UK pornographers are living in interesting times. In the wake of recent announcements that ATVOD (the regulator set up by the UK Government to regulate online video content) have been folded and their parent organisation Ofcom are taking over sole regulatory oversight, the Government have now released a public consultation proposing mandatory age verification for all adult content visible to UK users, whether hosted in the UK or overseas. Meanwhile the new investigatory powers bill has failed to meet international standards in the European courts of justice and human rights.
The topic of porn is often sensationalised and trivialised by the media, but porn is on the front line when it comes to issues such as free speech, privacy and digital rights. A free internet benefits all of us, but currently we are letting porn become an easy target, an excuse for repressive legislation that will eventually expand to encroach on all our freedoms.
Last month a group of adult filmmakers in the UK who are particularly affected by current legislation met to discuss censorship, stigma, porn and culture at the second annual British Fetish Film Festival. There is still a great deal of misinformation out there about porn, particularly fetish porn, which is often dismissed as "violent" or "degrading" when the reality is usually fun, consensual and safe. We have released a public statement which you can read below.
16 March 2016
British pornographers recently gathered at The British Fetish Film Festival, an annual event that this year was held in Welshpool, Powys. 30 fetish film producers and performers got together to discuss the challenges faced by the industry in the current climate of increasing criminalisation, and to watch a wide range of recent fetish films, from the artistic to the amateur and established studios.
Most UK fetish film-makers are independent creatives, operating cottage industries for the love of it as much as to turn a profit. “Fetish” is an umbrella term that includes forms of sexual expression from the relatively well-known to the truly obscure, including many activities that are hard to classify as “pornography”, and often challenge traditional understandings of sex and erotica. Fetishism is often misinterpreted by fiction, by the media and by popular culture, which rely on harmful stereotypes that bear little resemblance to fetishists’ own self-expression.
As producers and enthusiasts, we wish to raise awareness around our lifestyles and our industry, and dispel myths that conflate fetishism and its practitioners with violence, pathology and dangerous or destructive behaviour.
Since 2008, with the introduction of Section 63 of the CJIA (AKA the Extreme Porn legislation), and more recently the 2014 AVMS Regulations and the appointment of ATVOD as regulator of online video services, the UK adult industry has been hounded and decimated under the pretence of protecting women and children. But consensual fetish of the type screened at the Festival is undertaken carefully and considerately, with strong community standards for safe behaviour and good practice. The reality is very different from fear-mongering state and media propaganda.
Due to misinterpretation and ignorance, consensual fetish and other niche sexualities still suffer from stigma which is clearly reflected in recent legislation. Moral panics about “extreme” material feed on the fear caused by a lack of understanding of marginalised sexualities. The current regulating bodies, such as the BBFC, Ofcom and, until recently, ATVOD, have harmed the UK based businesses of the independent adult industry, and their producers, with their wilful ignorance and moralistic censure of the subjects that they are supposed to regulate.
The guidelines relief on by the BBFC, ATVOD and Ofcom are out of date, and do not reflect current social standards. We, the producers, performers and allies at the most recent British Fetish Film Festival, are organising strategies of resistance and outreach, including public screenings of films from the Festival throughout the UK.
We believe that adult films are an important part of contemporary culture, both artistically and politically, and deserve to be recognised as such. Censoring our work will damage UK business, but it will not stop viewers from accessing porn online.
From 2016, our aim is that the British Fetish Film Festival will become a cultural event to promote understanding and tolerance of the beautiful diversity of consenting adult sexual expression. We are planning a series of events to raise awareness, promote informed discussion, and resist criminalisation.