Mediawatch-UK

Friday, 13 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey: Mainstreaming Exploitation and Pornography




Fifty Shades of Grey:
Mainstreaming Exploitation and Pornography

Not sexual revolution but sexual exploitation


Valentine’s Day, more usually associated with flowers, chocolate and romance is, this year, being hijacked as a promotional vehicle for the release of the film Fifty Shades of Grey which opens in cinemas across the UK on 13th February. 

The book on which this film was based glamorised and legitimised both sexual and domestic violence.  With the mainstream release and promotion of this film opinion makers, the media and celebrities are legitimising this violence too.

Sexual violence and sexual exploitation are at an all time high, permeating our culture by way of hardcore pornography.  This film further legitimises them despite the fact that making violence ‘sexy’ has significant consequences to individuals, relationships and society.

The extended trailer for the film calls it a ‘fairy tale’; a misleading description which suggests a simple love story and masks the film’s true themes of humiliation, manipulation, abuse and degradation of women.

The ‘fairy tale’ in this film is that, in reality, women in relationships such as the one depicted in the film don’t end up like Anastasia — they often end up in a woman’s shelter, on the run for years, or dead. 

This film also perpetuates the ‘fairy tale’ that women can ‘fix’ violent, controlling men by being obedient and loving.

The Lie:         Fifty Shades of Grey is a love story
The Truth:     Fifty Shades of Grey is about abuse, violence and the
grooming of a young girl for sadistic sex

Violence is violence and inflicting sexual violence is not sexy.  While this should be a black-and-white truth, this film is selling it in all shades of grey.

Such is the hype surrounding this film it is naïve to assume it will escape the notice of children.  We have already seen:

  • A beginner’s guide to bondage broadcast at 10.30am on ITV’s This Morning.
  • The Barbican Cinema holding a Parent and Baby screening of the film
  • The trailer for the film has been classified as 15 by the BBFC which means it can be shown to children at screenings of 15 rated films

The BBFC has given the film an 18 certificate because it “contains strong sex and nudity, along with the portrayal of erotic role play based on domination, submission and sado-masochistic practices”. 

We’d like to amend this to read: “Promotes torture as sexually gratifying, encourages stalking and abuse of power, promotes female inequality, glamorises and legitimises violence against women.”

Fifty Shades of Grey: Mainstreaming Exploitation and Pornography



Fifty Shades of Grey:
Mainstreaming Exploitation and Pornography

Not sexual revolution but sexual exploitation


Valentine’s Day, more usually associated with flowers, chocolate and romance is, this year, being hijacked as a promotional vehicle for the release of the film Fifty Shades of Grey which opens in cinemas across the UK on 13th February. 

The book on which this film was based glamorised and legitimised both sexual and domestic violence.  With the mainstream release and promotion of this film opinion makers, the media and celebrities are legitimising this violence too.

Sexual violence and sexual exploitation are at an all time high, permeating our culture by way of hardcore pornography.  This film further legitimises them despite the fact that making violence ‘sexy’ has significant consequences to individuals, relationships and society.

The extended trailer for the film calls it a ‘fairy tale’; a misleading description which suggests a simple love story and masks the film’s true themes of humiliation, manipulation, abuse and degradation of women.

The ‘fairy tale’ in this film is that, in reality, women in relationships such as the one depicted in the film don’t end up like Anastasia — they often end up in a woman’s shelter, on the run for years, or dead. 

This film also perpetuates the ‘fairy tale’ that women can ‘fix’ violent, controlling men by being obedient and loving.

The Lie:         Fifty Shades of Grey is a love story
The Truth:     Fifty Shades of Grey is about abuse, violence and the
grooming of a young girl for sadistic sex

Violence is violence and inflicting sexual violence is not sexy.  While this should be a black-and-white truth, this film is selling it in all shades of grey.

