Infantilising Britain: A Lesson From History

Looking back at the hysterical, evidence-free report on ‘sexualisation’ by Reg Bailey, the man the BBFC want to oversee their appeals committee.

Since the mid-1980s, the British Board of Film Classification has had the theoretical stop-gap of the Video Appeals Committee, a supposedly independent ‘second opinion’ collection of the ‘Great and Good’ who video distributors could take their case to if they disagreed with the BBFC’s decision. It was a cumbersome and difficult process – one that became more cumbersome and difficult as time went on and the rules were changed – but the VAC did make two very important decisions at the end of the 1990s that essentially led to the legalisation of hardcore porn in the UK.

Perhaps it is was such awkward decisions – ones that the BBFC fought to the very end, with legal appeals – that have motivated the various tweaking of the rules that have made appealing more and more difficult, both financially and logistically. We might ask why the BBFC are even allowed to arbitrarily change the rules of their allegedly independent appeals committee, but their latest decision seems a deliberate move to ensure that no one ever even considers appealing again.

In the minutes of the BBFC’s latest Board meeting, they casually dropped the bomb that “in order to create an appeals mechanism that is much more efficient and fit for purpose than current arrangements” (for whose purpose is not made clear, but perhaps we can guess) they would be drawing on their Advisory Panel on Children’s Viewing. The membership of that Panel might raise some eyebrows, given that it includes John Carr, a supposed expert on Child Internet Safety but in fact ardent campaigner against pornography aimed at and featuring adults, and Reg Bailey, former head of Christian organisation The Mother’s Union and the man behind a facile and evidence-free report back in 2011 on ‘sexualisation’ that said exactly what you’d expect it to say.

In a different incarnation, we wrote about the Bailey Report at the time it was released. To get an insight into the thinking of the people who will now be deciding if the BBFC decisions are correct – and note that, thanks to paranoid government changes from reports as empty as this, people can now appeal against decisions that they believe are too lenient as well – we’re reprinting that piece below.


So, the ‘report’ by Reg Bailey into sexualisation is upon us, and details have been leaked all weekend. Bailey, you might recall, is the head of the Mother’s Union (a position that makes more sense if you accept the blaxploitation use of ‘mother’ as its meaning), a Christian organisation that had already complained about our allegedly increasing culture of sexualisation – so the conclusions of his report are hardly a surprise. It’d be rather like getting pro-life organisations to look into whether or not abortion should be legal.

Bailey’s report – which would seem to be based not on expert analysis, research and facts but rather on supposition and opinion – makes for depressing reading if you believe in freedom of expression. Using the spectre of children being corrupted (which, obviously, no-one wants) and ‘forced to grow up too early’ (which is actually a meaningless phrase), Bailey suggests – no, demands – a swathe of new rules and regulations.

Reg Bailey – the man who wants to decide what you can and can’t see. What could go wrong?

His least contentious call is for a ban on high street shops selling inappropriate clothing aimed at kids. You know, padded training bras, thongs for five-year-olds, children’s T-shirts with ‘Porn Star’ logos and the like. On the surface, this seems sensible enough – except that all these cases have been shown to be either wild exaggerations or freak occurrences that were rapidly pulled from sale anyway rather than the high street norm. And while we might all agree that such clothing is inappropriate, it doesn’t magically appear in kids wardrobes – someone has to buy it for them. If you don’t approve of such things, then don’t buy them for your kid, even if they are pestering for them. Show some control over your brats and yourself. And quite honestly, does this stuff really do any harm? Does anyone really think that wearing a Playboy Bunny branded T-shirt is the first step to a life of vice? Or is it more likely that this stems from a fear that teenagers might be growing up to have a more relaxed attitude towards adult entertainment than the moralisers approve of?

Bailey also wants OFCOM to tighten up their rules, because of course, the pre-watershed TV schedules are just dripping with porn. Music videos, of course, are his prime target – singers and backing dancers wearing clothes he doesn’t approve of dancing sexily. It’s likely that most young kids won’t see anything ‘sexy’ in the dancing or the lyrics, but no matter – it’s embarrassing for prudish parents who can’t remember Pan’s People or Madonna’s Like a Virgin, so it must be stopped.

