Censor pushes for government to consider more regulation of online porn

Alt porn star Stoya, who has accused ex-boyfriend and male pornstar James Deen of rape. The deputy chief censor wants ...

Alt porn star Stoya, who has accused ex-boyfriend and male pornstar James Deen of rape. The deputy chief censor wants the government to consider more options for regulating extreme online porn.

The deputy chief censor wants the Government to put more options on the table for regulating online pornography.

In an article for the censor's website, deputy chief censor Jarred Mullen detailed the harm that increasingly extreme pornography that can cause, and outlined some possible steps towards regulating it.

These steps could include an ISP level ban, where pornography viewers have to "opt in" to viewing pornographic content, similar to that of the United Kingdom's.

NZ pornographer Steve Crow: "For every study that says porn is harmful there's another study that says it's not."
Mark Dwyer

NZ pornographer Steve Crow: "For every study that says porn is harmful there's another study that says it's not."

The call comes as the pornography world is still reeling after high profile male star James Deen was accused of raping several female costars. 

"Given New Zealand's acknowledged problems with sexual and family violence and the demonstrated harm caused by pornography that degrades, dehumanises and demeans people (particularly women), the choice for Government and regulators, must be about how far we are willing to intervene — rather than whether we are prepared to intervene at all," he wrote.

Current censorship law, which dates back to 1993, already bans certain types of pornography, including anything containing "the use of violence or coercion to compel any person to participate in, or submit to, sexual conduct" and "the use of urine or excrement in association with degrading or dehumanising conduct or sexual conduct". Censors also look at whether the pornography "degrades or dehumanises or demeans any person," but this does not necessarily result in a ban.

The censor's office reviews every DVD released in New Zealand, as well as anything customs seize at the border, but their control over online market is essentially non-existent. 

Child sexual abuse images are blocked by some  but not all of the major ISPs through a voluntary system that the Department of Internal Affairs maintains. But Mullen insists that degrading hardcore pornography requires a firmer hand too.

"There are lots of types of porn that can be really harmful," he told Stuff.

"I'm an old Gen-Xer and I remember the VHS cassettes and the DVDS we used to rent, and that's not what the office sees any more, that's not what the mainstream experience of porn users is today."

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Mullen describes online pornography as something of an arms race, with producers distinguishing themselves amongst a saturated market by producing the most degrading content possible.

"They want to get their clickrates up, they have to distinguish themselves in some way."

His article cites the film "Hung and Huge", which the censor's office banned due to the degradation of the female stars through violent oral sex. Of course, the censor's office doesn't get a chance to rate most of the world's degrading pornography, as it is only available online.

"The government has a duty to protect its citizens, and we have the technology - we don't have to become China."

As justification, Mullen points to research examining the possible harm extreme pornography causes.

"The studies are interesting. They seem to indicate harmful effects across age groups, particularly to men - not just to children."

Correlation is generally established between online pornography use and unsafe or aggressive sexual behaviour, but causation is much more elusive.

"One thing that's definitely associated with it is attitude changes, particularly towards women, that high users of pornography report," he said.

But New Zealand pornographer Steve Crow rejects this.

"For every study that says porn is harmful there's another study that says it's not," he said.

"The countries that are the most repressed are usually the ones with the worst types of sexual crimes."

As an importer of pornography, Crow often saw country-level censorship efforts fail.

"We'd have to cut it for the censors, import it, then reprint it. Then some guy would sneak in 50 copies of the uncut version and put them on TradeMe."

Any attempt to regulate online pornography at an ISP level would be waste of time and money.

"Unless you adopt a philosophy like China or Saudi Arabia, how are you ever going to do it? There's just no way."

Mullen argued that New Zealand could make an attempt at regulation without going too far.

"You need to think about this really carefully. Any regime you implement has to be just tough enough to deal with the problem, but not so tough that it intervenes with people's rights and freedoms."

He is interested in the UK model, examining it in in his article as a midpoint between complete freedom and China-like restrictions. 

In the UK, ISPs filter pornography from all internet connections except for those who have "opted in".

Yet Mullen acknowledges that such a scheme gives too much power to ISPs, and can block educational material inadvertently.

"I'm not necessarily urging the government to do more. What I'm saying is that we need to consider options to better protect New Zealanders."

 - Stuff

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