Satellite X


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January    Goodbye Emmanuelle...
Goodbye EmmanuelleSorry to be the bearer of bad news but the TV censor has quietly banned an entire genre of sexy films from UK satellite TV.

In an unheralded decision, the TV regulator, Ofcom, slipped out the news in it's regular complaints bulletin. Ofcom upheld a complaint about an erotic thriller that was shown on Bravo.

Dangerous Sex Games is a standard erotic thriller. It is strictly softcore and has a plot as well as sex scenes. It is a US film directed by Veronica Hart in 2004. It was broadcast by Bravo at 11pm in August last year. Ofcom received a complaint about sex scenes and full female nudity. Bravo is down in Sky's programme guide as a general entertainment channel sold as part of a package. It is not sold as a separate adult channel.

The broadcaster commented that they did not believe the content was equivalent to 'adult-sex' material. While Virgin Media TV, the operators of Bravo, acknowledged Dangerous Sex Games contained scenes of a sexual nature, it argued these were in the context of a plot and such scenes were not continuous throughout the film's duration. Virgin believed that sex scenes did not mean the programme should have been encrypted as it judged these scenes were not explicit or sustained.

Virgin Media TV said the film had been viewed prior to transmission by an experienced compliance executive who felt that no cuts or blurring were necessary to make the content suitable for broadcast. It said that while there was little ambiguity as to the adult nature of the sex scenes, the footage employed specific camera angles to avoid gratuitously explicit sexual interplay between the actors. The broadcaster therefore considered the film was not 'hardcore' but rather 'erotica', a genre it felt UK audiences were familiar with.

The broadcaster said the channel had become sufficiently well-established for viewers to be generally aware of the adult nature of its late-evening schedule. A warning was given prior to the film which stated it contained strong scenes of a sexual nature from the start,

But Ofcom were not impressed. Under their Code, content classified as 'adult-sex' material can be broadcast only under encryption with appropriate protection mechanisms in place. Ofcom's guidance on this Rule states that in deciding whether content is 'adult-sex' material Ofcom is guided by the definitions used by the BBFC and its reference to 'sex works'. The BBFC defines a 'sex work' as works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation.

Taking all the relevant factors into account, Ofcom has concluded that the material complained of was 'adult-sex' material as defined under the Code. The sexual scenes themselves showed naked actors although genitalia were not seen engaged in what appeared to be various sexual activities. The focus of the camera was on the actors' bodies throughout. Taking into account all the circumstances (including the style and focus of the camera work on the actors' bodies, the considerable duration of the sex scenes, and the clear predominance of sex scenes compared to narrative scenes), the primary purpose of the film appeared to be the sexual arousal/stimulation of the audience. The content overall amounted in Ofcom's view to a series of strong and prolonged sex scenes joined together by limited narrative. Material of this nature should only be broadcast under encryption.

Ofcom concluded that 'Adult-sex' material should not be broadcast unless all the required protection mechanisms have been put in place. As Bravo is an unencrypted channel, this material should not have been broadcast at any time on the channel.

Effectively Ofcom have now banned all softcore films from all free to air channels, channels in general entertainment packages and even on broadcast TV. This includes erotic thrillers, Emmanuelle style softcore and probably even sex comedies such as Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

There is little doubt that all of these genres were intended as sexual stimulation and hence could be defined as 'adult-sex' material. Up until now regulators have compromised and recognised that 'mild' sex material was acceptable. Now Ofcom has decided that all sexually arousing material, however mild, should only be shown on encrypted and restricted adult channels.

This is an extension of the recent decision to ban anything but the most innocuous from the free to air 'babe' channels. Even sexy talk is considered unacceptable on TV.

Now given that the adult channels are unlikely to disappoint their viewers by showing mild softcore, then erotic thrillers, Emmanuelle, along with her many clones, and sex comedies have now all been totally banned from UK TV.

Goodbye Emmanuelle.


February    No Question of a Ban...
Deep ThroatI Can you imagine how the British Government would react if BBC 2 proposed a late night showing of the uncut hardcore Deep Throat?

The classic film about a girl with her clitoris in her throat would surely cause the media minister to gag. Quickly followed by a torrent of censorial negativity.

But the very same proposal was put to the Dutch Media Minister and he answered in the affirmative. He said, via his spokesman, that the public broadcasters have 100% editorial freedom. There can be no question of a ban, and no investigation of this will be mounted either. The government also has no views on any programme, moral or otherwise.

The broadcast of the Gerard Damiano's 1972 adult sensation on Nederland 3 was given a little creditability by making it part of a late-night block of programming about the history of adult films. The movie was packaged with the documentary, Inside Deep Throat, followed the inevitable serious discussion with porn makers and academics.

In Britain we aren't even allowed to watch the film on dedicated adult channels.

But of course Britain isn't the only censorial country in the world. There are plenty of others that suffer from those claiming the moral high ground.

An interesting little issue arose in Germany. TV channel RTL 2 got into trouble for running supposedly pornographic ads on its teletext service during daytime hours.

The issue was picked up by the national organisation for protection of minors in the media, Kommission fuer Jugendmedienschutz. The regulator told RTL 2 to ban the daytime sex ads otherwise it would face fines.

It seems highly unlikely that teletext block diagrams could ever be construed as pornographic and surely the strongest sexual language would never be allowed. So probably the offending text was little different to phone sex ads found in the back pages of tabloid newspapers. Perhaps the censors would also like to get the watershed applied to the internet, or even to newspapers.

In fact the German regulator may like to consider a report from the international industry forum group, Deloitte. The report suggest that the online advertising industry should self-regulate and implement technology that would enable watersheds and restrict certain types of advertising, such as for alcoholic drinks.

Slippery slopes indeed.

