The Guardian And The “Sexualisation” Panic

According to Wikipedia, a moral panic is defined as: “…an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.”

Most societies experience panics on a regular basis, but Britain, thanks to the trashy level of our press, perhaps experiences more than most countries. Moral panics have a simple purpose: to convince a citizenry that something must be done. And that something is almost invariably bad, when viewed in hindsight.

A good moral panic needs a simple message so that commentators can easily push it into the public mind: a good panic needs good branding. Thirty years ago, a moral panic was in full swing under the label “Video Nasties”. For those who don’t remember, a Video Nasty was a term coined by the media for what we now call a horror video. Led by morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, the media and politicians set out to convince the public that, unless something is done, British society would be engulfed by a tsunami of torture, rape and murder. Something was done: the Video Recordings Act (1984) imposed on Britain the most draconian system of video censorship in the democratic world. The Video Nasties panic may have been subsequently exposed as a fuss over nothing, but the censorship system, run by the BBFC, still operates today.

The “Sexualisation” panic has been in full swing for five years or so, and is reaching a point of saturation; it is regularly repeated throughout the media, and has been adopted by politicians not just from the religious right, but also from the left. As I blogged a couple of years ago, Sexualisation is an almost meaningless and certainly unmeasurable concept. It was largely brought into the public consciousness in 2010 by an evidence-free government report which was (bizarrely) carried out by a Christian organisation. It has become an umbrella idea that encapsulates various morality causes including (but not limited to) censoring music videos, censoring pornography, removing bare breasts from the Sun newspaper, banning “lad’s mags”, shaming parents into dressing their children more “modestly”; in fact, it is used to attack any kind of sexual expression, or even innocent nudity. Those leading the panic – including the pro-censorship “feminist” group, Object, politicians, and Christian morality campaigners – have learned from Mary Whitehouse’s “Video Nasty” success, and are turning up the level of hysteria until the government is pressured into taking action.

The scary thing about Sexualisation (as opposed to Video Nasties) is that it is undefined and undefinable. Thus, when we reach the something must be done moment, that something will be sweeping and draconian. Given that Sexualisation is a “disease” that allegedly affects men, women, breasts, children, shops, TV, video, the Internet and even (shock horror!) high streets, the only valid response to it must be a cross-society attack on all sexual expression. Perhaps we need a Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? That might work.

I’ve expressed my sadness before that the normally liberal-ish Guardian becomes conservative and censorious when sex is on the agenda. This week, The Guardian entered full moral panic mode by inviting “the public” to submit “sexualised imagery from the high street”. The question is, how does the Guardian decide what “sexualised imagery” is? I’ve walked down my high street today, and have seen the following:

  • Women in mini-skirts. Yes! Women are revealing not just their ankles, but their knees and their thighs!
  • Women revealing cleavage!! Low-cut tops are surely the devil’s work, designed to “objectify” breasts and thus cause men (who as we know, have literally no impulse control) to rape people.
  • A teenage girl in shorts and fishnets: because the perverts who see Sexualisation everywhere are particularly (and disturbingly) obsessed with the way children and teens dress.
  • Builders with no tops on: False alarm – topless men are actually OK, because the neo-Whitehouse crowd (in common with all morality campaigners) only want to cover female flesh. Men, of course, can dress however they like.

But I could find no recent explosion of “sexualised imagery”. Of course, there are porn mags, but there have always been porn mags; in fact, porn magazine sales have collapsed under the pressure of competition from DVD and the Internet. The term Sexualisation implies that things are changing for the worse. But unless I’m missing something big, they aren’t. Indeed, the debate has moved away from “harm” to the far broader measure of “causing offence” – and the reason for this is simple: the pro-censorship movement can provide no evidence of harm.

So why not submit your own images? Since the Guardian has joined the “anything that offends anybody must be bad” brigade, photograph things that might offend somebody and send them in. Seen gay men holding hands? Muslim women showing hair from under their hijab? Mixed-races couples kissing? All those things represent Sexualisation, and are offensive, right? To somebody?

