Satellite X

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January    Xplicit..
   
 
18 certIt's only been a couple of months since a change of management at the TV regulator's office. It is therefore very encouraging to see that a UK channel is pushing the softcore barriers ever closer to hardcore.

A channel called Xplicit has certainly ventured into uncharted territory as far as UK regulated services are concerned. They have been showing scenes with: both the inner labia and anus in gaping close up; penetration by fingers; female masturbation; cunnilingus with tongue seen licking the clitoris; facial cum shots albeit with the penis framed off camera; and semi erect penises.

They still seem to be very wary of full erections and penetration by penis but in a recent viewing they have shown some shots of a guy with small obscuring censor marks strategically placed. Also one or two shots have shown penetration very fleetingly and partially obscured.

Xplicit are also pushing the limits with S&M. A sample viewing revealed a scene with a girl being tied at the ankles & wrists, spread-eagled and being nipple clamped with two fearsome medical clamps. In addition she seemed to have a ball gag in her mouth. I am not sure what the current TV guidelines specify, but this would seem to even push the video censor (BBFC) R18 guidelines. These currently allow little more than mild fetish material.

Xplicit is available to Sky subscribers in the UK and Ireland on channel 984. It runs nightly from 10pm to 5:30am but there is a free view promotional broadcast from 8:30pm until the encrypted service starts at 10pm. There are several subscription options, 95 annually, 8.75 monthly or 3.95 daily with a 9 registration charge. Further details are available on their web site at xplicit984.co.uk where they also maintain a programme schedule. The channel is also very keen to add interactive facilities such as voting for up and coming programming.


Of course the interesting question is how this all fits in with the views of the TV regulators? The previous incumbents, the ITC, were adamant that hardcore material as classified R18 by the BBFC was not to be allowed on satellite TV. Strictly softcore material as classified 18 by the BBFC was generally welcomed for transmission on satellite. When the guidelines were originally drafted, the ITC were happy to rely upon BBFC judgment to distinguish between softcore and hardcore particularly as at that time the BBFC were less liberal than now. No doubt that the arrangement also proved very cheap to implement as the ITC did not have to consider the merits of each film transmitted.

However the BBFC have shifted significantly in their views and even 18 rated art films now occasionally contain a few scenes of hardcore or penetration. This was a little bit of a dilemma for the ITC but they have basically passed the buck to the new TV regulator, Ofcom. They managed to do this just before anyone called their bluff.

Ofcom have now picked up the job of TV regulation and have recently scheduled in a consultation about programming standards. They will issue a document for discussion in the summer of this year and will report back by the autumn. There had been no apparent indication that they were to consider the issue prior to this consultation. So it seems that the Xplicit broadcasting of material half way between softcore 18 and hardcore R18 must surely be something of an unscheduled challenge for them.

I believe that Ofcom have been meeting with the BBFC so that they can learn more about where the BBFC stand on their 18 and R18 guidelines. I would hazard a guess that the Xplicit level of half way between 18 & R18 will require a rapid statement from Ofcom.

If you would like to follow the progress of Xplicit, then I suggest that www.ofwatch.org.uk will be the site to watch. In the meantime I hope that Xplicit do well out of their brave quest for the grail of satellite X.

 

February    Confessions of a Playboy Viewer: Satellite X in the UK...
   
 
Playboy logoFor me the story of Satellite X started in December of 1980. It wasn't a dramatic vision of the future, it was just the day when I went out and bought my first video recorder. No longer would I be limited by the constraints imposed by the controllers of TV. The choice was now mine.

I subscribed to a mail order video rental service and ordered a sex comedy called 'Penelope Pulls It Off'. It turned out to be a dire softcore romp, but what the hell, it was my choice and I wasn't daunted. Somehow I knew that I could now vote with my wallet and things would soon improve.

And things did improve, within six months the local video shop was doing a thriving trade in under-the-counter hardcore from the 'Golden Age of Porn'. The genie was out of the bottle, I would spend the next couple of decades being fascinated by the determination of the British authorities to keep the bottle plugged whilst enjoying a freely available supply of the good stuff. Technology, information and economics would better any censorship weapon wielded by the British authorities.

The most effective and repressive legislation passed in the UK was the Video Recordings Act of 1984. This was basically a knee jerk response to the tragic murder of James Bulger. The press gleefully blamed the entire tragedy on the so called 'video nasties' and the politicians of the time were happy to jump on the bandwagon.

This act mandated that all video material on all media was to be pre-vetted by state appointed censors. Unsurprisingly the Home Secretary chose the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) who had been censoring cinema films for years. The BBFC were given extended censorship powers by allowing them to consider that videos would be viewable in the home and could potentially be viewed by those under the age of the restriction imposed on the video sale. This led to decade in which videos were censored more strictly than cinema films.

The majority of sex films were cut massively down to very safe softcore so as to ensure that all videos were little stronger than family viewing. Even those with an 18 certificate. This definition of an 18 certificate would also later be adopted as the fundamental definition of what would be permitted to be broadcast by cable and satellite channels.

However the Video Recordings Act also introduced the concept of the R18 which could only be sold in licensed sex shops. In theory, R18, videos are only censored to comply with laws of the land such as the Obscene Publications Act and the Protection of Children Act. In practice the interpretation of Obscene Publications was so strict at the time as to make very little difference between the 18 and R18 versions. The only reported differences prior to 1997 were that R18 videos allowed the depiction of non-explicit group sex and that slightly more gynaecological detail was permissible (according to the BBFC: outer labia in, inner labia out).

This classification would later have a profound effect on satellite censorship guidelines in that the they would be categorically prohibited from satellite broadcast.

In fact the R18 sex shop market proved to be a commercial graveyard and the large majority of distributors opted to request the few extra cuts required to obtain an 18 certificate. This at least gave them a viable distribution, but left the sex shop sector in spiraling decline. Fundamentally the R18 at the time was a useless product that the punters didn't want and not surprisingly the black market started to flourish.

1990 saw the launch of analogue satellite services in the UK. The TV establishment consulted all the necessary dignitaries and technologists who between them came up with an expensive but high quality specification of just 5 worthy channels. Not a hint of sex entertainment in sight. British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) were created to see through the vision but they were easily beaten to the draw by Sky who set up a cheap, cheerful and rapid solution with simply the programming vision of movies, football and lots of choice. There was no particular slot for sex entertainment at launch but the emphasis on choice suggested that it wouldn't be long coming.

