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.