As we are led headlong into a new wave of censorship, it’s saddening to see Mary Whitehouse’s Mediawatch-UK organisation joined in its endless morality campaigning by “feminists”; and the Daily Mail joined in its “cover up women” fetish by the Guardian. These are conservative times indeed.

Liberal Racism and Africa

Back in London’s bad old racist days of the 70s, many council estates were National Front strongholds, and dangerous places for blacks and Asians to go. London’s middle classes, of course, abhorred the crude violence of the working class NF supporters. We fast-forward into the 90s, and the picture had changed drastically. London’s working class areas were now becoming racially mixed, and were producing ever greater numbers of mixed-race kids. Working class Londoners were creating new, mixed cultures, cutting-edge music and were transcending race.

Meanwhile those middle-class neighbourhoods that had scorned the National Front were as white as ever. White liberal London was almost untouched by the explosion of racial mixing, or the new cultures and musical forms it was generating. It seemed that the liberal aversion to racism didn’t extend as far as actually mixing with racial minorities. London developed two distinct cultures: a multiracial one formed of immigrants and their offspring mixing with white working class Londoners; and one of the middle/upper classes that avoided mixing at all costs – either with immigrants or the poor. Ironically, the children of the fascist gang members of the 1970s were far more likely to grow up having non-white friends and sexual partners than the kids of NF-hating liberals.

Liberal racism is far more effectively veiled than the more crude types, but being better disguised, it’s also far harder to identify and tackle. In Uganda, parliament seems set to pass a draconian anti-gay law this week; this was originally drafted to include the death penalty for “aggravated” offences, but as it currently stands, looks set to be passed but without the death penalty. It’s almost impossible to discuss this subject with liberal-minded white people without someone pointing out the role of Westerners in this law. You’ll be told that existing homophobic laws are a hangover from British rule, and that American evangelists are backing supporters of the law. Both of these things are true, but the implicit assumption in this “liberal” thinking is a colonial one: that Africans couldn’t possibly have invented homophobia without our help. That these simple people have been corrupted by our influence. It assumes that African minds are so supple, so easily corrupted, that Westerners can make them believe anything.

This argument is dishonest, flawed and fundamentally racist. Yes, anti-gay laws were exported by European powers to their African colonies; but so were entire legal systems. It can be noted that while Europeans have scrapped homophobic legislation since African independence, most African states haven’t. Perhaps Africans can think for themselves after all… perhaps homophobia is a factor of African society, rather than something “we made them do”. Perhaps African culture even goes back further than European colonialism? Well yes – Africa has the oldest and most socially developed human cultures on Earth. African language, music and social customs are often far more advanced than the equivalents anywhere else. Yet still, the liberal racist can’t grasp that African actions – such as viciously anti-gay laws – are the creations of Africans themselves, not us.

One of the most blatantly racist articles I can remember reading in the mainstream media was (surprise?) in the Guardian. Film-maker Tim Samuels wrote in 2009 about Western-made porn reaching Africa. He starts the article with:

I used to think porn was tremendously good fun. The adolescent thrill of sneaking a copy of Fiesta home inside the Manchester Evening News. Crowding around a PC at university as a smutty picture revealed itself pixel by pixel…

and goes on later to say:

The moment porn truly stopped being fun came in a remote Ghanaian village – mud huts, barefoot kids, no electricity … but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists…

So you see, Tim Samuels and his uni pals can look at porn and not become rapists. But Ghanaian men are obviously made of something different. What could the difference be? Samuels doesn’t explain, but the implication is clear. The old stereotype of the over-sexed, out-of-control African male is alive and well in 21st century Guardianista-land.

If Samuels had provided evidence, the article may have been of some value. But the only evidence he provides comes in the form of a few anecdotes from locals. There are no stats provided to show an increase in rape since the arrival of porn videos – just a smug “it stands to reason” attitude. The Guardian editor accepted and published this racist article – an article that blatantly brands black men as potential rapists – because it is sold on the liberal pretext of protecting women. Bizarrely, this is very similar to the thinking that saw black men lynched for rape in the Deep South. They can’t help themselves, you know? We have to do something about it. Incidentally, the same thinking was part of the justification for banning marijuana in the US - it was said to turn blacks and Mexicans into rapists, which of course was sufficiently frightening to get whites behind prohibition.

