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ENDitorial: Porn, Parliament, Posturing, Politics and Privatised Policing

13 March, 2013
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This article is also available in:
Deutsch: ENDitorial: Porno, Parlament, Gepose, Politik und privatisierte Rechts...


There was a lot of noise surrounding the proposed “porn ban” that was voted on this week (on 12 March 2013) in the European Parliament. The draft Resolution, adopted by the Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM), called for the Commission to take action to implement the measures indicated in the 1997 Parliament resolution on advertising, in particular with regard to the ban on pornography that it proposed. It further called for an over-arching industry effort to police gender equality issues through the use of a “Charter” to be enforced by Internet operators.

The text being proposed was a vote to ban “all forms of pornography” in the “media”. What does “all forms” mean? What does “pornography” mean? According to the online Oxford English Dictionary, the intention of the portrayal is crucial to whether an image or a text can be considered “pornography”. What exactly was the drafter of this text trying to ban? And which media? Books meant to tittilate? The “mummy porn” book “50 Shades of Grey” was in the print medium and apparently intended to tittilate. It was the first book ever to sell one million Kindle e-books. Was the plan to prohibit women from purchasing this book in order to protect them from... ? Almost certainly not.

Actually, it turns out that this was not the intention at all. During the debate, Kartika Liotard, the Parliamentarian that proposed that particular text, made it clear that she didn't mean the proposal to be taken seriously. Instead it is simply meant to draw attention to the issues at stake. When she wrote that she wanted to ban “all forms of pornography” she absolutely did not want to create any obligations or to ban anything. “Everyone knows” she explained, that it is not a legislative proposal. A non-legislative report like this one is to draw attention to issues and to advise the Commission. In short, she fully expected and accepted that a vote of the European Parliament for a text proposing a ban on pornography would simply be understood as not meant to be taken seriously – it was just to highlight the issue. As Alice in Wonderland said, “the question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things”.

Some of the politics played with the report were disappointing, but almost funny. Swedish Pirate Party “evangelist” Rick Falkvinge set up an e-mail “exploder” address to be used to campaign against the proposal.

Every single e-mail sent to the europarl-all-mar2013@falkvinge.net sent e-mails to every one of the 754 MEPs - and he was surprised when the ensuing of tens of thousands of e-mails caused the European Parliament's IT services to set up countermeasures. He then wrote a blog post which wilfully misrepresented non-legislative reports like this one as being “part of a legislative process”. If this were true, the 1997 Parliament report which called for a “ban on porn” would have been in place for years. He then goes on to say that the fact that the Parliament explicitly deleted a reference to the proposed ban on pornography somehow means that the Parliament supports this provision of the 1997 text. Most surprisingly of all, he attacks the fact that there were not recorded (“roll call”) votes, arguing that this means that the Parliament “decided collectively to disable their constituents from holding them accountable.” Why is this surprising? Each political group can formally request a roll-call vote – so, he is (unjustly) accusing his own Pirate Party colleagues that are members of the European Parliament of anti-democratic behaviour.

While the “ban on porn” was worrying, the “Charter” for policing of gender stereotypes was much more serious. It was yet another attempt to privatise the regulation of free speech in the hands of online operators. This proposal was also explicitly rejected in the vote, with the Parliament following the same approach as it did during the vote on the Cavada Report on Distribution of Audiovisual Works in the European Union in July 2012. These two votes represent a change of approach from the European Parliament. Whereas it voted at the beginning of the current term of office for more online policing (in the Gallo report) by internet intermediaries, the Parliament has now twice voted, by a significant majority, in plenary session against this approach.

Dictionary: Definition of Pornography
http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pornography?q=pornogr...

Ms Liotard's intervention in the Parliament debate (min. 17.22)
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/plenary/video?debate=13630186...

Cavada Report on the online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union (as adopted by Committee) (25.07.2012)
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-%2f%2fEP%2f%2fNO...

Gallo report on enforcement of intellectual property rights in the internal market (3.06.2010)
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=REPORT&referenc...

Falkvinge: European Parliament Just Voted To Ban Porn, But Refrains From Extending Scope To Internet Following Protests, And Hides Who Voted For It (12.03.2013)
http://falkvinge.net/2013/03/12/european-parliament-just-voted-to-ban-...

European Parliament considers a ban on “all pornography”, policed by private companies (7.03.2013)
http://edri.org/porn_ban

(Contribution by Joe McNamee - EDRi)

 

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