Is there too much “freedom of the press” or not enough?
The real question is not whether there is enough freedom or not enough: it is about what the press decide to do with the freedoms granted – and the fact is that at present, the press in the UK have been abusing that freedom.
Tabloid culture re-inforces violations of privacy on the part of the state and conditions the population for acquiescence. On the other hand, through law and other means, the state is repressing progressive forces of cultural change. That includes representations of sexuality and sexual culture and transgressive creative material.
Both privacy and the right to investigate need to be supported by law.
Moral panic and the chilling of speech
Once upon a time, it was clear why we censored material. The focus was “obscenity” and while that was mostly around things deemed to deprave or corrupt, there was scope for other material to fall within this definition: extreme violence, for instance or even racial abuse.
Since then, the laws have fragmented and the rationale for censorship is no longer clear. Underpinning the current legal landscape are a plurality of laws that have mostly appeared in the last two decades (or three if one includes laws pertaining to child abuse) that are increasingly focussed on very specific issues: malicious communication, harm, incitement, and so on.
The old standards of obscenity have melted away and in their place is something much more amorphous. A mixture of stated motives, including direct harm to individuals, indirect harm, copycatting and offense. Behind this, however, seems to lie a single over-riding concern: somehow, sex and sexualisation is in and of itself something not to be encouraged.
The result: a range of legislation that is inconsistent, cites different levels of harm and offence, but at base is about preventing the dissemination of material that directly covers sex. It is also far more draconian, targeting simple possession as opposed to publication and is increasingly “strict liability”: motive no longer matters.
At its most extreme, what appears to be happening is that the authorities would like to dissuade the public from reading about non-normative sexualities – and, as can be seen in the recent BBFC response to the Michael Peacock obscenity case – they are prepared to ignore the letter of the law in their quest for censoring such material.
Intimate sex in semi-public places: social sexual practices in a NYC gay sex party
At the start of the AIDS epidemic, NY state adopted some very draconian legislation to control gay clubs. Private sex parties therefore replaced parties in commercial venues.
Different spaces now lead to different sorts of interaction. Etienne has carried out an ethnography of these different types.
The negotiation of risk, desire and moral propriety
Susdan Hansen & Dan Wiseman
This session was not presented.