1 Introduction |
1. More and more, the Internet is becoming a
part of our lives. For communications, research and commerce,
it is now an indispensable tool. Governments are right to attach
high priority to ensuring that all citizens have access to broadband
delivery and are able to take full advantage of all it has to
offer. However, anyone who regularly watches television or reads
the press is likely to have become aware of growing public concern
in recent months at the Internet's dark side: the easy availability
of hardcore pornography, which people may find offensive, the
uploading by ordinary people of film of real fights, bullying
or alleged rape, or the setting up of websites encouraging others
to follow extreme diets, or self-harm, or even commit suicide.
In particular, there is increasing anxiety among parents about
the use of social networking sites and chatrooms for grooming
and sexual predation.
2. In March 2007, the Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP
gave a speech to the Equal Opportunities Commission, in which
he spoke about parents' wishes for their children and how they
could be fulfilled. He said that "we want to promote a culture
which favours responsibility and establishes boundaries"
and that "we need to harness new technology and use it to
enable parents to exercise the control they want over the new
influences on their children"; he went on to say that he
had discussed with Ofcom further measures to protect children
from unsuitable material in the media. He said that Ofcom would:
- Conduct an information campaign
for parents which will let them know what parental control software
is available for computers and TV set-top boxes;
- Work with equipment manufacturers
to ensure parents have better information on how to use blocking
- Consider what more can be done
to assist parents in restricting access to violent and obscene
material sent over the internet; and
- Work with the Internet Watch
Foundation to ensure that internet service providers tell their
subscribers about software which blocks access to sites.
3. This initiative was largely overtaken, however,
in September 2007, when the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State
for Children, Schools and Families and the Secretary of State
for Culture, Media and Sport announced that a review was to be
set up to examine ways of helping children and parents "get
the best" from new technologies while protecting them from
harmful images. The review was to be led by Dr Tanya Byron, a
The objectives of the review were:
- To undertake a review of the
evidence on risks to children's safety and wellbeing of exposure
to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet
and in video games; and
- To assess the effectiveness
and adequacy of existing measures to help prevent children from
being exposed to such material, to help parents understand and
manage the risks of access to inappropriate content, and to make
recommendations for improvements or additional action.
4. Dr Byron's report was published on 27 March
2008, and the Government announced on the day of publication that
it accepted in full all of her recommendations, albeit with public
consultation in one area.
Dr Byron's review was thoughtful and thorough and the report is
in many ways a highly impressive piece of work.
5. The terms of reference for our inquiry were
announced in December 2007 and were more widely drawn:
benefits and opportunities offered to consumers, including children
and young people, and the economy by technologies such as the
Internet, video games and mobile phones;
potential risks to consumers, including children and young people,
from exposure to harmful content on the Internet or in video games.
The Committee is particularly interested in the potential risks
- "Cyber bullying";
- user generated content, including
content that glorifies guns and gang violence;
- the availability of personal
information on social networking sites;
- content that incites racial
hatred, extremism or terrorism;
- content that exhibits extreme
pornography or violence;
tools available to consumers and industry to protect people from
potentially harmful content on the Internet and in video games;
effectiveness of the existing regulatory regime in helping to
manage the potential risks from harmful content on the Internet
and in video games.
6. We have not examined the use of the Internet
to perpetrate fraud through false claims, phishing or other means.
Nor have we attempted to consider the issues raised by Dr Byron
in the same depth. Our inquiry has, however, served as a sounding
board for responses to Dr Byron's recommendations, and this Report
gives views on matters which she raised and which have provoked
particular debate. In some areas, its scope is also wider than
hers and does not focus on threats to children alone. Our aim
is to feed into the process for implementation of Dr Byron's recommendations
and to identify other areas worthy of attention. As is our usual
practice, we are publishing most of the written submissions to
our inquiry alongside the oral evidence.
7. During the inquiry we visited the Child Exploitation
and Online Protection Centre in London; and we travelled to the
United States for meetings with providers of social networking
services and search services, and with video games publishers.
We are grateful to our hosts both in the UK and in the US for
sharing their views. We also record our thanks to our Specialist
Adviser, Mr Ray Gallagher, who has provided advice on a range
of matters concerning broadcasting and new media.
1 BBC Panorama has broadcast two programmes
exploring this theme, one about film of brutal fights between
children (30 June 2007) and another about the use of social networking
sites to groom children (7 January 2008) Back
DCSF Press Release 6 September 2007 Back
Classification of video games: see paragraph 7.50 of the Byron