Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-89)|
OBE, QPM AND MS
26 FEBRUARY 2008
Q80 Chairman: It would be fair to
say then that those people who, when we raise concerns about these
other areas, say "The global internet is impossible to regulate,
it is all over the place, you cannot possibly stop a server in
some obscure Pacific island" or whatever, you have demonstrated
that if the will is there, it can be done.
Mr Robbins: If there is a will,
it can be done. That is true.
Q81 Chairman: So really the problem
is persuading people to address some of these other areas with
the same degree of concern that everybody agrees needs to be shown
to child pornography.
Mr Robbins: Yes. I think that
is fair to say but, at the same time, we know how long it has
taken us to get from 1996 to 2007, where we are aware there is
some common agreement. There are still countries where it is not
an offence to possess child sexual abuse content and therefore
there is still quite a long way to go in some countries for them
to catch up as well. That is with an area of content which not
many people would want to argue the case against. As soon as you
move into all these other areas that we are faced with, we do
not see any common agreements anywhere. There are disputes and
debates about this everywhere we go. As soon as this default system
of blocking was introduced by ISPs, of course, their worry was
about what more we would be added to the list. That becomes a
technical challenge to companies. One of the problems Australia
is going to have is that if you keep adding hundreds of websites
to their list, the way in which the technology currently works
means it does start to slow traffic down, which is a challenge
for everyone, as consumers, who are then not getting the speeds
which they want as well. It is not as simple as default at the
network level. Do not forget, our list is only somewhere in the
region of 1,200 or 1,500 to 2,000 maximum on a daily basis. It
keeps moving up and down, fluctuating, but there are tens of thousands,
if not millions of porn sites. If you wanted to block those out,
you cannot do it at that layer which I am talking about. There
is no consensus or agreement around those either.
Q82 Paul Farrelly: We were going
to get back to what is harmful or not in terms of content. I think
we have covered that. I am interested, as a parent of young children,
in boundaries and laws. With young children, if you are a good
parent, you set boundaries. You do not take the risk that a certain
type of behaviour leads to harm in the future as that individual
develops. You just say "That is wrong." Should we not
just set clearer boundaries without getting into the debates?
For instance, I have mentioned adverts on places like You Tube
that serve to say gang culture is a really good thing. Should
we not just lay down the law and say this is unacceptable, it
may be potentially harmful, we do not want to go there and this
sort of content should not be hosted?
Mr Robbins: You are looking at
me as if I know the answer to that one as well. My organisation
has an independence and we do not have an opinion about what you
have just said. I understand, as an adult and a member of society,
what you are trying to convey there, and I think there have been
some examples recently where some companies who have had their
adverts that in some way or another appear on certain types of
web pages that do not want to be associated with are taking a
view about that, because of the way advertisements are served
up and how they are delivered across different platforms, but
my organisation does not have a position on that, I am sorry to
Q83 Paul Farrelly: Can I just pursue
this? I do not know whether it is illegal. I used to be a newspaper
journalist. I do not know whether it would be illegal for my old
paper, the Observer, to have an advert in there from Mr
Gangster saying "Come and join my motley crew because we
are far better than the lot down the road" but I am sure
the newspaper would not take it and the newspaper organisation
would make sure that if it did, it was pretty much condemned.
Is there not an inconsistency there in self-regulation? Advertising
Mr Robbins: I think you are going
into areas which I do not think I am qualified to comment about
or to form an opinion on. I understand the point that you are
making in terms of whether a brand wants to be associated with
some other type of activity but those are decisions the people
who purchase the space and sell the space need to come together
on and if there is a way that that can be understood, that the
Observer does not want to be associated withI do
not knowa social networking site, for example
Q84 Paul Farrelly: My question is
about consistency in self-regulation across different spheres
of the media. Heather, you wanted to come in.
Ms Rabbatts: I was just reflecting
on the introduction to your question, which was a contextual point.
Outside of the boundaries of criminal law, I think what you are
beginning to put forward is really a sense of an individual's
moral compass, that as a parent, as parents, hopefully we have
a view, which is that you do not leave a three-year-old unattended
in front of a computer for hours on end or 20 minutes without
knowing they are watching something or doing an educational game
and you know exactly what they are doing. I think there is absolutely
a responsibility on individuals and citizens around their moral
compass and how they are parenting and protecting young children.
The other point that you make is a difference in terms of how
self-regulation acts in the print world as opposed to an online
and media world, and I think we have to appreciate that we are
talking now about two very different spheres of influence. We
have traditions that have grown up in print, we have evolving
traditions in the online world, and part of the role of this Select
Committee and indeed its investigation as it listens to evidence
is understanding how we are beginning to try and understand intervening
in a global community, where boundaries of regulation that used
to be applicable in a practical sense, in the real world, are
just not in the world that we are now living in.
Mr Lambert: It is certainly possible
to make those choices. For example, I cannot remember if it is
a legal requirement or not but the Committee of Advertising Practice
gives guidance on age-appropriate advertising, including certain
types of advertising about types of food and so forth, and we
respect that on our Instant Messaging, on our live services generally.
I do think companies can make a choice and they can recognise
local guidance or indeed, obviously, law, as I have already said.