In fact, in the West, there is evidence of a correlation between increased sexual openness (including access to porn) and a decline in sexual violence. This is backed by scientific evidence, such as the paper Porn Up, Rape Down, as well as much other research. Samuels doesn’t explain how the Democratic Republican of Congo simultaneously has the world’s worst rape statistics, coupled with among the world’s lowest levels of Internet access. But evidence matters little to those who have a doctrine to sell, whichever part of the political spectrum they come from.

The most overt and vicious racism still comes predictably from the right, and the left has done a huge amount to tackle racism in society. But white middle-class liberal society hides a racist core, and in its infinite belief in its own superiority, it doesn’t even seem to notice.

Lap Dancing: The Guardian Fails Again

Stripper

Tut tut tut tut tut...

As I’ve reported previously, the high-end, high-quality journalism of the Guardian has an achilles heel: sexuality. Whenever this mysterious subject raises its head, the Guardian seems to feel that it must respond with a mix of straight-laced puritanism and British schoolboy-type giggling.

I’ve reported about the attacks on London strip clubs, and the people who work in them, by a bizarre mix of anti-sex “feminist” groups, including Object, and religious fundamentalists. My recent podcast featured interviews with strippers who are fighting against these attacks. If such an attack on unionised workers took place in any other industry, the Guardian would take a serious journalistic approach. But these unionised workers take their clothes off for a living; and Guardian editorial policy in such matters requires a mix of “Ooh Matron!” and “Tut tut, your nipples must be covered at all times!”

So imagine my (lack of) surprise when the recent publication of a report by two  British academics into the British lap-dancing industry was met with the usual lack of seriousness in a comment piece by Victoria Coren entitled We must hone our lap-dancing skills. It’s about strippers, and strippers aren’t real people (at least, none of the Guardian’s Oxbridge-educated journalists know any), so we can all have a laugh at these working class women who undress for a living.

The writers of the original report, Dr Kate Hardy and Dr Teela Sanders of Leeds University, have responded with a letter to the Guardian, which they shared with MoronWatch:

Dear Sir,

 Victoria Coren’s ‘wry’ look at our research on labour conditions and mainstreaming of the lap dancing industry is lazy, Chinese whispers journalism in which the author has simply lifted an already poorly reported story from another news source.

Satire aside (I’m sure Coren is au fait with Aristotle’s theory of humour), the piece not only denigrates the women who work in lap dancing clubs as deserving subjects for sneering and ridicule, but also denigrates sociological and academic knowledge production itself.

We did not meet in a lap dancing club and ‘shriek’ (just to throw in a little more misogyny). Funding for the project was awarded to Dr Sanders from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a highly esteemed and regarded funding body, in a close competition with many applications judged by a lengthy process of peer review.

We are not worried about the quality of lap dancing for consumers, but the safety, well-being and quality of the working lives of the women who work in the clubs. Our research actually charts the rise in exploitation that women have faced in lap dancing clubs since the beginning of the crisis, which employers have enabled through a process of deskilling and therefore opening up of the labour market. Victoria Coren would know this if she had done anything resembling her homework.

Dr Kate Hardy (Lecturer in Work and Employment) and Dr Teela Sanders (Reader in Sociology)

Whether the Guardian will either publish the letter or allow the researchers a full right to respond is currently unknown, although based on recent history, I’m not hugely optimistic.

Puritans: The Guardian vs Iran’s Morality Police

Bratz

Bratz: Call The Morality Police!

