An Appealing Victory

 The R18 Story: Chapter 9

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VAC Appeal Victory

And how it was reported in the Press

The R18 Story, the legalisation of hardcore: Chapter 9: August 1999

The announcement that Sheptonhurst and Prime Time Promotions had won their VAC appeal against the BBFC inevitable aroused some interest in the press so I have gathered some of these articles for posterity.

 

BBFC Press Release

August 16th 1999

BBFC logoThe Video Appeals Committee announced today the results of two appeals against the BBFC's decision to reject 7 sex videos containing sexually explicit material. The appeals, lodged by distributors Sheptonhurst Ltd., and Prime Time Promotions, have been successful.

In its decisions the Video Appeals Committee (VAC) ruled that the Board should have granted each work an 'R18' certificate as requested, allowing the companies to distribute and trade the videos through licensed sex shop premises. The ruling comes just one year after the successful appeal by Sheptonhurst against the Board's refusal to grant an 'R18' certificate to the sex video Makin' Whoopee!. The VAC found by a majority of 4 to 1 that the Board was wrong to conclude that the video works breached the provisions of the Video Recordings Act because they had the potential to cause harm to children.

The majority accepted the argument that we do not, in general, prevent adults having access to material just because it might be harmful to children if it fell into their hands. We might have taken a different view if there was evidence that the effects were affecting more than a small minority of children or were devastating if this did happen.

The minority opinion was that the general effect of all these videos is dehumanising and mechanistic and they are unacceptable within the current guidelines for a classification of 'R18'. The Board had produced expert evidence that the material could cause harm to children.

Since the 7 videos were clearly in breach of the Board's published classification guidelines for 'R18', the VAC decision also has serious implications for those guidelines.

The issue of obscenity under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was not argued this time, since the Board accepted that the VAC had made its own view clear in that regard in 1998 when it unanimously found similar content in Makin' Whoopee! not obscene. Nevertheless, similar content continues to be seized and forfeited under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. This is a matter of continuing concern to the Board.

In the light of the Video Appeals Committee's decision, the Board is considering how it should now proceed.

 

Porn makers win case for real-sex videos

The Times
 
August 17th
by Michael Paterson

R18 StoryPornographers were given the go-ahead to show real sex in films yesterday after a ban by censors was lifted.

The independent Video Appeals Committee ruled that the BBFC should have given R18 certificates to seven pornographic videos, allowing them to be sold in sex shops.

The landmark ruling by the committee, which includes the writer Fay Weldon and the children's author Nina Bawden, will almost certainly mean that R18 certificates have to be granted to similar videos in future.

There are 80 licensed adult shops in Britain, of which 50 are run by Sheptonhurst, which with the distributor Prime Time Promotions made the appeals. The seven films include such titles as Office Tart and Nympho Nurse Nancy. At the hearing last month, the BBFC had claimed that such films had the potential to cause harm to children if viewed by them. The censors chose not to argue that the films were obscene, following a case last year when the VAC rejected their claim of obscenity about a film featuring strong sexual scenes.

The BBFC's counsel, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC, told the hearing: If the BBFC took the permissive stance the porn industry wants, then many thousands of hardcore videos would go into circulation.

By four to one, the committee allowed the appeals. The majority ruling said: We accept the argument that we do not, in general, prevent adults having access to material just because it might be harmful to children if it fell into their hands. We might have taken a different view if there was evidence that the effects were affecting more than a small minority of children or were devastating if this did happen.

Robin Duval, the BBFC's director, said it was now "a possibility" that its guidelines would have to be rewritten.

 

The Independent

By Anthony Barnes.

Film censors may have to redraw guidelines after a successful legal challenge against their decision to withhold certificates for seven sex videos. The Video Appeals Committee, an independent body, ruled yesterday that the BBFC should have rated the films R18 to allow them to be sold in sex shops. Sheptonhurst, a video dealer, and distributor Prime Time Promotions brought the case after the films - featuring real, penetrative sex - were rejected.

The ruling could mean that certificates are granted to stronger material featuring genuine, rather than simulated, sex in the 80 licensed adult shops around the country - 50 of which are run by Sheptonhurst.

By a four to one majority the committee allowed the appeals. In its ruling the majority said: We accept the argument that we do not, in general, prevent adults having access to material just because it might be harmful to children if it fell into their hands. We might have taken a different view if there was evidence that the effects were affecting more than a small minority of children or were devastating if this did happen. The committee also thought the BBFC was precipitate in introducing new regulations without adequate consultation or adequate warning to the industry. That followed a decision by the board to loosen restrictions during part of 1997, but then to reinstate them.

