mediawatch-uk comments on the Home Office Consultation Paper on the Regulation of R18 Videos


he international trade in pornography has grown in recent years to such an extent that some companies are now listed on the international stock market and in some countries the profits are taxed and contribute to the national economy. Pornographers have not only invested in video production but also in cable and satellite TV companies. Whilst it is true that most of these channels are encrypted and available only on subscription, the overall effect has been a general increase in indecent and pornographic imagery in contemporary television programming. In the last few years the schedules of the five British terrestrial channels have included many programmes which have featured sexually explicit imagery. The Independent Television Commission in the same period has granted licences to a number of pornographic cable and satellite channels that are listed in their Annual Report. Channel 5 TV has a seasonal weekly series entitled 'X-Certificate' which reviews the latest pornographic movie releases. 'VIDS', in its own raucous and coarse style, on Channel 4 TV, also reviews the latest video releases but these are not confined to pornographic material.

In its short history Channel 5 TV has gained a reputation for screening sleazy programming. It has been criticised by the ITC and by the Broadcasting Standards Commission with little effect. It was, perhaps, predictable that a senior executive at Channel 5 TV is calling for British television to be allowed to show hardcore pornography. Adam Perry is reported to have said that Britain is in an illogical and possibly indefensible position. He asserted that hardcore pornography would be available on British television by 2003. His justification was significant: "At the moment, the BBFC guidelines on R18 videos allow scenes of penetration. Ultimately, in two or three years time, this will lead to hardcore pornography in specialist subscription services. It already happens in Europe: you subscribe to it and it is encrypted and it has pin protection so that kids can't see it." (The Independent 21/8/2000)


hilst the growth in sales of pornographic magazines has stabilised the accelerating take up of digital television has increased subscriptions to channels offering "erotic" and pornographic programming. (These can be accessed in relative secrecy and the risk of being seen visiting seedy sex shops is avoided.) In these circumstances it is common sense that children can and do gain access to these channels in households that subscribe. Indeed, the Director of this Association, when speaking to a mixed class of 11-year-old children, discovered that two of the boys had been viewing "women with no clothes on" on German and Swedish Satellite TV channels. Other children in the class volunteered that they had seen videoworks classified '18'.

We strongly recommend that the Government, either through the Home Office or the Department of Education and Employment, conducts an urgent survey among primary and secondary schools to establish how many children have seen or have access to '18' and 'R18' videoworks and /or pornographic TV channels either in their own home or at friends homes.

It is particularly important to include '18' videoworks because the BBFC has already classified sexually explicit films, such as 'Romance', and another French film, entitled 'Rape Me', offering, according to press reports, 90 minutes of almost non-stop hardcore sex and violence is set to be released in Britain soon. (Observer 9/7/2000).


t is well known that paedophiles, and other adults, use pornography to disarm children who they wish to abuse. Video is a very easy medium to use in this regard. It is noteworthy that Frederick and Rosemary West used pornography in the commissioning of their gruesome crimes. 99 pornographic videos were found in their house in Cromwell Street, Gloucester. (Daily Mail 24/10/95). It is not without significance that Frederick West is reported to have obtained hardcore sex videos from a sex shop around the corner from his former home. (Sunday Express 21/5/2000).

How widespread this practice has become in Britain is difficult to establish without research. A study presented to the Canadian Federal Department of Justice as long ago as 1983 revealed that 87% of those who molest girls and 77% of those who molest boys admitted to the regular use of hardcore pornography. (A Report on the Use of Pornography by Sexual Offenders. Dr William Marshall)

The Director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Mr Jim Harding, said at the launch of their Annual Report in March 1990

"Pornography is often used to entice other youngsters into child sex abuse. Children will be shown pornography involving other children so that they can be told it might be alright because other children do it and seem to enjoy it".

Moreover, the NSPCC published a report in February 1996 warning that thousands of children are falling victim to pornography, prostitution and organised sex abuse. Girls as young as five are being sexually abused by male relatives and made to take part in pornographic videos during childhood.

Valerie Howarth, the director of Childline said that 78 children had talked about pornography in calls over a six-month period. Of these 32 talked about sexual abuse linked to either being shown pornographic magazines or videos or becoming involved in the making of abuse videos. (Daily Telegraph 16/2/1996).
In January 1997 it was reported that police in Brussels had raided the homes of about 60 paedophiles. Investigating judges across Belgium had ordered searches during which 1000 videos were seized. (The Times 10/1/1997).


n April 1990 Catherine Itzen interviewed Ray Wyre for her book 'Pornography - Women Violence and Civil Liberties' published by Oxford University Press in 1992. We reproduce here part of what he said:

"One reason why pornography is incredibly dangerous is because 97% of all rape stories in pornography end with the woman changing her mind and having orgasms and being represented as enjoying rape. Sex offenders use this kind of pornography to justify and legitimate what they do. It provides them with an excuse and a reason for doing what they do …"

"I have little doubt that there are men who in reading pornography will acquire ideas that they will put into practice. The ideas are initiated by pornography.