The US has an ongoing issue with TV censorship. The latest problem dates back to 2003 when the ABC network showed a pre watershed scene in NYPD Blue featuring multiple views of a woman's naked buttocks.

The easily offended regulator, the FCC, fined ABC $1.4 million.The FCC claimed that "sexual or excretory activities" shown in an "offensive" way before the 10pm watershed are indecent.

The ABC stations have recently decided to appeal the fine on the clever grounds that buttocks are neither sexual nor excretory. Lawyers contend that the simple depiction of nonsexual nudity is not indecent by law or community standards.The ABC affiliates' appeal helpfully provides a detailed medical description of the buttocks, proving for the record, that the butt is neither a sexual nor an excretory organ.

China rarely gets a mention in this column as it is so censorial that there is simply nothing left to show that may be even be remotely considered as sexy.

However they have recently switched there attention to horror films. And with typical all encompassing rules, the censors of the General Administration of Press and Publications have announced new restrictions. They said: "Video and audio products often involve alien-looking characters and fictional storytelling, both specifically plotted for the sole purpose of terror". "Offending content includes, wronged spirits and violent ghosts, monsters, demons, and other inhuman portrayals, strange and supernatural storytelling"

"The purpose of the new regulations is to control and cleanse the negative effect these items have on society, and to prevent horror, violent, cruel publications from entering the market through official channels and to protect adolescents' psychological health".

Somehow I prefer to live in a country where psychological health is under continuous bombardment from sex and violence on TV.

Obviously I consider censorship as destructive but some censors argue that they have a very constructive role. One of the Nigerian censors recently stated that whilst Nigerian films are improving in terms of cinematography, costume, acting etc, there is still room for improvement in the areas of technicalities such as light recording, lighting, graphics, wrong grammar and spellings. The Censor stated that it is based on these flaws that the censor board insists on censorship of all movies in order to correct these mistakes before they are released to the public.

Good to know that censors can at least play a useful role as spell checkers.

I wonder what the Nigerian censors would make of Deep Throat? Perhaps they would attempt to correct the obvious technical error and helpfully get the clitoris relocated to its rightful location!


March    No Free Sex...
Babe ChannelThe UK satellite censor seems to be having a concerted campaign against all free to air sex.

Firstly, Ofcom targeted the Babe Channels. A couple of months later it put a stop to erotic thrillers. And now, Ofcom has complained about the 'free views' associated with adult subscription channels.

These free views are the promotions shown before encrypted programming. They are characterised by extravagant claims about the strength of material that subscribers will see once their have paid their fees. In reality the encrypted programming is strictly softcore. Careful wording allows the broadcasters to suggest that the channels are hotter that they really are, for instance, claiming that a channel is the "hottest in the UK". As no UK channels are allowed to be very hot at all, then the claim is "sort of" accurate even for a softcore channel.

These free views must be very important to the adult channels. It seems unlikely that word of mouth advertising brings in many new subscribers, so it is not surprising that free views become a bit of a hard sell for the adult broadcasters. This hard sell seems to have wound up Ofcom who published a series of adjudications against free views in its Broadcast Bulletin 103.

First up were the Red Hot channels. These are pay per view channels, and are listed in the adult section of the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). This should at least limit its viewers to those that know what they are expecting. Red Hot showed 10 minute free views at 10pm,11pm and midnight.

A complaint stated that the channel showed full nudity and used very strong language. Ofcom noted that the material included various sequences involving sexual activity, including a promotion called Rim Junkies, which showed men and women presenting their buttocks before their partners approached them from behind, as if about to lick.

Ofcom was easy going on the strong language which they said "was not particularly prominent, it appeared unlikely that it would have exceeded viewers' expectations of a channel found within the 'adult' section of the EPG".

However, Ofcom was concerned about the content of the Rim Junkies promotion. Ofcom claimed that while there was no explicit nudity, or actual contact between the actors, the whole segment had a graphic sexual element to it.

Ofcom concluded that it went beyond generally accepted standards of what is acceptable to broadcast free-to-air, even in a channel within the 'adult' section of the EPG.

Next Ofcom considered free views on the TVX channel, Fantasy 1. A complainant said the channel showed full nudity, simulated sex and contained strong language. The first free view was shown at 9:30pm.

Ofcom noted that the material included various sequences involving sexual activity, including one promotion called Man Bitch, which appeared to showcase aggressive sexual behaviour. It contained shots of men being stripped and ordered to perform sexual tasks.

The 'background' material in the promotions showed images of woman licking and touching each other and also licking dildos. These background images were very sexually suggestive and were in Ofcom's view inappropriate to be broadcast at 21:30 (so soon after the 21:00 watershed). Additionally, the strong language used in this self-promotion segment contained a very strong sexual element which was inappropriate for broadcast at 21:30.

Ofcom also said that the entire Man Bitch sequence was unacceptable for broadcast on a free-to-view channel, even one located in the adult section of the EPG.

Even the more restrained promotions for Sky's 18 Plus Movies offended Ofcom.

These pay per view channels appear in the adult section of the EPG. Late night trailers of film clips are broadcast without encryption. Ofcom received a complaint that the content of a free-to-view trailer showed explicit sexual scenes.

Ofcom said that they did not consider the content complained of to be adult- sex material (and hence it does not require PIN protection). However, while the trailer lasted only one minute forty seconds, it was shown on a loop between repeated listings information and the warning. Therefore the chance that viewers could come across the material unawares was increased.

Ofcom said that it accepted that a promotion for encrypted material within the adult sector of the EPG will contain a certain amount of sexual activity. Even though the individual shots lasted no more than a few seconds, the trailer included a number of portrayals of sexual intercourse. Although not very explicit, the frequency and nature of the images went beyond what was acceptable free-to-air.

