Satellite X

 2005

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January    Addicted to Censorship
   
 
WorldGuess what! The eagerly awaited announcement regarding the possibility of hardcore on UK satellite has been delayed until the end of May. The TV regulator Ofcom claim that this is due to the large number of responses received and the considerable number of points made by respondents.

It is not only the British authorities that get confused about the regulation of adult entertainment though. So it's time for a trip around the world to see that other countries are also making a mess of sex regulation.


Perhaps a prime example is that of the Mexican city of Villahermosa. Due to the hot climate, many inhabitants have taken to walking around their own houses naked. The occasional glimpse of nudity from the street prompted the council to enact a law banning indoor nudity. A local councilor said that they were relying on citizens to report any breaches of the law. But then added, that people reporting such transgressions could themselves be prosecuted as peeping Toms.

Cyprus has been suffering from a shock ban on hard core pornography. Police authorities, who quickly began enforcing the Draconian ban said that they would keep up the pressure until all the explicit material on sale or rent was seized.

The ban was not even based on new laws. It was merely based on the legal opinion of an Attorney-General, who cited existing legislation. Given that under the previous interpretation of the law, the sale of pornographic material was tacitly accepted, police gave shopkeepers the whole of 10 days to clear their stock.

The Indians got themselves into a true pickle over their version of eBay. A video clip of two Delhi youngsters engaging in a sex act was sold via Baazee.com. The boy who engaged in the act filmed it on his camera phone and later sent the clip to his friends. He was arrested. The clip was put up for auction by a student of the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur. That student was also arrested. What's more the chief executive of Baazee.com was also arrested. The ramifications didn't stop their either, Indian schools have now banned mobile phones from their premises.


Of course the Americans are never far behind when in comes to bizarre sex laws. Melbourne council in Florida have just decided that the wearing of thongs on the beach, local parks or out on the street will carry a fine of $500 and perhaps jail time.

Over in the state of Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down an archaic state law prohibiting sex between unmarried people. The law against fornication had been on the books since the early 1800s. The ruling strongly suggests that a separate anti-sodomy law in Virginia also is unconstitutional.

Virginia's anti-sodomy law prohibits oral and anal sex even for married couples, but gay-rights advocates say the statute is only used to target homosexuals. Legislators for years have rejected efforts to repeal the law.

More worryingly for those in Europe who enjoy American made porn is the appointment of Alberto Gonzales. He is President Bush's nominee to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General. His first public statement on his attitude to enforcing obscenity laws was alarming. In response to a question asking what he'd like to be remembered for, four years from now? Gonzales replied: "I think obscenity is something else that very much concerns me. I've got two young sons, and it really bothers me about how easy it is to have access to pornography".

That statement led to a later exchange that was revealing about Gonzales' views on sexually explicit material. He committed to looking into the hypothesis that pornography was an addictive commodity, suggesting that perhaps the Department of Justice could prosecute porn on those grounds.

This suggests that the government's new strategy will be to attempt to place all sexual speech outside the protection of the First Amendment by claiming addictiveness rather than obscenity. By treating pornography on a par with drugs then this opens up some truely Draconian enforcement options.


Perhaps this approach could also be a used a defence too. One could argue that censorship is an addiction and the American authorities are well and truely hooked. In fact the UK authorities are also blighted by this horrendous addiction. Perhaps Ofcom could use the months up until May to attend the appropriate clinic to free themselves from this affliction.

 

February    Internet Challenge
   
 
Ofcom logoFine ideals abounded when Ofcom took over control of TV & satellite regulation. Over the last few weeks, promises of "joined up regulation" have unraveled and in reality only inconsistency and confusion have reigned.

Things started to go downhill when the decision to allow the UK broadcast of hardcore R18 material was delayed until the end of May. It is interesting to note that political concerns are likely to have caused the delay. Ofcom's chief executive Stephen Carter said recently about another public consultation: "by the time we have digested what we expect to be an extensive set of comments and developed our final proposals, it will be in the immediate run up to a May election and, though we are an independent regulator, that is never the best time to be announcing decisions that could have significant market and public policy impact".

This delay seems to have left Ofcom in a quandary about how to enforce the current guidelines which were drafted under a historical set of assumptions that are now irrelevant and probably illegal. How can Ofcom justify enforcing old rules ensuring "taste & decency" when this restraint has been deleted from law?

Anyway this is exactly what Ofcom have done when they recently elected to fine Playboy TV 25,000 for breaching the prohibition on broadcasting hardcore R18 material. The original offence occurred in spring of 2004 when several broadcasters were pushing the envelope by showing girl on girl hardcore. Presumably the long delay in dealing with the complaint was due to the relevance of the public consultation which was expected to allow R18 material anyway. I guess that the response to the complaint could not be postponed indefinitely and that Ofcom were forced to deal with it against the inherited guidelines which ban R18 material and therefore hardcore.

Ofcom stated that "Playboy TV UK broadcast under encryption, R18 version material which is prohibited under the Code. It showed extremely graphic images of real sexual activity including close-ups of genital penetration".

They continued to say that they regard the "breaches of the Code as serious given the breaches were in relation to material that carries an absolute prohibition. The material, though not extreme in nature, was not a borderline example of what could or could not be broadcast in the UK, but a very clear breach of the relevant provisions of the Code".