"Pornography is used in initiating sexual abuse in a variety of ways. It is used to show children that other children do it, as a way of getting children to talk about sex. Sex offenders use ordinary 'soft' pornography to trap children and get them interested in it.

"Many men see pornography and don't necessarily go out and abuse: though we are now discovering that the level of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse is much higher than we ever knew it to be….

"The men who offend are 'ordinary' men from every walk of life. What pornography does is create a climate of thought and belief which influences attitudes towards woman and children which is endemic in our society".

In December 1993 a large-scale survey of British schools concluded that tens of thousands of schoolchildren, some as young as eight, are offered explicit material (on computer floppy disks) in classrooms and playgrounds. (Sunday Times 5/12/93).

It is nothing short of a national scandal that such evidence has been available for so long and legislative action to criminalise the showing of hardcore pornographic material (and only hardcore rather than the whole range) to children is only now being contemplated.

It is obvious that those who set out with the deliberate intention of corrupting the innocence of children can do so not only with 'R18' videoworks but also with imagery that can be accessed and downloaded from web sites. A number of prosecutions against people who have downloaded child pornography have achieved considerable publicity in recent months. Since pornographic imagery is readily accessible on the Internet it is plainly not sufficient to take action only against 'R18' videoworks. The scope of Government action must therefore be broader than the limited action proposed against 'R18' videoworks.


his Association agrees with the Consultation Paper that the actual content of 'R18' videoworks has become more explicit. Any objective comparison with material available in 1984, when the Video Recordings Act came into effect, with that which is available now will verify this.

This general trend is a result of the practice of the British Board of Film Classification to classify ever more explicit material. This is evidenced by the unilateral relaxation of their guidelines in 1997 followed by the classification of a number of videoworks containing more explicit material than had been classified before, including scenes of actual penetration and oral sex. It is noteworthy, and very significant, that the former Director of the Board, James Ferman, in a television interview in January 1996, stated
"we haven't cut a mainstream film for sexual reasons for more than ten years…".

With this degree of laxity it is no wonder that film producers, knowing that they can get away with it, have introduced greater sexual explicitness.

This attitude has certainly been evident in the material for which video producers seek certificates. As the members of the Video Appeals Committee have been appointed by the Board it is hardly surprising that their recent appeal decisions have followed the general pattern of the Board's increasingly permissive classification policy.


ith regard to the High Court judgment handed down in May by Mr Justice Hooper, concerning seven hardcore titles before the Court, we believe that it is an urgent matter of public interest that the "present evidence" on which it was based is published. We also believe that a survey of children is undertaken to establish, with some certainty, how significant is the proportion of children at risk of being harmed.

It should be noted that the Consultation Paper seems not to recognise any risk and to be unsure of how 'harm' can be defined or measured.

Whilst we recognise that the High Court judgment has given rise to renewed public concern, the availability of pornographic videoworks is plainly not a problem that can or should be dealt with in isolation. Although the Consultation is not intended to cover the broader issue of "controls on sexually explicit material in general" this Association believes that only a general approach will suffice. We reach this conclusion bearing in mind the nature of the hardcore material before the Court. This was described by a member of the Video Appeals Committee as:

"cheap imports from America … consisting of seemingly endless sequences of explicit, energetic and joyless sex; vaginal, oral, lesbian and hetero. None had the slightest artistic merit, only minimal narrative, and little dialogue - except for the occasional feral grunt. The general effect is dehumanising and mechanistic." (The Times 26/8/1999)

This Association believes that the present predicament has arisen primarily because of a failure of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 to establish with certainty the limits of illegal obscenity. Only a radical rethink of the test of obscenity and the grounds for defence will show that the Government is serious about resolving the problems arising from the manufacture, distribution and circulation of pornography.

This Association is not convinced or reassured by the assertion in the Consultation paper that

"the Government maintains a firm commitment to the protection of children from unsuitable sexually material"

This does not indicate awareness or concern about the malign influence of pornography on society as a whole.

Nor do we agree that "sexually explicit material" is "strictly regulated" and we do not accept the argument adopted by pornographers and their agents that Britain is out of step with practice in other countries.

We do agree with the "common sense view that exposure to pornography … is potentially harmful to children generally".

But there is little evidence to indicate that the Government has acted with due speed to curtail the manufacture, production, distribution, sale and circulation of pornography in all its forms.


he options set out in the Consultation to resolve the problem assume that 'R18' videoworks are, in any event, legitimate. The lack of any recognition that pornography is inherently immoral and should be vigorously fought against is worrying. Such an approach is at variance with the Government's stated commitment to protect children from potential harm. Video cassettes and DVDs are by their nature easy to conceal, are highly portable, relatively easy to copy and to circulate around communities which do include children and young people. Moreover, the scale on which such material is produced and distributed around the world is itself sufficient to indicate that children will inevitably gain access to such material unless fundamental measures are taken. Nothing short of the abolition of the 'R18' category of videoworks will help to achieve full protection of children. Unclassified pornographic videoworks would automatically be illegal and action by police and Trading Standards officials would be made far easier.

