Porn ban row

February 24, 1995

Media students at the University of Westminster are protesting that a magazine produced as part of their coursework has been seized by the university and distribution stopped.

The magazine, Anon . . . 2, features transvestites in London, women boxers, female body-building as well as the controversial work of Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki - with pictures that could be described as pornographic. One depicts what appears to be a Japanese schoolgirl being hung from a wall.

But the university's official reason for banning the magazine has nothing to do with its potentially offensive contents.

Geoffrey Copeland, university deputy rector, explained the institution's position in a letter to the student welfare officer earlier this month.

"The reason why we had problems with Anon was not so much its content, although there are those who would say that many would find it offensive, but that it was a publication for sale carrying the university's address with a vague copyright assignment and, as I understand it, a piece of coursework."

A spokesman for the university said that in the past the university has been happy for students to distribute their coursework, but said: "This particular magazine is one that the university is not happy to be associated with."

But the students, principally Sheridan Nye, Richard Sweeting and James Tatan, are not satisfied with this explanation for what they feel is as an act of censorship.

They have argued throughout that their work is neither sexist nor soft porn. They do agree that "some of the reviewed material could have benefited from a more critical perspective" but argue that the magazine is about subculture from an erotic perspective and ask: "What's so reprehensible about that?" The magazine describes itself as the "transformation issue for the mature reader" and sets out to explore "subcultures for the curious".

The students are not alone in presenting the work of Mr Araki, however. The Sunday Times included his work in a feature last October, in which he is described as "an exceedingly curious Japanese hybrid" of pornographer and "committed explorer of the deeper secrets of the human condition".

In November of last year 500 copies of Anon . . . 2 were produced and distributed to Dillons, the ICA, Rough Trade and Pipeline bookshop. The same day David Faddy, head of Westminster's communications school, confiscated the remaining copies. They are still locked in his office.

He blamed the fact that the magazine had been allowed to be produced and distributed on a "communications breakdown" and said that the university was now drawing up guidelines to prevent such a thing happening again. The guidelines will concern any work that is produced by students and then presented in the public domain.

The students remain angry that their work has been confiscated - not least because the money made from selling the magazine was one of the few ways they had of recouping money they put into the project.

"We believe that it should be up to those who buy our work to judge its quality - not the university," says Ms Nye. "I chose to study at this university because it had a reputation of allowing students to take risks, and I feel that the university has become too intent on developing its image to allow creativity."

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