Monday 23 December 2013

Looking forward into 2014

Looking back at 2013 I think we can be very proud of what has been achieved and I’d like to thank you very much for your continued support which stimulated such positive change.

In July the Prime Minister announced in a landmark speech that every household in the UK is to have pornography filtered by their internet provider as a default unless they choose to opt-in to receive it.  This is a hugely encouraging development but we remain convinced that the best approach to ensure these pledges are actually delivered on is by changing the law.  This is why we are continuing to work in support of Baroness Howe’s Online Safety Bill (which recently had its second reading with overwhelming support) which would make this a reality.

Also this summer, as a result of pressure from the public and organisations including Mediawatch, the Co-op took the brave decision to no longer stock publications with sexually provocative covers unless they were supplied in modesty bags by their publishers.  The store admitted it would lose money as a result of the move but it decided to put its customers’ concerns before profit.

2014 will be landmark year for Mediawatch-UK.  It will be 50 years since Mary Whitehouse issued her call to arms at Birmingham Town hall in 1964 and we will be marking the occasion with a series of initiatives.  As you can see we are adopting a new logo for our anniversary year which we hope will remind people of our longevity and the continued support for our campaign.

Beginning on 1st January we will be tweeting a quote from Mary Whitehouse’s writing every other day.  It is ironic that much of what we know about her views has come to us filtered by the media itself. This will be an opportunity to hear Mary Whitehouse in her own words taken from the books she wrote during her lifetime.  I think many people will find it quite surprising.

You can follow the initiative on Twitter - @MrsMWhitehouse and Facebook - and we will also be updating our dedicated website – – with the quotes.  If you are not a Twitter or Facebook user you can subscribe on the website and you’ll receive an email every time a new quote is added.

We hope that you have a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year.  

Vivienne Pattison

Thursday 12 December 2013

Business needs to take its responsibilities seriously

This week it emerged that pornographic channels were available for viewing on televisions at Birmingham Children’s Hospital.  The televisions were showing Freeview Channels including the adult rated Babestation.  The situation only came to light when a father who had spent the night on a ward with his sick child found what was available and complained to the hospital.

The hospital swiftly blocked the channels when alerted to their availability and expressed their thanks to the family who discovered the problem.

Earlier this year we found a similar situation existed in Youth Hostels across the country with pornographic material freely available on television in bedrooms and public areas.  When we pointed this out the Youth Hostel Association thanked us for alerting them and acted quickly to block these channels but, once again, it took a concerned member of the public to raise the alarm before the channels were removed.

As we reported last week, it was our research which found that Tesco had misled the Prime Minister by failing to set filters on their mobile phones and thereby making pornography freely available to all their customers.  Baroness Howe drew heavily on our research when she broke this news in the House of Lords.

The Minister thanked us for bringing the situation to light and sought assurances from Tesco Mobile that situation would be rectified.

It is shameful that these issues only came light as a result of Mediawatch and members of the public sounding the alarm.  It should not be up to us or consumers to blow the whistle on breaches like this.  Why is there no ‘official’ body testing the veracity of statements that companies make.  There is clearly an urgent need for such a safeguard.

These three instances illustrate just how important it is for us all to highlight concerns when we find such breaches.  If you come across such egregious violations please do let us know so that we can take them up on your behalf.

Baroness Howe’s revelations led to considerable media interest to which Tesco responded with a statement that they ‘currently direct our customers to our free parental controls service which provides robust content management and this service can be switched on at any time’.  This is quite extraordinary because this is not what happened to our tester when we conducted our research.

At the point of purchase she asked for all adult content to be removed from internet access on all the phones. The salesman agreed and proceeded with the sale.  After discovering that by typing ‘porn’ into the mobile browser gave access to unfiltered content she contacted Customer Services at Tesco Mobile and was initially told that they would ‘set the block’ and, when a subsequent test revealed that pornography was still available on the browser, she was told that a block was in place but it wasn’t very good and Tesco had no plans to make their system more robust.

This happened in October 2013 so, to test whether or not any changes had been made, our tester purchased a further contract phone from Tesco on 29th November.  At point of purchase she was assured that all porn would be blocked but, on testing, it was found that this was not the case. 

Interestingly, when one of our number was talking to the Minister following the House of Lords debate he seemed to think that Tesco did not realise that filters were not on and that the whole thing was an accident which is quite extraordinary.  We have passed on details of our research to disabuse him of this notion. 