We are aware of companies in the United States, for example Vivid Video, who, from a one-storey warehouse five miles north of Beverley Hills turned out 125 video productions in 1997. For the unfamiliar they all look startlingly similar: five sex scenes per hour, most including some lesbian and group action, strung together with dull words badly acted. For 23 hours a day, seven days a week, dubbing machines and edit suites churn out product for distribution on five continents via video stores, mail order houses, the Internet, hotel chains, pay-per-view, satellite networks and, especially lucrative just now, the European Cable Market. In 1996, according to Adult Video News, 8000 new titles hit the market. (Saturday Times Magazine 10/1/1998).

The British Board of Film Classification's own counsel, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC, stated in July 1999 that "thousands" of titles would flood into Britain once it was clear that hard core pornography could be classified and legally marketed through licensed sex shops. It was reported in August 2000 that the BBFC, in the four weeks following the relaxation of its guidelines, had given another 23 hardcore pornographic videoworks R18 classifications. (Daily Mail 23/8/2000)

Increasing the fines for illegal supply of 'R18' Videos may well act as a deterrent. In order to assess the effectiveness of this reform it would be helpful to know how many video dealers have been fined for supplying other categories of videoworks to those under the age recommended on the package. And how many re-offend.


e agree with the proposal to "modernise" the existing procedures of the Video Appeals Committee. A start should be made by appointing new personnel.  They should serve for no more than 24 months, half retiring and being replaced every 12 months. The members of the reconstituted VAC should have no connection with the film, video or computer games industry and it should be apparent that there is distance between it and the BBFC. For this reason we agree with the proposal that future appointments are made by the Lord Chancellor.

The general working of the VAC should in future be subject to regular public scrutiny through the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons. The Video Appeals procedure should also be open to representation from the public rather than exclusively from the industry. Although the President of the BBFC, Andreas Whittam-Smith, said in March 1998, that he was "in principle in favour of anybody with a genuine interest in classification being able to use the appeals process" no indication has been forthcoming that this elementary democratic reform has been introduced.

The principal criminal statute is the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and over time this has proved to be incapable of constraining the burgeoning pornography industry which was quick to exploit video technology from the outset. As long ago as 1972 the then Master of the Rolls, the late Lord Denning, observed that the Act had "misfired" so far as prosecutions are concerned. Much that is obscene, he said, "has escaped the reach of the law". The nature of the pornography that was available then was much less explicit than today and nothing has been done to remedy the situation.

The inescapable truth is that the scale of the world wide pornography industry is such that there is a certain inevitability that children will gain access to it resulting in more and more harm. The proposals made in this Home Office consultation fall far short of what is really required.

Protecting children whilst at the same time protecting the interests of the pornographers are incompatible aims. It is clearly the role of the Government to protect the weak against the strong. If the Government is really serious about protecting the innocence of children confrontation with pornographers is unavoidable.

The Government must recognise that pornography is itself corrupt and the desire to see explicit scenes of sexual activity is itself depraved. Unless effective political and judicial action is taken against pornography itself, rather than merely the circumstances in which it can be viewed, little will be achieved. The new criminal offences proposed in the Consultation Paper will be very difficult to enforce and therefore difficult to verify that the objectives set out have been achieved.


he European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of expression. However, Article 10 states that

"the exercise of these freedoms … may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of … public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals for the protection of the reputation of others …".

The Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the ECHR into British law, surely gives the Government ample scope to take effective action against pornography. It is certainly injurious to health and morals and could surely be said, in the light of the foregoing, to aid the commission of crime against children. This Association believes that the protection of children, within the terms of Article 10, is "objective justification" for Government action to curtail the activities of pornographers.

In November 1997 the member for Leigh in Lancashire, Lawrence Cunliffe MP drew attention to the failure of those responsible for enforcing the limited legal powers available then. This, he said, is

"encouraging a generation of millionaire porn-merchants. If we do not control them, sooner or later they will control us. It is imperative that we have the moral will and the legal means to stop them before they take over and fill the British media with undesirable programmes … It cannot be beyond the wit of the House and the industry to agree a common code of practice that is commensurate with decent British standards…"

The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association believes, with good cause, that all pornography it itself corrupt and that it spreads corruption to all who have a depraved desire
to see it and use it. For this reason we recommend the straightforward abolition of the 'R18' category for videoworks.

We believe that abolition would go some way to safeguarding the innocence of children and to resolving the problems that beset the Government in this regard.

We believe that successive governments have themselves contributed to the growth of the pornography industry by failing to strengthen the Obscene Publications Act with a definition of "obscene" that is capable of effective application in the Courts. Despite sustained representation over many years from this Association, and many others, we all, to a greater or lesser extent, pay the price for Government inaction to deal with the problem of obscenity.

For the sake of our children and young people, we appeal to the Government, and to the Opposition Parties, to include Election Manifesto commitments to legislative measures that will rid our society of pornography.

September 2000

Click here for ‘Time to strengthen the law against pornography’

Click here for Autumn 2003 newsbrief

Click here for Joining Form