regulation and censorship - by the CEMP

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related to G325 of exam

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Media Regulation: Debates and Perspectives. Dr. Richard Berger. The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice. Bournemouth University.

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Historically, from the 1909 Cinematograph Act onwards, censorship in the UK has been medium specific. The internet and new media has changed that. Harder to regulate the internet – global nature etc. Differences in US and UK law regarding ‘impartiality’. In Sweden it’s not an offence to possess what in the UK would be deemed unlawful child pornography.

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Move towards self-censorship/regulation. BBC guidelines for its online writers: “Swearing is not big and it’s not clever, so avoid it as much as possible. If it’s in a quote, always star the following: c**t, f**k, w**k, F**ing and w**ker. If you really have to be foul mouthed, these words can be written in full: shit, bastard, bollocks, arsehole, twat, piss, sodding etc (eg, “He’s a c**t, that bastard.”). Obviously all slurs on race and minorities are a complete no-no.”  From BBCi’s Style Guide for writers and journalists (Sept 2005).

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The Broadcasting Standards Commission (later replaced by Ofcom) even rated swear words in 2002; 1.    C**t 11. Shag. 21. Bugger. 2.    Motherf****r 12. Whore. 22. Balls. 3.    F**k 13. Twat. 23. Jew. 4.    W****r 14. Piss Off. 24. Sodding. 5.    N****r 15. Spastic. 25. Jesus Christ. 6.    Bastard 16. Slag. 26. Crap. 7.    Prick 17. S**t. 27. Bloody. 8.    Bollocks 18. Dickhead. 28. God. 9.    A***hole 19. P****d Off. 10.  P**i 20. Arse.

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The coalescence of media regulation began in 2003 with the creation of Ofcom. Before Ofcom, all UK media was regulated by; ITC – Independent Television Commission. OfTel – Telecommunications Regulator. BSC – Broadcasting Standards Commission. RA – Radio Authority. OFT – Office of Fair Trading. BBFC – British Board of Film Classification. BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation.

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So, Main problem is that the internet circumnavigates other media, and the laws that surround and regulate them. The internet can result in pre-trial prejudice, and contempt of court. Some national/local events do have widespread international appeal. http://www.thesmokinggun.com/doc_o_day/doc_o_day.html Now with global 24 hour rolling news, it’s even harder – many people can get the BBC, and Al-jazerra.

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Another problem with medium specific media regulation are the ‘media effects’ debate which trawl in their wake. Media effects debate is as old as cinema/television. Many studies to prove links between violence on screen, and violence in society. Most media effects models based on media’s perceived influence over children.

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Problems with Media Effects. In Moving Experiences (2005) David Gauntlett argues: The effects model tackles social problems backwards. The effects model treats children as inadequate. Assumptions within the effects model are characterised by barely-concealed conservative ideology.

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Problems with Media Effects. The effects model inadequately defines its own objects of study. The effects model is often based on artificial elements and assumptions within studies. The effects model is often based on studies with misapplied methodology. The effects model is selective in its criticisms of media depictions of violence.

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Problems with Media Effects. The effects model assumes superiority to the masses. The effects model makes no attempt to understand meanings of the media. The effects model is not grounded in theory. Gauntlett, D., 2005. Moving Experiences. Eastleigh: John Libbey. pp 143-151.

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Does media effect? Censors often act in self-serving ways – political. Effects model easy to demolish. i.e easy to see conservative ideology, highlighted by David Gauntlett. The popular media can start a news spiral that creates a ‘folk devil.’ i.e Child’s Play 3, Crash, etc.

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But… Films, and increasingly videogames, are still being blamed for violence in society: Virginia Tech shootings – April 16th 2007. Student Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 fellow students, and himself. He sent a video and photographs of himself threatening the massacre to NBC news, the previous day. Some newspapers blamed the film OldBoy (Park Chan-Wook, 2003).

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However, the BBFC’s steady liberalisation since the late 1990s, and the creation of Ofcom has led to more emphasis on ‘self-regulation.’ Regulation should now be in the hands of the individuals/parents, not institutions. Contradiction? Due to the relatively unregulated internet?

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Online Regulation. In 1998 the Culture, Media & Sport select committee set up an enquiry into online regulation. They reported: Existing broadcasting legislation wouldn’t work, but, new regulation wasn’t viable because: Problems of access. Internet/Cyberspace is seen to be integral to economic growth. International medium requires International law.

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More self regulation - focus on ‘end-users’ There are lots of Interest Group sites, such as Women Halting Online Abuse, or the Cyberangels net patrol group. ISPs drawing-up codes of practice and many are doing so, eg AOL and FreeServe. Members and subscribers must obey the rules, or be disconnected – ‘3-strikes’.