And as if this current assault on sex on TV is not enough, Ofcom promised more:

"Ofcom has a number of other on-going investigations. These concern both encrypted and unencrypted channels in the adult section of the EPG. Ofcom strongly reminds all such channels that the broadcast of sexually explicit material within free-to-air content is not normally acceptable and that any breach of a similar nature in future is likely to result in consideration of further regulatory action".

So the state of UK adult TV is that there is no sex for free and there's not much more if you pay for it.


April    Safer Children...
UKCCIS logoWhat For the past few months, the TV censor Ofcom has been chipping away at sexy material on UK satellite. Unfortunately this month is no exception.

It was not so long ago that some of the major broadcasters were caught with their hands in the premium rate number pot. Ever since Ofcom have been taking a keen interest on TV companies who take their income from phone calls.

And the free to air Babe channels are in their sights. The babe channels are those where the scantily clad presenter tries to entice viewers to give her a ring on a premium rate number.

In a rather dramatic proposal, Ofcom have declared that there is no room for the Babe channels on UK TV.

Ofcom's proposed new Broadcasting Code rules state that:

* Where a premium rate number is used it must not be given undue prominence.
* The programme must consist primarily of content other than the promotion of the premium rates number.
* The primary purpose of the programme must be editorial, and any commercial activity associated with the premium rate number must be secondary.
* Broadcasters may only charge viewers via premium rate numbers and not by other means such as credit card or direct debit.

If adopted Babe channels will need to either:

* Ensure that they comply with the new Broadcasting Code rules and therefore remain classified as editorial services. Babe channels as currently broadcast will need to change significantly in order to comply.


* Be reclassified as teleshopping - subject to advertising minutage rules and the Advertising Standards Code enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority. However, services which fall into a prohibited advertising category, such as adult chat on unencrypted channels and psychic practices, cannot be broadcast as teleshopping. This means that, unless such services change to comply with the new Broadcasting Code rules, they can no longer be broadcast.

In reality the first option to remain on air is theoretical. The shoestring operations that typify Babe channels simply aren't large enough to generate meaningful programmes. So Babe channels will be closed if Ofcom's proposals are implemented.

Another report with potential for censorship was Dr Tanya Byron's review entitled Safer Children in a Digital World. Thankfully the report kept to its remit of video games and the internet.

As far as I can see there is nothing in the report that is immediately relevant to satellite TV. However Byron suggested some important future proofing to keep children safe from new developments and technology changes.

In particular she recommended a UK Council for Child Internet Safety. This will be supported with permanent staff, with responsibility for leading a child internet safety strategy across Government. All Government work focused on child internet safety would take place under the auspices of this strategy.

She recommends that the UK Council be chaired jointly by Ministers from Home Office and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. In developing the Council they should put in place arrangements which reflect the need for a joined-up Government approach to children and young peoples' safety online.

The Council will be set tasks such as investigating where the law defining harmful and inappropriate material could be usefully clarified and exploring appropriate enforcement responses. The council will also make recommendations about parental control issues.

So how does this new internet body tie in with satellite or cable TV. Well the answer lies with Internet TV. The new council will certainly consider such issues as how internet downloaded programmes are rated and how children should be protected via parental control such as PIN codes.

Now if such a high ranking body dictates the official regulation of films & TV programmes via the internet, then surely these will have to be adopted for satellite and cable TV.

The Byron report has surely created a new powerful censorship body that will have a large impact on adult TV in Britain.

With all this gloom on the censorship front I thought it woud be good lighten up with a few diverse recommendations for good porn to look out for.

The 3rd annual Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto came up with the following award winners for 2008

* Best Educational Title: Tristan Taormino's Expert Guide to Oral Sex
* Hottest Dyke Film: Crash Pad Series Volume 1
* Sexiest Straight Film: My Sex The First Sessions
* Best Bi Scene: Female Fantasies
* Most Tantalizing Trans Film & Deliciously Diverse Cast: Trans Entities: The Nasty Love of Papi' and Wil
* Hottest Kink Film: Bondage Boob Tube
* Sexiest Short: Want
* Movie of the Year: Five Hot Stories for Her

Of course I don't suppose that many of these goodies will be shown on any of the UK channels. We have far too many censors for that. With new censors on the horizon, and with Ofcom getting stricter by the month, things aren't looking good.


May    X Dreams...
Ofcom logoDisappointment is the theme of the month. The Adult Channel's brave foray into the world of hardcore seems to have petered out. Tired old cut down hardcore has returned to the airwaves.

It is even more disappointing when there seemed to be a gain of momentum in the move to hardcore. Especially when Playboy joined in with an evening of hardcore girl on girl action. There are still a couple of hardcore glimpses from time to time on Sport XXX and I have also been told that TVX has recently featured glimpses of erections and oral sex.

I have been following the ups and downs of UK hardcore for the past few weeks but have not really worked out why the Channels experimental with a little hardcore and the promptly stop again shortly afterwards. One rather suspects that it is a quiet word from the regulator Ofcom but there seems to be little published to confirm this.

A colleague inquired to Ofcom about policy but the response showed little optimism for a rapid confirmation of any rules change. The following response was received

"Adult services have been allowed on cable and satellite services for a decade now. They include programming more explicit than would be allowed on free-to-air or basic package channels. Much of the programming is cut down hardcore. Our research indicates, however, that public opinion does not favour a move to wholly explicit programming of the sort now available in 'R18'-rated videos. These videos are available only in licensed sex shops, and the broadcasters have to respect the law on this matter".

"So a balance is struck between the legitimate wishes of adults to see sex programming and concerns over child protection. Broadcasting is not obviously suited to providing material otherwise available only in a hundred or so specialist shops where access by children can be easily policed. Even where encryption and other security measures can be applied, the wide distribution of the most explicit material must be a significant issue".

