'Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU' is the innocuous title of a report that sounds like the sort of thing few would object to, but as Swedish Pirate MEP, Christian Engstrom notes, the devil is in the details.
There is a lot of concern over how women are portrayed, especially in advertising and the 'size zero' models favoured by many leading names, but deep in the report is Article 17, which reads:
17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising, which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism;
The resolution referred to says: "Calls for statutory measures to prevent any form of pornography in the media and in advertising and for a ban on advertising for pornographic products and sex tourism;"
But that's not all. Article 14 attracted the attention of the internet activists:
14. Points out that a policy to eliminate stereotypes in the media will of necessity involve action in the digital field; considers that this requires the launching of initiatives coordinated at EU level with a view to developing a genuine culture of equality on the internet; calls on the Commission to draw up in partnership with the parties concerned a charter to which all internet operators will be invited to adhere;
Article 19 should worry everyone in the media:
19. Calls on the Member States to establish independent regulation bodies with the aim of controlling the media and advertising industry and a mandate to impose effective sanctions on companies and individuals promoting the sexualisation of girls;
The pirates are very clear that they do support genuine equality and eliminating gender stereotypes, indeed they are the only party with a 50/50 gender balance in the European Parliament, but they feel these moves are both unworkable and wrong.
For example, what is pornography and what is not?
Then there's the issue of how to achieve these noble aims? Turning Internet Service Providers into, not only patrollers of illegal downloads, but also into the porn police would be controversial enough, but to also add equality enforcers to their role would add such costs to their business it would be hard to see how they could survive this business model.
The digital rights organisation EDRI say, " increasing coercion of internet intermediaries to police and punish their own consumers is being implemented under the flag of “self-regulation” even though it is not regulation – it is policing – and it is not “self-” because it is their consumers and not themselves that are being policed."
Constituents emails marked as spam
There has already been one casualty, the right to protest to your elected representative. The pirates say that while they have received many emails protesting the decision, since Thursday midday, the emails suddenly stopped as the parliament's email system began marking them as spam, preventing them from reaching deputies.
Engstrom is furious, saying, "Citizens engaging actively in the democratic process is a very positive thing, at least in my opinion. Before noon, some 350 emails had arrived in my office. But around noon, these mails suddenly stopped arriving. When we started investigating why this happened so suddenly, we soon found out: The IT department of the European Parliament is blocking the delivery of the emails on this issue, after some members of the parliament complained about getting emails from citizens."
Engstrom adds, "This is an absolute disgrace." He says, "Citizens taking active part in the political process is a fantastic asset for a democratic system, not a spam problem."
This is an illustration of how things can go wrong, even with the best intentions.
Pirate Party founder, Rick Falkvinge, writes that a complete ban on pornography in "the media" is a "hair-raising attack on freedom of speech and freedom of expression that should never have made it past the first cursory review."
He adds, "Freedoms of speech and expression most definitely include sending erotic material – text, images, sound – between consenting adults. This is a political invasion of people’s bedrooms that is unacceptable and intolerable."
The resolution, from Dutch left MEP, Kartika Liotard is expected to be voted on next week, most likely on Tuesday.
Christian Engstrom says the report has a lot of "very laudable goals" but he will be voting against because of these concerns and he wonders if other MEPs know exactly what they might be voting for, without noticing.