The ensuing competition was overwhelmingly one sided and BSB gave up the ghost on 31st December 1992. It was unfortunate that BSB never got well enough established to make a battle of it as a window of opportunity for sex on TV was surely lost. Sex programming in other countries resulted from healthy competition particularly when the smaller competitor felt that they had to use sex to steal a march on the dominant player.

The first dedicated sex entertainment channel joined the Sky team in 1992. The Adult Channel started broadcasting at a similar time to the massively famous foreign hardcore channel Red Hot Dutch. The British establishment rapidly waded in to ensure that The Adult Channel did not step out of line. The ITC, then the TV regulators, warned the Adult Channel four times within the first few months. No way were they going to be allowed to venture far from the softer than soft guidelines of the previously mentioned 18 video certificate.

By 1996, Television X (also known as The Fantasy Channel) and Playboy TV had joined the Adult Channel. The Government had also dreamt up the concept of 'proscription' to restrict the commercial viability of foreign hardcore channels.

In 1996 the issue of pornography on satellite was debated in Parliament. Iain Sproat, the Minister of State at the Department of National Heritage went on record as follows: "There is widespread concern in the country about standards of taste and decency on television. The Government strongly believe that there is no place for hard-core pornography in a society that cares about the protection of children".

"The type of television material about which we are concerned falls into two distinct categories: the domestic so-called adult channels, which are licensed by the Independent Television Commission, and the channels that are receivable in the UK via satellite and transmitted from abroad by foreign broadcasters".

"There are dedicated adult channels now licensed in this country which broadcast adult erotica. Their programmes are, broadly speaking, titillation and are licensed by the ITC and are subject to its licence conditions and guidance codes".

"To prevent viewing by children, several conditions must be met by the broadcasters. The channels are provided only on payment of a premium rate fee in addition to the cost of subscription, and must be specially selected by the customer. That is to say, they must not be offered as part of a subscription package. They are encrypted. They may show material of a more explicit nature than would be acceptable on mainstream channels, but only between the hours of 10 pm and 5.30 am. I am told by the ITC that channels restrict their explicit output to the hours between midnight and 5.30 am and show only material that has been given an 18 certificate by the BBFC or has been edited to an equivalent standard. They cannot show the more explicit sexual material which might be granted an R18 video classification".

The three channels were pretty stable in terms of content for a few years but the softcore restrictions proved a bit of a commercial drain on Playboy TV and they merged with The Adult Channel. Television X continued to live within the Government restrictions but never stopped suggesting that it was somehow stronger than the ITC standards that were actually allowed. Such phrases as the 'Hottest channel on British TV' are frequently bandied around but mean little when the British guidelines state that real sex must not be shown nor can they even give the impression that real sex is taking place.

The upgrade to Digital satellite completed by 2002 enabled shared transponders and therefore a lower cost base. Several new channels took advantage of this opportunity including Sky itself. Most new channels were based upon a pay per view model. And indeed both The Adult Channel and Television X both introduced a pay per night charge to supplement their longer term subscription rates.

Meanwhile the year 2000 saw the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into British law and this eventually led to the full legalisation of hardcore porn in Britain. The BBFC now classifies hardcore for sale in licensed sex shops as R18. In addition British citizens are now free to import porn from abroad. Prohibitions on domestic mail order are keenly being debated but there is sufficient doubt about the legality of the prohibition that mail order and internet sales are commonplace. In fact the only place where hardcore is still prohibited is on British satellite television.

The television regulators have maintained their commitment to use the BBFC for setting the standards for satellite TV. The BBFC have marginally liberalised the 18 rating over the last couple of years but it is still steadfastly softcore and so are all the current channels available on the Sky platform.

I certainly foresee that some of the adult broadcasters will be pushing the new TV regulators this year and first out of the stalls is Xplicit. They have ventured way beyond the current BBFC guidelines and their progress will be monitored in What Satellite.

Surely there will soon be a change. After all I have been waiting 24 years for my choice to watch hardcore on British satellite television.

In the meantime you have the choice of the following channels on Sky:


Channel Number
Playboy TV 968
The Adult Channel 969
Television X 1 970
Television X 2 971
Television X 3 974
Spice 977
Red Hot Only 18 978
Red Hot 40+ Wives 979
Red Hot Amateur 980
Red Hot All Girl 981
Red Hot Wives 982
Red Hot UK Talent 983
Xplicit XXX 984
Private Blue 985
Private Girls 986
XXX TV 987
Amateur Babes 988
Tantalise TV 989
Playboy TV (PPV) 990
Sport xxx Girls 991
Red Hot Euro 992
Red Hot Films 993

 

March    Red Hot Dutch: Satellite X in the Europe...
   
 
What Satellite logoRed Hot Dutch started broadcasting in July of 1992. Within months it had achieved a semi-mythical status with a brand image that would be the envy of adult broadcasters for years to come.

It became a talking point at home, at the office, in the newspapers, on TV and of course in Parliament. The British Government set their best lawyers off to find a way of dealing with this foreign channel that was supposedly depraving the UK audience. By March of 1993 the Government had dreamt up the idea of a proscription order. It was served in May and proved effective in taking down Red Hot Dutch.

A trend had been set for hardcore broadcasting. The cycle of selling a hardcore service to a small market of satellite enthusiasts only to be put out of business by a proscription order would be repeated several times over the next 8 years.

Red Hot Dutch were broadcasting full on hardcore. There were no compromises to any softcore preferences of any European regulators and the standard of programming would compare favourably with many of the channels broadcasting today.

It was claimed that the channel peaked at about 40,000 subscribers. The market for hardcore on British satellite is generally constrained by the fact that it is not allowed on the main platforms, ie on Sky. Most channels suffered from the requirements for a bigger dish trained at a different satellite and being encoded in a different encryption to that used by Sky. The channel also had to contend with legal problems and were forced to move their uplink from the Netherlands to Denmark. This was reflected in a name change to Red Hot Television. Of course the company was basically British and it was run from Manchester until forced overseas by the proscription order.

