Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520-539)|
13 MAY 2008
Q520 Mr Evans: How many parents do
you think do that?
Mr Purvis: Whose responsibility
is that at the end of the day? We cannot shirk responsibility
as parents; we have not shirked it over sending them to bed at
nine o'clock so why somehow should it be thought acceptable for
parents to shirk the responsibilities in an online area? Maybe
we do not understand it as well as some of the children, but that
is not a good reason either if you think about it, is it?
Mr Richards: We are not exercising
a judgment about whether any individual ten-year-old is or is
not watching Shameless and we cannot; we have never been
able to and we never will be able to.
Q521 Mr Evans: Part of your responsibility
under the Communications Act 2003 is to make the most of services
on the Internet and to learn how to manage the risks to which
they are exposed when online. That is for consumers. Tell us then,
how much money did you spend last year on telling parents how
they were able to control what their kids could be watching on
Mr Richards: This is our media
Q522 Mr Evans: You know the kids
are more intelligent about computers than their parents so I assume
you are spending significant sums of money on educating parents
on how they can control the risks for their youngsters online.
Mr Richards: We have a duty to
promote media literacy along with the BBC, not a duty to deliver
it. We do absolutely everything we can. As a matter of fact, we
are given half a million pounds by the Department for media literacy.
This year we have doubled that in order to spend more because
we think it is a significant priority; we are spending more than
double what we receive in grant in aid because the Board recognise
this as an important priority. We have established a number of
partnerships and activities with other organisations.
Mr Purvis: We prompted the idea
that there should be a BSI kite mark for Internet software filtering,
something that had not happened before. Together in partnership
with, for instance, the Home Office, we were able to help bring
this about. That did not cost us a lot of money but there was
a lot of initiative and a lot of enterprise behind that and it
was welcomed by the partners. When the launch of that kite mark
happens relatively soon and there are products that people can
buy, that will be good use of public money to help promote an
understanding by parents of how they can actually install something
that makes a difference to their own children's consumption of
media. We are not funded by government to run a poster campaign
for, if you like, the kite mark or for the Internet filters, but
we can be an enabler that actually promotes a process and helps
a process go along in which stakeholders around the Council table,
for instance, can actually take positive steps. Have we spent
a lot of money on doing something to make a practical effect?
No. Will it have a practical effect? Yes.
Mr Richards: We are definitely
not the right body to deliver a mass campaign for promoting media
literacy across the UK. That is not what we do. Even if you gave
us the money for it I would say that we are the wrong organisation
to do it. We are not equipped to do it; we do not have the skills
to do it; we do not have the reach to do it. I think somebody
probably does need to do that but I do not think it is a regulator
like Ofcom. The duty to promote it and use our position at the
apex of the communications industry is a sensible thing, but delivering
that sort of mass campaign to bring parents' understanding and
literacy of these issues up such that they can meet their responsibilities
effectively, that is not an appropriate role for us.
Q523 Mr Evans: I remember when John
and I were on one of the broadcasting bills and Gwyneth Dunwoody
was the formidable chairman of that. I mentioned the Internet
several times in one of my speeches and she said, "Sit down.
I do not want to hear the mention of the Internet again; this
is about broadcasting." You know where I am coming to: convergence
is already there. It is not just YouTube, there are a number of
other sites that are up there which have near broadcast quality
pictures. You have put yourselves in an impossible and an absurd
position. I do not understand why you are not allowed to control
what is basically broadcasting on the Internet.
Mr Richards: We have not put ourselves
in any position; Parliament put us in the position we are in.
It was Parliament that debated whether Ofcom should have a role
in the Internet or not and it was Parliament that decided that
we should not. If you go back to when that legislation was passed
the mood at the time was that the Internet was an extraordinary
new phenomenon with amazing innovations taking place and the consensus
of opinion was that the last thing that should be done was that
it should be regulated by anybody. "Let a thousand flowers
bloom" was the zeitgeist of the day. The debate we are having
now is because the world has moved on and rather than being a
new phenomenon that no-one really understood and was purely about
innovation, it is much more mainstream so it is bringing with
it mainstream concerns. That is why we are having the discussion
we are having. You should be very clear that we did not put ourselves
in any position in relation to this at all. We are absolutely
duty bound to carry out what we are asked to do by Parliament
and we were not asked to do anything in relation to the Internet
content. We obviously do regulate the networks that carry the
Internet and do so quite extensively.
