Archive for the ‘internet’ tag

The end of 'light touch' regulation on the net?

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OFCOM Chairman David Currie this week reiterated Andy Burnham’s comments that the time has come to extend content regulation on the net. The question is, what exactly does this mean?


When, during the Q&A at the RTS on 26th September, Burnham said he would like to “tighten up” regulation around online content, people weren’t sure if he was speaking off the cuff or letting slip a growing consensus within government. Following Currie’s comments it now looks like the latter.

This would be consistent not only with the prevalent mood for greater regulation, but with a series of parallel developments dating from pre 2008.

A couple of months back the government accepted ‘in full’ the recommendations of Tanya Byron’s review of children and the media – commissioned in 2007 and published last March (Safer Children in a Digital World). Indeed it was referred to by the DCSF, the DCMS and the Home Office as a ‘landmark report‘ and has led to the establishment of a UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCIS). This body will, amongst other things, develop new self-regulatory standards for online content (backed up by a statutory body).

Next year the wonderfully titled ‘European Audio Visual Media Services Directive’ or AVMS directive for short, will be integrated to British law. This successor to the much traduced Television Without Frontiers directive, will extend certain broadcast regulations to broadcast material on the net (including labelling and restricting access to content that “might be harmful to minors”).

And then there’s the Public Service Broadcasting review. Ostensibly this has little to do with the extension of regulation, but eventually it will have to, if only by default. If future public service broadcasting includes broadcasting on the net (which it will), then OFCOM will need to extend its remit to cover this material.

So regulation proceeds by many fronts – and given the global financial crisis one can assume the government will now be less shy about pushing forward with a regulatory agenda.

For anyone creating and publishing content on the net, watch out, here comes regulation.

Written by Martin Moore

October 16th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

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Policing the net

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Who should decide what your children should see online? The government, the ISP, the school, the parents or the children themselves?

Right now it’s pretty much up to the parents and child (more often the child given that most are more tech savvy than their parents).

But the MP Hugo Swire wants this to change. This week the ex Shadow Culture Secretary made the case for a new body to supervise the net on behalf of children (Tory MP calls for ‘PCC of the net’), pre-empting the findings of the current Tanya Byron Review. The proposed body, an ‘Internet Standards Authority’, would work with government, ISPs etc. to block content considered harmful to children, and to monitor content on grounds of taste and decency.

It would be like, Swire says, a Press Complaints Commission on the net (ignoring the fact that the PCC already says it ‘polices’ newspaper and magazine content on the net and deliberately avoids taste and decency issues).

Given what has happened in Bridgend, and the vast amount of violent, racist, explicit, cruel, perverted and extreme content on the internet one can sympathise with Swire’s urge.

But there are a number of serious problems with his proposal. At a practical level it would be very expensive and time consuming to supervise the net (as the Chinese have found). To be effective you’d literally have to have people ‘patrolling’ social networks and constantly scanning material being uploaded to YouTube. At a legal level you wonder why there isn’t already a statutary body taking action against illegal internet content. This should be OFCOM’s job shouldn’t it? And, at a philosophical level, one can’t help but have qualms about a State censor, and be concerned that a body set up to act on behalf of children would find its remit quickly growing to include other vulnerable groups in society.

Swire is quite right to raise concerns about the availability of, and access to, content on the net. And it’s true that people need more information to be able make more informed choices – on their and on their children’s behalf. But his ‘ISA’ is too blunt an answer for what is essentially a whole range of different issues.

Still, without any alternatives on the table, and with OFCOM fighting shy of the net, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the concept of an ISA starts to gain currency.

Written by Martin Moore

February 8th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

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Facebook becomes a source of US election news

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The good old Pew Center has conducted a fascinating study into how Americans are getting their news about the US election.

The big finding is, once again, that the internet continues to grow as a source of campaign news – and at the same time traditional media continues to decline (though it needs to be noted that traditional sources are not declining as quickly as the internet is rising). 24% of Americans now regularly get news about the election online – and this rises to 42% of 18-29 year olds.

But within the big picture some of the detailed figures are astonishing. The survey finds that more than a quarter of 18-29 year olds (27%) use social networking sites to get information about the campaign (and 37% of 18-24 year olds).

Information, what information? I realise I’m a social networking neanderthal (having scribbled on none of my Facebook friends’ walls and joined only 2 groups) but the news information I get via Facebook is along the lines of ‘Alison prefers friday nights to monday nights’ or ‘Sarah says she has a crush on an octogenarian DJ’. You can go out and find information about the campaign (see Barack Obama’s ‘Notes’ for example’) and receive news from groups, but in the first case this is hardly impartial and in the second pre-filtered.

This finding can’t help but fuel the concerns of those who think people will become increasingly deaf to any information that might quaintly be called ‘public interest’, prefering to find stuff themselves (however unbalanced) or hear it from their peers.

On a brighter note, the survey suggests serendipity is not dead. 52% of web users said ‘they “come across” campaign news and information when they are going online to do something else’. I guess this is a little like channel surfing late at night, stumbling upon ‘This Week’ and getting stuck listening to Michael Portillo arguing with Dianne Abbot.

And the report also finds that people go to a remarkable range of websites for campaign news. ‘For every person getting campaign news from a site like MSNBC or CNN,’ Pew says, ‘there is a person getting campaign news from a website that targets a far smaller audience’ – most of these being niche internet news websites.

At this rate it looks as though the internet should surpass traditional media as the main source of election news for young people in 2012. Although what ‘news’ they’ll get from it is far from clear.

At least there will always be a hard core of young people interested in politics. An impressive 8% of enthusiastic 18-29 year olds signed up as a ‘friend of the candidate’ – future campaign co-ordinators perhaps?

Written by Martin Moore

January 15th, 2008 at 12:40 pm

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The PCC boldly goes…

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Causing barely a ripple in August’s becalmed news, the Press Complaints Commission has just taken a bold new step into the unknown. It has made its first ruling on audio-visual content on the web.

It has upheld the complaint of Mrs Laura Gaddis, president of the PTA at John Ogilvie High School, about a mobile phone video taken of a disruptive maths class.

One of the students in the class, who wanted to show her parents how chaotic they had become, filmed it on her phone. When her parents saw the video they were so appalled they sent it to the Hamilton Advertiser, which then published the footage on its website.

But despite being a bold step away from regulating print, this PCC ruling was reasonably straightforward. Clause 6 of the Code says that ‘Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion’ and that ‘Pupils must not be approached or photographed at school without the permission of the school authorities’. So it would have been strange if the Commission had ruled otherwise.

But it’s not hard to imagine a more complex situation. Increase the age of the students slightly – make them, say, university level, and the same ruling does not apply. A group of 18 year olds filmed causing trouble at college can presumably be published without compunction. But can it? Do the students or the teacher have any protection? Does the public interest test apply even though the person collecting the content is not a ‘journalist’?

Who has right to the content and whose permission should be sought before it is used? I know of a number of examples where newspapers have taken pictures from Facebook and Flickr without any attempt to gain permission from the photographer or the person photographed. Equally newspapers have been known to copy content from blogs and use it without contacting the blogger (I know because one did with this blog).

Of course if you want to see disruptive classes, or much more disturbing content (children fighting, bullying etc.) it is not hard to find online (e.g. at LiveLeak). The recent Panorama by Raphael Rowe showed how much of this footage is already available.

The PCC must be pleased with the ease with which it could make its first ruling. Subsequent ones are unlikely to be as straightforward.

Written by Martin Moore

August 15th, 2007 at 7:31 am

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