We will continue to press for legislation to back up voluntary industry agreements and to put robust age verification processes in place.  It is clear that these measures are urgently needed so that big business takes its responsibility to children seriously.

Friday 22 November 2013

Keeing children Safeonline - have your say

This has been another week of good news!

On Monday the Prime Minister hosted a summit at Downing Street which was attended by Internet Service Providers, leading search engines and police agencies.  They discussed the protection of children from harmful online material and the blocking of child abuse and other illegal content.

We are delighted to report that significant progress was made.

Google and Microsoft agreed to measures to make it harder to find images of child abuse online.  As many as 100,000 search terms will now return no results that find illegal material, and will trigger warnings that child abuse imagery is illegal and details of sources of help to those who would benefit from it.

Google and Microsoft also agreed to work with the National Crime Agency and the Internet Watch Foundation to bring forward a plan to tackle peer to peer networks featuring child abuse images.  Mr Cameron said the next stage was to target the "dark internet" - secret and encrypted networks are increasingly being used by paedophiles and other criminals - where people share images online without making them publicly available.

Progress was also announced on plans to protect children from potentially harmful online content.

TalkTalk and Sky announced that they are now automatically switching on filters for all new broadband account holders.  New users are asked, the first time they connect, whether they want to activate family-friendly filters.  These are switched on as a default unless users ask for them to be removed.  The other remaining ‘big four’ ISPs (Virgin and BT) have confirmed they will follow shortly.

These providers also confirmed that all their customers with an existing internet connection will be required to choose whether to switch on a whole home family friendly internet filter by the end of next year.

This is clearly a great step in the right direction but most of the UK’s children’s charities believe that the best way to protect children online is for adult content to be blocked as a default, with adults wishing to receive it opting-in to do so.

We cannot afford to become complacent.  This ‘default-on’ option will not offer the same degree of protection as the ‘opt-in’ option.
  • It is a voluntary arrangement and will have no statutory backing
  • There are very real concerns about the weak age-verification procedures that the industry proposes
  • It is a promise that has yet to be delivered
  • Currently it  only applies to large ISPs and not smaller ones

You can help make these protections much stronger:

As you know, Baroness Howe has introduce The Online Safety Bill with the aim of reducing children and young people’s access to inappropriate, potentially harmful, material online.

This week it was confirmed that the Bill will have its second reading in the House of Lords on 6th December 2013.  

The Bill will help parents protect their children from accidentally or deliberately stumbling across inappropriate material by requiring:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone operators (MPOs) to provide, as a default, an internet service without access to pornography - with adult subscribers able to opt-in to receive such material.
  • The provision of really robust age-verification procedures.
  • Electronic device manufacturers to provide a means of filtering internet content at the time of purchase.

The Bill will also help parents to deal with online behavioural challenges like cyber bullying and sexting by requiring that parents are provided with information that will help their children navigate these challenges:

  • First ISPs/MPOs are required by law to make available information about online safety - which would be broader than just filtering information - as part of their on-going relationship with subscribers.
  • Second, the Secretary of State is required to provide parents with information to help them educate their children about online challenges.

If you agree that these measures would offer children the best protection from harmful online content
we have updated our campaign website,,
so that you can have your say quickly and easily.

Many of you have already used the website to great effect.  Now that we have a confirmed date for the Second Reading please would you take the time to email a member of the House of Lords in advance of the debate urging them to go along and support the Bill.

The site is very simple to use.  There are tips on what to say in your letter and, if you are really pushed for time, there are also four form letters which you can cut and paste into your email.

Baroness Howe is grateful for all that you have done to support The Bill so far.  Online child protection is a now a really hot political issue, let’s use this momentum to ensure that children really are Safeonline!

Monday 18 November 2013

The BBC: a chance to have your say

 Once again, the BBC is in the spotlight.

Last month the Conservative chairman, Grant Shapps, warned that the corporation could be forced to share part of the licence fee, or see it cut outright, if it fails to improve transparency.

The Director General, Tony Hall, responded with his view that the corporation was “unbelievable value for money” although he acknowledged that it needed to win back the public's confidence that it knew how to spend it.  He also warned that a cut in the licence fee would inevitably force it to cut services and leave the public with "less BBC".

