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Sexually Explicit Publications

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

To ask the Minister for Women and Equality what assessment she has made of the effect of the unregulated sale and display of magazines and tabloid titles carrying sexually explicit and degrading images of women on efforts to improve gender equality in England. (95565)

The Government recognise that some images and articles in magazines and newspapers on sale in many newsagents may be offensive to many people. The controls which exist on unsuitable material aim to strike a balance between freedom of expression and protection of the public and to be proportionate to the potential harm that might be caused.

Under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 it is a criminal offence to publish any article which is considered to be obscene; that is, an article which in the view of the court tends to “deprave and corrupt”. The Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, also makes it an offence to display any indecent matter which is exposed to view in a public place or where it can be seen in a public place—it is for the courts to decide in each case whether the material in question is indecent or not. The Act also applies to the front covers of newspapers and magazines on public display.

If a newspaper or magazine does not contravene the criminal law, it is for the newsagent to decide whether it should be sold and, if so, where it should be displayed in the shop. Most newsagents and supermarkets abide by a voluntary Code of Practice, refusing to sell “adult” magazines to persons under the age of 18 and placing sexually explicit magazines on their top shelves.

Government policies in the round are tackling the portrayal of women in the media.