The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, said that the government plans to crack down on the internet to even up the regulatory imbalance with television.
Burnham, in a keynote speech at the Royal Television Society conference in London, said that a fear of the internet had caused a loss of confidence that had robbed the TV industry of innovation, risk-taking and talent sourcing in
Following the speech Burnham fielded questions from the floor, including one asking him to expand on the topic of the internet and the TV industry.
The time has come for perhaps a different approach to the internet. I want to even up that see-saw, even up the regulation [imbalance] between the old and the new.
He said that perhaps the wider industry, and government, had accepted the idea that the internet was beyond legal reach and was a space where governments can't go.
Burnham said that he would like to tighten up online content and services and lighten up some regulatory burdens around the TV industry.
Burnham added that the government had highlighted the way forward with its cross-industry and cross-departmental strategy , to tackle music piracy involving self-regulation: It is a new sign of our approach. It is not just about
copyright or intellectual property but [things like] taste and decency in the online world. The time will come to say what are the direct interventions [needed, if any].
Video-sharing websites - such as YouTube - could be forced to carry cinema-style guidance ratings, it has emerged.
Ministers are planning to introduce tough new rules to make websites carry age certificates and warning signs on films featuring sex, violence or strong language.
Minister of Nasty Cultures, Andy Burnham, said that tougher content guidance would help parents monitor their children's internet use.
Burnham said he wanted online content to meet the same standards required for television and the cinema. At the moment, there is no overall regulation of the internet. He said video clips may soon have to carry ratings such as the 'U', 'PG', '12'
and '18' ones used by cinemas.
Burnham pointed to the example of the BBC iplayer which carries content warnings on programmes screened after the 9pm watershed and allows parents to turn on a parental guidance lock to stop youngsters accessing inappropriate material.
He said: With the 9pm watershed, parents had complete clarity about the content. But with the internet, parents are ensure about what is appropriate and what isn't. We have to start talking more seriously about standards and regulation
on the internet.
I don't think it is impossible that before you download something there is a symbol or wording which tells you what's in that content. If you have a clip that is downloaded a million times then that is akin to broadcasting.
It doesn't seem over-burdensome for these to be regulated.
His comments were backed by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who said she had been 'shocked' at some of the material viewed by her sons. She added: I do think it's important that parents of young children are clear, just as they are when going
to see a film at the cinema, about what's appropriate and what isn't appropriate.
As we reported, Monday saw the launch of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS). This is one of the chief results of the Byron Review (pdf), and unites the great and the good of the internet world, under the guidance of Gordon Brown,
in an effort to make the internet fit for our children.
One way in which it will do that is by preventing children from accessing "inappropriate content". In its first release, the Council declared that it would "establish voluntary codes of practice for user-generated content sites,
making such sites commit to take down inappropriate content within a given time".
Although the release may appear consistent with the principles contained in the Byron Review, it is actually a serious extension of it. Preventing children from accessing content that is inappropriate to them has been subtly upgraded to a
requirement that user-generated sites take down "inappropriate content".
In June, the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee delivered its report on what it considered to be harmful content on the internet. Recommendations from that report are due to be released to Parliament next week. Those interested in
the future shape of the internet in the UK would do well to keep an ear open for any further casual remarks by Mr Burnham.
If the music industry had spent more time thinking of ways to deliver great music to its customers over the internet and less lobbying politicians and suing potential customers it would probably be thriving by now.
Book publishers, less certain of their own importance, are taking notice of the exciting experiments at Faber & Faber and Penguin instead of looking for protectionist legislation to keep the new media world at bay.
And for a while it looked like television was keen to embrace the possibilities for online delivery and greater engagement that the network offered.
Yet now it seems that Culture Secretary Andy Burnham thinks television in the UK is so special that it needs to be kept safe from attack by the nasty people of the online world.
Apparently it is time to "even up" regulation between the internet and television because those producing online material get an easy ride.
Outgoing Ofcom chairman David Currie has said that his successor should expect the communications censor to have an expanded remit with responsibility for stricter control over internet content.
Currie, making what will be his final annual lecture for Ofcom before leaving at Easter next year, said there was an appetite among legislators for putting a tighter rein on the net now the medium had moved beyond its formative stages.
Echoing comments last month by culture secretary Andy Burnham, who argued that it was time for a different approach to tightening up taste and decency online, Currie said Ofcom was likely to find its remit expanded, following his
departure, to encompass digital media.
Ask most legislators today, and, where they think about it, they will say that period [of forbearance] is coming to an end. To say this is not Ofcom going looking for trouble ... but a marker for my successor that Ofcom is likely to find its
remit being stretched, he added.