The proscription order was a lengthy process started off by the ITC, the British satellite TV regulator. Having found a service unacceptable they also had to satisfy themselves that trade for the service existed 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 British Government claimed that Article 22 of the EC Broadcasting Directive allows the banning of programmes which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors. In addition the broadcaster must have breached the article 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.

The effect of the order is to make it a criminal offence to supply any equipment for use in connection with the operation of the service; to supply programme material or arrange for its supply; to place advertisements in the service; to publish any programme details of the service; and to supply or offer to supply any decoding equipment enabling the programmes to be received.


The next channel to get the treatment was TV Erotica. They put together a very high quality selection of material but capitulated very quickly when Virginia Bottomley issued a proscription order in 1995. The effectiveness of the Government's actions proved to be a double whammy. The failure of these channels along with a few short lived launches such as Channel Bizarre instilled doubt in customers as to whether they would get the full year's subscription that they had paid for.


In the meantime satellite porn was becoming well established on the European mainland. Here the various TV regulators were a little more tolerant allowing hardcore to become a much more of a stable and commercial proposition. Rather than opting for dedicated porn channels, the foreign broadcasters simply allowed hardcore films to be shown on the main movie channels.

There were sufficient films to encourage additional subscriptions but there were few enough films such that the budget wasn't stretched and the films shown could be of high quality. In particular the introduction of hardcore onto the Scandinavian service TV1000 saved the channel when it was losing in a competition battle with its rival FilmNet. Analogue piracy was pretty rife at the time and the Scandinavian services of TV1000 and FilmNet proved massively popular in the UK. Canal+ in France was also notable for showing explicit films but they only broadcast one film a month.


Back in Britain the next generation of channels were showing a little more resolve and longevity. Rendez-Vous, a French channel featuring lots of amateur porn was proscribed in 1996. However the channel was not solely reliant on British subscribers and it was able to continue on. An important lesson was also learnt when Rendez-Vous merged with the struggling Eurotica. Eurotica were originally untroubled by the British Government as they targeted only subscribers on mainland Europe. However their programming policy of only showing US movies didn't prove so popular with their audience.

The two channels merged to form Eurotica Rendez-Vouz and it was interesting to note that the long process of issuing a proscription order had to be restarted. It took until 1998 before the authorities caught up and issued another order. By this time Labour had taken over but Chris Smith seemed just as keen to censor as his Conservative predecessors. The channel had picked up on the idea name changing and led the Government a merry dance as they quickly mutated through the guises of Torrid TV and Adult+. Each name change meant that the Government had to restart the proscription process.

In the end, their effort fizzled out. However, the next new kid on the block persisted through the inevitable proscription and are happily still with us today. The Italian channel, Satisfaction Club Television were originally proscribed in 1997. They then changed their name to Satisfaction TV. The proscription process started again but it happily stalled and the channel has been broadcasting unhindered ever since, much to the annoyance of Mary Whitehouses's National Viewers and Listeners Association, now Mediawatch-UK.


By the year 2000 things were moving rapidly in favour of porno-diversity. The move to digital allowed many new services to be set up with a much reduced transponder cost base. More importantly for the UK, the censor had lost a key court case and hardcore had effectively become legalised.

It is now perfectly acceptable to buy, sell, own, import or advertise viewing cards for foreign hardcore services. However we still can't view similar material on British channels. Surely it can only be a short time before this anomaly is rectified.


There was a time a couple of years ago with the help of a pirate card that one could select from 30 hardcore channels. There are probably even more now but it is a little unlikely that one would want to subscribe to 30 channels simultaneously. There are now so many out there that it would be a full time job to review them all but here is a flavour of most of the channels that are available to UK subscribers:




Ultra Blue, 8pm to 2am. Hotbird 11.623H 27500 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto.
Broadcasts around 6 titles per night, from a European and US film library, including Ben Dover, Wicked, Concord and Seventeen. The last time I subscribed the channel had negotiated some sort of cheap deal such that they skipped video titles leaving a rather chaotic feel.


Don't Panic TV, 24 hours. Hotbird 12.092H 27500 3/4. Viaccess/Irdeto.
Cheap but competent programming. I subscribed to this service via a Blue Ice CAM that did not provide the promised 6 months of viewing


Spice Platinum 24 hours.Hotbird 11.096H, 27500, 3/4 Irdeto and just recently Viaccess
Currently my favourite with a good mix of US//British/European/Bizarre/Amateur etc


Sex View, 24 hours Hotbird 12.092H 27500, 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto.
Sex View Plus, 24 hours Hotbird 12.092H 27500, 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto.
When I last watched the channel the had some very high quality strong European material but had a lot of American padding


Satisfaction TV, 24 hours Hotbird 12.092H 27500, 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto.
Includes regular gay films shown under the label RCT. A long established Italian channel featuring a mixture of good quality and cheap programming


Gay TV & Sex TV, Hotbird 12.092H, 27500 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto.
2 channels on one card


Free-X TV, 24 hours Hotbird 12663H, 22000, 5/6, proprietary CAM
Sold on the basis of a lifetime subscription. The programming is cheap but competent.


Extasi TV Hotbird 12.092H 27500, 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto.
Advertises as the hardest and most extreme channel available


247 Sex TV, 24 hours Hotbird 12.092H,S/Rate 27500, FEC 3/4, Viaccess/Irdeto


X-4-U 24 hours Hotbird 12.207H,S/Rate 27500, FEC 3/4, Irdeto
Available on the In-X-World TV card


Back Room 24 hours Hotbird 12.207H,S/Rate 27500, FEC 3/4, Irdeto
Gay channel available on the In-X-World TV card


AB Sat, From 10pm. 111.681H, S/Rate 27500, FEC 3/4, Viaccess or Seca
High quality films but frequently repeated


Full X 1 ZetaCAM
Full X 2

 

March    Liberal Views...
   
 
Lib Dems logoPolitics and porn rarely make for a happy relationship. Previous generations of politicians have generally acted as hen pecked partners reacting to the nagging of the loudest moral high grounders.

The current generation have gone into a sulk. They would clearly love to blame all the world's ills on porn but somehow this no longer washes, so it is better to keep quiet.

