 'supply' within the meaning of the Video Recordings Act (VRA). Although you will not be liable to prosecution (provided that the work is not obscene or otherwise illegal), Customs and Excise are entitled to seize any unclassified videos and DVDs ordered from abroad because the 'supply' of unclassified works to consumers within the UK is illegal under the VRA".

As far as I am aware this idea was put forward by media companies who were whinging that they were losing substantial sales due to personal imports. I have not heard of Customs actually seizing goods for this reason. It would hardly generate good PR for them. It is also hard to believe that they could legally seize goods from the EU free trade area. Free trade may only be limited for moral reasons, eg obscenity, and that no longer applies to R18 material.

Further research revealed Customs and Excise's position. Although this power exists technically, they have no intention of enforcing it. So, in practice, there's actually nothing to worry about. It really is nothing more than a technicality that the BBFC is simply obliged to mention. Unless of course Mediawatch-UK get their way!

 

December    Red Hot Dutch...Not
   
 
AVN logoWhilst usually concentrating on hardcore news it is always interesting to note how mainstream broadcasters use sex based programming. This month sees the announcement that the Dutch commercial TV service RTL 5 will abandon its erotica programmes. This completes the trend of Netherlands free to air broadcasters giving up their softcore.

The demise of softcore started after Veronica and SBS merged their operations and quickly purged their adult fare. This seems to follow a regularly occurring cycle in Europe. Channels soon realise that in a competitive world sex on TV proves a popular draw. However TV owners seem ill at ease with this method of boosting ratings and as soon as their service becomes established they look to drop their regular adult programming.

Channel 5 is a prime UK example of this cycle but I also remember a purge on similar late night programmes a few years ago in Germany on Sat 1 and the German variant of RTL.

Perhaps the demise of erotica is due to it being considered as morally undesirable. Or perhaps a reputation for sex on TV limits audience growth or adverting potential. I guess that it is concern about reputation rather than a desire to occupy moral high ground though. Even after dumping regular softcore programming, channels seem happy to schedule worthy or one-off sex related shows.

Of course giving up softcore on free to air channels does not mean that the Dutch are giving up on sex TV. When it comes to subscription channels the viewer's cash counts over and above the ethical dimension. Hardcore remains firmly entrenched on the major packages of Canal+ Digitaal, the Dutch equivalent to Sky.

This profit enhancing hardcore as yet to see the light of day on UK satellite but at least the debate is being noticed by the mainstream press. The Guardian briefly reported that Kip Meek, senior partner at Ofcom, has been having an intense correspondence over whether the Communications Act's looser approach to standards should allow so-called R18 films to be shown on the box. Meek's response? No change yet, but it's an indication of the likely debate to come...I have a feeling that some of those in 'intense correspondence' are readers of this column.

Last month I reported about BBFC advice about importing DVDs suggesting that Customs retain the right to seize any imported DVD without a UK censorship certificate. Following debate about the legality of possible Customs seizures, the BBFC consulted Customs, the Government & the Video Standards Council and have now changed their advice to:

"It is legal to import foreign DVDs for the sole use of the importer, provided that (i) those DVDs are not to be resupplied in the UK and (ii) those DVDs contain nothing in breach of the Obscene Publications Act or other relevant laws".

In fact the UK version of Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk) now allows British customers the option to import region 1 DVDs directly from the US. Perhaps they have been reading this column.

If anyone is need of a little advice about which DVDs to import then this year's Adult Video News nominations for best DVD may help. The AVN awards are the Oscars of the hardcore world.

America XXX (Hustler)
Asia Noir 2 (Video Team)
Barbara Broadcast Too! (VCA)
Hercules (Wicked)
The Fashionistas (Evil Angel)
I Dream of Jenna (Vivid)
Magic Sex (Simon Wolf)
No Limits (Digital Playground)
Paradise Lost (Sin City)
Perfect (Private)
Rawhide (Adam & Eve)
Rush (Digital Playground)
Space Nuts (Wicked)
Sunset Stripped (VCA)

These films should also turn up on several of the hardcore satellite channels but somehow I don't suppose that you will see any of them on Dutch free to air services.

 



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