This surely must qualify as a most inconsistent decision. Several channels were broadcasting similar material at the time yet only Playboy TV have been singled out for an enormous fine. Even now, in more softcore times, R18 material is regularly broadcast. To clarify this, the video censors were asked about their guidelines that separate hardcore R18s from softcore 18s. Peter Johnson, Senior BBFC Examiner replied and said that: "The situation remains as follows: extreme close ups of genitalia; shots offering a view up a distended vagina or anus; clearly unassimilated shots of oral-genital or oral-anal contact (especially shots showing clear sight of contact of lips or tongue with anus, labia, clitoris, penis or scrotum); and clear sight of real, sustained masturbation are restricted to the R18 category and must be cut to obtain an 18".

One of the ultimate inconsistencies Ofcom have to address is that hardcore R18s are perfectly legal to buy from a sex shops, import from abroad or else download from the Internet. In particular, broadcasting via the Internet will prove particularly challenging to Ofcom. Already some of the major players are investing in web broadcasting services where you can watch videos via your PC. Such a service is slightly limited in that viewers require broadband connections that are not unduly bandwidth limited. Even then picture quality is not yet up to that you would expect from a satellite broadcaster.

Nevertheless it does allow a very simple way of side stepping any unacceptable regulations imposed by Ofcom. Of course Playboy TV are keen to capitalise on this technology and have set up a service at www.playboytv.co.uk. The first month proved very unsatisfactory with failed promises to provide live feeds echoing satellite transmissions or indeed any regular change of material at all.

However Playboy TV say that things will improve from 1st March 2005 and that they "will not now be offering live broadcast streams, but instead each channel will now be individually scheduled with a mixture of X and XXX content. Each channel will have a 4 hour schedule (looped for 24 hours) that will change on a daily basis, and will include XXX content. This means that we will now be offering PlayboyTV XXX, Splat, Adult Channel XXX and Spice Extreme XXX as a bespoke online service".

I still believe that the May announcement from Ofcom will allow hardcore on satellite TV. But I think that competition from the Internet will certainly help towards this outcome. I am sure that Ofcom would like to be seen providing a more consistent approach to regulation than they have achieved in the last few months. So hopefully they will go with the flow and allow hardcore on satellite.

 

March    Real Progress on Real Sex
   
 
The Idiots DVDGood to see Channel 4 showing some stiff resolve in their recent broadcast of the cult movie "The Idiots". The film was shown uncut including uncensored footage of explicit penetrative sex.

The film, by director Lars von Trier, had previously been shown with pixellation to obscure the more graphic footage in a sex scene. This time the pixellation was absent (but there has been a debate amongst viewers as to whether the scene was darkened a little).

The broadcast was in the early hours of the morning and was preceded by a warning but unfortunately it still caught the eye of those who like to be outraged. The TV regulator Ofcom received complaints about the showing and are currently investigating.

I would be surprised if Ofcom penalise Channel 4 though. Ofcom's own programme code clearly states that videos awarded an 18 certificate can be shown on TV. And of course, The Idiots has an uncut 18 video certificate as required.

It is a particularly good step forward in that the explicit sex was not justified as a science or education documentary. It was a film for entertainment. Albeit an arty film. It should also help make progress in the cause of hardcore on satellite. We now have the ludicrous anomaly that real sex can be shown free to air, yet it is still prohibited from encrypted services where viewers choose to subscribe and expect to see real hardcore sex.


There as also been real progress for Sky subscribers with a fixed single satellite dish. A new 2 channel hardcore package is now transmitting 24 hours a day from EuroBird at 28.5 degrees. This is the same satellite position as used by Sky Digital so Sky viewers can receive it without a change to their dish.

Unfortunately it uses a different encryption system to Sky (DreamCrypt) so needs an additional receiver with a free Cam slot. Viewers then need to purchase a Transglobal Cam and of course the viewing card. The annual subscription charge for both channels is 89 Euro.

The channels are InXtc TV and XPlus TV. Both are hardcore channels from Austria and they share the transponder at 12.511GHz vertical (SR 27500, FEC ).

Xplus TV is dedicated to what the channel calls raw action movies with non stop sex scenes. There will be no distractions from plot or story lines.

InXtcTV promises to be a high-end channel paying special attention to the diversity of movies it broadcasts. Movies have been specially commissioned from American, European and Japanese studios exclusively for the channel. It also broadcasts classic sex movies from the 70's, 80's, 90's, avant-garde movies, animations and fetish material.

The channel has a presenter introducing films and also focuses on live interaction programmes. These are broadcast in real time and viewers are invited to phone in and guide the action of the actors. The shows are broadcast live from their own studios.

The same company is also providing a softcore live sex channel, eUrotic TV, on the same transponder. It will be interesting to see if it is any more adventurous than UK channels as it does not have to comply with the heavy handed regulation from Ofcom.


Speaking of live interaction shows, has anybody noticed that all of the softcore UK channels have simulataneously cancelled their own live shows? The live shows were notable for 'accidently' showing more detailed shots than are usually allowed on the heavily pre-edited films.

The best guess must surely be some tightening of tolerances to near zero by Ofcom. As usual no transparency is afforded to the long suffering viewers and they will again be ripped off by the system that fails to provide what is promised. It surely does not seem a good time to subscribe to any UK channel at the moment. The content at the moment is very soft and even the 'accidental explicit slip ups' have now been removed.