I am hoping that Ofcom are merely preferring to wait until this summer's public consultation before actually relaxing their controls on hardcore. I can guess that they do not want to be seen to be bullied into change.

Still, we won't let this reversion to softcore get us down here at Satellite X. Instead we'll just vote with our wallets and go in search of the real McCoy on the more liberated satellites of continental Europe.

The competition is intense in the European market and several new channels have recently appeared at the cheaper end of the market. To get a sense of perspective I opted to research into the InXworld package.

The three channel package is widely advertised at around the 60 mark for a 12 month subscription. A snip compared with the outlay required for a years worth of softcore on The Adult Channel.

The channels included are Free-X TV, X-Dream TV and Back Room. All are 24 hour services to be found on the 12.207MHz transponder of Hotbird. Irdeto is the encryption system for the package but the channels are individually available in other bespoke encryption options.

Free-X TV has been going for some time on the basis of a indefinite subscription for a one off payment. The programming is clearly cheap but the programme buyers are competent and put on a good service for the money. There is a good variety of genres with perhaps a little too much US material. Films do repeat but there is a long cycle. They generally show about 20 different features in a 24 hour period.
Programme details are available on their web site at

X-Dream TV has recently replaced a channel called X4U-TV. I don't know whether X-Dream TV is a 'new' channel or just a re-branding exercise resulting from previous poor audience appreciation. Unsurprisingly the programming is again cheap but unfortunately is not so well considered as Free-X TV. There is an over-reliance on American material especially my least favourite genre of compilation films. However, there are a few worthwhile films to be watched.On the whole the channel comes off badly when competing with other channels. X-Dream TV has a cycle of about 8 shorts and films repeated every 6 hours. There is a programme guide on the Internet at

The third element in the package is the gay channel Back Room. I prefer to leave opinions on the quality of programming to those that better appreciate the genre but will at least note that the video quality doesn't suggest the highest of budgets.

At a monthly cost of 5 the InXworld package doesn't really compete with some of my more expensive subscriptions but at least it positively contributes to my channel hopping list.


June    Appointment with Fear...
amdracula.jpgAppointment with Fear was the banner for a long running film slot many years ago on ITV. I would be glued to the TV each Friday night from 10:30pm. The film schedulers did a great job with a back catalogue of horror films featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and many others.

I can't recall exactly how old I was when I started watching these delights, but I am guessing about 12 years old. It would always add to the enjoyment to think this was all adults only, X rated horror.

Of course the best of the bunch was the 1958 Hammer production of Dracula. A truely classic vampire tale totally unsuitable for a 12 year old...Or was it?

Well actually Dracula is now officially rated as '12A' by the BBFC. This means that accompanied children of any age can watch the film at the cinema with just a recommendation that it is suitable for viewers aged 12 and over.

The censors at the BBFC explained their reasoning: "It was originally classified 'X' for cinema release in 1958 (meaning at the time that viewers had to be 16 or over) and was subsequently classified '15' for release on video. In terms of current classification standards it was felt that the film could now be classified at '12A' for cinema re-release for mild bloody horror".

"BBFC Guidelines at '12A' state that 'Violence must not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood. Sustained moderate threat and menace are permitted'. Although the film contains some sight of blood (most notably when a vampire is killed using a stake) , there is no emphasis upon blood and injuries. Furthermore, although the film is atmospheric and generates some sense of threat, this is moderate in nature and distanced by the period setting and by the familiarity of the story, other versions of which have been classified at 'PG'"

Another example of reduced age restriction is George A Romero's 1968 zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead. It had always been rated as adults only, from it cinema release right up until 2006. But by 2007 the censors duly obliged and downgraded the certificate to a 15.

Horror is not the only genre to benefit from less age restrictions. Dirty Harry is the classic 1971 police film starring Clint Eastwood as the maverick detective investigating a serial killer. It was classified 'X 'in 1971 for cinema and '18' on video in 1992. It has now been reclassified at '15'.

Again the BBFC explain their reasoning: "The principal defining issue in the film is the strong violence. The killer is stabbed in the leg by Callaghan and there is some blood visible as he pulls the knife from his leg; shortly afterwards there is a scene where Callaghan stamps on the man's wounded leg to force information from him. The shot is very brief and much more is suggested than actually shown. A subsequent scene, where the killer pays a man to beat him up in order to frame Callaghan, shows the bloody results of the beating but all the blows are completely masked. Under current Guidelines, violence at the '15' level may be strong but may not dwell on detail and this exactly describes the level of the violence in Dirty Harry".

Life has never been so complex as in modern times, so perhaps it is good for people to have a few simple crutches to lean on. Blaming the influence of the media for all the world's ills is surely impossibly simplistic. But what the hell, if it makes people feel good then perhaps it helps.

The new London Mayor, Boris Johnson, must surely feel that hes has contributed to resolving London's knife crime problem by blaming the media. He claimed: "I want to counteract the damaging influences drug-addled celebrities and violent video games and the lure of the life in the gang by providing opportunities".

I wonder how many people actually think that if Britain were to ban violent video games, then it would have any measurable effect on knife crime.

Similarly a spate of teenage pregnancies in America were blamed on the movies, Juno and Knocked Up. If the US were to ban all movies featuring pregnancy, how many people think this would really have any effect whatsoever on the number of teenage pregnancies.

But at least it is good to know that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing vampire films are no longer in the firing line for blame.

In fact with an advisory 12A rating, one could almost say that Hammer's classic Dracula is now considered a 'family' film.


July    Chilling Effect
CRB Vetted onlyI always remember a business conference I attended a few years ago in Orlando, Florida. For an evening's entertainment I suggested a visit to a local lap dancing bar. I was a little surprised when some of my colleagues opted out on the grounds that it could jeopardise their security clearance.

