UNITED KINGDOM—The Church of England has announced that it is considering holding British internet service providers responsible for their failure to keep hardcore and violent pornography away from subscribers, the Daily Mail has reported. The Church has come up with a potentially very persuasive method of achieving that goal by threatening to pull tens of millions of pounds of investment from the ISPs.
At the moment, the Church is only reviewing its investment strategy, but the paper reports that a spokesperson has indicated its determination going forward not “to invest in firms which fuel the very problems Christians are trying to tackle and has already leaned heavily on supermarkets to be more responsible in the way they sell alcohol.
“A Church spokesman said members of its ethical investment advisory group are considering new guidelines on pornography which take into account how easy it is to access with modern media,” the article continues. “Campaigners claim the seemingly unstoppable flood of hard-core and violent pornography is corroding the very fabric of society.”
Though unstated, it appears as if two recent developments may have spurred the Church to action. One was the push-back by the ISPs to plans espoused by Prime Minister David Cameron to place opt-in porn filters on ISPs. After the plan was publicly announced, several ISPs corrected initial news reports to clarify that the plan was only to provide more pro-active options for parents to use parental controls already available to them.
The other development was the revelation that Vincent Tabak, the convicted murderer of a young British landscape architect, Joanne Yeates, 25, had been trolling porn sites hours before he strangled the victim. Tabak was convicted of the crime anyway, but the prosecution decided not to inform jurors of his porn trolling, or the fact that he “viewed images of women being held by the neck saying ‘choke me’ and two naked women bound and gagged in the boot of a car,” likely because there was no way to prove a relationship between the viewing of the material and Tabak's subsequent actions.
It is not as though the U.K. has not already gone to extreme measures to keep its citizens from visiting sites that contain porn it finds too extreme. In 2009, a law was passed that amended Sections 63-67 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, to criminalize the possession of photographic images that depict acts that threaten someone’s life. Imposing jail terms of up to five years in prison, the bill targeted “grossly offensive or disgusting” porn that was “explicit and realistic.” Images showing bestiality and necrophilia were also included. However, law enforcement seemed unwilling or unable to enforce the law, and the Daily Mail reported that the low bar of thirty prosecutions a year was not even attained.
In England, which has no First Amendment, it appears to be a quick jump from identifying a possible problem to solving it through censorship. The Daily Mail editorial board calls for decisive action in a Monday editorial posted to the site titled, “In Joanna’s name, close these vile sites.”
“If watching films showing sexual violence can influence the behavior of the individuals who look at them, as many experts believe, is it not obvious we should be doing more to curb the availability of this kind of material?” asks the Daily Mail editorial board, noting later, “Opponents of censorship argue that we should not interfere with the free viewing choices of grown-ups. But this freedom comes at too high a price if it means that potentially violent individuals such as Vincent Tabak become violent in reality.”
The editorial exhorts police to be “more vigorous” in bringing prosecutions under existing laws such as the one mentioned above, and suggests that threats by the Church of England to end investment in the ISPs will force the service providers to “try harder” in their efforts to monitor and control online porn.
“Above all, the Government must take this challenge far more seriously,” the editorial concludes. “Previous initiatives have promised more than they delivered. In the name of poor Joanna Yeates, we need to stop this poison before it claims more victims.”