LETTER | Pornography is not a new phenomenon as it occurred long before humans were capable of taking photographs or recording videos.

Human beings have always been fascinated by sex imagery throughout history. According to statistics in 2020, the top five countries that have visited pornography sites such as Pornhub are Slovakia, Bulgaria, Ireland, Malaysia and Serbia.

People have been debating the morality or immorality of pornographic material for a decade. Pornography can be thought of as an idea, and it is up to those who support or oppose pornography to decide how it may affect their traits, morality, and ethics.

Governments have enacted censorship laws for people to acknowledge these personal values. Most countries in the world have legislation regarding pornography.

However, there have been debates on such laws. For example, in England and Wales, there have been some heated arguments between the government and the people when the new offence of ‘possession of extreme pornographic images’ was introduced into English law.

It is notable for being the first offence in the European Union to criminalise the simple possession of adult pornography. The government had enacted the legislation based on morality.

However, parliamentarians, activists and other people have rejected morality-based arguments and have instead engaged in arguments about the potential for extreme pornography to create criminal or physical harm.

Simple self-pleasure

Those who rejected the legislation argued that it was both illegitimate and disproportionate to interfere with private, consensual and harmless sexual practices.

Lord Faulkner, a politician, argued that although he found the images "bizarre", "unpleasant", "distasteful", even "repulsive", legislation should not criminalise those "when the activity in which they are engaging is not doing anybody outside their homes any harm".

His argument is based on John Mill’s harm principle. Mill was a well-known utilitarian that had a theory that stated that as long as no harm is being done to others, then it should be considered moral.

It is believed that when willing adults engage in pornographic entertainment or participate in the creation of pornography, they are not harming anyone.

Pornography is simple self-pleasure and such self-pleasure is a form of happiness that is in line with John Mill’s theory of Great Happiness which stated that happiness is the ultimate criterion to establish what is moral and what is not.

The government's justification for the legislation remained wholly centred on moral arguments. For instance, during the final reading of the bill, Lord Hunt makes it clear that the legislation is based on ideas about moral protection.

Pornography a taboo subject

The legislation criminalises possession to expand obscenity laws and regulate images that "most people" find revolting and horrific, not to protect people from physical harm.

Lord Devlin would have very much approved of the legislation. Lord Hunt’s argument is in line with Devlin’s rejection of the distinction between a sphere of private morality that is separate from and protected from social morality, and the need to control individual morality if an individual's moral behaviour undermines society's moral norms as a whole.

Lord Hunt argues that morality is a sphere in which there is a public interest and a private interest, often in conflict, and the problem is to reconcile the two.

The "problem", as Devlin saw it, lay in balancing the protection of the maximum level of individual freedom consistent with the integrity of the collective moral order.

Devlin offered as a solution to this problem that the law should only govern those behaviours that go beyond the bounds of social tolerance and thereby endanger society's moral integrity.

In conservative countries like Malaysia, pornography is a taboo subject and pornography viewing is seen as a sinful act as it depicts a negative social side and immoral individual value.

Moral basis

Pornography of any kind is illegal in Malaysia. In Malaysia, it is illegal to possess anything that is pornographic in nature. This includes magazines, pictures, DVDs and video clips. It is also illegal to sell or distribute pornography material to others.

The law on pornography in Malaysia is established mostly on a moral basis such as Lord Devlin’s principle of private morality.

Although it is not expressly told, it is inferred from the moral norms of society. Most people in Malaysia have religion and most of these religions prohibit people from getting involved in any pornographic act.

The principle of morality from Lord Devlin applies in Malaysia as, although the act of possessing pornographic material is an individual's moral behaviour, this act undermines Malaysian’s society moral norms as a whole.

Pornography can endanger society's moral integrity so it is illegal in Malaysia.

To conclude, laws are linked to pornographic material in some way, because pornographic material is obscene, and legal authorities aim to cover that aspect so that other people are not harmed.

Threat to morality

Morality does not have a precise definition or a criterion by which it can be judged or defined; morality varies from person to person.

However, the fact that most countries have enacted pornography censorship laws demonstrates that pornographic content interferes with society and leads to immoral actions.

In order to reduce people's involvement in pornographic activities, the government should take the necessary steps to prohibit pornography and implement stringent supervision to ensure that morality prevails in society.

In the end, pornographic material is a threat to morality.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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