It’s more than 300 years since the British parliament scrapped its censorship regime for publications, more than 200 years since the American bill of rights prohibited laws “abridging the freedom of speech”, and more than 50 years since the UN declaration of human rights proclaimed “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech” among “the highest aspiration[s] of the common people”.

But the battle is still being fought. Not just in the debates about copyright, defamation or incitement – which, while certainly free speech issues, all raise broader and more difficult questions. No, we’re still fighting about speech that’s addressed only to willing consumers and confined to the privacy of their own homes.

Hence, as The Australian reports, (disclosure: I’m a small shareholder) is in court this week, trying to argue a way around the ban on explicit s-x in films.

The strange situation where films with explicit violence are OK but those with explicit s-x are not came about in the 1980s when a new classification, the X-rating, was established for non-violent s-xual content.

The states, spooked by the fundamentalist brigade, ratted on their previous agreement and banned it, leaving such films legal in only the Northern Territory and the ACT.

In practice, X-rated videos are sold quite openly in Sydney and Melbourne, but this creates all the usual problems of a black market, including vulnerability to capricious police raids such as those earlier this month in Kings Cross.

So the adult industry is arguing in the federal court that it would better reflect community standards to just give the films an R-rating, since the evidence consistently shows the public more concerned about explicit violence than explicit s-x.

But governments still don’t get the message. Just this week, Ross Fitzgerald reported on the Howard government’s alarming proposal to apply film censorship practices to any content delivered electronically. And two weeks ago The Age revealed a planned $18 million advertising campaign to promote the weird and dangerous myth that p-rnography is the most harmful thing anyone is likely to find on the internet.

Earth to politicians: It’s just s-x. Get over it.

And if the puritans complain, tell them about that “sophisticated electronic device“, the off switch.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey