David Cameron is using a legitimate crusade against child abuse images to infiltrate policy on adult content per se, while demonstrating that he doesn’t understand either what porn is, or how the internet works.
On the Jeremy Vine show this lunchtime, the PM demonstrated just how ignorant he is. Vine quite simply asked Cameron to define pornography. He couldn’t – or wouldn’t – and told Vine that that ‘was up to the internet service providers to decide’. So the Prime Minister wants to block access to something he can’t even relay in layman’s terms, and expects global businesses and millions of adults up and down the country to agree to this undemocratic, miasmic proposal (did we really democratically elect this man? Well, I didn’t – but someone must have).
Vine then put to the Prime Minister that trying to get Google et al to prohibit ‘vile’ search terms might be perfunctory, given that most child abuse images are shared through peer-to-peer networking and in the heart of the Dark Web. (This excellent piece from Mic Wright blogging for the Telegraph explains the technicalities in astute detail). Cameron dismissed this, gave no evidence or statistics on how this information has successfully helped us prevent child abuse, break paedophile rings and arrest those downloading the images (mainly because it isn’t the method used). Instead, he said only that he wouldn’t repeat the awful things some people search for, then skipped to vaguely condoning jihadist websites on the basis of free speech, just as long as they didn’t depict or incite murder. This, for me at least, conjured up the image of children being able to read about harm (albeit not murder) done to others, but not see natural naked bodies – or perhaps only couples cuddling with a certain amount of distance and fabric between them. Cameron could not even say for certain that sex eduction sites would not be filtered, which, given the awesome work done by people such as my good friend Justin Hancock of Bish training, painted an even bleaker picture of the future of access to education and knowledge about sex.
When Vine revisited the matter of the definition of porn, David Cameron was forced to admit that he wasn’t sure how text would be censored. Presumably, in the same way you can’t google E L James in Starbucks, you won’t be able to look up the UK book charts and see the number 1 bestseller without having a damning grate enfetter your screen if content is filtered. Not even if you’re a 14-year-old doing a project on the modern publishing industry. Or one with hopes of becoming a writer, curious as to what sells. Instead, you’ll just have to get the Elder who set up the internet to unblock every site you might want to visit where the millionairess author of Britain’s best-selling book is mentioned. No Sunday afternoon task.
Which brings us back to the question of who controls what in this newly proposed domestic idyll. Given that Cameron is proposing that the one person who sets up the internet account will control the filter, Vine raised an interesting conundrum about one partner wanting to watch porn while hiding it from the other. That’s perhaps the only ray of light I can see in this ill-conceived and barely illuminated affair – finally, couples might be forced to talk more openly about their porn habits with one another if they have to admit to wanting to view it to one another. But what will happen in flatshares if the person who has set up the internet refuses access to the other tenants? What happens if your landlord sets it for you and has a religiously informed conviction that porn is wrong? One can envisage letting agencies choosing to include ‘broadband wi-fi with porn access’ as a selling point for rental properties.
There was one thing Cameron could categorically say wouldn’t be censored though – mainstream newspaper sites depicting Page 3. How noble. I’m sure Mr Murdoch in particular will applaud Cameron’s commitment to a free press while having enough about him to decide that some breasts are less pornographic than others.
Throughout the interview, (and throughout the one Cameron gave to Woman’s Hour earlier in the day), the one word that seemed conspicuously absent from Mr Prime Minister’s limited lexicon was consent. Hence, when he brought up the matter of the proposal to ban staged rape porn under Extreme Pornography legislation, there was no hint whatsoever that this might not be so straight-forward to define. Despite Obscenity Lawyer Myles Jackman’s keen and exacting blog demonstrating the problems with criminalising staged rape/rape play, and pointing out that there is no definitive evidence to suggest a causal link between watching staged rape images and raping, no sensitive interrogation of the difference has been made by politicians. Now she’s no longer in Westminster, Louise Mensch has been able to stick her head above the parapet but nobody in government dare query the definition for fear of appearing to condone rape. And so it’s left to the so-called ‘perverts’ among us to interrogate it for the politicians.
Following the PM’s appearance on the Jeremy Vine show today, the clarity and indignation from callers on the topic was telling. If the Prime Minister hoped to befuddle a nation today with his light-on-facts, heavy-on-rhetoric-and-moral-panic-paternalism-act, it’s grievously backfired on him. Most voters who don’t have time to delve into the details of techno-geekery and seemingly arcane legislation can still see that Cameron’s approach is piecemeal. They want more arrests and prosecutions of those who produce and distribute child abuse imagery; more responsibility on parents to educate and monitor their kids’ online behaviour; the freedom not to have their names on a nefarious ‘sex offenders register by any other name’, as one caller put it.
Let’s face it – if David Cameron can’t even define pornography, he sure as hell can’t grapple with the notion of consensual, fantasy depictions of rape. And if he doesn’t understand how child abusers share illicit material, he surely cannot protect our children from abuse. What he can do, is begin the overt, government-sanctioned slide into internet censorship we so ridicule and condone in countries such as Saudi Arabia and China. And on an extremely precarious mandate.
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