Issue 176 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review
David Alton, the anti-abortionist Liberal Democrat MP, attempted draconian new measures of censorship for videos in an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill. He was backed up by an apparently dramatic turnaround by a number of leading psychologists. They published a paper only days before the debate in parliament, supporting the view that television and video violence does make kids more violent.
Alton's new video classification of 'unsuitable for home consumption' would have banned the rental of films such as Schindler's List to anyone of any age. The compromise reached to prevent a government defeat was suggested by Labour's shadow home secretary, Tony Blair, and will make the British Board of Film Classification the most powerful movie censors in Western Europe.
The paper used to support Alton included no new research. The vast majority of studies have concluded that there is no evidence to link screen violence with young offenders' behaviour. Jamie Bulger's murderers had almost certainly never seen Child's Play III despite the widespread assumption that it led them to kill.
Films such as Reservoir Dogs and Bad Lieutenant, passed uncut for video viewing before the Bulger case, have now been stopped. The Exorcist has never been passed for video release.
The government regularly intervenes to censor television coverage. Leon Brittan, then home secretary, banned the broadcast of an episode of the BBC's Real Lives series in 1985 because it showed Sinn Fein member Martin McGuinness in a sympathetic light. The National Union of Journalists called a 24 hour stoppage in protest. No national news was broadcast in Britain on the day and the BBC World Service played music all day.
Duncan Campbell's episode in the Secret Society series was banned. The government claimed his exposure of a secret spy satellite, 'Zircon', broke the Official Secrets Act and put lives at risk. Campbell's home and the BBC's Glasgow headquarters were raided by police and the BBC's assistant director general was briefly jailed for not cooperating with the search. 'Zircon' was eventually shown but 'Cabinet' in the same series remains untransmitted--it looked at the abuse of secret cabinet committees by Margaret Thatcher.
During the Gulf War television pictures of soldiers in 'agony or severe shock' or 'imagery of patients suffering from severe disfigurements' were banned. Reports of fighter bomber pilots watching pornographic videos to relax before missions were also censored. No journalist was allowed to speak to soldiers without a senior army escort.
A Panorama episode on the sale of arms to Iraq was one of many programmes censored during the war. These included: Monty Python's Flying Circus (showing Graham Chapman as a British Major in a ballet dress), 'Allo Allo, Carry on up the Kbyber, the Carling Black Label 'Dambusters' ad and the Marmite 'soldiers' ad. Channel 4 cancelled a Vietnamese film season.
Around 67 records were taken off all BBC play lists including Lulu's 'Boom Bang a Bang', John Lennon's 'Imagine' and 'Give Peace a Chance', 'Two Tribes' by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Desmond Decker's 'The Israelites' and 'Heaven Help Us All' by Stevie Wonder.
Anti-war activity was also censored. The Observer newspaper had to print an apology for including a photo of an anti-war demo with Socialist Worker placards blacked out. In America a media monitoring group reported that less than 1 percent of airtime was given to organised popular opposition to Bush's Gulf policy.
In 1977, the year of the queen's Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols reached number two (it was widely accepted they were kept out of the top slot) in the charts with their 'God Save the Queen' (and her fascist regime!) despite being banned from the radio and television after swearing on the Bill Grundy show.
The Independent Broadcasting Authority banned the Pogues' song 'Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six' from all commercial radio because, 'The song alleges some convicted terrorists are not guilty and goes on to suggest that Irish people are at a disadvantage in the British Courts.'
Rap records have regularly suffered at the hands of the censors. A Paris album was banned in the US. The offending track, 'Bush Killa', described revenge on a racist president. Rap albums are now often sold under the counter or with 'Parental Warning' stickers added.
The broadcasting of any words spoken by anyone from a proscribed list of organisations including the IRA and Sinn Fein was made illegal in 1988. Archive material was covered so there was no exception even for those now dead. A documentary on Irish Civil War leader Michael Collins was banned, has never been shown and even Kenneth Griffith, the maker, does not have access to it.
When a planned Thames Television programme on Amnesty reports of police torture in Northern Ireland was banned, the local union blacked the substitute programme and the television screen remained blank.
After the Harrods bombing a Comedy Classics piece featuring Norman Wisdom in 1961 singing 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling' was cut, as was a scene showing a tourist asking the way to Harrods. Ken Loach's award winning film Hidden Agenda, exposing British undercover operations in Northern Ireland, was pulled because of the Warrington bombing the day before.
The introduction of Clause 28 in 1988 banned local authorities from publishing or teaching anything which might 'promote homosexuality' or its acceptability as a 'pretended family relationship'. Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, a children's book about gays, was taken from library shelves.
Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel by D H Lawrence, was one of the most celebrated cases of censorship. But when a court wanted to ban the publication of a cheap 3/6d edition, the case lost and the book became the biggest selling novel ever in Britain.
Explicit 'safe sex' information for gays and sex education pamphlets for teenagers have been victims of the government censor. An erect penis has yet to be passed for screen viewing. Gay sex is rarely portrayed in mainstream cinema.
Britain is one of the few Western countries still with a blasphemy law. It was used for the first time for 100 years by Mary Whitehouse in 1977 against Gay News for its portrayal of a 'well hung' Christ on the cross with an accompanying poem.