Friday 30 March 2012

Playing it safe

This month the leading industry publication, Toy News, published new research on gaming.  They found that half of children aged 8-13 have played games regarded as too mature for them; 30% of 8-13 years-old have played a game from the 18-rated Modern Warfare series.

These underage gamers aren’t being covert in their gaming; most is taking place with the parent’s knowledge, as 80% of Modern Warfare players claim to have played the game in their own home.

This will come as no surprise to the nation’s teachers.  The annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers takes place next week and the members of the union are to debate a resolution calling for tougher legislation with regard to video games.  The teachers have expressed concern that some parents are ignoring age restrictions and allowing children to play potentially harmful computer games.

The head of the union described some games as ‘very violent’ which could have an effect on ‘tender young minds of children and young people’.  She also raised concerns about the amount of time children spent playing such games.

The union are proposing to commission research which they will present to government with a call for more stringent legislation on computer games. 

The Toy News research found that although they’re playing games deemed unsuitable for their age group, 97% of children and 98% of parents have seen game ratings on boxes.  20% thought they were there to suggest what age of child may enjoy the game whilst 5% believed it was a difficulty rating. The numbers were marginally higher when the parents were asked the same questions.

The situation becomes even more complicated when you consider that presently only games supplied in a physical format are required by law to display an age rating.  Games published online, played through internet browsers and mobile phone apps are not subject to a mandatory age rating system but are regulated by voluntary industry codes.

All games consoles have parental control options which have the ability to block the playing of age inappropriate games and films, restrict access to online features and limit play time.  However research published by Ofcom last year found that only about 15% of parents have set these controls; many parents don’t know control option exist or are unsure how to go about setting them.

As a mother of young children myself I can testify to parents’ bewilderment when faced with technology which moves faster than I keep up.  There is clearly a need to educate parents in this regard and I’m delighted that our new charity, The Children and Families Media Education Trust, will be doing just that.  Watch this space for further information….

Vivienne Pattison, Director

Thursday 22 March 2012

Children deserve a clean view on Freeview

In the past we have highlighted the fact that some ‘adult channels’ broadcasting on Freeview show sexually explicit material without encryption.  Channels such as Babestation and Smile TV show naked women simulating sex to entice viewers to call premium-rate numbers for more hardcore content.

Some 77% of UK households have Freeview which means that the majority of the nation’s children are able to access the shocking images with relative ease.

When we took this up with Ofcom they told us that these channels were licensed in the Netherlands and regulated by the rather more permissive Sommissariaat voor de Media.

EU legislation requires TV companies to be regulated by their home country and not the countries in which they air.  Although much of the content on Babestation and Smile TV would fall foul of Ofcom’s Code it is not in breach of the Dutch regulations and so can be broadcast in the UK.

Ofcom told us that we should take our complaint up with the Dutch regulator.  However I’m happy to report that they have now begun ‘active discussions’ with their Dutch equivalent to ask that the channels involved comply voluntarily with UK rules.  This follows a complaint from the UK regional broadcaster Six TV which was unhappy that its potential viewers had to flick through listings for adult broadcasts in order to reach its channels.

Ofcom said: “we take the protection of UK viewers, especially children, very seriously”.  In 2010 they did withdraw the licences of four adult pay-TV channels in 2010 for ‘serious and repeated’ breaches of their Code.

This matter is just as serious in its impact on society.  Earlier this week a man was convicted of exposing himself to women.  He explained his behaviour as the result of ‘confusion’ likening what he’d done to ‘harmless flirting, like the women on Babestation do every night’.

Caroline Dineage MP, on of the members of the Parliamentary Enquiry into Online Child Protection summed up the situation saying: “we need to urgently address TV content that could be harming our children.  It is simply not acceptable to place private profit before the protection of children.”

Freeview have announced that they are reviewing their programme listings and plans are underway to move all adult channels to the end of the programme guide.  If you have a Freeview device it should be possible for you to delete channels you don’t want to see.  But beware; Freeview automatically updates its service periodically to scan for new channels which can mean that any channels you have previously blocked are reinstated.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The BBC will listen if you wield an AK47

An interview with the BBC’s Director-General, Mark Thompson, was recently posted online by the Free Speech Debate, a research project at Oxford University.

In the interview Mr Thompson claimed Christianity is treated with far less sensitivity than other religions because it is ‘pretty broad shouldered’.  He revealed that producers had to consider the possibilities of ‘violent threats’ instead of polite complaints if they pushed ahead with certain types of satire.

 “Without question, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms’, is different from, ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write’,” he said. “This definitely raises the stakes” said Mr Thompson.

These remarks should concern everyone – not just Christians.  The work we do at Mediawatch benefits those of all faiths and none and we should all be concerned if this is how decisions about broadcasting content are being made.

Children being fed a broadcast diet of degrading behaviour models, inappropriate sexual content and graphic depictions of brutality and violence are unlikely to make violent complaints but the values broadcasters inculcate are undermining cohesion and stability in our society. There may not be violent protests outside Broadcasting House but the results of this play themselves out in our increasingly fractured society.

In the whole debate about the state of our society the media is no innocent bystander. 

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.