The sheer quantity of information available today has its pros and cons. One of the joys of so much information is making unexpected connections. Here’s one such link: Iran’s ultra-conservative morality police, and the Guardian, world-renowned newspaper and voice of British liberalism. Puzzled? Skeptical? Read on…

Exhibit A: Iranian morality police take Barbie dolls off shelves in Iranian shops. The Barbie doll is clearly a symbol of Western decadence that will corrupt the innocence of Iranian children. Iranian rulers are on record as condemning Barbie for her “destructive cultural and social consequences.”

Let’s all laugh at the Iranian morality police and their stupid fear of a plastic doll. Certainly, we liberal Western types would never do anything so ludicrous.

Exhibit B: Western “liberals” decry the corrupting effects of Bratz dolls. This recent Guardian article is primarily a reasonable attempt to cover the recent Rush Limbaugh slut-shaming incident. And yet, true to form, the Guardian seems unable to take a sex-positive stance on any issue. It appears that the editor has weakened the thrust of the original story; at least, I assume so. How else can the article’s self-contradictory nature be explained? While starting and ending with solid coverage of current US attacks on sexuality, the middle part of the article  gives credence again to one of the Guardian’s pet subjects: the “sexualisation of children”. As I’ve blogged previously, the sexualisation concept has little basis in reality – it’s an attempt to introduce censorship under the standard pretext of “defending children”.

The article attacks Bratz dolls as follows: “The sexualisation of young girls – such as Bratz dolls with their bee-stung lips and short skirts – has outraged liberals and feminists”. The article provides no evidential backing for these two claims: 1) That “young girls” are being “sexualised”, and 2) That “liberals and feminists” are “outraged”. For sure, some anti-sexuality campaigners label themselves feminists – that’s somewhat different from the Guardian’s take on the subject.

And so to summarise: Those silly Iranians are worried about kids being corrupted by Barbie; those sensible “liberals” are worried about kids being corrupted by Bratz dolls. The Guardian’s reputation for accuracy again takes a knock on the subject it finds it so hard to cover honestly: sex.

Is Capitalism Amoral Or Immoral?

It was fashionable (and desirable) until the mid-80s to question how well capitalism worked as a basis for running society. Then the social “greed is good” changes brought about by the Reagan/Thatcher revolution began to take hold of the Western (or at least the Anglo-Saxon) psyche, and it became a form of sacrilege to question the magic power of the free market to fix any problem, anywhere. That superstition gradually became established fact – until, of course, the system began to show its deep flaws in 2008.

Saturday’s Guardian carries a comment article from Tim Montgomerie (editor at the ConservativeHome web site) titled Capitalism is amoral – we’re our own worst enemy. The piece tries to make the case that the ills of recent years have been caused by “extraordinary government activism”, not by out-of-control markets. However, the examples supplied are weak – the author seems to accept, for example, that the main problem with Obama’s $787bn stimulus is that it was too small, given the scale of the crash. Another example given is the Iraq War, seeming to forget the huge profit motive of the oil, arms and reconstruction industries to make that senseless war happen.

But let’s challenge the core assertion, one that is so often repeated without challenge: Montgomerie repeats the popular idea that “Capitalism is not immoral but amoral. It does what its users demand of it”. Is that true? Does the profit motive always work for consumers? Montgomerie gives food and transport as examples, so let’s examine these industries: amoral or immoral?

Food Industry

It’s true that competition has given us more food choices that ever before. That applies to the wealthier parts of society, at least. In young markets, competition creates an explosion of choice, which is certainly a good thing. But once corporations became established in the food industry, strategies changed. Choice is just one way to attract a customer base, but there’s an easier way: make your customer dependent on your product. This is where the needs of the market and the needs of the consumer diverge. Humans are designed to seek out rare ingredients that we need. Meat fat was such a rarity in pre-history (before hunting tools were developed) that we find it highly attractive and addictive. Refined sugar is an addictive drug, only discovered in recent centuries. Salt is a generally rare and necessary substance that, again, we have a natural addiction to. So in the amoral world of the market, it makes sense to add increasing amounts of these ingredients to food, not because users are demanding them, but because profitability naturally rises as a result.

