Monthly Archives: December 2008
trate that the mark hasn’t been used for specific goods for 5 years.
Ah, Andy Burnham MP strikes again.
Burnham, for those not paying attention, is the current Chief Culture Muppet (aka Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) and successor to the less than illustrious James Purnell and Tessa Jowell. Clearly it wasn’t third time lucky at DCMS.
In an interview with today’s Daily Telegraph, he gave vent to his desire to (as the Telegraph modestly put it) “…bring the internet under control”. Not that Burnham wasn’t just as bad in his own words:
“I think there is definitely a case for clearer standards online. You can still view content on the internet which I would say is
unacceptable. You can view a beheading. 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; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it
involves harm to other people.“
We must be clear on this point – the Chief Culture Muppet is not against free speech, he just believes some things should be censored (sort of like being against capital punishment, except where they really deserve it). How exactly having age ratings will help deal with the availability of beheading-related-content is not clear, probably deliberately so: it wouldn’t do to spoil a nice reactionary comment with any practicality.
[It's hardly the first time Andy Burnham's public comments have
displayed a lack of common sense or forethought. This is the man who at
the time of David Davis' resignation made comments which were widely taken as insinuating Davis was in an extra-marital relationship with Shami Chakrabati.
As a rule, if you're going to slander someone, it's best not to pick a
Tory front bencher who has just resigned on a issue of principal in a
blaze of publicity, and the prominent director of the country's leading
civil liberties organisation. Especially when she happens married to a litigation partner at Herbert Smith... Read Burnham's apology letter courtesy of the Gruniad.]
Using software to control access to material online is perfectly straightforward. Enterprise IT service providers use blacklists and blocking software all the time , as do many schools. There also domestic/home services which have been around for years (Net Nanny, for example, has been going for almost 15 years) and the online industry has a scheme called ICRA which provides ratings that software can use to determine what gets blocked.
Funnily enough very few people actually bother with these services, and whilst they do tend to be easily circumvented and not that reliable, the reality is that parents just don’t bother to buy them in the first place. Unless Burnham is proposing to distribute this software free (at which point he wants shooting for wasting public money) or is intending to try and get all net usage monitored at the ISP end (ala Phorm) his idea is still born.
And the example: beheadings?!?
Presumably Burnham – in a typically oblique and uninformative New Labour fashion – is trying to refer to videos produced by Iraqi insurgent groups. He might have been better advised to talk about material which would disturb those watching it. As Cartman in South Park put it: “I can’t help myself. That movie has warped my fragile little mind.”
There is clearly a need to protect children from accessing content which they are going to be unable to deal with, but the concept of the state determining what that means is worrying at best. The current government, after all, has such a great handle on the issues that they caused the Byron Review. Chaired by someone whose principal qualification for the role was having presented BBC3 programmes about badly behaved children, this was a public review of the implications of modern comms tech for children. After a long and expensive process, taking evidence from many “stakeholders” and involving lots of so-called experts, it concluded as follows:
- Technology is a good thing; and
- Children sometimes need to be protected from things.
(I’m summarising of course)
The Chief Culture Muppet is probably just repeating something he read in the Byron Review report, which is no excuse but is at least an explanation.
Let us not forget the mess that resulted recently when the Internet Watch Foundation decided that the cover of an album which has been openly on sale since the 1970s was child pornography. The IWF isn’t run
by the state, but by the industry. If they can cock it up so
spectacularly, gods help us if the state starts getting involved.
[The IWF's statement afterwards
was such a beautifully clear case of people who know they can't apologise
for what they've done, and know they're going to get castigated if they
don't. I would still love to know how much the choice between reversing their position and blocking Amazon had to do with the IWF's eventual volte face]
Viewed on its own, Burnham’s comments might just be typically poorly expressed comments by a government minister to fairly reactionary newspaper. Taken together with the Byron Review, and the prohibition of violent and extreme pornography introduced by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, it starts to look like a wider inability to understand the implications of the internet for traditional notions of censorship.
The nonsense at the heart of these new attempts at censorship
is illustrated by the CJIA2008: the ban on violent and extreme
pornography contains a specific exemption for works which have been
classified by the BBFC, and a exception to the exemption for extracts
created from such works.
In other words, movie companies can
sell the British public violent and extreme pornography, but only if they bookend it. New
Labour at its best.
On a side note, the Obscene Publications Act – which we were told was not enough, hence the need for the CJIA2008′s new ban – is to be tested in court next year in the first time for decades. It should be interesting to see if the case makes it to court. See here for an insightful comment on the case.
Returning to the cracking wheeze of age rating all websites, when you consider that the ratings already exist (ICRA et al) and aren’t really used it’s difficult see the point.
Well, if you assume this has anything to do with censorship that is.
For I have theory.
One of the main supporters of the copyright extension proposal was Cliff Richard, right? And the Guardian today reported that: “[Burnham] plans to approach US president-elect Barack Obama’s
incoming administration with proposals for tight international rules on
English language websites, which may include forcing internet service
providers, such as BT, Tiscali, Sky and AOL, to provide packages
restricting access to websites without an age rating.”
Obama won’t, can’t go for it, not when the Communications Decency Act 1996 was struck down as unconstitutional. But by the time he declines, the Chief Culture Muppet may have already gotten to shake hands with the big O.
And won’t that make it all worth while?
[Disclaimer: I'm sure Andy Burnham isn't pushing net censorship just to get to meet Barack Obama. It would be better if he was, but still...]
Cliché? Or traditional?