Q524 Mr Evans: You are just waiting
for the tipping point. Warp speeds are going to be with us very
shortly and increasingly people are going to be watching their
entertainment via a tube.
Mr Purvis: We should again mention
this European directive which comes into effect at the end of
next year by which what are called TV-like services on the Internet
fall under a broadcasting regime. Even if Parliament did not ask
us in 2003 to look at this, the European Parliament is aware of
this issue and the situation may change. We are doing the job
that we are asked to do; we are doing it with not a lot of money
and I would say that we are doing it rather effectively.
Q525 Mr Hall: What are the implications
for you with the EU directive on Audio Visual Media Services?
Will we end up having three systems or just one?
Mr Richards: The main implication
is that it brings into the formal regulatory orbit what are described
as TV-like services, in other words content on the Internet which
passes the definition in legislation of what a TV-like service
is. For the first time ever that will bring those services into
a gentle formal regulatory orbit. The expectation is that that
will be addressed through co-regulation, that is a form of self-regulation
but which is backed with statutory powers. That is, I think, the
single most important change.
Mr Purvis: I think that sums it
up. Obviously there are going to be consultations ahead on what
exactly is a TV-like service; let us not hide from that rather
important issue. However, it does signal a change in the attitude
of legislators towards this issue and it will be very interesting
to see how it develops. Obviously it has wider implications as
some of the case law that comes out of that unveils.
Q526 Mr Hall: Can you explain this
concept of co-regulation which is self-regulation and statutory
regulation at the same time? That sounds like an oxymoron to me.
Mr Richards: It may well be an
oxymoron but the way I think about it is that there is a continuum
really and there are three big points on that continuum. There
is statutory regulation which is what we do for broadcast; there
is self-regulation at the other end which is essentially voluntarist
so industry agrees voluntarily to create a regulatory code; co-regulation
is the point in between the two where there is a statutory basis
for the regulation but the approach taken is one of co-regulation,
regulating with the industry so the bulk of the work, but the
drawing up of the codes possibly with advice from ourselves will
be undertaken by an industry based body. So it is somewhere between
Mr Purvis: It is worth adding
that sometimes the co-regulatory bodies are actually areas where
we, for instance, had a statutory responsibility and we have decided
that it is best done in a co-regulatory way by creating some new
body. In that sort of situation the default power falls back to
the statutory regulator but in all these models it seems to me
the default power falls back to Parliament. If Parliament does
not think that any of these regimes are working it has options.
Q527 Mr Hall: We do have to have
some clear direction. We might have a dual system, we might have
three systems operating. When you have plurality you have a real
problem actually enforcing whatever it is you want to do.
Mr Purvis: When I took up this
jobI have only been here about five monthsI was
asked to write an article and I worked out that there were at
least ten content regulators in the UK and I ended by saying,
"Is that a problem or is it a solution?" The answer
is that you could argue it either way. You could argue that the
devolved responsibility to co- and self-regulators is part of
a wider regulatory framework which we are in favour of, or you
could argue that there are too many people disagreeing about things.
I think I have reassured you that there no fundamental disagreements
about the codes between these various bodies. The issue we have
at the back of our minds at all times is public awareness: do
the public actually know where to go to complain? Do they know
about these ten different organisations, one for mobile, one for
video, on-demand et cetera? That is where media literacy comes
in to play as well. We are not just interested in the regulatory
talk; we are really concerned about the public's awareness and
of its rights to complain to the right body.
Q528 Mr Hall: On that particular
issue, have you had any complaints about the Darren Brown Trick
or Treat programme on Channel 4 on Friday night where there
was the potential of a rabbit going to be electrocuted live on
Mr Purvis: I am told that there
was a psychologist or an animal psychologist on standby, but there
is an answer to that point.
Q529 Mr Hall: I have had a number
of letters already about it.
Mr Richards: If you pass them
on to us we will treat them as complaints and take it forward.
