Friday, 12 November 2010

Child protection before profit

The Westminster Media Forum is an opportunity for policy makers and government agencies to meet with key players in the media industry, academics and interest groups.  The subject under discussion at the most recent event was video on demand, catch-up and online TV.

The debate ranged from how television and the internet might look in the future to the economics of video-on-demand (VOD) technology.  Other topics discussed included how consumers might pay for new technology and how advertising might best work.

The Director of Mediawatch-UK was a panellist and she spoke about our concern that children are easily able to access post-watershed content on broadcasters’ VOD sites and called for greater protection from potentially harmful material.  It is bizarre that broadcasters are, quite rightly, unable to broadcast certain material ‘on air’ until after the watershed but are quite free to broadcast the same material over the internet at any time without there being adequate protection mechanisms in place.

One of the suggestions she made was that post-watershed material should only be available to viewers who had been subject to a more rigorous age-verification check than the current tick box system on offer.  She suggested a PIN number which could be provided by the viewer’s internet service provider, telephone company or the TV licensing body each of which need to paid for, in the vast majority of cases, by an adult.

Much discussion then ensued on the financial cost to the industry of such a system.  Unsurprisingly, there appeared to be little appetite from the industry to incur costs on a system of this kind.  It is our opinion that meaningful child protection should always come before profit.  We believe that there are feasible steps that can and should be taken by broadcasters to control access to post-watershed material by children.  Money should not be the overriding factor when our children are at risk.

Another delegate said that there were far worse things to worry about on the internet than VOD sites.  This may indeed be true, however, that is not a reason to ignore this problem.

We are very pleased to be able to speak about our concerns at this level and introduce another dimension into industry discussions on VOD.  Already we’re in dialogue with a number of delegates about ways in which the issues we raised could be addressed.

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