It seems that the industry is waiting for the announcement of the new Ofcom programme code with the anticipation that it will allow hardcore on subscription channels. Unfortunately this wait may be longer than previously anticipated. The notes of the Ofcom board's 50th meeting suggest that the publication date for the new programme code has slipped from late spring into early summer.

This month has seen real progress towards real sex on TV....but it is real slow progress.

 

April    Crystal Balls
   
 
Ofcom logoIt is getting close to decision time at Ofcom as to whether UK licensed satellite channels will soon be able to broadcast hardcore material. I am quietly confident that Ofcom will in fact allow hardcore. This is simply because there is no UK law that they could use to justify a continuation of their existing ban.

There have been actually been no leaks and few hints of any decision, so the best evidence that I can come up with at the moment is a sentence from Ofcom's Annual Plan. In this document they reported that they had: "Combined and modernised the former separate radio and television codes and aligned them with a less interventionist approach to provisions affecting those over 18".

Anyway I thought that in light of my confidence it would be fun to have a look into the crystal ball and see what such a positive decision would have on satellite TV.

I think there will be a massively interesting transition period with issues cropping up all the time for the first few months. I believe that initial press coverage will be low key with the majority of the papers reporting the story but without any real shock horror or outrage. There will be the inevitable minority that will predict the downfall of civilisation as we know it. There will be little that they can do about the decision and so there will be little point in mounting any press campaigns.

The first tricky issue will be the transition period. It is inevitable that all hardcore will have to be encrypted and I guess that Ofcom will go further and say that all programming must be additionally protected by mandatory PIN entry. I am hoping that the PIN technology will enable a PIN to last across all channels for a reasonable amount of time and not require re-entering at every new programme or channel hop. I hope Ofcom and the TV companies remember that watching porn on DVD requires a fast forward and the best way that satellite packages can emulate this requirement is to provide multiple channels for channel hopping.

I don't think Ofcom can announce an immediate lifting of the hardcore ban. I think that would be unfair on the channels that were not ready with hardcore material and/or PIN technology. The demand for any channel continuing with softcore whilst the rest raced to full hardcore would simply collapse and leave them bankrupt.

I believe that, given the choice, hardcore will rapidly drive out softcore from the market. There may be room for one niche softcore channel where household compromise does not allow for hardcore. To see why one only has to look how many softcore DVDs are sold in a shop where hardcore is available.

I think that Ofcom will have a few more restrictions up their sleeves that could shape the market. I think they will be tempted to limit the hours when hardcore can be transmitted, maybe 10pm until 5.30am. I guess that mixed film channels so popular in Europe will be not be allowed here, so Sky Movies will not be allowed to transmit hardcore late at night. This will be a bit of a shame, mixed channels in Europe such as Canal+ tend to offer higher quality porn than dedicated hardcore channels can ever afford. Also showing hardcore on Canal+ allows porn viewers in uncompromising households to get to see some hardcore without too many family quarrels.

I don't see why hardcore shouldn't be allowed on both pay per view and dedicated subscription channels. They will both find their place in the market. Pay per view will become the home of high quality movies and subscription channels will probably be forced into a low cost model, just like in Europe.

Finally I am fascinated on how exactly Ofcom will be able to define what is acceptable and what is not. It seems commercially unviable to suggest that only hardcore with an R18 certificate may be screened. Ofcom could decide to draw up their own guidelines independent to the film censors. My favoured option is that they could say that there are no guidelines and that broadcasters only have to avoid obscenity as defined by the laws of the land. Of course the laws of the land will be sufficiently restrictive to deter many of our continental competitors from booking channels on Sky.

Hopefully we can soon raise our glasses to hardcore Britain and if not I will eat my hat. (Just in case though, I will procure a snappy marzipan Panama).

 

May    Moving On OLIC IPTV...
   
 
What Satellite logoWhilst awaiting the big decision about hardcore on UK satellite it is perhaps worth having a look round at the competition. And of course the competition is the Internet.

Some of the major players from UK satellite channels have been busy at work with a new internet service for broadband. Playboy TV, The Adult Channel and Spice Extreme have a combined service available at www.playboytv.co.uk. A few months ago I reported that the initial service was very poor. Their problems now seem to have been sorted out and the latest reports are very favourable.

There are four channels available, Playboy TV UK, Spice Extreme, Spice Platinum and Adult XXX. All four channels transmit hardcore. Each has a programming block of 6-8 programmes which repeat throughout the day. The programme changes every day. Repeats are expected at a similar frequency to those on their satellite channels. The videos are a mixture of full length films from Europe & America and episodic programmes mainly from Europe. This includes plenty of good amateur videos from the UK. This service seems particularly attractive to Sky viewers who have perviously only got to see the cut down softcore versions. It is always good to see the hardcore version of your favourite softcore videos. But of course having seen the hardcore version few customers will want to revert to the censored version.

After a 10 registration fee, subscriptions are available for 5 per night, 14.99 per month or 39.99 per quarter. Subscriptions give access to all four chnnels. You will need to have windows media player 9, Internet Explorer 5.5 or above installed as well as a broadband connection.

Of course there are many other providers of hardcore material for those lucky enough to have broadband. The feeds are not really up to the quality of a good satellite connection but this will change rapidly over the next year or so. Bandwidth is increasing all the time.

A new buzz word seems to have been coined recently, IPTV (Internet Protocol TV). Here the emphasis is on television, ie picture quality that is good enough to display on your TV.