What perfect self censorship. Anything the slightest bit naughty and people choose to abstain.

I don't suppose that such high levels of security clearance apply to many people. And those that are affected, know exactly what they are undertaking.

However there is now a possibility that vetting may soon have a chilling effect on millions more people. In particular, viewers of porn and horror films may be affected.

The Government recently announced an extension to the vetting of adults who work with children. More than one in four adults in England will have to register with child protection authorities next year. Anyone working or volunteering with young people or vulnerable adults will have to register. The government estimates 11.3 million people will go on the database.

All well and good so far...But further details about the scheme reveal that one criterion for failing the vetting process is:

"Conduct involving sexually explicit images depicting violence against human beings, if it appears to the vetters that the conduct is inappropriate".

Images are defined as those produced by any means, whether of a real or imaginary subject. So this includes anime, cartoons, art, satellite TV channels, DVDs, internet downloads etc. These images can be adult, consensual and staged, yet they still qualify as a danger to ones vetting. For example Hentai anime, BDSM videos, and sexy vampire movies easily fit the definition resulting in a failed vetting.

Who'd be a teacher or a bus driver when ones career is always at risk from such potentially trivial reasons. And no doubt, "better safe than sorry" will trump any "benefit of the doubt" when it comes to deciding whether images are considered 'inappropriate'.

But this is only half the story. There seems to be an international effort to ensure that ages are verified before people are allowed to view adult content. For example, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) have set up scheme so that their certificates can be used for films viewed via the internet.

Websites will have to use an approved method of verifying age before allowing viewing. The first approved technology comes from a company called NetIDme, Rather worryingly it seems to verify ID by requiring personal data sufficient to run a mini credit check.

It definitely seems robust enough to do the job of age verification but it seems a little dangerous to completely identify oneself when downloading hardcore pornography.

No doubt both NetIDme and film websites will guarantee data protection. But this will be near worthless should the police or vetting agencies enquire. The protection of children will always trump the protection of data.

So there seems a real danger that anyone watching for example a fake 'schoolgirl' spanking movie could easily find themselves banned from working anywhere near children.

But the even greater danger is that people will be aware that the authorities could be watching what they watch. They won't really know exactly how the authorities interpret'inappropriate' conduct. And so the only option is to play it safe and self censor.

People will end up saying to themselves: "Sorry I can't watch porn. One day I many need vetting for a job with children".

On a related issue, the TV censors Ofcom, have just specified the rules for website links shown on licensed TV channels.

After reviewing the promotion of website links on Red Hot TV and TVX ofcom concluded that:

- Before the 9pm watershed, no adult website links are allowed at all.

- After the 9pm watershed, links to web pages related to the broadcast channel are allowed. But only if all hardcore content is protected by physical age verification, ie not just self certification.

For years UK adult TV has been characterised as softcore promoted with misleading suggestions that it is hardcore. Who is going to trust these very same companies with their credit card details without seeing some hardcore trailers first?

Ofcom and the BBFC seem to be stacking the odds against UK adult companies even before Internet TV has had a chance to establish itself. It seems so impractical to expect website readers to type in verification details just to have a quick look around a website.

It will be so much safer to use foreign websites where ID checks are not stashed away in databases and there is an openness about the material on offer. This openness tends to give confidence that people will get what they are expecting should they decide to make a purchase.

People have always been coy about watching porn perhaps in fear of what the neighbours might say. Very soon they may have to start worrying more about what the government might say.


August    Censor Malfunctions
FCC logoSurely one the most notable episodes of TV censorship of recent times was Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl. The seemingly pre-arranged 'surprise' exposure of Jackson's nipple inspired an almost unstoppable storm of outrage amongst America's moral majority.

The US TV censor, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) responded to the pressure and the broadcasters suffered unprecedented fines totaling $550,000.

The broadcaster,CBS, was a little miffed at the fine, particularly as they considered that nipple slip wasn't really their fault. They have been fighting their case in the courts ever since.

In fact CBS had a very strong case. They simply noted the FFC's responsibilities, firstly to produce censorship guidelines and secondly to enforce them. By suddenly upping the fines for so called 'fleeting indecency', CBS argued that the FCC had effectively failed in its first responsibility to inform the broadcasters of the censorship rules.

After several years of legal arguments, CBS won their case. The United States Court of Appeals recently cleared CBS of any wrongdoing for airing the Super Bowl Halftime Show and its infamous wardrobe malfunction. The court overturned the $550,000 fine, calling it arbitrary and capricious.

The judges found that the fine was unfair because the FCC deliberately strayed from its practice of exempting fleeting indecency in broadcast programming from punishment. The commission also erred by holding CBS responsible for the actions of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, who were characterized by the judges as independent contractors hired for the limited purposed of the Halftime Show.

Like any agency, the FCC may change its policies without judicial second-guessing, the court said: "But it cannot change a well-established course of action without supplying notice of and a reasoned explanation for its policy departure".

But that was not the end of the story for the FCC. The ill judged Super Bowl fines had tarnished the reputation of the FCC and previous FCC bosses were not pleased. A trio of former FCC chairmen joined forces to ask the Supreme Court to strip the FCC of its power to regulate indecency entirely. They argued that the FCC was on a "Victorian crusade" that hurts broadcasters, viewers and the Constitution.

They continued that the commission has radically expanded the definition of indecency beyond its original conception; magnified the penalties for even minor, ephemeral images or objectionable language; and targeted respected television programs, movies and even noncommercial documentaries.

The US TV censors haven't been sacked yet, but they surely can't be feeling very secure.

Unfortunately is seems that the UK TV censors, Ofcom, have been learning from the FCC's mistakes. They are surely on a "Victorian crusade" that hurts broadcasters, viewers and human rights. But they play by the book and don't look be in danger of the sack anytime soon.