In a statement, the BBFC said the decision had serious implications for its guidelines. And it pointed to the different attitudes about obscenity. Robin Duval, the BBFC's director, said last night: Nothing is absolutely inevitable from the findings. One of the likelihoods is that we might find that it's appropriate to give R18 certificates to this material. Asked if the BBFC guidelines might have to be rewritten he said: It's certainly a possibility.

 

Pornographic videos

Letter to the Times

From Viscount Caldecote
August 17th

Sir, You report today the ruling of the Video Appeals Committee (VAC) to overturn the ban imposed by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and so give the go-ahead to pornographers to show real sex in films, on the grounds that these will only affect a small minority of children. As a result, the BBFC's Director commented that possibly its guidelines would have to be rewritten.

Surely it is the guidelines of the VAC, and perhaps its membership too, that should be changed. For its policy is not to worry about the harmful effects of widening the spread of pornography amongst even a small minority of children, but rather to pander to the depraved wishes of some adults.

That is clearly a misguided and harmful policy which should not be condoned.

Yours faithfully,

CALDECOTE,
As from: House of Lords.

 

Let us have proper porn

The Guardian

August 19th

On holiday recently, my boyfriend and I ended an enjoyable day of fishing from a small boat in the middle of a large lake, followed by a supper of hot smoked salmon and lingonberries, in a traditional European manner. We settled down to watch a porn video in our Finnish hotel room. On the screen, all sorts of sexual practices unfolded, to a script consisting entirely of feral grunts and "Oui! Si! Ja! Yes!", so that, wherever you were in Europe, you would be satisfied.

Soon we won't have to travel so far to enjoy such late-night diversions. This week the Video Appeals Committee ruled that the BBFC should have given R18 certificates to seven pornographic videos showing real, penetrative sex. Until now, the board has only passed videos showing simulated sex. Nympho Nurse Nancy, Office Tart, Horny Catbabe and Miss Nude International will be coming soon to one of the 80 licensed adult sex shops near you.

The board is not happy about this. They do not think you and I are responsible enough to be entrusted with such erotic material. Most of all, they are worried we might allow our children to watch Office Tart after Teletubbies, and these innocents might grow up with the perverted notion that the main purpose of filing cabinets is for fornicating against.

The Finnish video was uncompromising; there was anal sex, ejaculation and full Technicolor close-ups. None of the seven videos passed by the board contain any of these elements. Even with these latest concessions, Britain's porn laws are much stricter than almost anywhere else in Europe.

That's perhaps why the British abroad find foreign cable channels so fascinating. My boyfriend and I viewed the mating habits on the Finnish video with the same detached quasi-scientific curiosity we might watch David Attenborough on birds. If a child had been with us, what would they have thought of a naked man and woman massaging each other's genitals and the feral grunts? Would they have become distraught and burst into tears? Would their future sexual practices have been warped beyond recognition? No, I'm convinced they would have fallen straight to sleep.

But what if a child had stayed awake for a few moments and asked me some questions. They might have wanted to know what those nude men and women - with far from perfect bodies, rather like their parents - were doing. In which case, I would have told them: they are having sex. The child may have tried to look more closely, examining their harshly-lit bodies just as we were. I expect the child would have found it absurd. The idea of penetration is simply silly to a small child. Even adults find it funny. Author Nina Bawden, a member of the Video Appeals Committee, said that the majority of material they watched was more likely to cause laughter than erections.

There are plenty of other images, on other videos, that our moral overlords are not nearly as concerned about our children and ourselves seeing, even though they show a far less honest, and amusing, picture of sexual practices. In most mainstream Hollywood movies, sex consists of a man with no hair anywhere on his body rubbing vigorously up against a woman, followed by some slow press-ups and a miraculous orgasm for the female star, as if no one west of Ellis Island had ever heard of a clitoral stimulation. In healthy contrast, the clitoris has a big part in most porn movies; it's considered important. Women masturbate themselves. But in the warped world of censorship, these most accurate portrayals of female sexuality are banished to late-night cable channels in far-flung foreign hotel rooms.

Pornography is a challenge to Britain's conservative censorship lobby. It's a truly popular form of entertainment which threatens established prejudices, often pioneering sexual practices considered taboo. Gay and inter-racial sex have long been prolific in porn when absent almost anywhere else, prompting feminist commentator Paula Webster to say: Pornography implies that we could find all races, genders, ages, and shapes sexually interesting.