Will it catch on though? If one were to ask a million people what they would like to watch on TV, you may expect near to a million different answers. IPTV will be able to get an awful lot closer to enabling this choice than satellite TV will ever be able to do. So of course it will catch on.

Another reason that it is likely to suceed is that IPTV will be a lot less regulated than satellite or brodcast TV. The ITC and Ofcom have had it their own way far too long in ensuring that we don't get to see what we want to see on TV. They won't get such an easy ride on the Internet.

It is probably unsurprising that governments have been discussing regulation of IPTC. Europe has been discussing the issue in a revamped Television Without Frontiers directive. This sets the agenda for European media regulation. New draft proposals are due to be issued later this year. The thinking in Brussels is that it will contain plans for Europe-wide regulation of television-style broadcasts over the Internet.

Thankfully Ofcom seem not so keen. Ofcom's Chairman Lord Currie recently made a speech in which he reiterated Ofcom's position concerning television regulation and it's diminishing role.

He said that: "The Communications Act, rightly, in my view, gives Ofcom no powers over television content delivered over the Internet. It follows inexorably that when your TV programme can be delivered via broadband alongside the conventional broadcast signal, Ofcom's powers to regulate must fade".

He said that Ofcom will ask the following questions and will research the answers:

* Is regulation of TV content over the Internet practicable?
* Are there effective alternatives to direct regulation?
* Is regulation, on balance, desirable?

Lord Currie offered his hunch that the answers would be:

* Regulation of IPTV is probably not practical.
* There definitely are effective alternatives to direct regulation
* Is regulation, on balance, desirable? Almost certainly not.

The future certainly sounds promising for viewers. But if everyone can watch they want and there are no regulators to get in their way, what shall I write about in this column?

 

June    OfCon...
   
 
Ofcom logo"We were conned! Hardcore continues to be banned on UK satellite.

Ofcom duly released their new programme guide covering many aspects of broadcasting content.The blanket ban on hardcore was encapsulated in the single rule:

"1.25 BBFC R18-rated films or their equivalent must not be broadcast".

The scant justification provided by Ofcom read: "Given the strength of the material, and adopting the precautionary
approach, Ofcom is not satisfied that under 18s can be effectively protected".

The only hope offered by Ofcom was the statement "However, if future developments enable more secure protection, Ofcom would consider whether to review this position".

Further reading into the programme code reveals it to be surprisingly contradictory on the subject of sex on TV. There seem to be two schools of thought about why this should be. Both assume that contradictions are unlikely to attributable to incompetence and so infer that there must be a good reason.

The first theory to emerge suggested that Ofcom had fundamentally accepted the idea that R18s could be broadcast but in fact weren't quite brave enough to stand up to any political fallout following the liberalisation. The contradictions are strategically included in the code to allow for judicial challenge. The thinking is that the adult broadcasters can challenge the code in court, win their case and get hardcore on to TV. Ofcom would be off the hook as the liberalisation cannot then be considered their fault.

I find the second theory slightly more compelling. Again it starts with Ofcom fundamentally accepting that R18s could be broadcast. They therefore wrote the code with this in mind. At a late stage in the publication process it was decided that the hardcore ban should be retained. However the change of heart was not fully reworked into the code and hence the contradictions.

The basic flaw in Ofcom's reasoning is that they argue that PIN protection is sufficient to allow all day broadcasting of 15 rated films on subscription channels and 18 rated films on pay per view. Now when it comes to the traumatic effects of adult TV on youngsters, I think a 7 year old child watching a blood letting vampire film may well be scared to death. But the same child would probably show little interest in a sex movie beyond an embarrassing question or two. So why do Ofcom consider that PIN protection is sufficient for the vampire movie but not for the sex movie? If Ofcom consider PINs a weak protection then they could surely be taken to European court for not doing their duty to enable the protection of children from traumatic vampire films.

Strangely enough Ofcom released a research paper to accompany the programme code that argues on balance that hardcore would not have a traumatic affect on young viewers. Ofcom chose to ignore their own commissioned research though. You would have thought that it should have at least prompted them to explain why they think sex material needs more child protection than violence.

Obviously Satellite X viewers and broadcasters will be disappointed by the decision but in fact existing Sky based viewers are in for a triple whammy. As well failing to get to view hardcore, they will now have to suffer even softer material on their channels. The new code clearly states that no material beyond that allowed by the film censor's 18 certificate can be broadcast. And the censors guidelines for 18 certificates are very softcore. This means that some of the envelope pushing material inconsistently appearing over the last 12 months simply must stop. This seems to be happening already. In future the softcore broadcasters won't find it easy to push the guidelines. There simply is nobody left to support the softcore model. Even those in favour of sex on TV will be complaining to Ofcom of any channels overstepping the mark. The thinking is that the channels should be economically forced into challenging the Ofcom code via the contradictions mentioned previously.

But that is not quite the end of the softcore viewer's woes. Ofcom have also identified that "adult sex material" should be subject to even more stringent restrictions than at present. In particular all such material must be encrypted with mandatory PIN protected systems. This means that from 25th July all softcore programming will require PIN entry. This will probably be a real pain for those that like to channel hop during the boring bits and for those that would like to record programmes for viewing at a more sensible time of day.

My guess is that these extra protections were originally going to be targeted at allowing hardcore broadcasts. They were never intended to harangue 18 rated channels but last minute changes seem to have screwed things up.

