Byline: LEO MCKINSTRY
WITH his call to end the ban on hardcore pornography, James Ferman, the departing national film censor, has lived up to his reputation among his many critics as a pusillanimous liberal.
Long despised by moral campaigners for his unwillingness to stem the tide of explicit violence and sex on our screens, Ferman argues, in his last report as director of the British Board of Film Classification, that there should be a widespread relaxation of our pornography laws.
Ferman admits that he has been motivated not only by his liberal instincts - this is the man who claimed that the sick movie Crash held a 'positive message' - but also by the failure of the current law to control the growth of obscene imagery available in Britain, especially on the black market.
Ferman asserts that the legalisation of explicit pornography would mean it could be properly regulated in licensed sex shops, while the police could concentrate their attention on depraved material.
'I feel strongly about it because the black market will just grow and grow,'writes Ferman in his report. 'The more you try to ban it the more it grows.' Such a claim is understandable. Strict legal controls can often lead to more dangerous or extreme behaviour. The blanket ban on abortions, for example, before the 1967 Act resulted in numerous risky back-street operations.
Similarly, this week Middlesbrough council announced the establishment of England's first officially-sanctioned red light district in an attempt to control the activities of prostitutes and prevent them moving into residential districts.
But, in the context of pornography, I think Ferman's statement is utterly misguided and fallacious.
For a start, if the present, supposedly tough laws are failing to prevent the spread of hardcore porn, how on Earth will a more liberal regime achieve this?
In Ferman's brave new world of greater freedom, will authorities really dare to be any more rigorous than they are now? I doubt it.
FERMAN'S proposal really amounts to a cry of despair.
Since the current law is being flouted throughout the land, goes the argument, why don't we just ignore it altogether?
It is the same line that we hear about so many of our worst social problems, whether it be drug dealing or juvenile offending or underage sex.
In reality, this is nothing more than disguising our institutional feebleness as liberal tolerance.
And where is the evidence that those who feel they need pornography are currently being denied it? Unlike the abortion issue, where the blanket ban lead to looser morals before 1967 meant that illegality was the only alternative, there is certainly no shortage of explicit sexual imagery today.
'A little of what people want is OK as long as it's on the harmless end of the spectrum,' claims Ferman.
In today's Britain, an awful lot of what people want is available, not just in the sex shop or on the top shelf but all around us. Far from being the prudish nation so caricatured by liberals, we are a society obsessed with sex.
The Spice Girls win a generation of youthful admirers with their flesh-baring, lip-smacking, bottom-pinching antics.
Britain's favourite businessman, Richard Branson, boasts of his new venture in publishing erotic literature. BBC Radio broadcasts from a nightclub in Ibiza, where, on stage, a couple have sex before a leering, cheering audience.
On television, few dramas are complete without full-front nudity, while cinemas here are quite happy to show a film like Kids which features pre-pubescent sex.
And if the perverts are still dissatisfied, they can resort to an astonishing range of perfectly legal magazines, videos, CD-ROMs, and Internet sites.
The real problem is not restrictions on sexual material but the total absence of any moral boundaries in modern Britain. …