Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-408)



  400. Video on demand is quite a good illustration of this, is it not, because the intention is that the Government does not wish to regulate and will not regulate unless there is an inadequate self-regulatory solution, and therefore by extension you could say in relation to the Internet generally it could be a good principle if the Bill sets out some legislative intentions that need to be met in the first instance on a self-regulatory basis. That gives some protection before the point at which Orders are presented to Parliament saying, "Here is a problem and here is a regulatory solution."
  (Mr Davies) The sentiment can be agreed to by me and perhaps by all sides, but the devil is in the detail. Some people might fear what that could mean later.

Brian White

  401. One of the things that OFCOM will come across through the European regulators' club, if you like, is you will get countries like France trying to protect their culture from the Internet. Do you see a problem in that the pressure will come on OFCOM from that kind of European perspective that the whole culture of the United Kingdom needs to be protected and therefore Internet content needs to be more regulated than it currently is?
  (Mr Darlington) There is a terrific court case on this issue at the moment in France where a Jewish group took legal action against Yahoo for hosting the auction of Nazi memorabilia on its site. They argued that that was illegal in France but Yahoo said, "It may be illegal in France but it is not illegal in the States and that is where we host this." That is the dilemma with the Internet. It is a global medium and there is no way you can have one country's values or systems imposed upon it across the globe. My own view is that companies could be more sensitive about cultural and national differences and enter into more dialogue and discuss what is technically possible. It is technically possible, within limits, to restrict the sites to which a particular country's citizens could access. Whether that is a good idea or not is another matter. We have to accept that the Internet is something different. It cannot reflect one country's values or culture. Even the French, if I may dare to say so, have different cultures and different values. A French Moroccan immigrant might have a different view from Monsieur Le Pen on what he should be able to see on television or access on the Internet. I would come back to our starting point that with a global medium like this it cannot be regulated in the old ways. We should be moving towards techniques whereby we empower end users as to what they access and when they access it. It may be in a few years' time that in spite of these fears about broadcasters regulating the Internet, what happens is exactly the opposite and that the devices we are talking about in relation to empowering end users on the Internet will increasingly map across to the broadcasters. It may be that OFCOM will increase people's knowledge of the Internet industry on what is happening in the industry, how the end users are being empowered and to what extent might that be appropriate to radio television or film.

  402. So when can we get rid of licensing?
  (Mr Daelington) It is going to be like the Marxist state, I think it is going to wither away. I do not think there is going to be an end date, but my own view is that licensing will have a finite time. I have said several times that we have to manage expectations because at the moment most users of electronic networks, whether they are radio, television or the Internet, have expectations about what is going to be on it, and if we are going to put more responsibility on them, it is going to take time to achieve that and we are going to have to empower them and we are going to have these media literacy programmes which we have talked about and which we would like to support.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

  403. I have got two questions, one is a nice factual one and the other is a rather nasty one. You heard when I talked to the ISPA about relationships with ICSTIS and things like that. You in your submission have noted and commented on the Government's failure to clarify what it sees as OFCOM's relations with organisations like your own. Is this not really a matter for OFCOM and you and something that we cannot put into legislation? I have to go to my colleague Lord Crickhowell and say if you want it put in the legislation then you have got to write it and put it to the Bill team.
  (Mr Darlington) The most we could expect from legislation in these terms is something along the lines of OFCOM should use its best endeavours to consult as widely as possible with existing self-regulatory or co-regulatory institutions. It would not be appropriate to name those institutions because they may not exist in five years' time and you might miss some out. You might argue that is not necessary, that OFCOM will by its very nature be inclusive and collaborative. You may be right, but I do not think it would do any harm to put a requirement of that general nature in the legislation.

  404. In my view they will. They would be foolish not to. You talk a lot about your organisation protecting children. There has been evidence from a coalition of children's charities. It is long but it is not very complimentary to you. "The UK does not have a self-regulatory regime for the Internet. At various points . . . mention is made of the UK's existing self-regulatory regime for the Internet as if this were an established fact, a tangible and successful instrument of policy. This is an extravagant and misleading use of language . . . The IWF has had a clear operational remit to do only one thing: act as a notice and take down service in relation to child pornography. More recently it has agreed to act as a notice and take down service for illegal racist material"—but nothing has been done about it—". . . These two responsibilities alone would hardly justify the grandiloquence of describing the IWF as `the UK Internet's self-regulatory body.'" They do not seem to like you very much. Are they wrong?
  (Mr Robbins) I am not sure they dislike us.

  405. My goodness, you could fool me!
  (Mr Robbins) Because we know their motive is well-intentioned in the sense that we also wrestle with this problem of being labelled as the self-regulatory body for the Internet industry, which we are not. What they are making the point about there is exactly what we are in the business of doing, which is focusing on child pornography, removing it from the Internet and in recent years taking on a remit further to deal with racialist sites as well. We are in a limited part in the dark side of the Internet; we are not regulating the whole of the Internet.

  406. Do you think there ought to be a self-regulatory body like the Press Complaints Commission? You admit that you cannot describe yourselves as a self-regulatory body. You have got very limited fields. There are other nasty things apart from child pornography and racialism. Do you not think this sort of submission argues that you or an alternative body should have a wider self-regulatory remit? We realise they do not want statutory regulation. We have listened to a lot of that this morning, but self-regulation does not seem to raise as many problems. Why should the Internet not have self- regulation?
  (Mr Davies) Can I start off by saying, if we are known as the internet self-regulatory body it is because we are the only one doing the regulation.

  407. But you do not do it.
  (Mr Davies) We do with child pornography very clearly and very successfully. The fact we are only able to analyse a small section of content on the internet should not detract from what we are doing, it is just it is a sound bite and it is easy for journalists and others to describe us as the industry's self-regulatory body. We have no pretensions about our current potential which is limited, and it is limited not by ambition but by funds and also by practicality. As we have mentioned before, as soon as we move away from content that is illegal to possess, it creates far more complexities.
  (Mr Darlington) The evidence was, of course, written by a member of the IWF Board, which shows you how inclusive we are, but these issues are subject to debate. One issue we have to constantly remind ourselves and the Committee about, and it fits in with something Lord McNally was saying, is that the internet is only a delivery mechanism and everything which is illegal off-line is illegal on-line. Insofar as it may be difficult to police some things on-line, in many respects it is because of the law. Where child pornography is concerned the law is very clear, simple possession is an offence, so the law is crystal clear and the penalties have recently been increased. When it comes to adult pornography, you rest on a very difficult definition of what is obscene. When it comes to race hate, you rest on a very difficult decision about material which is intended to incite racial hatred. These are definitions which have been decided by Parliament, yourselves, if I may put it that way, and insofar as our remit is concentrated on combatting criminal content on the UK internet, we work with the definitions which you have given us. As regards racist content, the author of that document is wrong. For two years we have investigated every case of alleged criminal racist content, but because the definition is so difficult, we have not been able to say, "Yes, this is actually illegal", and you will find very little material in the off-line world which actually meets that definition. If that is a problem, it is not the IWF's problem, it is Parliament's problem. Our job is to do what we can, working with the industry and law enforcement, to apply the UK criminal law on-line. That is overwhelmingly in relation to child pornography but occasionally extreme forms of adult pornography and race hate where we rest on your definition.


  408. In view of what you have just said, do the Bill team have any issues or questions which they would like to raise?
  (Mr Susman) No, we are fine, thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.

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