It is refreshing to report that the next generation of politicians are happy to enter into a serious and well reasoned dialogue with the British public.

A couple of years ago the Young Liberal Democrats put forward a motion to liberalise the regulations controlling licensed sex shops. The main Liberal Democrat conference was a little wary of a debate on porn and bought a little time by referring the issue back for further consideration. A working group was set up to do just that and they have now published their findings on Censorship & Freedom of Expression. (see www.libdems.org.uk/conference for the full paper)

It is very promising and it argues firmly in favour of allowing hardcore on to British satellite TV. In addition it suggests that local councils should have reduced powers either to overcharge for sex shop licences or else to refuse them for trumped up reasons. Of course there will still be firm controls but these will based upon the consensus that youngsters should be protected and that nobody should be exploited in the production of porn.

I have summarised some of the relevant conclusions:

Porn

- In general, adults should be allowed to look in private at whatever material they wish, and it should not be an offence to produce, sell or supply such material.
- It should be an offence to publish, sell, electronically transmit or display material involving persons under the age of 16, non-consenting adults or animals.
- These restrictions on material for adults in private are intended to apply only to visual images, and not to the use of language, whether written or oral. The risk of unjustifiable censorship decisions outweighs any damage which may be done by the absence of censorship of words.

Sex on Satellite

- The Working Group proposes that individuals should be free to access (whether by subscription or pay-per-view) channels showing sexually explicit material subject to no greater restrictions on content than are applicable to adult videos.

Sex Shops

- To lower the age restrictions on sex shops to 16 and over.
- There is a proper role for the licensing of sex shops by local authorities. Licences may be refused to shops: allowing those under the age of 16 to enter the premises; selling unlawful goods; possessing offensive window-displays; failing to provide clear notices concerning the nature of the establishment; employing persons that are unsuitable by reason of criminal convictions or the manner in which they previously administered a licence.
- Liberal Democrats do not believe that local authorities should retain a power to refuse a licence for subjective, moral reasons relating to the nature of the goods on sale or the location of the premises save where there are wholly exceptional circumstances, for example, if the sex shop is to be located next to a school. The general nature of the locality should not provide a basis for refusing a licence, and nor should the number of such establishments in the locality be material.
- The Working Group sees no reason why such R16 videos should not also be available for sale or hire by mail order (a matter on which the current law is unclear in relation to R18 videos). This is particularly so when Customs and Excise have stated that they will no longer seize material depicting sexual activity between consenting adults which falls within the BBFC's published guidelines. Since this means that a video classified R18 by the BBFC may now lawfully be imported from abroad by mail-order, it would be perverse to prevent a customer from ordering the same video by mail-order from within the United Kingdom.


My thanks to Ales who followed up on a previous column about my difficulties with my Don't Panic TV viewing card. He found himself with a similarly non-working card. His suppliers Turbosat blamed the receiver and the makers of the receiver blamed the card. A subsequent upgrade of the receiver of course made no difference and Les is still without his Don't Panic TV.

I would also like to add that my supposedly indefinite Free X-TV Ice CAM no longer decodes this channel. I look forward to the day when we have a Liberal Democrat government and have hardcore on British satellite. I am sure that such problems will be easier resolved when taken up with British based companies.

 

April    Treating Viewers Like Adults
   
 
What Satellite logoThings are looking up on the Adult Channel and Spice has got spicier.

The Adult Channel have been showing girl/girl videos most evenings at midnight. These have been featuring full penetrative sex with dildos. Certainly way beyond anything that they have ever shown before. The Spice Channel have been following suit but that is not too surprising as the broadcasters are closely associated with the Adult Channel. So where XplicitXXX started others proved soon to follow.

There have been few clues as to what is going on at the new satellite regulators in response to these advances. Surely they read Wotsat so will realise what is going down. There has been no official change in policy, no reissuing of the programme code and no comment.

It was only a couple of years ago that the Adult Channel was severely reprimanded by the previous regulators, the Independent Television Commission for showing what it euphemistically called "unacceptably explicit anatomical details", This reprimand was the result of a complaint from a single viewer. Perhaps this time round they are simply waiting for a viewers complaint. Highly unlikely from the now slightly more satisfied subscribers. No doubt that the nutters at Mediawatch-UK will soon cotton on and fire off complaints to the Daily Mail.

Interestingly though, it is not immediately obvious that these adventurous channels are overstepping the rules. The material is more explicit than "18" rated softcore but the regulators have sanctioned slightly stronger material than "18" for some time now. On the other hand the channels are still stopping short of the expressly prohibited and fully hardcore "R18" standard. The ITC had previously managed this vaguery by a private arrangement telling broadcasters what was or was not acceptable. So now this middle ground has just shifted a little. What was previously slightly stronger than "18" is now slightly weaker than "R18".

But most importantly of all, surely a move to full hardcore must now be inevitable. The only sensibly defined guidelines available to Ofcom are those provided by the video censors, the BBFC. Their hardcore "R18" guidelines ensure that material is both legal and free of anything harmful. In addition their guidelines are currently used by all of the law enforcement agencies to decide what's legal and what's not. To keep track of any further developments why not visit www.ofwatch.org.uk.

Thanks also to Bob who has been keeping an eye on XplicitXXX. I previously reported that Xplicit have been trying to live up to their name but more recently they have been suffering from nerves and explicit action is now pixilated out. The channel is also suffering from an excess of repeats.

Gay TV is a recent start up on British satellite but seems to be showing material very similar to that shown on Spice Xtreme on Mondays. The material is steadfastly softcore though. The channel have decided on a novel method of irritating their viewers. Not only does one have to register with the company and provide banking details but one has to enter a PIN. All very reasonable one may think but one has to enter the PIN at every break in teh evening's programming. In particular this means that one cannot time shift on a video and watch at a time more conducive to a healthy working life.


Britain has been suffering from an excess of nannying regulators for as long as one can care to remember. The situation seems slightly better in Australia where they cannot find any regulators that will own up to the task of overseeing sex on satellite.

Australians have several foreign based hardcore services such as Free-X TV, Blue Kiss, InXWorld, Sexz TV and Back Room. The promoters claim none of the licensing authorities, the Australian Communications Authority, the Australian Broadcasting Authority, nor the Office of Film and Literature Classification have the jurisdiction to monitor or ban the content.