Q530 Adam Price: It is not just content
that is potentially harmful but also the advertising or the marketing
material that is bundled in with that content. Is there any evidence
that some of the advertisers that have been shut out of the broadcast
world have migrated to online platforms in targeting children?
Is that true? Should we be worried about it? What potentially
could be done about it?
Mr Richards: The kind of advertisers
who might have targeted children in the past on broadcasting sites
have been shut out of that for a long time so it would probably
be difficult to identify whether they moved, but that does not
undermine the general point that you are making which is: is there
an issue that is emerging about appropriate targeting of advertising?
I think the answer to that must be that there is an issue and
there is a concern. It is absolutely one of those things that
in the question about whether self-regulation is going to be effective
or not it has to be on the list.
Mr Purvis: I think one of our
five "must be reviewed by the Council" suggestions to
the Council was what we call a code of practice for online advertising.
That is the prominence we give it. As I understand it retail websites
fall outside the definition of advertising in the sense that in-store
displays are not actually counted as advertising, so there are
issues around that as well. As far as I am aware there is no suggestion
that that has been abused by retailers, but it is certainly a
window via which some retailers could produce harmful content,
somehow bypassing these codes of practice. It is an area which
Mr Richards: I think it is a very
serious issue and it takes us right back to the big question of
how will the companies involve respond to this. It is clearly
something that society would rightly be concerned about but it
also seems to me something that could lend itself to effective
self-regulation. Will it be? We will have to wait and see.
Q531 Adam Price: In our next session
we are going to concentrate on video games. Which of the spectrum
of different models of regulation that you outlined in an earlier
response do you think should be applied to the video games sector?
Mr Richards: We have not studied
the video games sector; it is slightly outwith our remit really.
I think our instinct on this would probably be close to the response
Stewart gave a few minutes ago which is that what matters here
is transparency and clarity for parents. If the issue here is
concern about some very violent games or unsuitable games being
available and accessed in an unsupervised or unclear way by young
children, the test is: do people know what the ratings are? Do
they trust those ratings? Do they understand where they can identify
them and see them? That, for example, is where we are with the
watershed; it is well-known and well-understood, everybody is
clear and that in a sense is the test of this issue.
Q532 Adam Price: Your instinct would
be that effective self-regulationwhich is the phrase that
you useshould be able to produce that kind of transparency.
Mr Richards: We honestly have
not looked at it, but you would start there and if you have good
reasons not to believe that then you would move a step up.
Mr Purvis: I think basically you
should never underestimate the power of transparency. It is a
phrase that is used a lot but people have to answer direct questions
about their systems and their methods and about such things as
how long does it take to take things down. Before I took up this
job I was at a conference where I asked a social network site
how many content monitors they had per million users and frankly
the number was not very high. Transparency on resource issues
like that I think would really open up some important issues which
the Council could then follow through on.
Q533 Alan Keen: I have not heard
about the rabbit being electrocuted but some people might be offended
by rabbits being eaten on television, not alive of course. What
it does to show is that, as you have said already, it is up to
parents to make the decisions. You have already said that it should
not be your responsibility. It is an enormous role to have, but
how should it be done? It is pretty obvious from some of the facts
we have been given that the majority of parents do not understand
the Internet, full stop. I agree with you, whose role should it
be and what are you doing to pass it on to someone else?
Mr Richards: What we have done
is work very extensively, provided a lot of research and evidence
to the Byron review. We saw that as an opportunity to express
our concerns in this area. We did that. I think the answer to
your question is that the Byron review is in the right territory,
it is a big self-regulation opportunity and challenge and the
National Council needs to meet that. There is a big educational
question and DCSF and the Government need to meet that opportunity.
There is a big outstanding challenge for framing an overall media
literacy strategy which is more focussed upon adults, so not schools
but more focussed on parents and parental knowledge and, as we
said earlier, we do the best job we can of our duty to promote
and put extra resources into it, but delivering something like
that is an outstanding question. Who is going to deliver that?
How can it be effective? It is a very major challenge because
you are grappling with what is a profound generational difference
in an instinctive understanding of this new technology.
Q534 Alan Keen: What would you like
us to say in our report?
