Danny Broderick over at Freedom in a Puritan Age describes how a new BBC television series, Ripper Street, broadcasts images that, in a different context, would be illegal even to possess. An important point emerges from this situation. It is clear that legislators didn’t really think that the availability of these images actually encourage sexual violence, or else they would have taken greater steps to avoid these themes being displayed and advertised to millions of viewers. Instead they took several steps to try to ensure that mainstream broadcasters and filmmakers would not specifically be effected by the legislation.
This has the paradoxical effect of shifting the burden of prohibition from the creators of essentially extreme imagery onto viewers (willing or unwilling) of extreme imagery. An image broadcast across the nation from an established institution is perfectly legal. That same image on someone’s hard-drive could constitute a criminal offence. There isn’t any logical or empirically justified reason for considering one more dangerous than the other. A possible explanation for this is that those with institutional power (like the BBC) are considered to be in need of protection, while the rights of ordinary individuals are considered expendable.