Pan’s People – wholesome pre-watershed entertainment from the good old days

Bailey also demands music videos have age-ratings. It’s hard to figure out what he means here – his lack of knowledge of the law and existing regulation causing him to get muddled. If he’s talking about home video – well, they already are rated. Sure, there’s an exemption for music videos from certification, but only if they have no sexual content. If he means on TV – well, isn’t that what the watershed is for? So I guess he’s talking about online platforms. If Bailey thinks the average booty shakin’ hip hop video or bumping, grinding RnB promo will be rated 18 by any existing censorship board, he’s living in a dream world. So presumably he thinks we need a new rating board that will unquestioningly, even enthusiastically apply the tastes of sexually paranoid religious nutters instead.

According to the Daily Mail (for who this report is a gift from God) Bailey “demands a return to the days when parents could be confident that programmes broadcast before 9pm would be suitable for the whole family.” But when was that? The 1970’s or the 1980’s, when nudity was much more commonplace, even in daytime schedules, and when the watershed was an informal agreement between broadcasters rather than a vigorously enforced rule by a regulator? The Mail goes on to claim that “the report accuses broadcasters of actively working against parents by peddling sexual content. ‘Some parents even questioned whether the watershed still exists.'” Well, that’s some dispassionate, unbiased reporting there, Reg. Mary Whitehouse couldn’t have written better.

Bailey’s answer to the problem of all the filth on TV is to say that broadcasting regulations should be slanted towards the opinions of parents, rather than viewers as a whole – so you childless heathens can fuck right off, because no-one cares about what you think. And just who will these parents that OFCOM and others have to consult be? Will every parent in the land be consulted? Or will it just be the likes of the Mother’s Union and Mumsnet, their self-appointed representatives? I think we can guess the answer to that.

And there’s more…

Bailey wants all computers to be sold with internet porn pre-blocked. So if you, as an adult, buy a new laptop or PC, you’ll have to ask your supplier to unblock it for you, because it’s apparently too much work for parents – presumably too busy consulting with OFCOM – to request a block or use simply set up blocking software themselves before letting Junior loose onto the internet. Of course, it’s hard to see how this will work at equipment level – more likely the idiots at the Mail misunderstood and Bailey in fact wants porn blocked by ISPs. Welcome to China.

One of these magazines is harmful to children. Have a guess which…

The report wants lad’s mags like Zoo and Nuts hidden behind boards or sold in plain wrappers. Because obviously, a photo of a woman in her underwear will corrupt kids. No matter that magazines use covers as a way of selling themselves to potential readers, as well as being covered by both the Indecent Displays Act and the rules imposed by major retailers – these publications will presumably be cheerfully forced out of business in order to prevent middle-class parents from potential embarrassment in Tesco as their kids stare, zombie-like, at the covers. Oddly, Bailey seems to have nothing to say about the magazines that sit more at child eye-level, with their lurid cover headlines about rape, murder, incest and the like – they’re fine because they pretend to disapprove of the subjects that they use to sell copies, and don’t show cleavage. ‘Sexy’ advertisements will also be banned – lingerie ads being just too exploitative, and any sort of skimpy, tight-fitting or otherwise seductive clothing will presumably also be banned. And he’s advocating yet another complainer’s charter, with a body where the easily, professionally upset can report anything they don’t like to compliant authorities.

The only thing notably missing so far from the report is the previously hinted-at demand for a ban on pre-watershed gay kissing. When this was leaked a few weeks ago, it caused predictable and righteous outrage, and it was clearly something that the government would find difficult to support – so it’s possible that this homophobic element of the report has been either dropped or quietly buried away. However, it’s original inclusion – or even the fact that this was even being considered – tells us everything we need to know about the report, its author and its intentions.

Let’s be honest – this is not about protecting children. They are an excuse to block, ban and remove anything that easily upset middle-class parents find embarrassing or that the unholy alliance of left-wing feminists and right-wing moralisers find offensive. By hiding behind the protection of children, they are deflecting most criticism. But don’t think this will be the end of it. Allow this, and soon we’ll have to stop shops selling 18 rated videos in case kids get to see them; close down sex shops and strip clubs in case kids walk past them; ban post-watershed nudity in case kids stay up late. Ban foreign travel in case kids go to the beach and see a topless woman. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s the logical extreme of a world dominated by Christian moralists and cynical tabloid opportunism that even their writers don’t really believe.

Depressingly but predictably, the government seem willing to listen to this crap. Bailey, like a Grand Censor who will decide for all of us what we can and cannot see, has decreed that the assorted industries have 18 months to ‘clean up their act’ or legislation will follow. We can only hope that once the dust has settled and the government start talking to more sensible people – as well as realising the difficulties in legislating on so many nebulous taste issues – that the more ridiculous, hysterical, censorial and moralising elements of this report – that is to say, all of it – are watered down or cast aside.

But I fear the worst...


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