TELEVISION

Porn from the skies

TV sex entertains and divides Britons

ANDREW PHILLIPS February 15 1993
TELEVISION

Porn from the skies

TV sex entertains and divides Britons

ANDREW PHILLIPS February 15 1993

Porn from the skies

TELEVISION

TV sex entertains and divides Britons

British businessman Mark Garner calls himself a “great believer in Europe.” Like thousands of other entrepreneurs, he plunged enthusiastically into Europe’s vaunted single market-importing a legal, popular product from the Continent and distributing it around Britain. But instead of winning praise, Gamer is fending off attacks from politicians and much of the media. The problem arises from his product: hard-core video pornography. Through a twist in European Community regulations, Gamer has found a way to beam explicit sex films into British homes. The result is a booming business—one that has led Britons to question whether joining Europe will involve adopting very different standards of what is right and proper.

Until less than two years ago, Britain banned the explicit pornography that is freely available in the sex shops of Holland, Germany and other countries. But, in 1991, a

new European television directive said that any program approved by one EC country is automatically legal in all the others. Gamer saw his opportunity. In August, his company started beaming explicit sex movies approved

under Holland’s liberal laws via satellite to British customers as part of a service called Red Hot Dutch. It now has 22,000 subscribers across Britain. “I simply saw that there’s lots of money to be made in this,” says Gamer. “Sex sells.”

So far, Red Hot Dutch broadcasts only from midnight to 3 a.m., three times a week, and transmissions containing pornographic material must be scrambled so that children cannot tune them in by accident Viewers need a satellite dish, easily available, and a decoder, which they rent from Gamer’s company for about $30 a month. What they get is explicit footage of adults having sex, including scenes of penetration, ejaculation, oral and anal sex. There is, however, nothing involving children or violence. Says Garner: ‘There are tastes we don’t cater for.” Hard-core videos or magazines are still banned in Britain. But the government has been unable to stop the satellite transmissions because it signed the EC directive. That, thundered the conservative Daily Mail, “has opened Britain to a free market in TV filth.” The Mail denounced the EC rules as a “classic hodgepodge of Euro-confusion” and launched a campaign against Red Hot Dutch. Tory members of Parliament jumped on the bandwagon. Said Roger Gale, chairman of the House of Commons media committee: “If the Dutch want to transmit this sort of thing to their own people, that’s fine. We don’t want to impose our moral standards on them—but they shouldn’t impose theirs on us.” Gale called on the government to banish Red Hot Dutch.

The controversy underlines just how different Europeans remain despite their governments’ attempts to bind them ever closer. Sweden forbids some British TV shows because they are too violent, but tolerates the kind of hard-core porn that makes Britons blush. French, Spanish and Italian TV channels transmit explicit sex films with little public outrage. The British, though, along with the even more conservative Irish, still resist. “I think the British are out of step,” says Garner, a 37-year-old Manchester native. Holland and Denmark, he notes, have lower rates of sex crime than Britain. And, he argues, the British are hypocritical: “If you go into sex shops in Amsterdam, they’re full of English tourists.”

Those arguments cut little ice with Britons unwilling to adopt the Continent’s attitude to commercial sex. Gamer admits that even his wife, Carole, opposes his business. Last week, officials said that government lawyers were looking for ways to block the service—possibly by outlawing the decoders. Gamer, however, vows to fight any attempt to put him out of business. “If we’re going to be part of Europe,” he maintains, “we should be part of Europe in all ways.”

ANDREW PHILLIPS in London