A bad time indeed for UK Satellite X viewers. But keep reading this column and I will concentrate next on getting you hooked up with some good stuff from Europe.

 

July    Singing a Song of Confusion...
   
 
Ofcom logoOne would expect to be writing a column about Ofcom's recently release Programme Code with the theme of 'after the dust has settled'. This is simply not the case. Confusion and contradiction still reign supreme and the settling dust has become a sand storm.

Ofcom have generated a massively contradictory set of regulations governing the content of adult TV.

* Ofcom argue that PIN protection is sufficient to prevent young children from being terrified by horror films but insufficient to protect them from hardcore R18s.
* Ofcom specify the requirements to show 18 rated films and then specify extra restrictions for softcore 18 films even though they are still 18 films that fall in the first category.
* Ofcom provide research material which, if anything, supports the broadcast of R18s. Yet they then dismiss this material without providing any hint of their reasoning beyond: "Given the strength of the material and adopting the precautionary approach Ofcom is not satisfied that under 18s can be effectively protected"
* Ofcom insist in their published guidelines that only 18 rated material can be shown. Yet for months they have been allowing some explicit acts that are simply not allowed in 18 certificate videos.
* As pointed out by a reader of this column, Ofcom refuse to allow hardcore yet allow channels to advertise that they show hardcore

Ofcom have been steadfastly refusing to enter any meaningful dialogue about their code, even to clarify the glaring inconsistencies specified above.

Paul Taverner of www.Ofwatch.org.uk has been pursuing answers to some of these questions via the Freedom of Information Act. In particular he would like to know how Ofcom arrived at their decision. He requested Content board reports and decision papers concerning the R18 issue and also Ofcom board meeting minutes relating to R18 issues.

Again Ofcom have been refusing to answer questions saying that this information is not in the public interest.

You would expect that it would be in the public interest to find out how Ofcom arrived at such contradictory guidelines so Paul has now appealed to the Information Commissioner. Let us hope that the comissioner agrees and that the pubic have the right to know how Ofcom arrived at their censorial decision.


Fending off questions is not the only thing to concern Ofcom, they will soon receive another challenge. Michael Winterbottom's hardcore art house movie, 9 Songs, includes several minutes of real scenes of intercourse, oral sex and ejaculation. The film and video were both passed uncut with an 18 certificate as opposed to the R18 certificate usually awarded for hardcore sex.

According to Ofcom's latest code, 9 Songs can now be shown unencrypted on free to air television (well after the watershed of course). This then gives rise to the inconsistency that viewers who have given no indication of interest in hardcore can watch, but those who have opted to buy a subscription aren't allowed to watch, even if the material is encrypted.

Interestingly a longer version of one of the sex scenes in 9 Songs was going to be provided as a DVD extra. The BBFC found that the extra length of the scene coupled with the fact that it is out of context of the film meant that it warranted an R18 certificate. The distributors decided to stick with the 18 certificate and have not used the extended sex scene on the final DVD release.

The same film has already been winding up the distributors of hardcore videos. Why should hardcore sex be allowed preferential treatment for art films when the same material is so heavily and expensively restricted if given an R18 certificate.

The video distributors had no joy in pointing out this unfairness to the film censors, the BBFC, so they are now putting their case to the Video Appeals Committee (VAC). The VAC has the power to overrule BBFC decisions. Nine video distributors have joined forces and are arguing that straight hardcore sex should be entitled to an 18 certificate (albeit with sufficient labelling to make it clear that it is hardcore). They say that the restricted sex shop category should be reserved for more deviant or fetish material.

The restrictions associated with selling hardcore R18 rated videos are proving to be very unfair especially for UK traders. Some councils (the whole of Northern Ireland for instance) refuse to grant shop licences for no very good reasons. The prohibition on mail order is proving very one-sided as people are allowed to buy via mail order from foreign shops/websites but not British shops/websites. Similar material in hardcore magazines can be sold from any shop as long as front covers etc are 'decent'. No wonder the video distributors think they are being hard done by.

It may be unlikely, but in the near future, vanilla hardcore could be receiving an 18 certificate and could be available to be shown on UK satellite and cable. That would be one in the eye for the censors at Ofcom.

 

August    The Future Looks Soft...
   
 
BBFC logoSorry to be the bearer of bad news again but the cause of hardcore on satellite TV suffered another setback this month.

Eight hardcore distributors had appealed against a BBFC decision to cut out the hardcore scenes for an 18 rated release. (An uncut R18 certificate was available but this restricts the videos to sale from licensed sex shops). If the appeal had been successful, hardcore would have then been passed at 18. According to Ofcom's recent programme code, those hardcore 18s could then have been shown on satellite TV.

It wasn't to be, the seven members of the Video Appeals Committee were unanimous that the appeal should be dismissed. They also expressed the opinion that the material which is the subject of this appeal is not suitable for distribution other than in a sex shop. "We have considered each video individually but in none of them do we find any grounds to change the classification. The Board has the onerous task of ensuring that material of this kind does not fall in the hands of children or the vulnerable and the fact that a person may not order it by mail in this country and must purchase it in person goes some way to enable the Board to discharge this duty".


This rather leaves the legal process in obtaining a wider distribution of hardcore in somewhat of a slow lane. The sex shop licensing restrictions are proving pretty watertight in law. The several failed challenges seem to have convinced Ofcom even more that they should not be the ones to circumvent the requirement to turn up in person at a sex shop before purchasing hardcore.

