Extreme pornography: 'Mr MacAskill is coming over as a kill-joy'

Evening News CommentTHERE can be no argument that action to limit the viewing and distribution of extreme pornography is desirable. But where to draw the line in proposed new legislation is a potential minefield for Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill.

Under plans to be unveiled in detail by the Government next month, downloading images of rape and other extreme material will be punishable by up to three years in prison.

But precisely how he and ministers define what represents the unacceptable exploitation of victims by criminals and the legitimate depiction of sexual acts involving consenting adults could keep government lawyers occupied – entertained even – for years. It potentially throws Scotland back to the days of the Lady's Chatterley's Lover obscenity trial and the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of West End theatre.

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And who could forget the farce of the early 80s when the religious zealots on Glasgow City Council forced the banning of Monty Python's Life of Brian on the grounds of blasphemy. A different sort of censorship but censorship all the same

Since taking over the justice brief Mr MacAskill has often courted controversy and it is difficult at times to work out just what kind of Scotland he envisages.

He is right in that we do not want children to grow up in a culture where alcohol-fuelled violence is an acceptable hazard of a night out – or of a night in for that matter. But demonising anyone who likes a drink or two occasionally is not the solution to the problem. His desire to see drink removed from displays in supermarkets and minimum prices set will be as unsuccessful in curbing alcohol abuse as his government's plans to hide cigarettes under shop counters will stop people smoking.

Given that sex assault and any exploitation of children is already illegal, the latest proposals centre around depiction, but how the law is supposed to decide whether a film like Straw Dogs or A Clockwork Orange, both of which feature sexual violence, should or shouldn't be made illegal is anyone's guess.

Much of this legislation already applies to the internet, which has become the focus of Mr MacAskill's attention. And in any case, changes to the law will not stop the viewing of explicit material, nor for the most extreme cases will the threat of prison.

Of course Mr MacAskill is well-intentioned but as the old saying goes that is what paves the road to hell. The best that can be said for some of his hare-brained schemes is that he is attempting to score politically-correct, tough-on-crime populist points, but instead he is coming over as a kill-joy who cares little for the implications or the detail of his proposals.

And headline-chasing is not something of which the Scottish Government is in short supply.