Wednesday, 14 August 2013

F17 - Let's be Positive about Porn

Conference is drawing nearer and of all the motions on the agenda, F17: Protecting Children from Online Pornography (here, page 34) seems to be provoking the biggest debate, at least for now.

The motion is, I believe, deeply flawed. After the opening clauses, which comment on the power and importance of the internet, free speech and the rights of adults, it proposes that Liberal Democrats should support those in Government who wish to see the introduction of an "opt-in" system applied by Internet Service Providers for those who want to have access to porn.

This, of course, is a campaign that has in large part been led by The Daily Mail. Not normally fans of state intervention in people's lives, in this case they are fans of both the Nanny State and the Nanny ISP. 

There are perfectly legitimate concerns about the level - and type - of exposure that kids can have to porn. But is the answer to that to impose a blanket opt-in? Is the answer to effectively subcontract children's online safety and security to a third party? 

Should not the answer rather be to educate and inform parents on how to manage their children's online presence? Is the answer not that adolescents be taught about the role pornography can have in consensual relationships or in individual lives - but also that the context of porn is different from reality: that depictions of power relationships in porn can often differ from what is appropriate is personal experiences.

Surely if our children are to be well rounded adults, they need to be able to explore these issues in managed ways - not wrapped up in cotton wool and sheltered from the world as it is. If the concern is that some parents won't or can't manage this process - then surely we should work on ways of enabling them to do so.

So, lots to oppose. But what to do? I'm sure you can imagine the headlines if the motion is voted down point blank - no matter how reasoned the debate is and how reasonable the arguments against a general block on online porn.

I have, though, a bigger problem than potential headlines with just opposing the motion. Lib Dem conference (still) makes party policy. If the motion is voted down without anything in its place then the debate will have been a waste of an hour of conference time. 

There is an amendment which makes some changes to the text and omits the call for the introduction of an "opt-in" but this sounds insubstantial. To me, it makes sense to take the opportunity (given the motion is in the agenda at all) to augment and enhance the party's approach to issues of sexuality and pornography and to put a positively Liberal stamp on this debate. 

To that end I'm supporting the amendment that has been worked on by Alisdair Calder McGregor and James Shaddock (amongst others) and if you're a Voting Conference Rep I urge you to do the same.

Andrew

P.S. I've written before on this subject - when Labour got behind the Daily Mail's campaign - and I will again, especially as I'm marshaling thoughts for a contribution to the debate itself which I will share here in their final form irrespective of whether I'm called to speak on the motion!

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