In particular they are continuing to target UK adult channel's with an ongoing campaign of fines and restrictions. Ofcom recently fined TVX 25,000 for straying into hardcore R18 territory during their PIN protected and encrypted programming.

Ofcom were investigating a complaint about a live 'babe' programme after 10pm which featured two naked female presenters engaging in very explicit sexual acts.

TVX immediately accepted that part of the live programme was the equivalent of R18-rated hardcore material which Ofcom ban under Rule 1.25 of their Programme Code.There was also a related offence of being too explicit during a free to air preview promoting the same programme.

In Ofcom's view, the breaches were sufficiently serious that the case should be referred to the Sanctions Committee for consideration of a statutory fine of 25,000.

Compared with the US censors, Ofcom are fastidious in enforcing their brand of censorship. Their Programme Code is very clear on the subject of satellite sex: Rule 1.25, Thou shalt not broadcast R18 hardcore material at any time.

Ofcom have been warning adult channels that they will impose fines for explicit material for some time. They were very carfeul to explain the TVX transgressions in great detail. Then when they decided to impose fines, they very carefully weighed up the offence against previous fines to ensure that the amount would be considered proportionate to the offence.

Unlike the FCC, there is no apparent way that Ofcom will ever get picked up by a Judicial Review of their censorship process. But one has to wonder how they got away with their prohibition on hardcore in the first place, particularly as they admitted that they had no proof of the harm that broadcasting hardcore would cause.

The UK adult broadcasters must be ruing the day when they let Ofcom establish their no hardcore rule without even an attempt to challenge it.

It seems that outlook for UK adult TV is very soft indeed.


September    An Orgy of Uncut Delights
The Last House on the LeftThe TV censor has been giving viewers a hard time of late with ever tightening rules forbidding adult entertainment.

However the film censor seems moving in the opposite direction and inches ever closer to the ideal that adults can choose their own entertainment without undue interference form the state.

Thankfully decisions made by the viewer friendly film censor often trump those of the TV censor.

There are three particularly iconic films to look out for in the coming weeks or months. 'Caligula', 'Salo' and 'Last House on the left' have all tormented the censors over the last few years and they are all now being released perfectly uncut.

'The Last House on the Left' is a 1972 US horror film by Wes Craven. This was one of his early works before he became well known for 'Nightmare on Elm Street'.In the film a couple of teenage girls foolishly stop off on the way to a party to score some joints. Unfortunately they are accosted, terrorised and assaulted by the monstrous Krug and his gang of thugs.

The film wound up the film censors, the BBFC, in 1974 and was promptly banned from the cinema. A video release in the early 80s got banned as one of the notorious video nasties. The distributors tried again for a cinema release in 2000, but again the censors banned it. The film did make it around the arts circuit of members only cinema clubs though. The video was again banned in 2001.

By this time the censors were starting to ease up a bit, and they relented on a resubmission and offered a video release with cuts. The distributors weren't happy with the cuts and appealed that the cuts were excessive. It didn't do them much good though. In 2002 the Appeal Board were aghast and decided that the video should be cut even more than the BBFC asked for in the first place.

It is rather remarkable then, that this year the BBFC passed the video totally uncut and it shouldn't be long before it gets released to satellite/cable TV.

The next film with a long censorship history is 'Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom'. It is a 1975 Italian/French film by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It is based on an infamous de Sade novel but the setting has been moved to that of Italian war time Fascists.

It first came to the attention of the BBFC when it was rejected for a cinema certificate in 1976. The censors cited grounds of gross indecency.

Again the film was released to members only cinema clubs. But first 6 minutes were cut by chief censor James Ferman who removed coprophagia, the extreme violence at the end of the film, and certain elements of homosexual behaviour that were believed to be vulnerable to prosecution. He also added a 4 minute on-screen prologue to legally 'explain' the context of Mussolini's regime at Salo and the writings of the Marquis de Sade.

The DVD was actually passed uncut in 2000 but it is now being re-released this year. The censor explained: "The BBFC considered that although the film was undeniably - and intentionally - shocking, it did not contain anything that would 'deprave and corrupt' viewers - the basic test of the Obscene Publications Act".

"In fact, Salo's purpose and its likely effect on viewers seemed to be quite the opposite. In the Board's view, the film depicted its events in a cold, detached and ritualised style, deliberately removing any hint of titillation. The film also mirrored de Sade's verbose literary style, alienating the viewer through its repetitions. Although the film contained many disturbing scenes, the Board agreed that its intention was to deliberately shock and appall audiences at the evil of fascism and to vividly illustrate the idea that 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'".

'Caligula' is a 1980 US/Italian film by Tinto Brass. Starring Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud, it is a rather outrageous epic about the worst excesses of the Roman Empire. It has been around on the British market for some time in a suitably tame version. But in fact the producers had decided to add to the film's notoriety by inserting some hardcore orgy scenes (the major stars were not made aware of this at the time).

The BBFC have now passed this hardcore version of 'Caligula' as 18 uncut. The BBFC explained:
"In 2008, the full uncut version of Caligula was resubmitted to the BBFC for DVD release. The passage of nearly 30 years had significantly diminished the film's impact and after careful consideration it was decided that it could now be classified '18' uncut".

"Although there are scenes in Caligula that some people will find shocking, offensive or disgusting, the film does not contain any material that is illegal in terms of current UK law and nor does it contain any material that is likely to give rise to harm for adults audiences, most of whom will be well aware of its controversial reputation".

Note that the video was given an 18 certificate rather than the usual R18 given for hardcore sex scenes. This means that theoretically it should be ok to show late at night on satellite/cable TV.

In fact in an interview with the Independent newspaper, the BBFC said: "Given that Caligula is a film of historical interest, we felt we could pass it [18] uncut."

