The ISPs, not the Tories, get it right

Labour Party

Four big internet service providers (ISPs) will be making it easier for parents to stop their children accessing explicit material online.

This means that, in future, if you buy an internet package with either Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin or BT Internet, you will have to ‘opt in’ to be able to view adult material online.  If you don’t ‘opt in’ then pornography and any other explicit or inappropriate material will not be accessible from within your home.

I’ll say now that I am totally in favour of this move.  Not so long ago it was relatively easy to stop your children getting access to inappropriate material, but the internet changed that.  I feel this measure goes some way to reversing the trend.  Any adult who has no children to worry about can simply choose to turn the blocking off.  I don’t know the specifics of how the ISPs will implement these new measures, but I can’t see them making it a difficult or embarrassing process.

I’m against pornography generally and  the idea of children having unfettered access to such explicit material is particularly worrying. Recently there has been a huge number of studies that demonstrate clearly that children accessing explicit images in an unrestricted environment can have a hugely damaging affect on their psychological development.  Young boys especially can develop very warped attitudes towards women and sexuality, though it can effect young women in similar ways as well.

I am, however, slightly wary as David Cameron’s attempt to lump this issue along with a lot of other concerns about the sexualisation of childhood. I think it’s worth mentioning that the ISPs’ decision to block access was not Tory policy, it was an internal industry decision as a result of the Bailey report which came out on June of this year.

The other matters David Cameron wants to address include the use of sexual imagery in outdoor advertising; the employment of young brand ambassadors to market products and services to children; permissible content in pre-watershed television programming; age ratings on music videos, and a retail code to crack down on sexualised slogans on children’s clothing.

I am, of course,  in favour of dealing with all of these – the young brand ambassadors is a particularly pernicious and unpleasant issue that we should be looking closely at. The problem is, as I said in my previous post on this subject that while the sexualisation of children is quite appalling, you can’t change society by banning things.  In order to enact real and lasting change we need to address the way we think about these issues.  Back in June Jackie Ashley hypothesized that the Bailey report would lead to a slew of ill thought out, reactive, legislative proposals that wouldn’t go anywhere near far enough to address these important issues.  I fear her prophecy may be coming true.

The Conservatives don’t want Rihanna dancing in an overtly sexual manner before 9.00 pm on programmes watched by children.  They also don’t want children, especially young girls, wearing t-shirts with slogans such as “Future Footballer’s Wife” imprinted on the front.  I don’t want those things either, but I’m more worried about the society that lets them happen and how it reflects our attitudes to women and sexuality.

I am certain that you are always better off reaching children through education, rather than restriction.  There will be many parents thanking the ISPs for their decision to block access to pornography from within their own home.  I wonder how many will even notice the other measures when they’re introduced.

The European Commission releases its Communication on Copyright

Labour Party

The European Commission has just released a Communication addressing the issues surrounding copyright and intellectual propoerty rights, one of the biggest questions facing all who want the EU and its citizens to embrace the many opportunities that the internet brings.

The Communication is ambitious. This is good. This is a huge area and it will take a great deal of ambition to sort it out. The aim is to get some kind of coherency across the EU in regard to copyright and intellectual property laws. At the moment the law is so fragmented across member states that it leaves rights holders and consumers in a difficult position.

Since a Commission Communication sets out the main points to be dealt with prior to legislation, we shall have to wait for the various directives to see the details of the commission’s proposals. However, I think what most people will be focussing on is the thorny issue of enforcement.

I was interested to see that the Communication specifically mentions Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the section on enforcement.  The report says:
“Any amendments should have as their objective tackling the infringements at their source and, to that end, foster cooperation of intermediaries, such as internet service providers, while being compatible with the goals of broadband policies and without prejudicing the interests of end consumers.”

In the UK we will shortly be requiring ISPs to start warning then blocking people who continually illegally download content. They already have to block access to websites that contain child abuse images. We will have to wait till 2012 to see the details of this particular EU proposal, but if our experience in Britain is anything to go by then we can expect the ISPs will resist any attempt to compel them to enforce these laws. They certainly lobbied us hard over the report that attempted to get them to block child pornography across Europe.

Since ISPs can make a very important contribution to the discussion,  I hope that they can recognise that the role at they have to play in the fight against piracy.