Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by PPA and AOP UK


About PPA

  The PPA is the trade body for UK magazine and business and professional media publishers, and in this role welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Byron Review.

  The association's membership consists of some 500 members who publish or organise over 4,400 products and services. These include over 2,500 consumer, business and professional magazines. PPA members also produce a large range of directories and websites, in addition to organising conferences, exhibitions and awards.

  Many PPA members offer online services, including online versions of print publications and publications only available online, or through electronic transmission.

  This response gives the opinion of PPA members for industry matters and also uses the results of an informal focus group of students in a South London school (aged 12-15) on attitudes to media use.

About AOP

  The UK Association of Online Publishers (AOP) is an industry body representing online publishing companies that create original, branded, quality content, spanning newspaper and magazine publishing, TV and radio broadcasting, and pure online media.

  AOP formed in 2002, in response to the growth of the internet as a publishing medium, with the pace of change creating its own challenges: how are publishers to position themselves in the digital age? How will the users (readers, viewers, listeners, contributors) of the future want to find and use content? Will they be creating it themselves?

  Members include Associated New Media, BBC, BSkyB, Channel 4, CMP Information, CNET Networks, Condé Nast Interactive, Dennis Interactive, The Economist Group, Emap, Financial Times, Future Publishing, GCap Media, Guardian Unlimited, Haymarket Publishing, Incisive Media, Independent Digital, IPC Media, ITV Online, News International, Reed Business Information, Reuters, Telegraph Media Group, Trinity Mirror, and Which?

The benefits of the internet

  The internet has brought untold benefits to all. Children and young people benefit from access to a wide range of source materials which entertain them and help them with study and finding out about the world in general.

  A focus group sponsored by the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel (TMAP) of students at a London secondary school suggests that increased access to news sites has younger students (12-13 year olds) reporting that they read the news regularly. One student with hearing difficulties reported that he was able to interact better socially with his friends online because via webcam and Messenger he could stay in touch more effectively than before. For very young children, use of computers to play appropriate games develops cognitive skills but also encourages the development of fine motor skills through mouse and keyboard use.

  The benefit to society is plain to see, from increased opportunities to give an opinion for anyone who has access to the web; to activism which is way more effective in the online environment; to improved opportunities to buy useful products at competitive rates regardless of whether you live in a metropolis or on a small Hebridean Island. The world is made smaller by the internet.

  The internet has also been the hub for an explosion in creativity. People are producing content via open source materials, including games, videos, blogs, music, artwork and sharing them with the world. Community sites are increasingly used to make the internet a major hub for local activity and news.

  The benefits to the economy stem from the benefits for society. The UK is increasingly seen by others internationally as the place for creativity. The creative economy in the UK is worth 7% of GDP—as much as the financial services industry. This is in no small part down to producers of content online who come from all sectors of the creative economy—including magazine publishers. Opportunities for skilled and challenging careers are available now which were not in the past.

Identifying risk and managing it

  While content which is clearly illegal should and can be dealt with by existing laws, the PPA is concerned that the internet should not be subject to censorship of content which is legal.

  There has been much discussion of how to deal with "inappropriate" content. We need to be careful about rushing to define what is meant by "inappropriate". This is surely something for the individual to decide in the case of adults and, in the case of children, for their parent or carer to decide.

  Technology exists which can be used to filter out content which could be offensive or inappropriate to individual users. It is even possible to have settings for each member of the family so that adults in the house are not bound by the settings for their children.

  Unfortunately, industry evidence shows that there is limited take-up of filtering technology. The young people we interviewed were of the opinion that their parents would probably find it too difficult to set up, as they were not as technically "savvy" as their children. Another potential problem could be the legacy of earlier versions which were less user-friendly. Raising awareness of how easy the technology is to use and encouraging wider take-up would be a good way to support parents in their decisions about what their children should access online.

  While the PPA understands the call by some sectors of the industry for a system of content rating across the board, we have some serious concerns about any proposal to rate all content online for the following reasons:

    —    Content rating could never cover all sites accessible online (as it would be a self-regulatory or co-regulatory system applicable to sites based only in the UK) and would therefore not be reliable as an information source for parents.

    —    Content online changes on a minute-by-minute basis. Most PPA member sites would have a broad range of content on offer. Will this be rated on a piece by piece basis? If not then the effect would be that of the most rudimentary filter and could block off access to quality content for children.

    —    It is unclear who would be the arbiter of such a system. Currently the BBFC looks at computer games and OFCOM is studying ratings systems. Press is traditionally an industry which, while bound by the laws of the land, also self-regulates via the Press Complaints Commission for editorial content and Code of Advertising Practice for advertising. The inclusion of any other agency in this lexicon does not seem practical.

    —    For press products age-rating could be considered as a form of censorship which is contrary to the principles of a free press, particularly if Government agencies could be involved in setting the parameters of the system. This seems to contradict all recent Government statements about the freedom of the press to self-regulate.


  The PPA believes creating a safer environment for online content access can best be achieved through an extensive, well-targeted education programme for adults and children, which encourages them to use easily-available filter technology and gives them the information they need about issues such as staying safe in chat rooms.

  This approach, coupled with industry self-regulation (some of it already in place) which is flexible and can adapt to new developments, is a superior approach to the creation of legislation, which could be obsolete very quickly in a rapidly developing market.

  Finally and most importantly for publishers, there should be no obligatory age-rating of online content, as this could be difficult and costly to implement and could be considered a form of censorship.

January 2008

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