Such is the hype surrounding this film it is naïve to assume it will escape the notice of children.  We have already seen:

  • A beginner’s guide to bondage broadcast at 10.30am on ITV’s This Morning.
  • The Barbican Cinema holding a Parent and Baby screening of the film
  • The trailer for the film has been classified as 15 by the BBFC which means it can be shown to children at screenings of 15 rated films

The BBFC has given the film an 18 certificate because it “contains strong sex and nudity, along with the portrayal of erotic role play based on domination, submission and sado-masochistic practices”. 

We’d like to amend this to read: “Promotes torture as sexually gratifying, encourages stalking and abuse of power, promotes female inequality, glamorises and legitimises violence against women.”

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Watershed protection in the online space



Last week the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, featured in a wide-ranging interview in the Radio Times.  The discussion ranged from the representation of women in BBC output to whether The Archers has become too soapy.

One of the areas touched on was the watershed.  “What’s the point when kids can access unsuitable content on a variety of devices at any time?” asked the interviewer.  Lord Hall replied: “the watershed is still a useful way of judging the content and sensitivities, and taste and decency issues.  But has the watershed got a future in 20 or 30 years’ time?  I suspect not.”

Whilst it’s true that new technologies mean the watershed in 20 years’ time will look very different to what we understand it to be today, it is a concern to hear that the man in charge of the BBC thinks it has no future.

The watershed is now 50 years old and television viewers still support its existence.  Ofcom’s research shows high levels of regard with approximately 80% of parents saying they believe it is relevant and necessary.  Ofcom’s Director, Tony Close, has described it as “a vital means of protecting viewers.”  Whilst it can never be the complete answer to protecting children from potentially harmful material is a useful tool and, as such, is worth protecting.

Presently the vast majority of television is watched as it is broadcast although the number of ‘time-shifted’ hours consumed continues to rise steadily.  Before such viewing becomes the principle means of television consumption we need to consider how we extend the protection currently offered by the watershed into the online space.

This is not an impossible request; presently subscribers to cable and satellite services have to enter a PIN number to access post-watershed content which they have downloaded.  This is a workable solution which we would like to see extended to other on-demand platforms such as iPlayer.

There are feasible steps that can and should be taken by broadcasters to control access to post-watershed material by children.  Now is the time to consider how we can replicate the valuable tool which is the watershed online.

Sky leading the way



Last week Sky Broadband became the first major ISP to announce that it would block adult content as a default unless users opt in to access it.  Designed to filter out content deemed to be unsuitable for children aged under 13, Sky's Broadband Shield has been offered as default to new customers for a year but this will now be rolled out to all 5.3 million existing customers.

Most of the UK’s ISPs all offer filtering software for parents concerned about the potentially harmful material their children may be able to access online, but few have offered this as a default.

Sky's brand director, explained the change: "What we're doing now is simply making sure that the automatic position of Sky Broadband Shield is the safest one for all - that's 'on', unless customers choose otherwise.”

Starting this week, the company will email its customers about the blocker.  If households ignore the email, and a subsequent reminder, pornography and other websites considered to be harmful to children will be blocked automatically.  Sky’s brand director said: “It’s better for people to make their own choice, but until they do, we believe this process will be the safest one.”

It is to be hoped that Sky’s brave move will put pressure on other major internet providers such as BT – which has twice as many broadband customers as Sky – and Virgin Media to adopt the same ‘family-friendly’ approach. 

Anti-censorship groups have been quick to voice their opposition to the move and their assertions that filters do not block all unsavoury material are correct.  Filters can never be a substitute for monitoring children’s internet use and talking about other dangers beyond content, however they are a vital tool for parents and an important first line of defence.  As such Sky’s decision is to be applauded and, we hope, emulated across the industry.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Effective protection for children online






Last week the Telegraph ran an article on pornography by Martin Daubney putting the case for what he described as ‘state-approved porn in the UK’.  ‘If we can’t axe it, should we tax it – like soft drugs in Holland or prostitution in Germany’ - he suggested

Mr Daubney is the former editor of lad’s mag Loaded and he has previously spoken of his concern that the magazine he edited might have acted as a gateway to pornography for a generation of young men.  He also presented the Channel 4 documentary Porn on the Brain which looked at the effect of pornography consumption the adolescent brain and in which he described online porn as ‘the most pernicious threat facing children today’.