The justification of "historical interest" sounds useful. Surely 'Deep Throat', 'The Devil in Miss Jones' and 'Debbie Does Dallas' are equally deserving. Perhaps one day soon we could get some hardcore classics on UK TV.


October    Moralising
Andy BurnhamTV gets more than its fair share of blame for all the world's ills. It is never far from the firing line whenever there is a social problem that needs fixing.

There seems little actual evidence that highly censored TV makes for a better society. Countries where people are rich, free and able to enjoy life are invariably less censored than those where people are poor, violent or repressed.

But this generality does not seem to bother those that call for bans or cuts to support their own brands of personal morality. And in the last months the moralisers have been out in force.

The banning of junk food advertising in children's programmes is a good example. It seems that more or less everything that is enjoyable to eat is now classed as junk food and therefore should be banned. Presumably this is a good ideal for kids health, but it would be interesting to know if it is making any measurable improvement. But there is also a downside. The loss of revenue to commercial TV channels is causing them to make deep cuts in their children's programme budgets.

Presumably good quality children's drama will then be replaced by mind numbing cartoons, no doubt to the detriment of children's development.

Alcohol is another example of moralising censorship. Who'd have thought that wine loving France would be leading the way towards extreme moral censorship of alcohol?

It all started in 1991 with the Evin Law. This was enacted to control the advertising of wine and spirits. The law limited advertising to showing a product, naming the place where it was made, how it was made and how it should be consumed.

The rationale for the law was the high rate of deaths in France that could be attributed to alcohol. One has to wonder about wider issues should alcohol use actually decline. It may be that people end up with less social interaction with their family and community. Less family gatherings, less chats down the pub. It could have all sorts of social consequences many of which could be very negative indeed.

A series of court judgemental has been pushing the extent of this Evin Law to ludicrous extremes. A court ruled that newspaper and magazine articles on wine must contain health warnings. We're not talking about advertising, but journalistic pieces..

That same court ruled that wine and beer cannot be advertised on the Internet where children may see. Many French drinks companies have now blocked their websites to access from France. What is even more bizarre, is that alcohol related sites (not just advertising) are required to follow watershed rules.

Our very own campaigning moraliser, John Beyer of Mediawatch-UK, has also been picking up on the idea of imposing a 9pm watershed on the internet. He seems to think that it is somehow not right that people can watch grown up BBC programmes via the iPlayer website anytime of day. Perhaps next he will be pushing for DVD technology where adult DVDs will only play after a certain time.

Thankfully few people take much notice of Mediawatch-UK. But it does get a little worrying when the government broadcasting minister starts to echo some of the same concerns.

The minister in charge of broadcasting, Andy Burnham, said that he wanted online content to meet the same taste and decency standards required for television and the cinema.

Burnham also pointed to the example of the BBC iplayer which carries content warnings on post watershed programmes but which can be viewed any time of day.

He said: With the 9pm watershed, parents had complete clarity about the content. But with the internet, parents are ensure about what is appropriate and what isn't. We have to start talking more seriously about standards and regulation on the internet.

He continued that he would like to tighten up online content and services and lighten up some regulatory burdens around the TV industry.

I have waxed lyrical about Zone Horror several times in this column but a reader wrote to me to complain about the censorship during its pre watershed hours.

He complained of their much self-hyped showing of the TV series Millennium. In particular them showing very heavily censored versions of every episode. A mass of the more grisly footage has been shorn away, resulting in scene confusion, shortened dialogue exchanges, sloppy jump cuts and even phrases like "Son of a bitch" having "bitch" muted.

He continued that for all of the positive aspects of the channel, like uncut showings of certain films and even non-BBFC approved films, their insistence on showing edited for daytime versions of other films and the cutting of other TV series like Tales form the Crypt is annoying and bewildering.

Surely this watershed issue will become more important as Internet TV options expand. It seems commercially uncompetitive for 15 out of 18 waking hours on TV to be devoted to programming suitable for kids. How many adults would prefer something a little more exciting on TV than some of the daytime programming we have now?

Internet TV will clean up, if you will excuse the pun.


November    A Festival of Complaints
Russell Brand ShowTimes are tough for those that enjoy adult entertainment. Britain's moral high grounders seem to be getting the upper hand.

The TV Censor, Ofcom, is continuing to impose stringent conditions on any free to air sex. The latest tirade was aimed at Bang Babes on the channels Tease Me and Tease Me 2.

Ofcom have invented a new 10pm watershed before anything remotely naughty can be seen on the babe channels. Ofcom chastised Bang Babes: "The prolonged and close-up full-screen shots of the presenter stimulating and massaging her bare breasts, pinching her nipples and shaking them to camera, were in Ofcom's opinion highly sexualised and not suitable for broadcast before 22:00".

Ofcom also took a swipe at LivexxxBabes: "The presenters were wearing thongs and while they thrust their bottoms towards the camera there were a few, brief occasions when their anal areas were shown in intrusive detail. This, in Ofcom's opinion, was so revealing as to be offensive and in breach of generally accepted standards on a free-to-air channel".

But of course it is not just the specialist channels that are under fire. The edgy humour typified by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross recently seemed to get half the country on their back. Their telephone teasing of Andrew Sachs and his grand daughter surely caused a few rolling heads at the BBC.

Andrew Newman head of comedy and entertainment at Channel 4 put the incident in good perspective. He said:

"A new type of complaint has recently emerged that is becoming a cultural touchstone in its own right. Where a really complained-about show normally gets a few hundred calls, the hyper-complained-about can get near to 50,000. Many of the shows in the fame/shame list gained the dubious accolade of being the most complained about of their time by getting a positively scrawny number of letters and calls by comparison".