What do you think?  Two opportunities for you to say have your say have just been announced:

The BBC Trust has just announced its ‘most ambitious’ review on all four of its TV channels for the first time.  This will include a three-month consultation during which audiences are invited to air their views.

As the BBC's governing body, the Trust's role is to ensure licence fee payers get the best value for money.  If you’d like to take the opportunity to have your say you can do so here; the consultation closes on 14th February.

BBC Trustee David Liddiment launched the consultation saying "the licence fee places a great obligation on the BBC to be bolder than other broadcasters in delivering ambitious and distinctive programmes for its audiences."   The review will also explore how each channel is responding to changes in audience expectations and the way they view programmes, in response to new technology.

With this in mind, when you respond you might like to mention:
  • The drip-drip increase in violent and sexual material in recent dramas which is potentially harmful and should not be considered ‘bold’.
  • The lack of proper age verification on post-watershed iplayer content.

The House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport is holding an inquiry into Future of the BBC, ahead of its current Royal Charter ending in December 2016.

The Committee will be examining the role, definition and scope of the BBC as well as its funding and whether the flat-rate licence system should be modified or replaced. The Committee is also interested in seeking views on the governance of the BBC and the links between accountability, performance, and funding.  You can have your say here; submissions should be received by 6th December.

Alan Yentob recently spoke of BBC management “processes and relationships of labyrinthine and often unnecessary complexity” and the Director General has said that managers “have to get used to spending licence fee payers' money as though it is our own”.

You might like to mention:
  • The unacceptability of the BBC’s complicated and opaque complaints procedure.
  • The need for increased transparency for, and accountability to, the license fee payer.
  • The importance of an entirely separate governing body, detached from day-to-day BBC management.
  • Proper representation for the interests of the license fee payer on the BBC Trust.

Good news: covering up the covers

Earlier this year the Co-op took the brave decision to no longer stock publications with sexually provocative covers unless they were supplied in modesty bags by their publishers.  The store admitted it would lose money as a result of the move but it decided to put its customers’ concerns before profit.

Happily this was not an isolated move and there is more positive news to report.

  • The Premier Inn hotel chain has announced that it will no longer be stocking lad’s mags in its hotels.
  • Numerous outlets have decided that they will no longer stock The Sun until it removes the infamous page 3 topless model.  These include over 20 student’s union shops and hospitals including North Bristol NHS trust.
The most encouraging news has come in the form of a letter which we have seen, sent from the publisher of the Midweek & Sunday Sport to independent newsagents.

The Sport has long been the worst offender when it comes to sexually explicit newspaper covers, regularly featuring soft-porn cover images.  This is one of the reasons that it is not stocked by the big supermarket chains although it is widely available in other outlets.

The publishers write that they are ‘not immune to the increased concern’ about explicit cover images.  They say they are ‘improving the look’ of their publication to ‘avoid cover pictures which could be described as sexualised’ and, in future, they will ‘feature [front cover] pictures… that fall in line with other national newspapers’.

This is wonderful news and further illustration of the fact that public opinion has turned and positive change is coming.

Although this is a step in the right direction there is still much which needs to change in order to clean up the public space and create a healthy environment for children in our society.

Friday 11 October 2013

When pop becomes porn

Over the last few weeks children’s access to online pornography has been much in the news.  Few can doubt how damaging the consequences of such access can be but there is something much more subtle also at play.  David Cameron described our society as ‘sleepwalking to a place where porn is the norm’ and nowhere has this been more apparent than in several music videos released recently by some of the world’s biggest female pop stars.

Recent videos from Britney Spears, Rhianna and Miley Cyrus have included nudity, highly sexualised dancing and imagery and visual references to prostitution.  What is particularly disturbing about this is that the fan base of all these performers is so young.  Watching them, one could be forgiven for thinking that these videos have been produced to appeal to an adult male audience but, in reality, they are far more likely to be viewed by school children.

Young boys watching these videos will come believe that women are merely sex objects for their entertainment and young girls will learn that their value lies in their sex appeal and how they look.

Many critics will cry that ‘it was ever thus’ but what we are seeing as mainstream in music videos now is barely inches away from pornography.  This week two of the Grandes Dames of pop music, Sinead O’Conner and Annie Lennox, waded into the debate.