According to Mr Daubney his massively controversial proposition could even achieve the unthinkable: and unite censors, MPs, child protection agencies and, perhaps most astonishingly of all, the pornographers themselves.

 He proposes that all sites carrying pornographic material be confined to a dedicated domain -.xxx for example – with compulsory age verification.  These sites would host material within agreed, legal parameters of taste and be licensed by the government and any sites not in compliance would be blacklisted and blocked by ISPs. 

On the face of it this is a great idea; if the internet is the Wild West than a corral for such material has to be better than nothing.  However whether it would seriously impact material hosted on foreign sites, which are currently where the most extreme, violent and degrading material is hosted, is a moot point.

Just because there is a demand for pornography which does not appear to be abating does not mean that its use is without consequence. 

This proposal provides porn with a veneer of respectability which it does not merit.  It fails to acknowledge the very real potential harm of pornography.  We cannot trust the industry itself to acknowledge this when its current advice site offers nothing more than information on child protection filters.

Our proposals for opt-in regulation met with criticism this yet this model would be far more problematic; with material being blocked by ISPs it really would be state-sponsored censorship.  Could all overseas porn be blocked with violating trade agreements?  It’s also doubtful whether it could work in the long term as vested interests push for more latitude.  We’ve seen time and again that rules on what and what is not acceptable are open to interpretation leading to a constant pushing boundaries – why should porn be different?

Clearly verifying the age of children attempting to access pornography is crucial.  Sites hosted in the UK already verify age but ATVOD has offered a creative solution to target overseas sites - by impacting their revenues.  The UK is a substantial market and to access customers in the UK would be quite a powerful incentive to introduce restrictions.

ATVOD wants all adult sites to request a licence, which would only be granted if age checks were in place, with banks and other payment processors not allowed to handle fees for services from UK citizens to unregulated sites.  Payment firms say they will act if shown that sites are breaking the law and the regulator accepts that this means new legislation.

ATVOD say this matter is so urgent it is ‘critical the legislation is enacted during this Parliament’.   With an election coming up this is something you might like to raise with anyone canvassing your vote.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Protecting the future




Apparently one of the most popular gifts for children this Christmas will be a tablet computer.  Although the first such device was launched less than five years ago in 2010 the technology has proved so popular that, according to Ofcom, 70% of 5-15 year olds now have access to one.  Smartphones will be another most-requested this year and it is sobering to think that back in 2011 when Reg Bailey reported for the Government on the sexualisation of childhood the technology was so new that his report included just one reference to smartphones; four year on most mobile phone users have such a device.

Similarly the way that we use the internet has changed.  Initially the internet hosted sites limited to the passive viewing of content but we are now able to interact and collaborate with each other in a virtual community through social networking sites, blogs, wikis, video sharing sites etc.

These changes have given us new capabilities and ways to connect but they have also presented us with a whole new set of challenges.  A decade ago behaviours such as sexting and trolling barely existed but today we have to consider how best to protect people from such harmful practices.

The pace of innovation is incredibly fast and it is vital that regulation and legislation continues to keep up.  This month we have seen a number of developments aimed at closing this gap:

  • Sexual communication with a child online is to become a criminal offence.  Inviting a child to communicate sexually – regardless of whether or not the recipient of those messages replies or responds in any sexual way – will be illegal. The law will apply to anyone over the age of 18 trying to send a sexual message to anyone under the age of 16 – whether that’s on Facebook, SMS, WhatsApp, email or any other communications channel.
  • GCHQ and the National Crime Agency are to work together to hunt online paedophiles with the same effort used to track terrorists.  Data taken from tens of millions of child abuse photos and videos seized during previous operations will be compiled to form a new database to aid investigations into suspected paedophiles across the UK.
  • Google has announced it is developing child-friendly versions of its search site, Chrome browser and video-sharing service YouTube.  The modified versions will be designed for children aged up to 12 and will include tools that let parents monitor and manage how much time their offspring spend online and where they go.
  • Twitter, like many other sites, has become a repository for abusive language.  A new system for reporting abuse on the platform has now been developed offering additional user controls, further improvements to reporting and new enforcement procedures for abusive accounts.
These are all examples of government and industry working to keep pace with technological innovation and they are to be commended.  However it is important that our efforts are not solely confined to catching up.