"With what now seems a measly 992, Brass Eye was the ITC's second most-complained about programme ever and Queer As Folk managed to get into the top 10 with only 163. By contrast, what we've witnessed with Brand and Ross is a national event, a festival of complaint".

The opportunities arising from the Russell Brand incident was too good for the press and politicians to pass up on. Newspaper surveys now abound claiming too much strong language, or too much violence, or too much of whatever else came to mind.

And as for the politicians, there have never been so many reports, committees and speeches targetted supposedly at the protection of children. The government have set up enforcement agencies and invented new censors, all in the name watching what we watch on TV and of course on the modern demon known as the internet.

And should any satellite X viewers think of diverting their fantasies to the real world, then don't forget that the Government are committing to banning real world adult entertainment too. They have announced measures to criminalise the buying of sex and even want to crack down on the more innocent pastime of watching strippers.

So what can we do?

Perhaps the Australian's have a good idea. They are launching a political party aptly named the Sex Party.It even has a catchy slogan: "We're serious about sex".

It is initially being organised by the Australian adult trade association known as Eros. The chief executive, Fiona Patten, points out some of the advantages of operating in conjunction with the adult trade. There are a 1000 or so adult shops around the country which could become Sex Party branches. And of course mail shots from online and offline adult shops would be an ideal way to distribute political notices and fliers etc.

And for a little bit more inspiration this is what the Sex Party say they stand for:

"Sex is a wonderful thing. It's the reason we were born. It's responsible for a heck of a lot of pleasure and fulfillment in life. Also, the basis of much art, fashion and music. It entertains us, enthralls us, and mystifies us. Because its such a fundamental need of human beings, it conditions much of our behaviour. And then politicians go and legislate that behaviour".

"The Australian Sex Party is a political response to the sexual needs of Australia in the 21st century. It is an attempt to restore the balance between sexual privacy and sexual publicity that has been severely distorted by morals campaigners and prudish politicians".

"If you're sick of religious and anti-sex politicians vote for someone who understands. Vote for the Sex Party".

What do you reckon?...would the idea work in Britain?


December    I Don't Believe in Censorship...But
BBFC logoIn Why is it that people who promote censorship will so often prefix their censorial action with the phrase: "I Don't Believe in Censorship...BUT".

Even the film censors themselves don't like to describe themselves as censors. Many years ago the British Board of Film Censors renamed themselves as film classifiers. Of course this renaming does nothing to diminish their enthusiasm to censor films. The BBFC generally cut around 25% of all 18 rated DVDs and about 30% of R18 rated DVDs. And of course there are thousands of small market films that never get a British release because the censorship fees cut too deeply into the likely profits.

Australian censors seem equally keen to censor hardcore films and they also ban mainstream computer games that the rest of the civilised world pass with an 18 certificate. Many famous and popular games find themselves on the Australian banned list. Yet predictably, the Australian censor names itself as the Classification Board.

The Irish censor is currently refusing to give certificates to hardcore pornography. As there are about the same number of porn films as there are mainstream films, then simple mathematics reveals that 50% of all films are banned in Ireland. But just last year Ireland decided to rename the Irish Film Censorship Office as the Irish Film Classification Office.

Film censors are not the only organisations that are guilty of hiding behind misleading names. The British TV censor, Ofcom, always refers to itself as a regulator rather than a censor. Yet because they ban hardcore films from UK screens, they are effectively censoring half the films ever made.

Not only do Ofcom have a reluctance to use the word 'censor' they have also recently developed a reluctance to be categoric about what they are censoring.

In a recent complaints bulletin, Ofcom considered the case of a Scottish media mogul and DJ who made a bad taste joke. While introducing the song Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. He quipped: "Barack Obama's favourite song. Your Mum's got a big black hole, son".

In their decision Ofcom wrote:

"Ofcom noted the broadcaster's response that, although completely ill advised and regrettable, the comment was not intended by the presenter to cause offence. Ofcom also noted the apologies made by the presenter".

"Ofcom does not assess whether behaviour or language is racist; this is a matter for relevant authorities. However, Ofcom does require that generally accepted standards are applied in radio programmes. It is concerned that this comment, which clearly is potentially offensive on the grounds of race, had been included in a broadcast without due consideration for the way it may have been interpreted by listeners and without any apology within the programme itself. Ofcom concluded that the comment was not justified by the context and breached generally accepted standards".

To paraphrase, Ofcom do not assess racist comments...BUT...they do assess 'potential' racist comments and censor accordingly.

Another bizarre decision about 'potential' offence is from Ofcom's complaints bulletin about Scott Mills on Radio 1.

A listener complained about an item called Badly Bleeped TV. This is a regular feature in which extracts from TV or radio are played with words bleeped out. The words themselves are later revealed as being not offensive. However, the remaining beginning and ending sounds of the words give the impression that the bleep is masking an offensive word, or create the beginning and end sound of an offensive word on either side of the bleep.

On this occasion 'fated to meet' was bleeped to suggest 'f****d' and 'fantastic' was bleeped to suggest 'f**k'.

Ofcom decided that in relation to the second word in the broadcast, Ofcom noted that the beginning and end sounds of the bleeped word were 'f' at the beginning, and a strong 'ck' after the bleep. This was played twice and clearly - for all intents and purposes - sounded like the word 'f**k'.

Ofcom found that, by broadcasting a word that had been purposefully edited to sound identical to the word 'f**k', the programme was in breach of the Code in that the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed or when children are particularly likely to be listening.

So even when no strong language existed in the first place Ofcom censor, and even though any 'obscenity was in the ear of the listener', then Ofcom still censored it.

It is all reminiscent of the US judge who said he couldn't define obscenity, "but I know it when I see it". Perhaps a modern day equivalent is: "I can't define obscenity, but I potentially think I know when I see it".


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