Mr Richards: If I were writing
your report I would put in place tough tests on the National Council
and on industry to demonstrate early effectiveness of self-regulation.
I would invite us to assess the effectiveness because I think
we are well placed to do that in 12 to 18 months' time. Has it
made a difference? Do they meet basic standards? I would place
a real challenge to government in relation to the educational
and younger people's side of things. I would place a challenge
to government in relation to the framing and delivery of a comprehensive
media literacy strategy.
Q535 Alan Keen: It is clear from
the inquiry so far that this is the greatest gap. Your answer
earlier was that you could not give the answer yourselfand
rightly soabout a decision. The vast majority of parents
just do not know how to do it; the kids are miles ahead of them
and will stay there.
Mr Purvis: We do not know the
exact knowledge of parents in general but what we believe is that
part of the media literacy strategy is not just helping people
understand but help them find out where they can get help. That
is one of Dr Byron's recommendations about a one-stop shop. As
somebody who, last week, was trying to install Internet filtering
software, it was not actually very simple to find out where exactly
I could get some help on that issue. I think that is a major outcome
that the UK Council could clarify but it has to be part of a wider
strategy. There are specific things that could be done to help
parents and support parents rather than just chastise parents
which arguably I did earlier. In the case of iPlayer which is
now part of the mainstream consumption of media in just a few
weeks, it is not that complicated to do it. It actually asks you
a question. The question behind that is are children more likely
than parents to know how to bypass it? For every simple solution
there is going to be a complication factor and we just need to
understand that, but that is not a reason why we should not do
the simple things.
Mr Richards: I am glad Stewart
added the point about the single point of contact and information.
I would underline that. The self-regulation strategy, school strategy,
media literacy, these are all important but it will be crucial
that the typical parent knows and there is a widespread understanding
of where they can go quickly and easily to get simple, straightforward
advice on how to do some of these things. Some of it is relatively
simple as soon as you know how to do it. It is like basic bits
of DIY, it seems horrendous at the time but actually if you just
follow the instructions you can do it. That will be a crucial
outcome over the coming months and years.
Alan Keen: I think it actually needs
one person or a team of people to make the recommendations and
to start to educate parents.
Q536 Chairman: Before you go, can
I just raise one other matter with you? Since you came to talk
to us at the session we had on your Annual Report you have announced
a fine on ITV for abuses of PRS. Do you see that as the end of
the matter or do you think, particularly given that nobody appears
to have lost their job let alone be required to face a consequence,
there may be a further role for investigation by the police?
Mr Richards: It certainly is not
the end of the matter in the sense that we have further outstanding
cases. I think ITV themselves took the decision to put into the
public domain one particular case which was the British Comedy
Awards; that is in our process at the moment and will be out in
the coming weeks. I think there is without doubt a general question
about that period which relates to the issue of corporate compliance.
It is easy, I think, to identify or think about this programme
by programme and that is in a sense what has happened, but my
own view is that there is a broader question about the standards
of overall corporate compliance in what was clearly a systemic
and widespread problem. Whether that should involve the police
or not is a matter for the police. In a previous case the Serious
Fraud Office did contact us, did ask us for the files and information
which we immediately gave them (this was the GMTV case) and to
our knowledge they have not taken that particular case further.
The question of whether it is a matter for the police is really
a matter for them. They know what we have done; they know the
issues; it is fully in the public domain. No-one could possibly
have missed it so I think that is a question properly addressed
to them. My own view is that there is an important outstanding
question about the overall level of corporate compliance because
it clearly was and I think has been recognised as a widespread
systemic problem, not a single issue.
Q537 Chairman: Have you transferred
the files relating to your investigation of ITV to the Serious
Mr Purvis: They have not asked
for them but all the adjudications are already in the public domain
on our website. We are aware that they are aware of them and should
they wish to ask for more details we are only too happy to provide
Q538 Chairman: You do not feel you
should draw their attention to some of your findings?
Mr Richards: I think they are
well aware of what has happened. They were in contact with us
during the previous case and they are very well aware of the situation.
Q539 Mr Evans: How do you know they
are aware? Have they spoken to you about it?
Mr Richards: They have not spoken
to us about this particular case; they have spoken to us about