That is not to say that the legal process has stalled entirely. The Private shops (Interfact) will pursue their cause to get mail order hardcore legalised via the House of Lords and the European Courts if necessary. Unfortunately this could be a slow process and will probably be overtaken by other developments.

In the meantime it will be interesting to see if the UK adult broadcasters will take any action. Emails were sent to Playboy TV and Xplicit to ask this very question. Playboy didn't reply but Xplicit said: "We will go hardcore as soon as Ofcom allow us to. We are part of ABA (Adult Broadcasting Association) that is lobbying for the change to the law that will allow us to broadcast R18 material. This association will consider legal action if the law does not change. We will do everything in our power to make the change happen".

Ofcom's new programme code came into effect this month but was immediately broken by several UK adult channels. The Ofcom guidelines are very clear, R18 material may not be broadcast. The BBFC are very clear on what constitutes an R18. Anything that shows real sex is R18. The adult channels are continuing to show the occasional glimpse of real sex and so are breaking the programme code. It is interesting to speculate that there may be some secret guidelines issued by Ofcom that allow the adult broadcasters to overstep the published restrictions available to the public.

This will soon be challenged though, as both the pro-hardcore and anti-hardcore lobbies are busy writing complaints about these real sex snippets. The motivation of the anti-porn lobby is clear, but that of the pro-porn lobby is more subtle. The weakest legal link in the prohibition of hardcore is the minimal justification for the ban provided by Ofcom. The pro-porn lobby are trying to stimulate the adult broadcasters into taking legal action against the Ofcom programme code. It is felt that a purely softcore 18 rated channel will prove commercially unviable and hence force the broadcasters into taking action.

Of course if the broadcasters don't take action soon then they will surely come unstuck when we start to turn to broadband Internet IPTV. Who would subscribe to softcore when there is a world of hardcore out there. Time will surely then be called on the unrealistic and unjustified Ofcom programme code.

 

September    Violent Kneejerkography ...
   
 
Police raid houseBe afraid...Be very afraid...The British Government seems set on a course to make the recording of some European hardcore channels into an imprisonable offence.

The story leading up to this threat started with the tragic murder of Jane Longhurst. Her murderer turned out to be heavily into extreme Internet pornography involving torture and strangulation. Jane's mother, Liz, fronted up a persuasive political campaign that the Government should 'do something' about extreme images on the Internet.

The Home Office clearly went to work to decide on what should be done. Unfortunately the practical side of the problem was clearly not easy to resolve and things seem to have gone horribly wrong.

I am sure that if the Government had found a way of dealing with sites that featured images of actual violent crimes then there would have been support for whatever they decided they could do. Unfortunately that is not very easy as most of the sites under consideration unsurprisingly have no connections with the UK.

No doubt the Home Office considered blocking these sites, but such an option is massively difficult and probably simply too expensive.

So the Home Office turned to the idea of individual responsibility and decided that the solution was to criminalise the possession of extreme images. Again there was the possibility of a strongly supported consensus. The Government could have proposed criminalising the possession of images where serious crimes were committed in their making. And again practicalities meant that this was not a viable option. As mentioned earlier most of the sites are outside of UK jurisdiction and hence it is not always possible to determine if crimes were actually committed in the making.

This is where the nasty politics started to creep in. The Home Office realised that it was impractical to identify images involving real violence. They seem to have decided not to let mere difficulties get in the way of populist proposals. So they decided to extend the criminalised images to those merely 'depicting' serious violence in a sexual context.

The Home Office discussion paper suggests that it will criminalise the depiction of violence in a sexual context where the violence depicted is sufficient to qualify as grievous bodily harm. Now grievous bodily harm may sound serious. But in practice, prosecutors contend that any assault involving the breaking of the skin qualifies as grievous bodily harm.

Another important concept is that of sex being consensual. Again it makes an awful lot of sense to suggest that images of actual non-consensual sexual activity could be unlawful but once you add the word "depiction" then it is very different indeed. An awful lot of entertainment 'depicts' serious violence but we all know that its creation involves actors and make up artists and so no one is actually harmed.

So the Government are proposing a 3 year jail sentence for those caught in possession of images 'depicting' serious or non consensual violence in a sexual context. This may at first hearing sound reasonable but think a little! How about a sexy horror film? Surely a stake through the heart is the depiction of serious violence and if bare breasts are inevitably involved then it will surely be considered a sexual context. How about the renown 18 certificate French film Baise Moi which has been shown on Sky. It 'depicted' rape in a scene with hardcore explicit sex. That would surely fit the Government definition of an imprisonable offence.

And before you think that this is an exaggeration, worried people have been asking similar questions of the authorities and have not been reassured by the response. A good example is someone from the spanking community who pointed out that spanking movies often feature strong caning or whipping that would count as bodily harm. Clearly they are made by consensual actors but they often depict non consensual situations even if it is only mock pupil/teacher punishment scenes.

The authorities were asked if such spanking material would be illegal to possess.

Susie Gledhill of the Scottish Executive Justice Department replied: "The proposals would cover pornography in all forms, whether on a web site, in a magazine, video or any other form. If the spanking or corporal punishment (in a sexual context) being depicted was so severe that it could be charged as serious assault (or in England grievous bodily harm) then such images would be included in the proposals".

