Memorandum submitted by a member of the
This is my response to the inquiry of Harmful
Content On The Internet and in Video Games. My response may
be made public, but please keep my details (Name, Email) private.
1. I have no problem with restrictions for
children, as the Byron review was originally concerned with, but
I am concerned that this has now been extended to adults.
2. In claiming content is "harmful",
the question is in what way is content allegedly harmful, and
what evidence does or does not support this claim? I believe that
freedom of expression should be restricted only where it is necessary
to prevent harm, and it is for those who argue for censorship
to establish that the content which they object to will cause
harm to others.
3. Regarding "content that glorifies
guns and gang violence" and "content that incites racial
hatred, extremism or terrorism", there are already laws against
inciting violence, as well as inciting religious and racial hatred.
Content should be treated under these laws. A problem with censorship
laws is that they typically assume that, for example, any portrayal
of violence is inciting violence. The laws restricting speech
that incites hatred are controversial as it is (consider the opposition
to the law on religious hatred), but it goes too far to censor
all depictions of an act, even those that do not incite it.
4. Regarding "extreme pornography",
what is meant by "extreme"? The Government is currently
pushing through a controversial law that will criminalise possession
of what it terms "extreme pornography", yet the definitions
cover acts between consenting adults, even staged acts with actors,
and acts where no one is harmed. The law stands to criminalise
many law-abiding citizens, for example, those who participate
in sadism and masochism (who may take private photos of their
own acts, or visit BDSM sites online). I do not know if this inquiry
uses the same broad definition, but this exemplifies the problem
of vague definitions, and with trying to criminalise based on
taste rather than harm.
5. The Government has been unable to provide
evidence that such material causes harmthe Rapid Evidence
Assessment it produced has been widely criticised by academics
as "extremely poor, based on contested findings and accumulated
results. It is one-sided and simply ignores the considerable research
tradition into "extreme" (be they violent or sexually
explicit) materials within the UK's Humanities and Social Sciences."
I do not believe there is sufficient justification in censoring
such material for adults.
6. Similarly I do not see evidence for censoring
violent content for adults. It is not clear why content on the
Internet is specialthere is widespread violence in films
that may be viewed by adults.
7. Media has a long history of being blamed
for society's ills. The Obscene Publications Act introduced in
1857 led to literature being banned because they were deemed to
"deprave or corrupt", yet these books are now commonly
available as standards of what is considered acceptable have changed.
In over 150 years there is still no evidence of harm.
8. The Columbine school shootings in the
USA were blamed on the rock band Marilyn Manson, and the computer
game Doom. The computer game Manhunt was blamed for the murder
of Stefan Pakeerah, but the police rejected the link, and it was
the victim who owned a copy, not the murderer [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/leicestershire/3538066.stm].
"Extreme" pornography sites such as "Necrobabes"
were blamed for the murder of Jane Longhurst, yet the murderer
Graham Coutts told psychiatrists in 1991 he feared his murderous
thoughts may lead to criminal actions, long before he accessed
these sites [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/sussex/6756863.stm].
In all cases, media is blamed for anecdotal cases,with no evidence
of a link.
9. The Government puts forward the claim
that controls on the Internet are needed because people can access
material that the Government wishes to ban. But it should be asked
why the Government wishes to ban content that no other western
nation does (Manhunt 2, recently banned by the BBFC, is legal
elsewhere in Europe and the USA; Necrobabes is hosted legally
in the USA). If being able to download uncensored material over
the Internet corrupts people, one has to ask why in over 10 years
of widespread Internet access there has not been an explosion
of violent crime?
10. In summary, I urge the Government to
consider an evidence-based approach to legislation, rather than
criminalising content that some see distasteful or abhorrent,
or giving into media scares based on anecdotal cases.