Ofcom's response |
Introduction: Ofcom's remit
Ofcom's written submission to the Committee set out
our duties in relation to online safety and explained that our
role in relation to internet services is limited. We regulate
television channels and notified On Demand Programme Services
delivered over the internet when they are established in the UK;
but we have no powers or duties to regulate any other online content.
Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003 places
a responsibility on Ofcom regarding the promotion of media literacy.
We fulfil this duty through the publication of Media Literacy
research into adults' and children/parents' media use and attitudes.
We publish two substantial annual reports: 'Children and Parents:
Media Use and Attitudes' and 'Adults' Media Use and Attitudes'.
These provide detailed evidence about media use, attitudes and
understanding among adults and among children and young people
aged 3-15. The children's report also provides evidence about
parental concerns over children's media use and the ways that
parents seek to monitor and mediate that use.
Ofcom also publishes a range of other consumer research,
exploring similar themes. In the context of the debate about
network filters, Ofcom has been asked by the Secretary of State
to report on parents' approaches to children's online safety,
and specifically at the implementation of network-level filters
by UK ISPs.
We share the findings of our research widely, including
with the Government, industry, academia and the third sector.
We also share our research data with the UK Council for Child
Internet Safety (UKCCIS), on whose Executive Board we have a seat,
to help inform debates about online safety, and have been involved
in a number of UKCCIS initiatives (including, the 'Advice for
Child Internet Safety 1.0 - universal guidelines for providers'
and the 'Good practice guidance for providers of social networking
and other inter-active services').
Ofcom response to Committee recommendations:
We have limited our comments to those conclusions
and recommendations directly relating to Ofcom's work or duties.
We believe that, as part of its existing media
literacy duties, Ofcom has an important role in monitoring internet
content and advising the public on online safety. However, we
are anxious to avoid suggesting a significant extension of formal
content regulation of the internet. Among the unintended consequences
this could have would be a stifling of the free flow of ideas
that lies at the heart of internet communication. (Paragraph 55)
As noted above, Ofcom has a limited role in relation
to internet services. We regulate television channels delivered
over the internet and notified on-demand programme services (ODPS)
where they are established in the UK (in this respect we have
formally designated the Authority for Television On Demand [ATVOD]
as the co-regulator for editorial content). We have no duties
or powers to regulate, or monitor, any other online content.
Ofcom agrees with the Committee's caution against
stifling the free flow of ideas on the internet; and freedom of
expression is central to our approach to content regulation of
the services for which we have such responsibilities.
As noted above and in our written submission to the
Committee, Ofcom has media literacy duties which include the analysis
of online media consumption. We fulfil this duty through the publication
of Media Literacy research into adults' and children/parents'
media use and attitudes. Our research provides evidence about
parents' concerns about their children's media use and the ways
that they seek to monitor and mediate that use.
We also publish the UK and Nations' Communications
Market Report, last
published in August 2013, which informs the delivery of our duties
and our programme of work, and also keeps others informed about
new technology developments and the impact these may have on the
sectors that we regulate.
In addition to the above, the ParentPort website
aims to protect children by making it easier for parents to complain
about material they have seen or heard across the media, communications
and retail industries. In March 2013 it was updated to provide
advice for parents on, amongst other things, keeping children
Any extension to our duties, related to media literacy
or otherwise, would be a matter for Government and, ultimately,
Providers of adult content on the internet
should take all reasonable steps to prevent children under 18
from accessing inappropriate and harmful content. Such systems
may include, but will not necessarily be restricted to, processes
to verify the age of users. (Paragraph 62)
Ofcom welcomes any measures by industry players to
promote child safety on the internet, including steps to protect
under-18s from accessing inappropriate and harmful content.
Where Ofcom has regulatory duties, the approach recommended
by the Committee is already applied. As explained in our evidence
submission and above, Ofcom is responsible for ensuring that providers
of television channels and video-on-demand services established
in the UK observe relevant standards.
For linear services, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code
(the Code) includes rules which help ensure the protection of
minors from harmful content and from material that is unsuitable
for them (covering content such as drugs, smoking, alcohol, violence
and dangerous behaviour, and offensive language).
This includes requirements that content unsuitable for children
is appropriately scheduled and that television broadcasters must
observe the watershed. The Code also includes rules that specifically
relate to protecting children from sexual material, including
prohibiting the broadcast of material equivalent to the British
Board of Film Classification (BBFC) R18 rating and requiring 'adult-sex
material' to be shown
only between 10pm and 5.30am and behind mandatory restricted access.