An independent review into the future of government in the digital age has recently been published.  The review was commissioned by the Labour Party and it recommended that the UK Government establish an expert technology ethics body similar to those already in place in medicine and academia.  It would help address complex challenges such as ownership and control of data and the right to be forgotten.  As one commentator put it: “we need a technology philosopher in chief for our age, before the technology runs away with itself.”

Friday, 5 December 2014

Violent game banned by Australian retailers




This week Target and Kmart, two of Australia's largest retailers, took the decision to remove the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto 5 from their stores because of its graphic scenes of violence against women.

Grant Theft Auto 5 is the latest title in the successful gaming series and was released a year ago.  It is set in the fictional American city of Los Santos and gamers control criminals as they rampage through the town committing a series of crimes to rise to the top of the gangster underworld by any grotesque means necessary.  It has been criticised for its levels of violence, particularly for its depictions of torture and the way it often portrays women as strippers and prostitutes.  The Guinness Book of Records has named the series as the most controversial video game in history

Explaining its decision, a spokesman for Target said it had “been speaking to many customers over recent days about the game, and there is a significant level of concern about the game's content.  We feel the decision to stop selling GTA5 is in line with the majority view of our customers.” 

Clearly the chain’s decision was business focused rather than part of a wider moral crusade but it was prompted by a petition calling for its removal from stores because of the levels of violence against women.  It is worth noting that Grand Theft Auto allows players to be violent not just towards women but men too.   However GTA’s depiction of female characters is broadly one dimensional with women portrayed in the main as prostitutes, nags or powerless damsels in distress; hardly a healthy role model for the 21st century.

GTA is no stranger to controversy and it has come to be seen as the nadir of violent gaming.  However, there are equally concerning games such as the updated version of 90s bête noire Mortal Kombat which allows players to kill their opponents in numerous stomach churning ways and Call of Duty is infamous for the episode in which players are invited to slaughter bystanders in an airport.

There are lots of games which are not violet and misogynistic but it’s the nature of promotion today that, in order to secure media coverage, developers need to provide a product that will be talked about and sometimes pushing the boundaries is an easy way to do this.  We’ve seen the same in other forms of media including music videos.

There has been a backlash from gamers against Target’s decision but so often the level of debate has descended to ‘I play GTA and I don’t run down prostitutes’ - but this is missing the point.  Research from Canada published earlier this year looked at far more subtle, but equally concerning, links between the types of games played and gamers’ moral reasoning and ability to take the perspective of others into account.

Hours spent playing violent video games was found to be effectively stunting emotional growth. Interestingly, there was no correlation between the amount of time reported playing non-violent video games and moral reasoning levels.

Following the ban in Australia there has the predictable outpouring of threats and abuse against those who initiated and signed the petition.  Perhaps this toxic behaviour is itself an illustration of the possible effect of these violent games.


If you are thinking of buying a console such as Xbox One or PlayStation 4 this Christmas it’s worth bearing in mind that there is nothing wrong with gaming per se – as long as players don’t spend too long doing it.  The key is keeping abreast of the content of the games being played on the device.  Grand Theft Auto 5 is rated 18 and this rating is not an indication of skill but of content.  In the same way most responsible parents would not be happy with their children watching an 18 rated DVD they need to keep a similar eye on the games which are being played and make sure that they use the parental controls available on these platforms to protect their children – not just from age inappropriate games but, as these consoles can be used to access the internet, from potentially harmful online content too.   You can find out how to do this here for Xbox products and here for PS4.