You have to recognise it is obviously an international, global
thing, the internet, and what is acceptable for children here
in Europe, or in the United Kingdom specifically, is completely
different in many other parts of the world. It is tough to do
it globally. Where a company is local or has local facilities,
such as we do, you can take that choice.
Q85 Chairman: There is one final
area I just wanted to come back to, which I think is probably
more for Matt and Heather: video games. I think we have heard
there has already been quite a lot of agreement amongst witnesses
that consumers are confused by the fact that they have two different
rating systems. Would you share that view and, if you do share
that view, do you have a view as to which of the two classification
systems is preferable as a universal one to recommend?
Mr Lambert: I have not seen evidence
that shows that they are specifically confused about the two systems.
It may be true but I have not seen the evidence for it. What I
have seen evidence of is that parents are aware that there is
a rating system and, anecdotally, I understand that parents do
not necessarily enforce that or they do not take notice of it.
Coming back to your question, should there be one, yes, we think
that if there is going to be one, if Byron or you are going to
recommend that there should be one, actually, counter-intuitively,
it should be PEGI. The reason why I say that is because it would
be nice and easy for a British institution to say it is the British
Board of Film Classification and it is ours, which is certainly
true, but the beauty of PEGI is that it thinks very carefully
about game-appropriate, age-appropriate rating, legal level of
acceptability. It takes note of what the BBFC is saying legally
and as guidance in terms of films but the BBFC is set up for films
and when it rates games, it takes the film approach. Games are
recognisably different. There are different types of content and
a different approach, and PEGI thinks very carefully; it breaks
it down to a different level. So the PEGI rating actually will
tell you more about whether there is bad language in this, it
will give you a symbol for that as well, whether there is gambling,
whether there is sexual content. It will give you a rating but
it will also give you a series of symbols potentially which will
tell you that the game has a whole suite of different things.
You might think "This game is appropriate but it also has
bad language" and then you might think again. It is a different
depth and it is more applicable and more sensible. It also has
a pan-European feature to it, and you have to accept that Britain
is a major centre of the gaming development industry, which is
why Microsoft has a major centre of development here in the United
Kingdom. The UK industry employs 6,000 people, and we have several
of the best development companies, a couple of them in the Microsoft
house but many, many others. Britain is known for that, and I
think part of that is producing products which are sold responsibly
right the way across Europe and hopefully internationally. It
is a great thing for Britain.
Q86 Chairman: The BBFC's evidence
does directly contradict your view, in that they say that PEGI
classifications are less reliable because they derive from inferior
methodology based on self-assessment whereas every BBFC decision
is based on extensive game play by independent BBFC examiners.
Mr Lambert: I am not saying that
that is wrong. I apologise if I have given the impression that
they do not do it at all but, on the other hand, they would say
that, would they not, in terms of the "We are the best"
concept? I am not criticising what they say in terms of the facts
but I do think PEGI is thought about in terms of the games specifically
and I do think myself, notwithstanding what you have just told
me, that the BBFC primarily comes from the world of film and that
I think is certainly true.
Q87 Chairman: Heather, do you have
a view on this?
Ms Rabbatts: Just to say that
clearly many games are inspired by films, and indeed, I think
having clarity of a system is hugely important. I also think we
need to keep it simple, whether it be the BBFC or PEGI, and what
we do not want is too much complexity which means that people
are not exercising the judgements about what is appropriate for
their children to watch. I would urge both bodies to come together
so that we can actually arrive at something which we think is
Q88 Adam Price: Just very briefly,
we have recently had the idea floated of banning internet users
who illegally file-share through the internet. Do you think there
is any value in extending that to people who, for instance, upload
graphically violent material, et cetera, the idea that rights
and responsibilities could also be extended to how people use
the internet if they abuse that? If it is technically possible,
they revoke their right to use it. People who spam, for instance,
have their right to use an ISP removed.
Mr Robbins: Actually, I do not
know how you ban. That is the problem I see. I do not know how
you police a banning order, if there were such a thing, and who
would decide what type of content. It is back to this decision
about what they uploaded and then who would take a view as to
whether they should be banned. If it were associated with a court
case where part of the conviction system was that they could be
given a banning order or an anti-social behaviour order which
denied him access to the internet
Q89 Adam Price: An ASBO on the net?
Mr Robbins: Yes. I think people
convicted of paedophilia using the internet have supervisory conditions
applied now to their probation about access to internet supervision
and things like that. These things are doable but you come back
to the practicalities, I think, of relating the content do a decision
and then an authority to ban it.
Ms Rabbatts: I would echo that
point. I come back to the importance of education in the broadest
sense of that word, that, as citizens, we have both rights and
responsibilities and we need to exercise them in our day to day
lives, be that when we are online or in work, et cetera. I think
that is the biggest safeguard in terms of going forward. I think
every time one thinks about a way of trying to filter or ban,
as quickly as one has done that, there will be an invention that
gets around it, and ultimately it has become back to "I am
not going to upload that bullying incident that took place in
the playground because a very effective anti-bullying campaign
runs in the schools between teachers, parents and children".
That is what you need to do to tackle that. Stopping them uploading
will not help you. It is about stopping it at source. Similarly,
issues around anorexia are particularly around looking at why
young women have such poor self-images and poor self-esteem and
are self-harming. Those are the problems, not the fact that people
are going to those sites. It is about how you tackle it.
Adam Price: Thank you.
Chairman: We must stop there. Thank you