For video-on-demand services we have formally designated
the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) as the co-regulator
for editorial standards. As stated above, ATVOD's designated
duties apply only to notified On Demand Programme Services (ODPS)
delivered over the internet when they are established in the UK.
ATVOD have no powers or duties to regulate any other online content.
ATVOD's Rules and Guidance state that "if an on-demand programme
service contains material which might seriously impair the physical,
mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen,
the material must be made available in a manner which secures
that such persons will not normally see or hear it".
ATVOD interprets this to mean that R18 material or equivalent
should only be made available in on-demand programme services
in a manner if there is a robust age verification process in place.
Where R18 material or equivalent material has been
made available in an on-demand programme service without robust
age verification, we have taken enforcement action as appropriate
- as in the case of our recent sanctions imposed on three ATVOD
notified on-demand programme services 'Playboy TV',
'Demand Adult' and
and the service 'Jessica Pressley', which was suspended because
it did not have a robust age verification process in place.
We welcome the introduction of whole home filtering
solutions that prompt account holders with a choice to apply them.
We encourage all internet service providers to offer their customers
this valuable service. Ofcom should monitor the implementation
of this filtering and report back on its level of success and
adoption. (Paragraph 74)
In July 2013, the four largest UK Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) - BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk - made a
commitment to Government to offer network-level filtering (also
described as "family-friendly" filtering) to all new
customers, starting by the end of the 2013. Ofcom welcomes this
development, as an addition to the range of tools which parents
may use to manage the online experiences of their children.
Ofcom has been asked to play a specific role in the
debate about network filters, by examining parents' approaches
to children's online safety, their awareness of and confidence
in parental controls of all kinds, and specifically at the implementation
of network-level filters in the UK. In November 2013 the Secretary
of State requested that Ofcom provide the Government with three
reports during 2014.
The first report, published on 16 January 2014, covered:
broader strategies parents may adopt to improve their children's
online safety, including supervision, rules about online behaviour
and the use of technical tools like parental control filters;
and the extent to which parents use such approaches.
levels of parental awareness and confidence with the safety measures
that may be in place on sites regularly visited by children including,
but not restricted to, content providers, search engines and social
networking sites; and
into the reasons parents may choose not to apply technical tools
like parental controls.
A second report later in the year will report on
the implementation of a network filtering service by BT, Sky,
Virgin Media and TalkTalk, in line with the commitments made to
Government in July 2013
A third report, to be published in December 2014,
will track developments across the range of measures examined
in the first report.
We agree that the availability and performance
of filtering solutions must be closely monitored, both for efficacy
and the avoidance of over-blocking. It should also be easy for
websites inadvertently blocked to report the fact and for corrective
action to be taken. (Paragraph 79)
Filters are clearly a useful tool to protect
children online. Ofcom should continue to monitor their effectiveness
and the degree to which they can be circumvented. (Paragraph 81)
As noted above, Ofcom has a specific role in reporting
on parents' approaches to child online safety, and on the implementation
of network level filtering solutions. During 2014 we will provide
the Government with three reports on parental awareness of, confidence
in and take-up of parental controls. The final of our reports
will be published in December 2014.
The December 2014 report will include some research
into parents' and children's use of parental controls, including
the extent to which parents and children experience filters as
blocking appropriate content; failing to restrict access to inappropriate
content; or being circumvented.
Ofcom agrees that there should be clear procedures
by which website operators can assess their filtering status,
to notify ISPs if they believe they have been incorrectly classified
(and blocked), and have their status reviewed. In this context,
we welcome the clear framework and procedures set out by the Mobile
Broadband Group, which includes specific points of contact for
complaints about a mobile operator's filtering service, and a
process of review operated by the British Board for Film Classification
(BBFC). In our report on ISP implementation of network filtering
(Report 2, above), we propose to cover ISPs' approaches to such
issues. We also note that the UK Council for Child Internet Safety's
has a working group on over-blocking which is considering on this
and related issues.
We welcome the introduction of ParentPort but
believe Ofcom should seek to promote and improve it further. For
example, more use could be made of it to collect data on complaints
concerning children's access to adult material. (Paragraph 83)
ParentPort was launched in 2011 following a recommendation
in Reg Bailey's review of the sexualisation and commercialisation
of childhood. The
website is jointly operated and owned by seven of the UK's media
regulators - the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Authority
for Television on Demand (ATVOD), the BBC Trust, the British Board
of Film Classification (BBFC), Ofcom, the Press Complaints Commission
(PCC) and the Video Standards Council (VSC)/Pan-European Game
The site was launched to:
out simply and clearly what parents and carers can do if they
feel a programme, advertisement, product or service is inappropriate
the rules in simple terms, and direct users to the right regulator
for their area of concern so they can make a complaint quickly
and easily; and
parents and carers a way to provide informal feedback and comments
which regulators can use as an extra gauge of parental views.
