Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/24/australia_classification/

Sex Party proposes new classification system for Oz

Non-violent erotica category

By Jane Fae Ozimek

Posted in Government, 24th September 2010 14:26 GMT

The Australian Sex Party (ASP) today issued a direct challenge to what it sees as Australia’s narrow, repressive and intolerant regulations governing the censorship of erotic material. In the process, it may find it has set the ball rolling on a debate with global ramifications.

The Sex Party proposals are wide-ranging and comprehensive, tackling a number of issues specific to Australia as well as issues that go wider.

They argue for a national classification scheme that "includes uniform ratings for explicit adult material across all jurisdictions and through all media (including computer games, magazines and films)".

This is a direct response to the fact that, the ASP claims, the current classification system for adult materials is riddled with inconsistencies across a number of jurisdictions and a range of media. The effect of this inconsistency is a de facto supposition that "Australians living in different areas of the continent have different moralities".

The ASP wants the state to legalise the sale and making of X-rated films nationally. The party is also calling for censors to move away from "privileging narrow moulds of sexual taste, acts and cultures". Instead, it demands that the authorities "expressly include depictions of fetish, which is currently excluded from Australia’s X rating, in a new rating category called Non Violent Erotica (NVE)".

The argument is one that will be familiar to students of film-making the world over. Directors as diverse as John Waters in the US and Nigel Wingrove in the UK have railed against the hypocrisy of the "sex-plus" rule endorsed at the highest level within society and by censorship bodies. This is the view that ordinary everyday acts are made dangerous by the addition of sex, while criminal acts are instantly converted into something far more deserving of punishment.

Several surveys have pointed out the inconsistency of a censorship system – such as that operated in the UK, which claims to censor material in part to prevent copy-catting, but then permits ultra-violent gore such as Saw and Hostel – while banning soft core erotica such as Story of O.

This view is endorsed by Jennie Kermode, editor of UK-based magazine Eye for Film. According to Jennie, "Violence is common in film and television, as it has been in oral tales throughout human history, to the point where mild acts are often seen as cartoonish and not taken very seriously. This is the stuff of Saturday afternoon TV.

“Add a sexual element, however, and suddenly there is moral outrage. This is not a proportionate or rational way to approach classification."

The ASP expresses its opposition to violence in all its forms, and cites a 2005 Eros summary of all recent research studies into the effects of violent media on children. The summary found that by the age of 18 the average American had seen 200,000 dramatised acts of violence and 40,000 dramatised murders, and the average Australian wasn't far behind.

As an alternative, the ASP suggests that censors should actively promote the responsible enjoyment of erotica, endorsing positive messages about consensual and safe sexual activity, and condemning non-consensual sexual activity and sexual violence. This should be supported by developing a best practice model with recommendations for the ethical production of pornography that is rewarding and positive for the contributor, including contacts and networks between models/performers to ensure they can access industry information, standardised contracts, legal advice and health testing.

Hazel Eracleous, chair of Backlash UK, which has campaigned vigorously against legal restrictions on what material consenting adults may legally watch and possess, is in favour of greater backing to safe practices in the erotic film industry. She told us: "I think this is an essential start in establishing trust and clarity in the industry and reassuring the consumer and the performers of the legitimacy and legality of their work.

"A variety of classifications to cover all porn is an excellent idea and assists in consumer choice and also raises awareness of the issues surrounding adult film work. It also opens a dialogue, much needed in Australia, on the role and reflective quality of porn in society."

In addition, all appointees of the Classification Board and Classification Review Board should receive training in the latest developments around sexuality to bring them up to date with a pluralistic range of adult sexualities, subcultures, behaviours and body types.

Finally, the censors should introduce R, X and NVE ratings for computer games. This is an Australian issue, with Australia one of the few legislatures in the western world not to permit the distribution of adult computer games – for the simple reason that it doesn’t have an appropriate classification for them.

The real significance of this story lies in the fact that it is a significant attempt to put forward an alternative to current models of film and media censorship by a body with some public standing. Instead of film producers complaining about cuts, the Australian Sex Party is here proposing an alternative way forward which seems likely to strike a chord with a large number of similar bodies across the globe.

It is, nonetheless, unlikely to find favour with bodies that take a more cautious view of what is broadcast. Vivienne Pattson, director of Mediawatch-UK, told The Register: "It is all very well to claim that films showing consensual acts between adults are harmless to those who produce them and those who view them. In truth, though, the biggest lie is that porn is ok and that no-one gets hurt. If you look at the industry in which these sort of films get made, women are hurt, exploited and damaged.

"On top of that, the entire porn industry fosters an unfortunate attitude towards objectification of women. It tells people it is OK to view a woman in a certain way.

"There is a trickle down effect which results from our attitude towards porn: as I come to work, I regularly pass a billboard showing a provocative and erotic picture of a woman. What message is being sent to five-year-olds? That it is just OK for a woman to take her clothes off in order to sell something?" ®