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

By EDRi · March 13, 2013

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [ENDitorial: Porno, Parlament, Gepose, Politik und privatisierte Rechtsdurchsetzung |]

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 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

Ms Liotard’s intervention in the Parliament debate (min. 17.22)

Cavada Report on the online distribution of audiovisual works in
the European Union (as adopted by Committee) (25.07.2012)

Gallo report on enforcement of intellectual property rights in the
internal market (3.06.2010)

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)

European Parliament Just Voted To Ban Porn, But Refrains From Extending Scope To Internet Following Protests, And Hides Who Voted For It

European Parliament considers a ban on “all pornography”, policed by private companies (7.03.2013)

(Contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)