Annie Lennox described the sexualised imagery of modern pop videos as "dark" and "pornographic". "I don't think there's one parent of young boys and girls in this country that would honestly, comfortably say they were fine with seeing their kids being exposed to that kind of thing."

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I'm all for freedom of expression but this is clearly one step beyond, and it's clearly into the realm of porn.  "How do you stop your kids being exposed to it? It's so powerful. "

The singer called for pop videos to be rated in the same way as films and said that pressure from parents could help to establish "very clear boundaries" on acceptable standards in videos.

Parents who responded to the government’s Bailey Review in 2011 cited music videos as a major concern.  The report subsequently recommended that age restrictions should be applied to music videos to prevent children buying sexually explicit videos and guide broadcasters over when to show them.

Presently music videos, along with news, sport and religious video works, are not classified by the BBFC.  Last year we responded to a DCMS consultation and expressed our view that it is time they were.  Following the consultation the government announced that they would change The Video Recordings Act so that any of these products that are unsuitable for younger children will have to carry the familiar "12", "15" and "18" BBFC age ratings in future. The changes are expected to come into force next year.

Ministers have also called on the industry to develop solutions so that more online videos, particularly those that are likely to be sought out by children and young people, carry advice about their age suitability in future.

It is worth noting that as porn culture is increasingly normalised it is not just the audience who are being manipulated but also the stars themselves.  Performer Britney Spears recently spoke about how she felt she was pushed too far produce sexually explicit music videos.  Sinead O'Connor penned an open letter to the Miley Cyrus warning her not to be exploited by the music business.

Over the past few years the tide of public opinion has begun to turn and, as a society, we are taking stock of the position in which we now find ourselves.  It is vital that we continue to speak out about the pornification of our culture and the damage it is causing, particularly to the next generation.

As Annie Lennox said: "I think this debate is about getting the voice of reason back there to say ‘look, we want to protect our kids.’"

Friday 27 September 2013

One to watch

This week Channel 4 begins its Real Sex Season which, it claims, will ‘reclaim sex from pornography’.  A laudable aim but, given Channel 4’s history, I am sceptical that this is what will be delivered.  This is the channel which bought us Drugs Live, Dogging Tales and The Joy of Teen Sex, all of which were heavy on titillation and light on educational value.  This season, which promises us the luridly titled Sex Box and Date My Porn Star, looks like it may be more of the same.

However, at the risk of becoming a hostage to fortune, one of the programmes does look very interesting:

Porn on the Teenage Brain is a documentary written and presented by Martin Daubney, who resigned his position as editor of lad’s magazine Loaded after becoming a father and realising that he wanted nothing more to do with the world of soft porn that he'd been peddling for over a decade.

In his film Mr Daubney sets out to understand the reality of the pornography today’s young people are consuming because it’s free and an unregulated click away.  He also investigates what effect it has on their malleable brains and the ways in which they relate to each other.

Mr Daubney has written a moving article about his experience of making the film in the Daily Mail which we commend to you.  He says:

“I was profoundly saddened by what I had witnessed. While teenage boys will always be fascinated by, and curious about, sex, what's now considered 'normal' by under-18s is an entirely distorted view of intercourse and the way relationships should be conducted.  It seemed as if the children's entire expectation of sex had been defined by what they see in online porn. “

Research undertaken for the film found that the vast majority of UK teens had seen online sexual imagery or pornographic films.  Brain scans carried out for the programme also found that the compulsive users of porn showed the same signs of addiction in their brain as those hooked on alcohol or drugs.

The reward centre of the brain is fully developed by the time we're teenagers, but the part of the brain that regulates our urges - the pre-frontal cortex - isn't fully developed until our mid-20s. The brains of teenagers are not wired to say ‘stop’; they are wired to want more. The implications of this study are profoundly troubling.

“If porn does have the insidious power to be addictive, then letting our children consume it freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house, or handing out vodka at the school gates” says Mr Daubney.

 “Could it even have a wider impact on their lives, blighting their ability to function in the world, get good qualifications and jobs?”

The programme airs at 10pm on Channel 4 on Monday 30th.   It does not promise to be an ‘easy’ watching experience but, given that legal porn now accounts for a third of global internet traffic, it is important that we are informed about what is involved and its possible consequences.

In the words of Martin Daubney: “Like many parents, I fear that my boy's childhood could be taken away by pornography. So we have to fight back.”