So as far as I can seen, any one into BDSM, spanking, sexy horror movies or French art films may be liable to a 5am police raid. I suggest that we all should let the Government know what we think about their knee jerk proposals.

 

October    Plant Pots & Contradictions...
   
 
What Satellite logoIt was good to finally see a film featuring several scenes of explicit real sex being broadcast on UK satellite TV. One might have thought that this was commonplace on the multitude of UK adult channels, but this is simply not the case. The UK broadcasters are forced to block any views of real sex by plant pots or scenery props. No, the film in question was '9 Songs' which was recently broadcast on Sky Box Office.

9 Songs is a mainstream art film which escaped the tag of a 'sex work' and was awarded an 18 certificate allowing it to be shown on Sky. If the censors had decided that it was a 'sex work' then its explicit scenes would have qualified it for a hardcore R18 certificate. This would then have been banned by the satellite censor Ofcom. Interestingly an extended cut of the sex scenes originally intended as a DVD extra did in fact qualify for an R18 certificate. The film censors felt increased sex in the DVD extra was no longer justified when out of the context of the main film.

So there we have it. People who want to watch hardcore sex on dedicated UK channels, can't. Those who have not particularly registered on interest in hardcore sex, can.


There has been an on going contradiction at play in Ofcom's published programme code. Ofcom state clearly that hardcore material is not allowed to be broadcast yet they seem to turn a blind eye to brief snippets of hardcore material slipped in by the broadcasters to try and keep their customers hooked.

John Glover, Senior Programmes Executive at Ofcom was asked about this contradiction. He replied:

"I am sure I do not have to explain to you that much of the material broadcast on the licensed adult channels involves films originally certified at R18, and subsequently cut down for UK transmission. The cut down versions are not subsequently submitted to the BBFC for re-classification - nor is there any legal requirement for them to be re-classified for television. In other words, compliance with the broadcasting code is - in the first instance - a matter for the broadcaster alone".

"Nevertheless, we expect cut-down films shown on UK television services to be broadly in-line with the national classification system, and not to stray into R18 territory. For that reason, we are engaged in a dialogue with the broadcasters to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities".

So Ofcom seem to be saying that brief hardcore is ok as long as the majority of the film is softcore.

Maintaining the theme of contradiction, it was interesting to note that Ofcom considered it unacceptable when Five transmitted a version of Cruising that included two virtually imperceptible subliminal images of anal penetration.So brief clips of hardcore sex are ok but subliminally short clips aren't.

Another contradiction noted was about the differences between gay and straight material on UK adult channels. TVX goes to extraordinary lengths to cover up the sight of a penis even after encryption. Gay TV show semi erect penises on their pre-pin protected preview? Both stations are run by the same parent company so why have different levels of censorship?


Ofcom are not the only organisation giving out contradictory messages. The US based Hustler TV has signed a distribution agreement to launch into Europe. Adult channel distributor Total Media will be responsible for securing carriage deals with various cable and satellite across the continent. The UK is expected to be a key target market.

So how can they be thinking of a pan European service? Mainland Europe expects hardcore but the UK authorities insist on softcore.


It seems that the massive Private Media Group are also seeking a new Private adult television channel in the UK. The channel will be launched in January 2006 and replace the Private Blue channel which was established in the UK in 2000. The new channel will primarily be available as a pay-per-view channel via Sky.

To achieve the new channels in the softcore UK, Private have announced that they will be teaming with an editing company, RHF Productions. Peter Farrell their editorial director said: We look forward to working together with the Private team, confident that customers throughout the UK will be delighted with the results.

Think again Peter, the UK satellite viewers want to see real sex, not plant pots blocking the view. No doubt the high production values of Private Films will at least mean they are very nice plant pots.

 

November    Paid Per View Sex...
   
 
Playboy logoHow would you fancy getting paid to watch softcore porn on satellite each night?

Well Playboy TV recently advertised a post for a "Free-to-air Compliance Viewer". The job description continues: "Playboy TV is looking for a person experienced in viewing programmes for television broadcast for compliance with Ofcom regulations, ideally with an understanding of the rules applied to late-night erotica".

The job is hardly likely to be very taxing ether. Even if the Compliance Viewer were to spot something non-compliant then nobody will take any notice anyway.

This comment comes about after reading the latest complaints bulletin from the TV regulator, Ofcom. 14 complaints were made across a variety of UK licensed softcore channels. These were presumably about the hardcore snippets that are specifically banned in the Ofcom programme code. Ofcom rejected all 14 complaints without a single word of explanation. This could hardly be termed transparent and accountable regulation.

The level of complaints seems to have sparked some activity behind the scenes though, as the current output from the UK channels is very tame indeed. The hardcore snippets have clearly been put on hold, at least for the time being.

So who is willing to pay good money for tame UK softcore? It is a good question, and one that may have been asked in the Playboy TV boardroom. Perhaps the answer to this question is one of the reasons for the newly launched Playboy One channel.

Playboy One on SKY channel 287 is in the entertainment section of the EPG and is free to air. There is no charge for watching and it will be funded through advertising. The daytime content will mainly limited to promotional material.