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But… In the 1990s, Rupert Murdoch removed the BBC’s World Service Television channel from his Star satellite system. Murdoch wanted to tap in to new lucrative Chinese markets. The BBC had been critical of Chinese human rights policy in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

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Google & China. On the 25th January 2006 the search engine Google introduced a system of self-censorship for its Chinese version. For example, if you use www.google.co.uk for an image search of ‘Tiananmen Square,’ you get…

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In February 2010, Google accused China of hacking its service and announced it was pulling out. Further sourced relationships between China and the new administration in the US. So, despite people such as John Gilmore arguing that the, “Internet treats censorship like damage, it routes around it,” it is heavily censored by nation states.

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So, despite the UK being the most heavily regulated nation state in Europe, current content regulation is being increasingly subverted. This is largely due to the internet, which transcends national boundaries, political institutions and content legislation. A great deal of controversial content can be found online.

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Hate sites: www.rotten.com (Grim images. A lot of it is faked). www.yourgoingtohell.com/ (Right wing religious hate-site). www.rahowa.com (White supremacist site calling for a ‘Racial Holy War’). http://www.newamericancentury.org/(Organisation dedicated to America ruling the entire world!). www.narth.com (USA based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality).

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www.moralityinmedia.org (Right-wing media watch site). http://www.afa.net/(American Family Association). http://www.newnation.org/(Racist site, mostly focusing on immigration).  www.godhatesfags.com (Reverend Fred Phelps’ site) www.wakeupordie.com (Californian Elena Haskins’ racist website). http://www.skrewdriver.net/(Combat 18’s website). www.av1611.org/crock.html (Christian site denouncing contemporary music as evil)

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The future of film and television. BBFC’s research has found that audiences are concerned about violence and drug-taking, rather than sex. Now, more films being passed at ’18’ certificate featuring explicit sexual scenes. Ai No Corrida (Oshima, 1976) was suddenly passed at ’18’ certificate for video in the late 90s.

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The Pornographer (Bonello, 2001) was passed at ’18’ certificate, but a 6-second scene of ejaculation was cut. Academic and anti-censorship campaigner, Linda Williams (University of Southampton) argued that this was ridiculous. A few years later, 9 Songs (Winterbottom, 2005) was passed at ’18’ uncut for cinema and video exhibition.

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So, what happens online, impacts what other content providers do – it’s all connected. Channel 4 plan to ‘test’ Ofcom’s power by showing the film- probably on its More4 digital channel. This will hugely impact upon television censorship. Adult digital channels will probably feel that they can show more ‘hardcore’ material – only currently available at ‘R18’ certificates from licensed premises.

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Shortbus. In 2007, Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell) was released uncut on DVD in the UK. The film contains some of the most sexually explicit content ever seen, and was notable for its graphic depiction of heterosexual and homosexual sex.

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So, can the BBFC survive, if content it deems unacceptable is available online? Will Ofcom replace it eventually? Or, will regulation shift subtly towards information and education?

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Political Impact. On the 30th December 2006, at 6am in North Baghdad, Saddam Hussein was hanged. Silent images showing the moments leading up to the execution were released from official sources within minutes. The footage showed a composed Saddam, seemingly accepting his fate.

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However, within hours, footage showing the actual execution, filmed on a mobile phone, was released on the internet. Also shown on the Middle East news channel Al Jazeera. It was later broadcast (almost) in its entirety on television news. Showed Saddam being taunted.

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This caused a problem for the UK government, who had helped to remove Saddam’s regime, but was opposed to the death penalty. The BBC’s John Simpson called the event no more than a ‘public execution.’ In the following days, Deputy PM John Precott and Chancellor Gordon Brown condemned the execution. An embarrassed Prime Minister, Tony Blair, gave a muted response a few weeks later.

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The same debates regarding censorship have been in circulation throughout history. Successive UK Governments have attempted to control and regulate media.

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However, it is new forms of interactive media which will cause concern for the censors of the future. In the ‘domestic space’ – like TV/VCR/DVD. Popular with children/young people. Level of ‘interactivity’ makes these texts potentially more harmful/influential? Voluntary code of classification – at the moment. Not subject to the 1984 VRA. Videogames have been linked, by right-wing press, to violence e.g Doom and the Columbine massacre. Videogames become more ‘real.’

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The current videogame debate is the same as the ‘video nasty’ debate in the 1980s. So… censorship and regulation will not decline. Despite recent changes, the UK is still the most heavily regulated nation in Europe.

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Future content regulation will focus more on videogames and interactive media. Legislation will probably be needed to combat the increasing fluidity between different – and differently regulated – media platforms. richard@cemp.ac.uk. March 2010.

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