The film censors said that because the services were broadcast rather than on film, they did not fall within its jurisdiction. The Communication Authority said that they license the carrier, but not in terms of content. The Broadcasting Authority side stepped the question and said that they have sought legal advice and were about to launch an investigation.


Whether there are too many regulators or too few lets hope that all viewers everywhere can get their satellite X.

 

June    Summertime Blues
   
 
What Satellite logoIt's been a hot summer so perhaps it is not surprising that people have got hot under the collar about the steamy side of life. Sex and censorship seems to have made the news nearly every day for the whole of the summer so far. Time then for another tour of the world of Satellite X.

First of all a quick update on the stalled move to hardcore on UK satellite services. The Adult Channel, Spice and Playboy have all reverted to pure softcore. TVX are also still softcore but it has been reported that fleeting hardcore snippets sometimes escape the censor's scissors.

The best bet is currently the Sport Channels but they are proving hopelessly inconsistent.Some nights they show girl/girl hardcore, sometimes they don't. Some girls usually (but not always) do, some girls usually (but not always) don't. There have even been nights when the first 40 minutes or so have been hardcore but the director then spends the rest of the night refusing to show anything at all that might be considered anywhere near explicit.


The experimental period at the Adult Channel must surely have generated a few more subscribers. It is not surprising then that when they reverted back to pure softcore that some of these subscribers would like their money back. It is therefore timely that Ofcom looked into a complaint about their advertising. An advertisement offered subscriptions to The Adult Channel for 9.99 a month, and to a further two channels for an additional 5 (a total of 14.99). A viewer complained that the advertisement did not make it clear that there was a compulsory minimum subscription of 12 months.

The Adult Channel explained that due to an error, the information about the 12 month minimum subscription period had been omitted from the advertising. However, it pointed out that customers would have been given this information at time of payment.

Ofcom said that they require that all important limitations and qualifications be made clear in the advertising itself. This is regardless of what information is given to a customer when he or she contacts an advertiser. As there was no indication in the advertisement that subscription was for at least 12 months, Ofcom found it to be in breach of Advertising Standards Code Rules and require that the advertising should not reappear without the 12 month qualification.


Good to see that mainstream hardcore featured on Sky. At 1.30 in the morning, Sky Cinema broadcast the French film Baise-Moi . The version shown included graphic scenes of penetrative sex as passed by the censors with an 18 certificate.

So according to www.OfWatch.org.uk: graphic penetrative sex in a violent context is permitted on a general entertainment subscription service, where viewers might not expect to see it, yet graphic penetrative sex in a consensual context is prohibited on a specialist entertainment subscription service where viewers do expect to see it and have in fact specifically paid to see it. That such a situation can occur in a broadcasting environment that is supposedly 'regulated' in the interests of the viewers simply beggars belief and makes a mockery of television regulation.


Perhaps we can take the best inspiration for the month from Ontario in Canada. By next spring or even sooner the films and videos Ontarians will be watching in cinemas and in their homes will be in versions uncensored by the province's Film Review Board.

A court judgment went against the Government and declared it unconstitutional that all films and videos have to receive censor approval before being seen in the province. The decision effectively ends the almost 100-year era of film censorship in the province.

Of course the UK still requires that every minute of video footage is pre vetted by state appointed censors. Hardly respectful of our pride and freedom is it?

 

July    Up To You
   
 
Ofcom logoIf you would like to see hardcore on British satellite now is the time to act. Ofcom, the TV regulator, have started their public consultation about their broadcasting code.

Ofcom have published a draft set of guidelines and recommendations raising many questions on the way. First the good news: Ofcom have at least recognised the debate about being able to broadcast hardcore. Second the bad news: Their initial recommendation is as follows: "The status quo will prevail regarding a prohibition on R18 standard material. It will only change if it can be established that there are sufficient safeguards to protect persons under eighteen, and ensure that adults who do not wish to see such material are adequately protected from harm and offence".

The consultation is available on line at www.ofcom.org.uk. Just select consultations, current and then the proposed broadcasting code. There is a substantial section outlining the pros and cons of allowing hardcore (R18) material onto subscription TV.

Ofcom make the following background points:

- The European Television Without Frontiers Directive requires that nothing is included in television broadcasts which might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of minors.

- The Video Recordings Act requires that R18s are only sold in person at licensed sex shops. However they acknowledge that this act does not restrict what can be shown on broadcast and satellite television.

- The Government may proscribe hardcore foreign channels that are targeting the British Market. Ofcom point out that 5 such channels have been proscribed in the past but rather misleadingly don't note that these channels were all banned before the legalisation of hardcore and that none have been proscribed since.

- In a survey of public opinion of 1200 adults commissioned by the BSC and ITC it was found that 76% agreed that people should be allowed to pay extra to view particularly sexually explicit programmes on subscription services. The survey did not distinguish between R18s and R18 standard material and more commonly available 'adult' material.

- The government has found no compelling evidence of harm to adults since R18s were made legally available in 2000.

Ofcom then propose two options:

1. Continue the prohibition on R18s and maintain 'adult' material restrictions

Benefits: Its an easy way out for protecting children and keeps the pro censorship types happy.

Disadvantages: Maybe out of touch with public opinion, restricts adult choice and restricts the commercial development of adult services.

2. If appropriate safeguards are in place - remove or change the rules regarding R18s and 'adult' material

Benefits: It provides more choice for adults and is more in line with competing European services. It will also increase revenue for adult channels.

Disadvantages: Ofcom claim that under eighteens may not be sufficiently protected and that adults may be exposed to potential offence. Furthermore Ofcom would have to employ a person or persons to view and regulate such material. That might lead to an increase in regulatory costs to broadcasters. Even more bizarrely they claim that existing softcore channels will lose out on what would be worthless softcore programme libraries.


