Thursday 13 June 2013

A great week for child protection

These are exciting times!

The fight for meaningful protection for children from online pornography is not yet over but this week has been a milestone in the journey towards our goal.

On Tuesday morning a meeting of MPs heard from Professor Gail Dines about the reality of the pornographic material available online, the practices of the porn industry and the effect it is having on those who consume it.

On Tuesday afternoon a symposium organised by the Sunday Times and the Policy Exchange considered the impact of pornography on children and the best way to protect them moving forward.

I was delighted to be present and to see that the event was packed with a disparate audience which included campaigners, academics, clinicians, journalists, therapists, technical experts and charity workers.  The overwhelming feeling in the room was that something must be done to protect children and it must be done now.

Tomorrow, Friday, I will be attending The Westminster Media forum - an event attended by politicians, media policy makers and academics.  Once again the subject under discussion is what the next steps to protect children online should be.

This event will be followed by a ‘Council of War’ on Monday 17th.  The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has summoned web giants - including Google, BT and Facebook – to a meeting where they will be expected to come up with plans to do more to stop access to harmful material on the internet.

Protecting children online is an issue which is not going to go away. 

At Tuesday’s event the delegates heard that:

  • The most popular, and fastest growing, online search category is for ‘teen porn’.  This means images of girls who are, or who appear to be, under the age of 18; the kind of material which was recently implicated during the trials of the murderers of April Jones and Tia Sharpe.

  • In a recent survey conducted by the Portman Clinic 25% of young men aged 18-24 reported that they were worried about the amount of internet porn that they were consuming and the effect it was having on them.

  • Thousands of people in this country are regularly looking at pornographic images of child sexual abuse online.  More people than the police can realistically arrest.

We cannot ignore facts like these.  To paraphrase Diane Abbott speaking at the Sunday Times event: this a public health issue, a chance to stop the aggressive sexualisation of young people and to defend their human rights.

Thank you for your support on this issue which has been an important contributor to the climate which has enabled this to happen. 

We have some way to go but there are things that you can do now:

We are still waiting for a date for the 2nd Reading of Baroness Howe’s Online Safety Bill which has been introduced to reduce children and young people’s access to inappropriate and potentially harmful online material.

If you have not yet done so, may I urge you contact a member of the House of Lords and ask them to support the Bill and push for an early 2nd Reading.  You can do this quickly and easily using our campaign website  The site also includes links to useful information on how to go about protecting your children and grandchildren online which I hope you will also find helpful.

Vivienne Pattison

Thursday 6 June 2013

Family viewers are being failed

In the news over the last week has been the backlash against Jennifer Lopez’s extremely sexualised performance in the family show Britain’s Got Talent.  Her lewd routine resulted in 161 (so far) complaints to Ofcom and many column inches condemning the broadcast.  But haven’t we been here before?

In 2010 The X Factor final featured highly sexualised performances and provoked around 3,000 complaints to Ofcom.  The regulator ruled that the broadcast was ‘at the very margin of acceptability’ but did not censure the broadcaster.  This effectively re-defined family viewing and such material became mainstream.  

The 2011 Bailey review found almost half of parents were concerned about pre-watershed television.  The report concluded ‘the industry needs to act and, in the case of pre-watershed family viewing, take a slightly more cautious approach than is currently the case’ citing the sexualised dancing on the 2010 X Factor final as particularly problematic.

Shortly after the report was published Ofcom issued new guidance for broadcasters stating that ‘particular areas of concern include the sexualised clothing and dance routines of performers’.  However since this guidance was published we have seen a burlesque stripper on Britain’s Got Talent (justified because the dance ‘required skill and training’), a contestant on The X Factor straddling a judge dressed only in a bikini and fishnet bodystocking (justified because it was ‘presented in a style which sought to derive humour from the participant’s conduct’) and most recently a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent lap-dancing for Simon Cowell.

The reaction to the broadcast last weekend shows that many viewers are not happy with this.  The government has tasked Ofcom with the responsibility to ensure that children are ‘protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them’ (Broadcasting Code 1.3) but we are of the opinion that Ofcom are failing to act in the best interests of children.

We are delighted that last year the Prime Minister appointed Claire Perry MP as his special advisor on preventing the sexualisation and commercialisation of children.   It is good that this government is serious about protecting childhood and Mrs Perry has been doing some excellent work to ensure that children are adequately protected online.

It is our opinion that television programmes which are marketed at children yet contain explicit material are making a significant contribution to the culture in which children are becoming increasingly sexualised.  In our experience most parents want to take responsibility for protecting their children but it is increasingly difficult to do so when even pre watershed television is contributing to the problem. 

We’ve written to Claire Perry pointing this out and asking her to consider broadcasting within the scope of her remit.  We’ve offered to provide further information and material to help her in her work.