ParentPort now has a fourth function, added in March
2013, in providing a wide range of tips and advice to help parents
keep children safe when they are online, using mobiles, social
networking sites, watching films, advertising and playing video
ParentPort does not allow for the collection of data
on complaints about children's access to adult material. The site
only enables users to make complaints directly to the ParentPort
regulators and therefore within their remits only.
All of the ParentPort regulators have well established
complaints functions which can be accessed directly on their own
websites, and they report publically on the complaints they receive.
For example, Ofcom publishes data on viewers' and listeners' complaints
as part of our Annual Report.
As a result, complaints data from ParentPort would only provide
a subsection of parental concerns.
All of the regulators involved in ParentPort have
worked to promote the site and raise parents' awareness of it.
The regulators are currently reviewing how the website could be
developed to benefit as many parents and carers as possible. This
will take into account other parent-focused internet safety websites
and campaigns, including the upcoming Internet Matters campaign
developed and funded by the major UK ISPs.
We further recommend that Ofcom regularly reports
on children's access to age restricted material, particularly
adult pornography and the effectiveness of filters and age verification
measures. Ofcom is well-placed to fulfil this role given the work
it does on its Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report.
As noted in our submission and above, Ofcom fulfils
its media literacy duties through the publication of Media Literacy
research into adults' and children/parents' media use and attitudes.
This provides detailed evidence of media use, attitudes and understanding
among adults and among children and young people aged 3-15. The
children's report also provides evidence of parents' concerns
about their children's media use and the ways that they seek to
monitor and mediate that use. We share the findings of our research
widely, including with the Government, industry, academia, the
third sector, and through our seat on the Executive Board of UKCCIS.
Our media literacy survey does not ask children directly
in detail about their access to age restricted material, particularly
adult pornography, as there are a number of methodological challenges
in obtaining this type of data due to the sensitivity of the subject.
However, we include questions that ask more generally about whether
8-15s have come across material online that they have found worrying,
nasty or offensive. We also ask 12-15s if they have seen anything
of a sexual nature online or on a mobile phone. In addition, we
report comScore online measurement metrics that can provide useful
additional context in terms of what children are accessing online.
With regard to the effectiveness of filters and age
verification measures, this year Ofcom has introduced to the media
literacy survey new questions related to internet safety measures
(specifically filters and age verification systems). These questions
will ask parents whether they believe the measures are useful,
and whether they believe they block sites too much or too little.
The results of these questions will be reported this autumn.
Any extension to our reporting duties in this area
would be a matter for the government, and, ultimately for Parliament.
Ofcom should monitor and report on complaints
it receives, perhaps via an improved ParentPort, regarding the
speed and effectiveness of response to complaints by different
social media providers. (Paragraph 115)
As explained above, Ofcom has limited powers in relation
to internet services, and we do not have any statutory duties
in relation to social media. As such, we do not investigate complaints
in relation to social media.
Any broadening of our duties in this area would be
a matter for Government, and ultimately for Parliament.
While we do not have any statutory duties in this
area, together with the other regulators involved in ParentPort
we have contributed to making available a wide range of advice
for parents and carers to help them keep children safe when they
are online, including when using social networking sites. This
includes, for example, information on setting up an account for
a child, using social networks, and social networking safety features.
However, ParentPort does not gather data on the speed
and effectiveness of social media providers' responses to complaints.
1 http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/ukccis%20advice%20on%20child%20internet%20safety.pdf Back
www.parentport.org.uk. ParentPort has been jointly developed by
the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Authority for Television
On-demand (ATVOD), the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification
(BBFC), Ofcom, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and the Video
Standards Council (VSC)/Pan-European Game Information (PEGI). Back
Material that contains images and/or language of a strong sexual
nature which is broadcast for the primary purpose of sexual arousal
or stimulation. Back
Mandatory restricted access means there is a PIN protected system
(or other equivalent protection) which cannot be removed by the
user, that restricts access solely to those authorised to view. Back
It should be noted that Ofcom does not break down its data on
broadcasting complaints by category of complaint. Back