So far, as suggested by Tim Montgomerie, this is amoral behaviour, not immoral. No harm is intended. The next stage is this: scientific researchers (state-funded usually) begin to notice that people are getting fatter; that tooth decay is increasing; that diabetes and other diseases are rocketing. This information starts to spread to the consumer. It’s at this stage that markets lose their claim for amorality. The food industry now has three options:

Moral: listen to researchers and make food healthier, even if that hurts profits.

Amoral: continue to address the evolving desires of the market as consumer demand dictates. Of course, this does happen, but as the history of the food industry suggests, it’s far cheaper (and thus more profitable) to use healthy-sounding language than it is to take addictive substances out of your products.

Immoral: begin propaganda operations to counteract scientific research that might hurt profits. Most markets end up here. Once you have a consumer base hooked on your product, the logic of profit is remorseless: attack anyone or anything that threatens your bottom line.

In a young market, amorality (following consumer needs) is the way to go; but in mature market, the immoral choice is often the most profitable. Rather than simply track consumer demands, it’s more profitable to control them. Many examples can be found of immoral behaviour by the food industry in pursuit of profits: in the US, private corporations have often won contracts to supply schools with food and drink. The result is a fall in the quality of food eaten by children. Now they can get consumers addicted to junk ever younger, and resist the pressure to educate children about food and health, thus crushing future consumer demands for better food. In a perfect example of market immorality, in 1998 Oprah Winfrey ran a show exposing the appalling way the American beef industry was rearing cattle. The amoral response would have been to track any change in consumer attitudes, and change production techniques; but that would be hugely expensive. Far cheaper to shoot the messenger, as Oprah found to her cost. She immediately lost advertising and faced action, both legal and propaganda to discredit her. She backtracked quickly, providing a non-critical “interview” with a beef industry rep. to “set the record straight” (i.e. lie without interference). Examples like this are legion: the food industry will viciously attack anyone that questions the health of its products (remember McLibel?)

Transport Industry

We can apply the same approach to transport. Mass transit (when not starved of investment), offers the fastest, cheapest and most fuel-efficient way to carry large numbers of people and goods. From the 1940s, the car provided an alternative that was more glamorous but slow, expensive and fuel-hungry. Sure, people desired cars, but they wouldn’t trash superior transport systems for an inferior one. Given that cities only had the space for a fraction of their population to use cars, would people destroy their environments just to own cars?

Enter the car mafia, comprising several industries: car manufacturers, tyre manufacturers, road builders, and of course, oil producers. Car transport requires far more resources than rail, trams and buses: huge, multi-lane highways which require vast amounts of space. More space still needed for parking (most private cars spend most of their lives wastefully parked). And most important of all, cars burn far more fuel than mass transit to move the same numbers of people. Would consumers abandon cheap, fast transport for slow, expensive transport? Of course not; but they were never given the choice.

The car mafia set about destroying mass transit, which they could never have competed against in a free market. Across the US, between 1936 and 1950, mass transit systems vanished as the car mafia went into action, destroying electric transport infrastructure. History tells us how happy post-war consumers jumped at the chance to own cars, and that’s undoubtedly true; less is said about the abolition of transport choice. Free market fundamentalists claim markets create choice, but the opposite is often true.

In the UK, the world’s greatest rail system was cut to pieces; between 1950 and 1975, the railways were slashed from 21,000 miles to 12,000. The most significant steps were taken in the 1960s by Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of British Railways. Beaching was encouraged to cut the railways by Ernest Marples, the Conservative Transport Minister. Marples also happened to be a major shareholder in a construction company that made huge amounts of money from motorway construction. This story is an important part of modern British history, and the name Ernest Marples should be remembered as one of Britain’s best known crooks. But the car mafia, and their tame media, have ensured the British people have forgotten what happened to our transport system

The transport market has failed; we make ever slower journeys for ever higher cost, and most people use the car not by choice, but because choice was taken away to increase profits.

