Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by a member of the public

  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 harm—the 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." [] Therefore 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 special—there 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 []. "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 []. 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.

January 2008

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