EU to vote on porn ban, calls for Internet enforcement

In a severe threat to online freedoms in the region, the European Parliament is set to vote in the next week on "a ban on all forms of pornography in the media."

European Parliament in Strasbourg, France European Parliament/Flickr

The European Parliament will vote Tuesday on a proposal that could lead to a blanket ban on pornography in any forms of media with potentially wide-ranging implications for freedom and expression in the 27-member state bloc.

Passage of the proposal, "Eliminating gender stereotypes in the EU," would allow the EU to help secure the rights for those across the gender spectrum, particularly women. While the report states that there is an "increasingly noticeable tendency...to show provocatively dressed women, in sexual poses," it also notes that pornography is becoming mainstream and is "slipping into our everyday lives as an evermore universally accepted, often idealized, cultural element."

But if adopted, the proposal could infringe certain civil liberties in the 500 million strong population.

Christian Engström, member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Pirate Party, said on his blog that the "devil is in the detail," warning that the wording in an older resolution from 1997 could lead to "statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media."

Dutch MEP for the Socialist Party, Kartika Tamara Liotard, tabled the report in the European Parliament's Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) late last year.

In one section of the new report, Liotard calls on the European Union to enforce a blanket ban on pornography in the media of the 27 member states, which could also include online pornography.

The report says:

17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism.

The scope of "the media" has for years been ill defined and vague at best, but the report specifically includes Internet-related activities. And because the bill encompasses "any media," the belief is by Engström that this will also include the Web, social networks, emails, and include even the photos that European citizens upload.

As Engström notes: "To a certain extent, the exact meaning on this proposed ban on pornography is unclear, since neither the 1997 resolution nor the text we will be voting on next week contains any definition of what is meant by 'in the media.'"

The report goes on:

14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;

The wording suggests that while Internet service providers may not be forced to comply with the principles of the report, it could give these companies 'policing rights' over their customers, similar to the "six-strike" rule in the U.S. relating to online piracy.

Point 14 also suggests that any kind of sexual content on the Web, such as on open platforms like Twitter, could also be eventually ruled out. Legislation at best can be vague and does not always specify exactly what the bill intends to do.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in the U.S., for instance, are two fine examples of how specific and yet so vague some laws can be. In the case of FISA, U.S. authorities have a secret interpretation of the data snooping and wiretapping law, which has yet to be released in an unredacted form to the public.

Worryingly for principles governing the freedom of the press in the region, the report calls on all 27 countries in the EU to create regulatory bodies that could ultimately control and punish the media and companies that use discriminatory advertising, for instance.

19. Calls on the Member States to establish independent regulation bodies with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry and a mandate to impose effective sanctions on companies and individuals promoting the sexualisation of girls;

This initiative report, which will be voted on, is not a draft legislative measure, though it is a report to suggest that legislation should be in the future drafted and voted on.

While at this stage it is merely an opinion formed by a vote in the parliament, this is one of the first ways in which a new draft law could serve as a basis for the European Commission to propose such laws. The European Parliament would then bring it to a vote that could then see the draft ratified into law.

 

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