Outside the low-brow land of Makin Whoopee and Wet Nurses 2, sex scenes are far from challenging. It's a daring Hollywood film in which the man isn't on top. In carnal contrast, pornography prefers the fantasy of the sexually eager woman. One of the most memorable lines in the handful of porn movies I've watched is: "Give it to me, big boy." What is so objectionable about this? In porn videos women are regularly given an aggressive, up-front, on-top role. As Norman Mailer wryly commented: I've seen any number of pornographic films where you have girls sitting on guys' heads.

Children are not corrupted by porn; they're more likely to be bored by it. And adult viewers of any material, however raunchy, should not be treated like children. But that's exactly the attitude of the British Board of Film Classification in believing we - the great unwashed British public - cannot be trusted with perfectly ordinary footage of consenting adults copulating. God knows what we might be provoked into doing by such images. Copulate with another consenting adult, perhaps? The board should have the balls to challenge Britain's censorship laws. Then we could all look forward to having the choice to watch undiluted, honest sex in our own homes.

 

Resign Call: Shadow Home Secretary Ann is furious with Rayner

The Express


By Sarah O'Grady
22nd August

Anti-porn campaigners, police and politicians are uniting to fight a landmark ruling which will allow hard-core sex videos to flood into Britain.

They have demanded the resignation of the Video Appeals Committee which last week gave the go-ahead to sell seven films featuring graphic sex acts in sex shops, overruling a ban by the BBFC.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe and John Beyer, director of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, called on agony aunt Claire Rayner, former Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter, author Nina Bawden, writer Fay Weldon and the other members of the VAC to step down. The whole committee should resign, said Miss Widdecombe: They have created a situation where children are at risk and that is not acceptable.

Previously illegal titles such as Office Tart and Miss Nude International show explicit scenes of penetration, masturbation and close-ups of aroused men, and break current guidelines banning real sex in films. We do not know if horror and sex videos like these played a role in the tragic killing of Jamie Bulger, added Miss Widdecombe. But there were great suspicions and children do not need to see this kind of horrible stuff. Adults will buy these films and either leave them around the house by mistake, or worse, let their children watch them anyway. There is a very good law to prevent this kind of material from entering the public domain. But these committee members ignored it.

Miss Rayner said: "I am a liberal in these matters and the people who invited me to sit on the VAC know that. This criticism comes from people who think society should be mollycoddled.  We live in a society where people see appalling violence on television and in the cinemas, but when it comes to showing sex there's an uproar. Children may see these videos, but they see Arnold Schwarzenegger pulping people to pieces in films all the time.

But Mr Beyer said: There's a world of difference. The idea of children coming into contact with this kind of material is a critical concern. The committee did not consider the well-being of the children who will see this filth. He added: We need more stringent censorship, not less. The VAC should step down and be replaced by a more representative and accountable board.

In last week's ruling, the VAC accepted the argument that we do not, in general, prevent adults having access to material just because it might be harmful to children.

Deputy Chief Constable Tim Brain, vice and obscenity spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, warned the VAC that the granting of an R18 certificate was not a defence against the 1959 Obscene Publications Act: If someone complains about the content of these videos, there may be grounds for an investigation. Access by children to this kind of pornography is an issue of concern and that was recognised by the BBFC in their original decision to ban these films.



Legalisation of R18 Hardcore  Chapter 1: Jacking Off the Censor Hardcore snippets temporarily got BBFC approval in 1997
 Chapter 2: Makin' Whoopee in Summer 1998
 Chapter 3: Rumours of a Return to Porn in November/December 1998
 Chapter 4: Porn is In & Out & In & Out Again the state of play in January 1999
 Chapter 5: The Video Appeals Committee Forcing the BBFC to respect the law, May 1999
 Chapter 6: Censoring Safer Sex Discrimination at the BBFC. May 1999
 Chapter 7: Hiding Behind Children Giving up on obscenity and using concern for children, July 1999
 Chapter 8: The VAC R18 Appeal Report from the VAC Appeal, July 1999
 Chapter 9: An Appealing Victory Video Appeals Committee judgment allows hardcore, August 1999
 Chapter 10: The Censor and the State BBFC seek Judicial review, winter 1999/2000
 Chapter 11: Judicial Review Confirms Legality of Hardcore: Spring & Summer 2000
 Chapter 12: More Sex Shops Required according to Andreas Whittam Smith, November 2000
 Chapter 13: The Legalisation of Hardcore: A recap 1997-2000

 

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