Tuesday, 20 March 2012

No Watershed Online

The UK's video on-demand regulator, ATVOD, recently ruled that breached regulations by not preventing under-18s from accessing pornographic content on its website.  ATVOD required the provider to "either remove the hardcore porn content from the service or put it all behind effective access controls which will ensure that only adults can see it".

ATVOD's chief executive Pete Johnson said: "UK providers of hardcore pornography on demand must take effective steps to ensure that such material is not accessible to under-18s.  Asking visitors to a website to click an 'I am 18' button or enter a date of birth or use a debit card is not sufficient - if they are going to offer explicit sex material they must know that their customers are 18, just as they would in the 'offline' world."

This move to protect children from online pornography is most welcome but we are concerned that children remain at risk from other on-demand services.

The catch up services offered by Britain’s main broadcasters do not carry ‘hardcore’ material, but at the beginning of February any child capable of ticking a box to say they are over 16 could access the 18 rated horror film Day of the Dead and Sex: How to do Everything.  Programmes which, we would argue, are potentially harmful.

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.

The statutory rules for video-on-demand content are significantly less strict than those for TV broadcasts.  In cases where content "might seriously impair the physical, mental or moral development of persons under the age of eighteen", providers must make efforts to prevent young people from accessing the material.  We have been told by Ofcom that, in practise, this means material that has been broadcast on television will not seriously impair a child and is not subject to these rules.  
We believe that there are feasible steps that can and should be taken by broadcasters to control access to post-watershed material by children.

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