The full consultation document runs to 146 pages with 62 questions being asked. Fortunately only a small part of this is specifically relevant to the R18 discussion. There's a lively discussion about the consultation on www.melonfarmers.co.uk/chat. Some contributors suggested that the consultation questions are so complex that it they were surely designed to limit the number of respondents willing to make the required effort. If you would like a little help or a few suggestions then these are available on www.ofwatch.org.uk

Ofcom prefer to receive consultation responses in Microsoft Word format as an attachment to an e-mail addressed to BroadcastingCode@ofcom.org.uk . If you do not have access to Word or e-mail, Ofcom will accept responses by post or fax. Submissions should be sent to:

Sara Winter
Content and Standards
5th Floor
Ofcom
Riverside House
2A Southwark Bridge Road
London SE1 9HA

Or on Fax: 020 7981 3806


I feel that the Ofcom arguments in favour of the prohibition of hardcore are weak, there are more than sufficient safeguards available to prevent access by children. Apart from that there seems little legal justification for a ban. In fact we should bear in mind that European Human Rights require that the any censorship should be justified by proving the harm that would otherwise occur. Given that children can be protected by age checks at card purchase and parental access controls on the receiver then no one has acually demonstrated any likelihood of harm whatsoever.

Surely it can be an easy battle to win if we all chip in. Just drop Ofcom a line and let them know that you want your satellite X.

 

August    Channel Hopping
   
 
What Satellite logoThe market for porn expanded massively in the 1980's due primarily to the appearance of home video. This is attributed primarily to the obvious advantages of being able to watch porn in private. However I am not fully convinced by the argument. I reckon that the ability to fast forward is an equally important factor in making porn videos such a success. Lets face it, an awful lot of material is simply not fit for purpose and must be rapidly dispatched by the fast forward button.

It has traditionally been one of the weaknesses of satellite porn that we actually have to sit through the duff bits. We could of course religiously record ones night's viewing and fast forward through it next day but this takes a little too much discipline and planning

The up'n'coming satellite solution is to provide the ability to channel hop. Up until now this has been difficult because each channel takes up a valuable viewing card slot and a valuable chunk of one's wallet. Recently satellite broadcasters have been experimenting with a package of channels that can be viewed with a single viewing card and a single subscription fee.

A good example is Red Light TV from SCT, the Italian broadcaster. This will be launched on Hotbird in late September and will consist of 5 24-hour hardcore channels. These will include; Red Light TV, Red Light TV Plus dedicated to fetish programming, Free-X TV, X Dream TV and the gay channel Backroom. Seems to be a winner to me but one has to wonder wether there will be sufficient programme budget to eke out 5 channels from a single subscription.

Hopefully Red Light TV will do a little better than UltraBlue which recently stopped transmitting. It was good to see that their viewers were not entirely hung out to dry though and that they were compensated by viewing cards for other channels.

The attractiveness of multiple channel subscription has also been noted by British adult broadcasters. According to the Mail on Sunday, Sport Television has applied to Sky for four new adult channels and there is talk of them buying up six existing channels.

I don't particularly look forward to a ten channel package of softcore even with a channel hopping button but the Mail had more promising news. It was reported that officials from Ofcom, the TV regulator, have been privately advising executives within the 'adult' entertainment industry to expect a relaxation of the guidelines within the next year on subscription channels. A director of one major broadcaster said that he was advised off the record that while Ofcom are worried about the content of the free-to-view channels, it was their judgment that within the next 12 months R18 films would be available.

It seems that this information is being taken seriously by Sport Television. The managing director Andrew McIntyre was reported to have said "I do believe a relaxation will happen. If a change in policy is carried out and we are able to show R18 videos, it will mean a phenomenal increase in profits because there is clearly massive demand for this product". I think that adding 10 channels to his line up will certainly prove his belief in the impending relaxation of the guidelines.

So how does this fit in with the officially published Ofcom view. In the recent consultancy document on the subject of TV content Ofcom recommend that the current ban on hardcore on TV should be maintained. However they do qualify this with the statement that they would reconsider if presented with very strong evidence that under-18's can be protected from harm and offence.

Reading between the lines of the Mail on Sunday article suggests that Ofcom are looking to the requirement that all channels should pile on the technological safeguards such as strong encryption, age checks on subscriptions and mandatory PIN numbers. No doubt Ofcom can then save face and change their recommendation. The idea of mandatory PINs sounds a little worrying as it could easily interfere with my channel hopping. I hope the technology exists in the Sky digibox such that a PIN can be entered once to cover all channels and all programmes for at least 6 or 8 hours.

The Mail on Sunday article was also interesting in its tone. There was no real suggestion that they were going to take up the cudgel of making R18s on satellite a campaigning issue for the paper. Closer to a tone of resignation really. The article didn't warrant lurid headlines on the front page nor did even attract an editorial comment. Perhaps even Mail readers are looking forward to their hardcore channels on TV.

 

September    Porn Free For All...
   
 
UK FlagThe British authorities managed to keep hardcore well out of sight under the counter until the start of the 21st century. They then spent the next 4 years trying to hide it behind the darkened windows of sex shops. However it is starting to feel like it is a lost battle. The hardcore genie is proving hard to keep in the bottle. Hardly surprising really, the genie possesses a plentiful supply of the magic that is known as money.

One only has to ask a few simple questions to realise where the magic of money is taking us:
- How many softcore DVDs do you see being sold in a shop where hardcore is available?
- How many mail order softcore DVDs are being bought from British companies compared with hardcore DVDs being bought from abroad.
- Who has the best market insight into what customers want to buy?

Well I reckon that I would ask the hardcore distributors and shopkeepers. And guess what, they are not happy with their restricted market.In fact the distributors are bringing a legal case that would allow hardcore DVDs to be sold in the high street.

Ten companies are trying to force the film censors to pass hardcore with a standard 18 certificate rather than the current R18 certificate that limits distribution to licensed sex shops.

They are arguing that hardcore:
- is already available in mainstream movies such as Baise Moi
- is readily available on the Internet
- is legally available from Europe by mail order
- is legally available via European satellite channels.
It is therefore putting British distributors at an untenable disadvantage to limit their sales to a few hundred licensed shops.

Their approach is to firstly submit R18 films to the censors who will inevitably demand cuts to achieve an 18 certificate. The distributors will then refuse the censors advice and pursue their case via the censor's appeals process. If this yields no joy then the companies can then take their case to judicial review.

Of course the distributors will tone down the explicit covers of their DVDs to make them suitable for sale in high-street shops.

