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David Cameron: Porn Mogul

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Earlier this week I was invited to appear alongside the BPI's Director of Communications, Gennaro Castaldo, on BBC World News to talk to host Tim Willcox about the ratings scheme David Cameron recently announced for music videos.

Before I started university, I was given a short required reading list that included Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay. As a teenager, I couldn't understand why a seemingly reputable place of higher learning would require us to read comedy, but have since come to realise that satire is often the gateway to truth. The books contain a number of cautionary tales that illustrate why politicians should never meddle in the arts. I can only assume that Brasenose didn't require the Prime Minister to read quite so widely around his chosen subject otherwise he would have known better than to associate himself so closely with a scheme that will almost certainly usher an entirely new level of sex and violence into music videos.

As a music video director, I'm accutely aware that there are currently no age ratings and that videos can be seen by almost anyone anywhere in the world. I have a lot of respect for directors like the Daniels who produce smart, funny videos that push boundaries but still cater for a general audience. Their video for DJ Snake & Lil John's Turn Down For What has rightly been a massive success.


DJ Snake & Lil Jon: Turn Down for What
Director: Daniels

Given the constraints of a general audience, a lot of music video directors think about how to push boundaries and innovate without ever straying into outright pornography or ultra violence. By creating a rating scheme, we're going to relieve artists of their social responsibility. Instead of a suggestive music video featuring a nude Miley Cyrus on a wrecking ball, we'll have graphic sex scenes of the kind seen in films like Nymphomaniac. Instead of the caveman sexism of Blurred Lines, we'll have the graphic sexual violence of films like Baise Moi. But it will be okay because it will all come with an 18 rating.


Miley Cyrus: Wrecking Ball
Director: Terry Richardson


Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines
Director: Diane Martel

There is a historical reason why age ratings worked for movies; someone could enforce the rating at point of sale. An usher at the cinema, a shop assistant at a till. They could ask for proof of age and prevent a sale. There is no way of doing this online. How many of the five million people who illegally downloaded The Expendables 3 were legally old enough to see it? And before anyone says parental controls, just do an online search for 'defeat parental controls' and see how easy it is to circumvent any restrictions. Keyloggers beat parent passwords, proxy servers trump geo-blocking. For every attempt at technological control, there is an easily accessible solution.

Instead of ensuring that music videos are age appropriate, David Cameron's scheme is very likely to expose children to new levels of pornography and violence. Certain artists will chase an 18 rating. The videos will simply run with age warnings, which will be ignored, and children will be able to access 18 rated videos chock full of sex and violence. The scheme only applies to the UK, has no teeth, and cannot prevent videos from being shown without a rating. A small number of artists may actually want their videos to be denied a rating, generating publicity by effectively being banned by the BBFC.

When I first heard about Cameron's proposed scheme, I was concerned that censorship would negatively impact the UK music video industry, but this isn't censorship, it's a headline grabbing attempt to appear to be doing something to protect the family. If anything, the UK's music video business will boom as artists flock to the UK to create even more shocking music videos, free of any qualms about releasing them because a supposedly responsible government has established an age rating scheme.

On the show, Tim Willcox asked just how bad music videos can get. Thanks to this new rating scheme, I think we're about to find out. How can society at large criticise an artist, record label, or music video director for incorporating sex and violence in a music video if they can point to a government approved age rating? One would have hoped that the Sir Humphries advising the Prime Minister would have seen beyond the headlines and thought about the law of unintended consequences. They might have realised that there is a level of protection inherent in making videos for general consumption, but they didn't, and as a result, rather than being known as the defender of the family, I think David Cameron is likely to be remembered as the man who brought new levels of sex and violence to music videos.

Whatever happens with this scheme, music videos are the tip of an enormous iceberg. Instead of trying to regulate the Internet with old fashioned tools that aren't fit for purpose, governments should be honest. Tell people that the only way to ensure children aren't exposed to huge quantities of violence and pornography is for parents and carers to actively monitor Internet use. Leave your child unsupervised and there's a very good chance they will find the fountain of eternal porn, YouTube videos of real life murders, decapitations, torture and other such widely available, unwholesome programming.

The Internet has destroyed the old broadcasting model. We're not an audience anymore; we're consumers who can watch anything anywhere. We're also creators. Anyone with a camera can make a video that can reach the entire world. It is simply impossible to age rate the millions of videos that are uploaded to YouTube each year, never mind DailyMotion, Vimeo and countless others. And even if we could age rate the videos, how would we get children to comply with the ratings? The only way to police such granular entertainment is on an individual basis. It may take a while for governments to realise, but in this globally connected world, the nation state is largely irrelevant. Power and responsibility resides with the individual.

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