Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Tenth Report

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.[1]

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 software;
  • 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 clinical psychologist.[2] 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.[3] 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:

—  The 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;

—  The 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 posed by:

  • "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;

—  The tools available to consumers and industry to protect people from potentially harmful content on the Internet and in video games; and

—  The 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

2   DCSF Press Release 6 September 2007 Back

3   Classification of video games: see paragraph 7.50 of the Byron Review Back

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Prepared 31 July 2008