Before we offer unconditional support to this campaign we should just bear in mind that some adult distributors are unsurprisingly driven by self interest and are actively campaigning against hardcore on UK satellite. They feel that good value channel subscriptions will erode their business.

I somehow don't think that they have quite followed through their reasoning though. If they can persuade the censors to give an 18 certificate to hardcore then existing Ofcom guidelines mean that hardcore can then be immediately shown on satellite. This is because Ofcom regulations merely prohibit UK channels from showing R18s not from showing hardcore.


Last month I took a little stick in the letters page after a reader unfortunately bought a subscription to a UK channel on the strength of my reports about harder content. Bad timing prevailed as the channel quickly reverted to the softcore guidelines inflicted by Ofcom. (Many thanks to Bob for keeping me abreast of the rapidly changing situation).

It is still a mystery to me what went on during this experimental period. If the channels had been given the nod to get a little harder then surely the experiment would surely have continued. On the other hand, if the channels had stepped over the line then I would have expected them to get a more public ticking off from the regulators.

I would guess that Ofcom gave the offenders an 'off the record' ticking off. It is always very dubious when our regulators regulate in secrecy so it was interesting to uncover some of these 'off the record' rules.

The regulation of the unencrypted sex channels is fascinating. Quite strong softcore is allowed unencrypted on the likes of the BBC after the staged watersheds of 9 & 10pm. Yet the same strength material is clearly not allowed on unencrypted channels with sex as a primary motivation. eg Live XXX and Babestation. It all gets very confusing. Why shouldn't channels like The Adult Channel go unencrypted as they don't show anything that couldn't be shown on the BBC. They just show such scenes more often.

So what rules govern unencrypted sex channels? A little research and observation suggest that the rules are as follows:

- No simulated masturbation
- No simulated sex
- No use of sex toys
- No topless scenes before 11pm
- Careful use of offensive language.
- Cannot wear any branded clothing
- Cannot promote any commercial products or services (presumably doesn't apply to adverts)
- Can only make 2 brand references
- No promotion of smoking or drug taking during the show
- No mention of contentious issues

Given that these rules are far stricter than those applied to free to air broadcasters then there is simply far too much contradiction and illogicality for these guidelines ever to be published. And what's more, if hardcore ever gets and 18 certificate then Ofcom are going to get even more tangled up in their own inconsistency. Perhaps the only way to sort out the mess is to ask the viewer, and of course his plentiful supply of the magic that is known as money.

 

October    What's Cooking
   
 
BBFC logoA few years ago a change of film censor would have been a headline grabbing news story. The latest hand over barely got a mention.

Robin Duval, the outgoing Director of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), has spent his tenure quietening down the job. Controversial bans have become rare to the point of extinction. He was rarely interviewed on TV, there was hardly anything exciting enough to discuss to warrant such attention.

This commendable down playing of the role of censor proved to be very effective. The minimal use of his powers to ban films ensured that he didn't wind up viewers nor the film makers. Perhaps this policy could possibly have lead to the winding up of campaigning groups such as Mediawatch-UK or the Daily Mail. However Duval was clever enough to keep such groups at bay. Whenever there was a decision that may have disappointed the pro censorial groups, he would ensure that the BBFC case was always presented with detailed argument, research and plentiful expert opinion. Even the Daily Mail found it hard to drum up shock horror headlines when Duval has already so persuasively proved that any concerns were misplaced.

The incoming Director of the BBFC can therefore probably look forward to a quiet life as far as the media is concerned. In fact David Cooke's first decision worthy of a press release seems to have gone very smoothly indeed.

The BBFC classified Michael Winterbottom's film, 9 Songs, as 18 uncut for cinema release. The film includes a number of scenes of explicit, real, sexual activity. The press release explained how the Board carefully considered whether these scenes contravened the current classification Guidelines and how they were justified by the context. The press release continued in a sensitive vein:

"Some people may find such explicit images shocking or unexpected in a cinema film. The Board is sensitive to public concerns, and its Guidelines are based on extensive consultation. The Board's Guidelines allow the more explicit images of sexual activity at '18' if they can be exceptionally justified by context. The Board has concluded in this case that adults should be free to choose whether or not to see the film. The film does not raise issues of harm or sexual violence.The Board's consumer advice for the film will make clear that the film contains frequent strong real sex so that anyone who might be offended can avoid seeing the film".

The newspapers could hardly argue against this careful and sensitive approach by the censors. Most papers ended up quoting the BBFC word for word with hardly a nod to any pro censorial opinions. The net result is that we can now all get to see hardcore at the cinema and on video provided the film is worthy enough and that consumer advice is sensitive enough.

And of course whenever an explicit movie gets an 18 certificate it can then be broadcast on satellite TV.

One of my favourite explicit art house hardcore movies, Baise Moi, was recently broadcast on Sky Movies. A single complainant has written to Ofcom, the satellite regulator, so we will soon see what the regulators feel about hardcore on subscription film channels. The director of Baise Moi has just released another explicit film, Anatomy of Hell. It presented no problems to the BBFC and was given an 18 certificate. It is therefore another hardcore film to look out for on Sky.

Returning to the subject of Ofcom, the recent consultation on program content guidelines has now closed. There were plenty of responses referring to the subject of hardcore on satellite. If you would like to read the debates presented, then see these responses on www.ofcom.org.uk. Ofcom are now going to mull over the arguments for a while,. I'll be sure to let you know when they reach a conclusion.

We have seen the film censors quietly move to a stance where explicit adult entertainment is perfectly acceptable for adults. For those that believe that Ofcom need a bit of a push to allow hardcore on satellite then it is good to hear that Larry Flynt is taking an interest in the UK satellite market. The misleadingly named Xplicit XXX channel is being regenerated as Hustler TV. Flynt has an extensive campaign record of fighting of anti-censorship causes so if anyone get hardcore on satellite then Flynt maybe that man. Let's hope so.

 

November    Just My Opinion
   
 
What Satellite logoI have had more than my fair share of opportunities to air my opinions about sex on satellite. Perhaps it is about time that I opened up the platform so that others may have their say.

The satellite regulator, Ofcom, have recently published a large number of responses to their consultation about what should be allowed on TV (see www.ofcom.org.uk). In particular there have been many fascinating opinions published on the subject of hardcore on UK satellite.

