Updated The BBC was today accused of ignoring its own charter requirement to offer balance by coming down firmly on the side of opt-in in respect of internet porn regulation.
An "alliance of the concerned" drawn from academics and individuals representing the adult film industry added their voices to a chorus of dissent, claiming that Porn Again, a documentary produced by former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and aired last Thursday, was biased, inaccurate, and went out of its way to sideline any voices at odds with its central thesis that pornography is harmful.
Speaking to The Register today, Jerry Barnett, Chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association (AIT), said: "The documentary appears to have been a piece of pro-censorship propaganda, backed by the full establishment weight of the BBC, at a time when freedom of speech is under concerted attack from multiple directions, by our government and many others around the world.
"Smith also put her weight behind Ed Vaizey's current proposal that Internet connections should be delivered with porn access switched off by default, although adequate filtering capabilities already exist for any parent who is concerned about what their children watch.
"It seems that adding support to Vaizey was part of her agenda for the programme. This capability would be the government's first major step into censoring the British Internet, and is of huge concern to me from a civil liberties perspective rather than just from the industry's point-of-view."
Similar concerns were expressed by feminist pornographer Anna Span, who said: "Can Jacqui explain what is wrong with a simple 'opt out' system, which enables people to have a porn free internet, and also allows others to have the free internet that is not censored by any Government’s idea of 'tasteful' material, which is surely our right in a free society?"
Ms Span was equally unhappy with the fact that the programme appeared to dismiss out of hand any positive female perspective on porn. She said surveys had shown that over a third of porn users in the UK today are female.
Adult TV producer Liselle Bailey was even more forthright, objecting to her demotion from experienced female producer to "everywoman" in the opening part of the programme.
She commented (in a text blasted out during the follow-up discussion): "Ask f-king jacqui why she failed to present any of the intelligent arguments presented by a female insider?! F-king agenda driven judas. And you can quote me on that. So angry"
At issue was whether the documentary provided any real insights into the porn industry, or whether it was no more than the pursuit of a personal agenda, with some help from the BBC.
Ms Smith began by positioning herself as impartial outsider. She had never seen porn before, but explained: "I didn’t feel it was necessary for me to watch violent porn in order to legislate against it." After all, she hasn’t taken drugs either and was still able to legislate on that.
Nonetheless, her starting point that porn was a bad thing never really met with any serious challenge, and the whole was supported by a series of anecdotes and "talking head encounters" designed to back up that thesis. Ms Smith ended with a call for the sex industry to pay for sex education in schools (presumably because of the harm it does) and backing for Culture Minister Ed Vaizey’s calls for opt-in on the internet.
This was followed by a panel discussion and phone-in, as a result of which Jerry Barnett complained that any remotely pro-porn views were sidelined, with calls carefully managed to bring in a preponderance on the anti-porn side.
He also accused BBC host, Tony Livesey, of continually returning to the "red herring" of whether the sex industry should pay for sex education – and of swiftly closing down any comment that might discomfit the former Home Secretary.
The net result, it is alleged, was that the BBC appeared to give strong support to a policy of opt-in for adult sites on the net, despite the fact this is a subject of current public debate, and that such a move would be commercially favourable to the BBC.
We asked the BBC for comment on this allegation, but have yet to hear back.
A spokesman for the BBC sent us this:
“The Porn Again documentary was always intended and billed as an authored piece by Jacqui Smith and the views that she expressed were hers. The programme used voices from across the debate who challenged her views and presented alterative ones about the relative merits of pornography. The documentary allowed many voices from the pornography industry, academia and the therapeutic community to put forward their views and share their experiences.
“The follow up debate after the programme again used a variety of voices and callers from different perspectives. The callers that were on air were representative of those that called in. Different strands of opinion were represented - including those that opposed Jacqui Smith's premise that violent pornography is harmful and that the legal changes made by Jacqui Smith were punitive and unnecessary.
“The BBC as an organisation does not hold a view on what legislation should govern porn use on the internet. We provided Jacqui Smith with a vehicle for airing her views and exploring the issue coupled with plenty of views that opposed Jacqui's own . The phone in show after the programme included a thorough debate that brought in a variety of views from different perspectives.”