No porn protests please, we’re British

I saw a few articles this weekend about a protest against changes the Government has made to porn regulations in the UK and wanted to jot down my thoughts on it. It seems to be a good case study for a number of the themes I’ve explored on the MA Media, Campaigning and Social Change course so far:

– protests don’t tend to get much coverage in the media at the moment (see my media bias blogpost for more analysis on why this might be) – so why was this one? Was it the unusual nature of it? Sit-ins are part of the ‘regular’ campaign lexicon, but I’ve never seen a face-sitting protest before! As it turns out, I shouldn’t have doubted the media in this case – some reports stated they outnumbered protesters four to one. I suppose sex, like conflict, sells. This is a strength of the campaign at the moment, but I’m unsure if it will continue to be…

– thinking about framing: in the context of British public life, which is often considered prudish and uncomfortable with sexuality, I’m not sure what kind of framing or storytelling this kind of campaign could use, while remaining ‘acceptable’ to the general public. It seemed to be playing on a humourous or “shock-value” angle (or at least that’s how the media were presenting it), but the participants/organisers also talked about core issues of government censorship, personal freedom, consumer choice, supporting British industry and moralising by the state. These are all things that could appeal to motivational values as discussed by Chris Rose [1], and so inspire support, without even mentioning porn.

ethics of campaigning was brought back into focus. As with campaigns involving bare bodies and fake blood for PETA, or pictures of graphic war injuries, would a protest like this be deemed offensive, particularly to families or tourists visiting Westminster? I am sure this would have been considered and I would imagine they felt, as I do, that sometimes offending the public is a necessary step. In this case it could even have been the aim of the protest in ensuring that it was talked about. However, deliberate offence could discourage people from participating or even engaging with the protest.

– leading on from this, the group of protesters used costume and the names they gave to the media to create a strong collective identity. I wonder if the current approach could alienate potential members of this collective, as it’s current identity relies on stories of perceived deviance and behaviour at odds with what might be considered ‘decent’ by the general public? This links with Polletta’s analysis on collectivism through storytelling [2].

– I wonder, if this campaign continues, whether this group will continue to use such visible methods or move to looking at lower-profile tactics involving legal work or direct engagement with power-holders? Particularly as there is bound to be some backlash against such bold and different action.

This campaign will be interesting to follow and hopefully revisit, as it places core societal values alongside non-mainstream actions and it’s framing is not as straightforward as some other campaigns I’ve seen due to this. I also think depending on how it develops, the media response could be entertaining – particularly in more traditional outlets such as the “stiff upper lip” BBC. I’ll also be looking out for the response of power-holders: will they be able to ignore this kind of action?

I’d be interested to hear other people’s take on this one too – is it’s unusual and sensational topic a strength or a weakness do you think? Will the media lose interest if they continue with similar actions or is this their only hope for coverage?


1. Rose, C. (2010), “How to Win Campaigns”, 2nd Ed, Routledge, p71

2. Polletta, F. (1998), “Contending Stories: Narrative in Social Movements”, Qualitative Sociology, 21:4, pp. 419-446