Rather worryingly, the Daily Mail, Mediamarch and Mary Whitehouse's Mediawatch-UK have inspired a large number of their sympathisers to put pen to paper. In fact the majority of responses received are simple two paragraph letters. The following is good example

"I strongly oppose removing the requirement that broadcasters should not offend against 'taste and decency'. The proposed test of harm and offence will be much weaker".

"I also feel very strongly that the prohibition on broadcasting R18 material should remain. I am opposed to allowing subscription television to show R18 material. As this would put children and vulnerable people at risk".

It may be a little unfair, but few of these respondents offer any justifications beyond "I'm outraged, therefore you should do what I say". I guess these people are probably living in the past when politicians and regulators would quake in their shoes at the very mention of declining morality.

The BBC unsurprisingly made a very detailed submission but had little to say about hardcore R18's. What they did so was positive though: "no television service licensed by Ofcom should be showing R18 or R18 standard material unless there are adequate technical protections put in place by platform operators or it is encrypted on transmission". A similar statement appeared in the ITV reponse.

The film censors seemed to be distancing themselves from the details of satellite regulation but were a a little protective of the term "R18 standard material". They asked that "this expression be avoided. The BBFC is the only arbiter of whether something is of R18 standard".

There was an inexplicable absence of responses from adult TV companies. Possibly they dis respond but decided to opt out of publication. The only published contribution was from Xplicit XXX. They submitted a thoughtful and very well reasoned document.

Xplicit are currently changing their branding. They are dropping the dishonest tag XXX and are re-branding as Hustler TV. However things are getting very confusing for followers of brand imaging. Hustler have always been notable for fighting for the cause of hardcore in the USA. They now seem happy to be associated with softcore in the UK. Not only will their TV channel be softcore, (at least for a while), but they have also opened a large high street shop in Birmingham. This is not a licensed sex shop though. It is closer to an Ann Summers shop than the cutting edge hardcore shop that you would expect.

The most reprehensible Ofcom response was received from AITA, the trade organisation representing sex shops and adult Internet businesses. They said: "We have entered into dialogue with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport asking them to review current legislation and to provide effective enforcement against those companies trading in non classified material in order to stem the tide of grey imports from overseas. In short, we are seeking fairer trading conditions for adult retailers".

"AITA has examined OFCOM's consultation paper. The committee is wholeheartedly against hardcore being
broadcast on television, even through encrypted services. The Video Recordings Act restricts the
sale of R18 movies from licensed sex shops ONLY and the transaction must take place, face to face, in
store to ensure the customer is over the age of 18. If OFCOM were to allow R18 movies to be broadcast
directly into homes with only a PIN code safeguard, we feel that this would not provide adequate
protection for minors. Furthermore, if R18 material were to be transmitted through encrypted services,
broadcasters would have an unfair advantage both financially and legislatively over licensed sex shops".

I know that I said I would let others have their say but this is outrageous. Not only do they want R18 prohibited from satellite TV, they want the import of legal material criminalised as well.

I'm outraged, sex shops should be banned!...Just my opinion.

 

December    Shocking Britain
   
 
What Satellite logoThis month has seen some good progress in moving towards the acceptance of explicit scenes on broadcast TV.

Channel 5 have produced a fine series about film censorship, X Rated: The Films That Shocked Britain. One particular episode discussed the explicit hardcore scenes now allowed in art house films. This was illustrated by some background images featuring clear and visible erections. Predictably several people wrote to the TV regulators, Ofcom, to complain.

It was interesting to note that Ofcom didn't uphold the complaints. A spokesman from Ofcom explained their views in a letter:
 
"It is evident from the title and the subject matter that this documentary will not appeal to all tastes, and it is equally clear that some of the scenes, imagery and dialogue used will be of an adult nature. Five scheduled this programme at 11.10pm well after the watershed when material of an adult nature can be shown - and preceded it with a clear warning that the programme contained nudity, scenes of a sexual nature and very strong language from the start".
 
"The programme did contain strong sexual scenes, but overall we don't believe it breached our Programme Code. More, the images of male arousal were understood in the context of a well-researched, serious documentary into sexually explicit cinema. The images were not used in a trivial or flippant manner. Given the context described, we have no grounds to suppose that the material exceeded viewers' informed expectations of this programme".
 
"The Programme Code makes no specific reference to 'erections', male or female arousal. We accept that 'erections' very rarely appear on television. But there is no prohibition on their inclusion within programmes".

So there you have it, 'erections' are now allowed on any channel as long as the context is right, It seems that there has been a change in the code or at least a change in the way the code is being interpreted.

Perhaps the next step would be for Channel 4 to broadcast some of the explicit art house films where the hardcore scenes have already being justified in the name of art.


There is a buzz going around the discussion forums of the Internet suggesting that we should hear news in January about whether hardcore will be allowed onto UK satellite. There was therefore speculation as to whether this timescale had impacted the UK launch of Hustler branded content on Xplicit in October.

As this appears to have been delayed, Xplicit were challenged as to when or whether Hustler programmes were actually starting and why the existing programming is both highly censored and full of repeats?

Amanda Kiss replied for Xplicit: "For various business reasons we have decided to delay the launch of Hustler for the time being and because of this delay we have fallen behind with the acquiring of new programming for Xplicit. But we're now getting back up to speed again".

"There were no problems regarding the strength of the Hustler material - it will be the best quality material whilst adhering to the British guidelines. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Ofcom relax the rules sometime next year".

So Hustler will be adhering to British guidelines. It seems a shame that Larry Flynt's long 30 year battle with the US censors should come to such an abrupt capitulation on running into the UK censors.


Meanwhile Playboy TV have been working hard to produce some new programming that hope will stand out from the softcore norms on UK satellite. They seem particularly keen on a new series called Cold Coupling.

Both Amanda Kiss of Xplicit and Richard Ings of Playboy are keen to hear of viewers opinions about their new material.

From my personal viewpoint, I wonder why explicit sex is OK on channels showing art house movies supposedly justified by context. Yet the fact that viewers choose to subscribe to an encrypted explicit movie channel is not considered sufficient context to allow it. Roll on January, everything may change then.

 



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