Currie made it clear that any scenario that saw an expanded Ofcom remit would not simply import old broadcasting-style regulation to the internet.
Answering questions from the floor at the Royal Television Society conference in London last month, Minister for Truth Andy Burnham said: The time has come for perhaps a different approach to the internet. I want to even up that see-saw, even
up the regulation [imbalance] between the old and the new."
The idea that the internet was beyond legal reach and a space where governments can't go was no longer the case.
In his final annual lecture for Ofcom last week Lord Currie expressed a belief that tighter regulation was coming. He said: Ask most legislators today and, where they think about it, they will say that period [of forbearance] is coming to an
Internet sites could be given cinema-style age ratings as part of a Government crackdown on freedom online to be launched in the New Year, the Culture Secretary says.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Andy Burnham says he believes that new standards of decency need to be applied to the web. He is planning to negotiate with Barack Obama's incoming American administration to draw up new international
rules for English language websites.
The Cabinet minister describes the internet as quite a dangerous place and says he wants ISPs to offer parents child-safe web services.
Giving film-style ratings to individual websites is one of the options being considered, he confirms. When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Burnham replies: Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really
now coming into full focus.
ISPs, such as BT, Tiscali, AOL or Sky could also be forced to offer internet services where the only websites accessible are those deemed suitable for children.
Burnham said: If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn't reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It's true across the board
in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.
There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; [...BUT...] it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it
involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.
Burnham reveals that he is currently considering a range of new safeguards. Initially, as with copyright violations, these could be policed by internet providers. However, new laws may be threatened if the initial approach is not successful: I
think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online. More ability for parents to understand if their child is on a site, what standards it is operating to. What are the protections that are in place?
He points to the success of the 9pm television watershed at protecting children. The minister also backs a new age classification system on video games to stop children buying certain products.
Burnham also wants new industry-wide take down times. This means that if websites such as YouTube or Facebook are alerted to offensive or harmful content they will have to remove it within a specified time once it is brought to their
He also says that the Government is considering changing libel laws to give people access to cheap low-cost legal recourse if they are defamed online. The legal proposals are being drawn up by the Ministry of Justice.
Burnham admits that his plans may be interpreted by some as heavy-handed ...BUT... says the new standards drive is utterly crucial . Mr Burnham also believes that the inauguration of Barack Obama, the President-Elect,
presents an opportunity to implement the major changes necessary for the web: The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.
Proposals by UK Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, to introduce cinema-style ratings for websites across the globe might benefit from a little more fact-finding and a little less rhetoric. On the other hand, the danger of open-minded research, is
that it might just expose New Labour waffle to the harsh realities of how things actually work.
One problem that will not go away this year is how to deal with the growing problem of protecting children from dangerous material on the internet. The hint by culture secretary Andy Burnham that unsuitable websites might be given cinema-style
ratings has been welcomed by some parents but was dismissed by bloggers. There is a serious problem: the ease with which youngsters can access pornography by clicking a button saying they are over 18 with no means of cross-checking. The problem
didn't exist when many politicians were young and this may explain their keenness to apply yesterday's solutions. The prospect of people sticking PG or 18 certificates on the zillions of images and articles that whizz through the internet every
hour is like building sandcastles to keep the tide out.
Tom Watson is a blogging MP who posed the following question of his readers:
I’ve just read this story that says that Internet sites might be given “cinema-style age ratings”. I’d be very interested to know your views - supportive or not. Internet regulation is not in my
policy area but I promise you I will forward your views to Andy Burnham and Lord Carter.
Needless to stay that the vast majority of the 200 responses was hardly supportive and they make for interesting reading
Communications Minister Lord Carter was expected to publish interim findings on the UK's digital economy on 24 January.
But a spokeswoman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the report would now appear before the end of the month.
The Digital Britain report examines a range of issues affecting internet users such as security and and safety and promoting content standards. The report is also expected to examine illegal file-sharing of movies, music and TV and
appraise ways of tackling it.
The full report and action plan will be unveiled in late spring 2009.
Wednesday 11th February 2009
Sixty One Whitehall, London SWIA 2ET
The internet: ‘A lawless zone'?
To what extent was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP correct when he described the internet as ‘lawless'? Who currently regulates what? How effective is the regulation currently in place, and where should
responsibility for regulation lie? Are there areas of the web that need greater regulation? Are there areas that are over regulated? How prevalent is illegal content online? What impact does inappropriate, illegal or ‘extreme' content have on
consumers, citizens and business?