A Playboy spokesman wrote that: "During the early evening we are running PlayboyStore and CyberGirls, and then at 11pm we start running some of the most popular PlayboyTV shows in an edited format. The shows are edited to ensure they are Ofcom compliant, but the shows are free for anyone to watch"

So what exactly needs editing before showing free to air? Ofcom has banned all material stronger than softcore 18 even when shown on encrypted channels. In addition, all 18 rated films can be shown free to air after the watershed, nominally at 9pm, (but there is an unspecified buffer zone when sex material is still frowned upon). So after, say 10pm, all adult content shown by the Playboy channels, including Spice and the Adult Channel can in fact be shown free to air.

Maybe this new channel is an indication of a way forward when softcore satellite channels are forced to compete with broadband hardcore TV. As paying customers inevitably decline then perhaps some of the adult channels may try and carve a niche by going free to air. It would surely increase the number of available viewers and intuitively become very popular. UK is softcore is not really worth paying good money for, but may prove to be good value if free.

Of course there may be one flaw in this argument. Advertising revenue may not be easy to find. Large companies generally shy away from advertising in any media that they perceive may harm their family image.

If the experiment proves successful and free to air softcore becomes popular, it would be one in the eye for the pro censorship campaigners. Their successful campaign to disallow encrypted hardcore may end up leading to a boom in free to air softcore that is then viewable by all and sundry. Surely a nightmare scenario for them.

At this particular time I have little sympathy for censorial campaigners. In particular, John Beyer of Mary Whitehouse's Mediawatch-UK, has excelled himself in illwill towards his fellow man. The UK Government has proposed that the ownership or viewing of violent pornography should be punished by a 3 year prison sentence. John Beyer said: "We believe that the scope of the material under consideration should be substantially broadened to include a much wider range of obscene material, for example, that currently permitted by the BBFC at R18".

So beware, John Beyer is gunning for all viewers of Euro hardcore channels and would like to see them all banged up in jail for 3 years. I think I will keep on watching hardcore though, I'd rather take the risk of a prison term than revert to watching UK softcore.

 

December    The Net is Closing in
   
 
What Satellite logoDo you ever see 18 rated softcore DVDs amongst the R18 hardcore DVDs in your local sex shop? Your answer is probably no. Softcore has no chance when sold side by side with similar hardcore. People simply prefer their adult entertainment to be hardcore. So how come the UK still supports 20 softcore channels when there is so much hardcore material around?

The answer is simply that it is very simple and convenient to subscribe UK channels. It generally only takes a phone call to arrange. The Euro hardcore option requires more research, more set top boxes and a visit to the roof top to upgrade the dish.

It doesn't seem likely that it will become any easier to subscribe to Euro channels in the near future. However, there is one far more effective competitor on the horizon and that is the Internet. Broadband speeds are already reaching speeds sufficient to allow full TV quality viewing. The only step remaining is for a set top box that allows viewers to watch and order the films on their TVs rather than on their computer monitors. The advantage is probably something to do with being able to watch whilst reclining rather than sitting up straight as required by a computer screen.

Several examples of hardcore being broadcast via computer networks have already been mentioned in this column. Hotels have already set up an in-room pay service that legally shows R18 hardcore material. Playboy TV have set up an Internet service that includes hardcore programming.

The latest addition will be Blue Juice Television. They claim to be the first R18 Hardcore Adult Entertainment Internet TV channel in the UK. They cheekily emphasise that due to current Ofcom rulings Blue Juice will not be available via Satellite. The channel promises a mix of hardcore adult films and live interactive evenings from their studios.

Blue Juice have decided to price the service at 10 for a week. This is not a recurring subscription so it should be compared with the pay per night services rather than those charging an annual fee. (See www.BlueJuice.tv for further details )

There are already a multitude of adult video on demand (VOD) services. These allow a selections of films to be bought for viewing on a computer (or TV if this is connected to the PC). Some services provide streaming video, only suitable for immediate viewing. Others provide restricted conditions implemented using Digital Rights Management (DRM). Eg a film may be hired for several days or else may be made available for one or two viewings within say a month. Films can also be bought without any viewing restrictions at all, similar to purchasing a DVD. It is a quirk of UK law that one cannot buy an R18 DVD from a UK supplier by mail order, but one can download it from a UK site, perfectly legally, and then burn it on to DVD yourself.

So whilst Internet services are dreaming up ever more flexible schemes to persuade customers to part with their cash. The UK satellite channels are dreaming up new ideas that seem to annoy their customers. Several UK channels have introduced mandatory PINs before being able to view their programmes. This is annoying enough even for a viewer who is intent on watching the film who has to enter the PIN once at the start of the film. However it must be infuriating if the film is typically naff and the viewer would like to channel hop between two programmes. the system then requires the PIN to be re-entered at each hop. This would be even more annoying in a household where there are simply no children and this endless entering of PINS provides absolutely no benefit to anyone at all. And if this wasn't enough, I have just heard that at least one channel, Xplicit, is now preventing recording via Sky Plus.

Of course such restrictions may be an Ofcom price for allowing slightly stronger material. Xplicit is one of the channels implementing the new mandatory PIN restrictions and it was reported that they broadcast a one off episode of Rubber Ron (11.30 on 7th December) featuring full dildo and finger penetration shots in close up.

Surely interesting developments, but I think my tenner will be more safely invested in Blue Juice rather than any PIN protected, unrecordable hardcore snippets on UK satellite. These short lived snippets are starting to feel like a ruse just to get long suffering UK customers hooked to their service.

The net is closing in. The UK adult channels should beware.

 

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