And The Rest

Given the choice of being amoral and following consumer needs, or immoral and crushing competition, the car mafia did what any market does: follow profit at any cost to society. The consumer doesn’t lead; he takes what corporations offer, which is often the most inefficient and expensive (and hence profitable) option. Markets do work, when they’re young and genuinely competitive, but that is a temporary phase. Endless examples can be found of market immorality: the Iraq War was fought so that the US taxpayer could be fleeced of $trillions by US corporations; the millions spent on climate change denial have shored up billions in oil industry profits; the tobacco industry likewise denied the cancer link for decades after the evidence was available.

Markets are good at creating and incubating fresh ideas and new technology. They liberate individuals and societies from bureaucracy and make societies more creative. But this is always a temporary effect. Established markets will support literally anything – murder, slavery, war – to hold on to their privileged positions. So Tim Montgomerie and other “markets are amoral” fundamentalists are disingenuous, only telling half the story. Markets are immoral; only a strong, well-funded democratic state can hope to keep them in check.

How The Religious Right Censored The UK Media

Beyonce Dancing

Does This Image Damage Your Children?

Although the Internet’s roots lie in defence and academic research projects in the 50s and 60s, it only exploded into the public consciousness in the mid-90s, after Tim Berners-Lee created the technologies behind the Worldwide Web.This was, not only in hindsight but widely recognised at the time, a hugely significant moment in human development; a point at which anyone, with a little technical skill and a little cash, could share their thoughts, beliefs, ideas, or products with a global audience. The control of publishing and broadcasting had always been concentrated in the hands of an elite. These few had a stranglehold on deciding what constituted acceptable culture, and what ideas should be kept away from the masses. They defined the consensus.

Now, ideas deemed “dangerous”, “immoral”, “obscene” or otherwise previously unacceptable could be publicly aired. Publishers could choose, if they wished, to remain anonymous. The implications were enormous – and given the benefit of hindsight, the predictions of the day weren’t overblown; the effect of the new communication medium has been social dynamite.

Given that the peoples of the developed world could, for the first time, choose exactly what content to consume, the Internet could be seen as a measure of repression; people would naturally use it to fill vacuums previously unoccupied by other, censored, media. How would people use the Net?

We quickly found the answer; although there was of course a true explosion of creativity, bringing us services from Amazon to Hotmail, the overwhelming majority of network bandwidth was used by people downloading pornographic imagery. There was a simultaneous exponential rise in the use of anonymous “dating” services to find sexual partners, either to engage in cybersex or to meet “in real life”. The Internet had provided the first unbiased survey of what the world was thinking; and what the world had on its mind was Sex. Few had realised how ruthlessly sex had been censored from human discourse in the preceding decades and centuries; only when all censorship was removed did we find out just how controlled our lives had been prior to the Web.

From day one, it was inevitable that the authorities would catch up with this turn of events and try to crush it; surely, our rulers hadn’t spent centuries pushing sexuality underground, only to have the whole project die in a few short years. The American religious right was quickly on the case; it had been funding academic research since the 1980s trying to prove that porn in some way caused harm to people and society. The religious right was joined in its efforts to stigmatise porn (and other open expression of sexuality) by a new strand of feminism; this time, instead of fighting for the rights of women to enjoy their sexuality without stigma, these new feminists were insistent that free sexuality was harmful to women. Collectively, I refer to the religious right and neo-feminists as the New Puritans.

With no academic research to back up their claims, the New Puritans took to establishing myths in the public consciousness. The Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels is famous for his observation that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth. There are many “facts” about porn and sexual imagery that many liberal-minded people have accepted as true with little thought: sexual imagery “objectifies” women; the free expression of sexuality somehow benefits men and subjugates women; porn is “linked to” misogynistic thinking; porn is “linked to” sexual violence; sexual freedom is “damaging to” relationships.