Tim Toulmin, Director, Press Complaints Commission
Peter Robbins, Chief Executive, Internet Watch Foundation
Richard Mollett, Director of Public Affairs, BPI
Will Gardner, Deputy CEO, Childnet International
Camille de Stempel, Director of Policy, AOL UK
Derek Wyatt MP, Co-Chair, All Party Parliamentary Communications Group
Online content regulation
Jeremy Olivier, Head of Multimedia, Ofcom
Options for regulation
How can online content be regulated? Should illegal activities such as intellectual property, copyright infringement and inappropriate images be regulated equally? Who should regulate, and what should be the extent of their powers? Could
Australian and Chinese style filtering be used in the UK? How would increasing regulation affect creativity and entrepreneurship? What impact will regulation have on web 2.0 environment and sites containing user-generated content? Who should be
responsible for content? What could be the unintended consequences?
Peter Johnson, Head of Policy and Business Development, BBFC
Christopher Stokes, Chief Executive, NetResult
Annie Mullins, Head of Content Standards, Vodafone
Ben Allgrove, Senior Associate, Baker & McKenzie
Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology, Director of Graduate Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science
Senior representative, Open rights
Parents should take greater responsibility for what their children get up to on the internet, according to Jeremy Olivier, Ofcom's Head of Convergent Media.
He was speaking at Taming the Wild Web? , a keynote forum hosted in Whitehall by Westminster eForums, and bringing together the great and the good from the internet world to discuss issues such as how online content can be regulated,
whether all illegal activities should be regulated equally, and who should act as regulator.
The majority of panellists, with some notable exceptions, appeared to be in broad agreement. Hard-hitting laws to clamp down on the internet would be a mistake or as as Alun Michael, MP put it, quoting from Gibbon: Laws rarely prevent what
they forbid. Too tight a framework for internet regulation would most likely have unintended consequences and inflict irreparable harm on what would otherwise be a key growth industry throughout the next few decades.
The day's main dissent came from Derek Wyatt, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Communications. He followed a short history of internet development with the contention that international regulation was coming: that there was
growing government appetite for a body that would carry out this task, and that the best model for such regulation was our very own Ofcom.
His roadmap to a cleaner, safer internet world included a Communications Act in 2011, giving Ofcom a lead role in UK regulation; a creation of a world charter, to be presented by the UK to the G8 (or possibly G20) in the same year; and a gradual
winning of hearts and minds - state by state, issue by issue - over the ensuing decade.
While such a big government approach was not in tune with the majority of contributions, Alun Michael did warn that if the industry failed to show willing in the matter of (self-)regulation, they should be wary of a Dangerous Computers Act
being imposed on them.
Culture secretary Andy Burnham has confirmed he will create a co-regulatory body, led and funded by the industry, to take on responsibility for regulating programme content on video-on-demand services. Under the new rules, all UK
providers of VOD services will need to notify the co-regulator that they are providing a service, Burnham's department for culture, media and sport said.
Burnham's announcement signals the UK government's acceptance of most of the provisions in the European Commission's new Audiovisual Media Services directive (AVMS), drafted in 2007 to replace its 20-year-old Television Without Frontiers rules.
AVMS, which is being implemented by EU member states, makes the first regulatory distinction between linear and on-demand media, which was designated to get only light-touch regulation.
Burnham's implementation through co-regulation will throw the spotlight on the existing Association for Television On Demand (ATVOD), which has operated since 2003 to self-regulate the sector.
Burnham said: Video-on-demand services only come within the scope of the AVMS directive if they are mass media services whose principal purpose is to provide TV programmes to the public on demand.
But technology is changing rapidly and the interpretation already appears out-dated. Not only is YouTube already available on TV sets through Apple TV, Nintendo Wii etc, and not only do services like Joost absolutely want to provide TV shows
on-demand… most web-based VOD services ultimately also want carriage to the TV, too. In appealing to those such services, BBC's Project Canvas, for example, is aiming to make internet VOD mass media , just as Burnham defined.
Months after announcing his intention to work with the Obama administration to develop new restrictions on unacceptable material online, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham is still waiting for anyone in Washington to listen to him.
At the end of December, Burnham took to the airwaves and newspaper pages to decry content that should just not be available to be viewed . He also suggested international cooperation to create a system of cinema-style age ratings for
English language websites.
But yesterday in response to a question from the Liberal Democrats, Burnham's junior minister Barbara Follett conceded that four months into the new US administration, no progress had been made on the plans. Officials in London were still waiting
for someone interested to be appointed across the Atlantic, she explained.
I remain keen to discuss an international approach to areas of public concern about certain internet content and look forward to engaging with the appropriate member of the US Administration once the relevant appointment has been made, Follett said.