Satellite X has a holy grail. It takes the form of a little black box connected to the TV, satellite dish and telephone. When I tun it on has a simple display looking something like Google. I type in a film title, part of a title or genre. A
couple of key clicks later I sit back with my wife/girl/beer as appropriate and watch whatever film takes my fancy, unimpeded by censors and regulators.
As with all the best Monty Python style holy grails, there are still a few multi-headed monsters that need to be defeated on route. Some of the monsters will surely prove to be fearful opponents, those that control payment services, technology and
But some of those blocking the way will prove as ineffective as the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.Our very own film censors seem keen to set themselves up in this role. They speak with honour and respect earned in days long since
past. They forge their armour from misguided confidence in their ability to inform and protect society. They arm themselves with inflexible blades best designed to cut and hack at physical film and video.
But just like the film, they will surely be left on the wayside as a limbless wreck once they cross swords with the might of the Internet. The momentum, the flexibility and the modern Internet weaponry will prove more than match for the antique ideas
of the censors.
In fact the UK film censors (BBFC), have offered up their services as the Internet censor. In their recent annual report, the President of the BBFC, Sir Quentin Thomas, called on the Government to bring together commercial, regulatory and creative
interests to consider how best to provide the public with information that may assist them to choose which content they wish to consume and how to protect children and vulnerable people from harm.
The BBFC’s Director David Cooke added: "We are putting a good deal of effort into researching, and speaking to others about, the implications of the growth of new media for our system of regulation. We do not argue for regulation except where it
is genuinely needed. But effective regulation has clear benefits: the prevention of harm; enabling informed choices; creating a safe environment within which to enjoy creative content. We regularly see and deal with material, whether so-called
‘extreme reality’, abusive pornography, or simply content which is unsuitable for the age group to whom it is addressed, where our intervention is clearly necessary. We believe we have unique expertise and experience to offer".
All very laudable sounding, but a few weeks later a more threatening tone emerged. I would guess that the BBFC have been talking with the Home Office about the "regulatory hole" that appeared due to the invention of the Internet.
Pornography has always been regulated by the Government who generally set the line as to what is legal and what is not. For everybody's convenience, censorship laws were originally applied to the 'few' sellers as opposed to the 'many; buyers. So if
the police come across, say a spanking video, (still deemed obscene by our Government), they could find someone, ie the seller, to bring to book and to block the supply. This approach is supplemented by Customs who seek to prevent purchase from
With the Internet, the seller will be located abroad and cannot be touched. Customs have no jurisdiction over electronic transfers so cannot prevent the import of a downloaded movie. And finally there is currently no law preventing the purchse,
download or ownership of an 'obscene' spanking movie. Effectively the Internet is a massive loophole in the Government's control of our viewing. So Suddenly spanking movies are effective legal.
The Government is clearly not pleased. So it was hardly surprising when the BBFC started to allude to closing this regulatory loophole.
Have you noticed that when people talk about imposing censorship, they always say "I don't believe in censorship...BUT..." Well Sue Clark, spokeswoman for the BBFC proved no exception.
She started by saying that the huge growth of online video content risked making the regulation of old media redundant as more and more people get access to video over the Internet. She said that people recognised that the Internet may not be
regulated, ...BUT... expected certain types of content such as films to have passed through a classification process.
She proposed (sensibly) that the BBFC certificates, U, PG, 12, 15, 18, R18, could be used to label Internet content as they are now very familiar to British customers. But then she continued "We don't want to go down the route of cutting and
banning things and blocking sites...BUT... a lot of the content that's out there on the Internet is not something the majority of people would want to view".
She cited the example of Terrorists, Killers and Middle East Wackos, a compilation of video clips of actual killings and terrorist attacks. The compilation is banned on video or DVD in the UK because the BBFC believed it to contravene the Obscene
Publications Act, but it is freely and legally available on the Internet through file-sharing sites.
Then she picked up on the regulatory hole: "The BBFC knew of at least one distributor who sees video-on-demand as a way of getting around its controls on pornography: This guy has stated that he will be putting stuff out which the BBFC will not
classify. He has to be prosecuted to stop that".
But before we all start to worry it should be noted that there is just too much content provided by too many web sites to make the idea of pre-vetting video anywhere near tenable. According to the Guardian, the video site YouTube sees 35,000 new
clips added and 30m clips downloaded every day, while it would take almost 500 years to watch all the content currently indexed by Blinkx, which claims to be the largest online video search engine.
Hopefully watching this amount of video will keep the censors occupied whilst I continue the search for the holy grail.