It may come as a surprise to many people who have heard these ideas that none of these “facts” is backed by any research whatsoever. Indeed, attempts by the New Puritans to find “smoking guns” have failed dismally, after more than two decades of trying. The research that does exist suggests the opposite to what is claimed by the New Puritans. Most remarkably, in those societies that have embraced sexual freedom in its many forms, rates of sexual violence have fallen massively. Porn video first became widely available in the United States with the widespread adoption of VHS in the late-1970s. In 2006, the Washington Post reported that the incidence of rape in America had fallen by 85% from 1979 to 2004. Of course, availability of porn was one of many social changes taking place in the US during this period, but the conclusion seems to be that greater sexual freedom in society makes women (and almost certainly children) safer from sexual violence.

Scientific research has firmly dismissed the “porn causes harm” myths, with the publication Scientific American recently reporting on a number of studies that seemed to show the opposite – that porn use is correlated with positive outcomes. In the UK, researcher Clarissa Smith has studied the effects of porn over 20 years and has come to similar conclusions (her research is soon to be published).

So, game over for the puritans? Of course not; freeing sexuality means less money for religions that reap the benefits of sexual guilt; there’s also money in selling “cures” to the (probably imaginary) ailment of porn addiction and writing books about the evils of pornography.

With the election of a Conservative government in the UK in May 2010, the New Puritans saw new opportunities. Claire Perry, a right-wing MP, began a parliamentary enquiry into “protecting children online”. Simultaneously, a Christian lobby group known as the Mothers’ Union began a media campaign to convince people that children were being “sexualised”. This was a good, old-fashioned attack on “permissive media”, packaged into a fancy new term. Pretty soon, even level-headed people were believing that children were being “sexualised”, without any clear idea of what that meant. So far, so predictable.

Then it gets weird; David Cameron appoints an “expert” to carry out a review into sexualisation; this expert is none other than Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union. So without public consultation, representatives of the religious right are writing policy proposals at the request of the British Government. In response to this absurd coup, the media outcry was… non-existent. An incident which should be treated as a political scandal has been ignored or even applauded. The very notion that children are being “sexualised” or that something should be done about it has been passed on without question in the mainstream press.

Reg Bailey published a report which was swallowed without comment by the government (I wrote about this in June). It stated, without being backed by research, that children were being sexualised, and that widespread media censorship should take place, from billboards to music videos to the sale of children’s clothing. Having now established religious prejudice as fact in the mind of the British government and media, a raft of censorship measures is beginning to be implemented.

The latest measure was announced this week when the government came to an agreement with large ISPs that consumers would be asked whether they want the ability to see porn when they sign up for a home Internet connection. This is done in the name of “protecting children”, although filtering solutions for children already exist (and have done for many years), and the effect of blocking an entire household can only be to prevent adults from watching porn. Although the measure is voluntary, there have already been attempts to stigmatise parents who are too “permissive” with their children; Clarissa Smith (mentioned above) says that parliamentary committees are already talking about “bad parents” who choose not to block porn to their household. Undoubtedly the next step will come when religious lobbyists report to MPs that parents are (shock, horror) choosing to remove the ISP block and watch porn in their own homes. Homes that have children in them!!!

The UK government has taken its first, definitive step into Internet censorship – something it has castigated other governments for in the past. It has been unclear about exactly what content is considered “unsuitable for children”; undoubtedly this definition will become ever broader with time. Undoubtedly too, the voluntary block will be under review, and the New Puritans will be demanding more sites to be blocked, and measures to make it harder (or impossible) for adults to access certain types of content via their home connections.

The response of the mainstream media has been almost non-existent. Most disappointingly, The Guardian writes in Daily Mail-esque terms about “the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values, harming not just children but also adults” while blissfully ignoring that the claims of harm exist nowhere but in right-wing propaganda, and are not backed anywhere by research. In any other field of interest, The Guardian would undoubtedly investigate such claims, something that in the areas of laws related to sex and drugs, it repeatedly fails to do.

It was clear even 15 years ago that governments and corporations would never allow the Internet to continue as an uncensored medium; too many powerful vested interested are harmed by an open network. The US at least has the first amendment, making it harder to introduce censorship. But there’s little doubt that the Mothers’ Union, fresh from its success at turning the UK into a flagship for its “sexualisation” idea, will use us as a case study to campaign for similar measure elsewhere.