E Jane Dickson: Here's how parents should shield their children

 

Share
Related Topics

Yesterday David Cameron called for renewed consultation on default blocking of internet porn.

Yesterday Cameron's party had its ass kicked in local elections. Could these facts by chance be related? If I were his PR, I'd dump the caring-about-families angle and arrange for Dave to be photographed with a lovely basket of kittens.

It's not that I'm against regulation of internet porn. I'm just wearied by "talks about talks" on this issue. In October 2011, Cameron's claim that he had secured agreement from Britain's major internet service providers (ISPs) to install automatic porn filters was immediately disavowed by the industry. Since then, debate has rumbled on the ethics and efficacy of "opt-in" systems, whereby internet users must actively request that porn sites are enabled on their broadband service.

In fairness, the issue is complicated. No one is cheered by last month's report from the parliamentary inquiry which found that 80 per cent of 16-year-olds regularly access pornography, much less that a third of 10-year-olds have seen sexually explicit material online. No one can, I think, seriously argue that free and unregulated access to sites devoted to sexual hurt and humiliation (which, not to be squeamish, account for the bulk of contemporary porn) will not affect the outlook and expectations of a generation of girls and boys. However, the arguments against automatic network level filtering are loud, many and various.

There's the civil rights lobby that fears censorship, any censorship, as a matter of principle. Personally, I'm not persuaded that restricting access to sites such as gangbangwhore.com will necessarily spell the end of democracy (the "Do you want us all to end up like China?" argument). It seems to me that we have effectively managed protection of minors in other media – 9pm watershed, over-18 film certificates, adult-rated video games – without surrendering too much in the way of personal freedoms and it cannot, surely, be beyond the vast collective brain of Silicon Valley to come up with something similar for online material. And if we cannot, in the interests of free expression, legislate against pornography per se, can we not apply some other legislation that will, at least, put a crimp in the frankly abusive end of the business? "Incitement to violence" does not, to me, seem too strong a description of hardcore "adult entertainment" currently on offer.

I concede that, as ISPs have vigorously argued, no internet filter will be 100 per cent fail-safe. The fact that children are more computer savvy than their parents is a real consideration and it only takes someone clever in the playground to find the "way in'" to restricted sites. But since when was child protection an "all or nothing" issue? Should we ban traffic lights just because some motorists ignore them? If even a fraction of the porn currently streaming into children's bedrooms is blocked, that is arguably a start worth making.

The real sticking point in Cameron's new inquiry (as I suspect it was in the last) is likely to be the argument that restricting online access, by whatever means, is "bad for business". ISP business is worth £3bn a year and pornography accounts for a whacking 30 per cent of web traffic. The streaming of video footage is particularly lucrative and visitors to porn sites tend to linger awhile. There is, therefore, powerful financial incentive to keep ministers rubbing their chins over porn-blocking measures as long as possible . It has already been intimated by Whitehall that while efforts to thrash out a solution that suits ISPs and consumers will be redoubled in the new inquiry, the chin-rubbing is not expected to lead to a Green Paper soon.

Which leaves us with our old friend "parental responsibility". The rider to each of the above arguments against government legislation is that parents must take responsibility for what their children see in their own homes. Indeed, we are piously reminded that the danger of an unavoidably imperfect porn filtering system is that parents will be lulled into a false sense of security and drop all efforts at vigilance.

Parents, I think, are not so stupid. But the real problem in this is that some parents are more responsible than others. Which is why the "opt-out" system currently preferred by ministers, whereby consumers must choose to block access to porn sites, is not good enough.

If blanket legislation is too problematic for a government wedded to the market economy, then parents must flex their economic muscle. There is currently only one ISP offering network level "porn protection" to all customers (and not just at point of purchase) and it is an intensely competitive market. It is, I would suggest, time to put the frighteners on ISPs by demanding effective protection, not just for own "responsibly parented" children, but for all children. It takes five minutes to write a letter to a CEO (it takes considerably longer, in my experience, to figure out "parental controls"), and if consumer pressure doesn't work, then we need to think about withdrawing our custom. Inconvenient, I grant you, but as I say, it's a cut-throat market and I don't think it would take the industry long to scent a selling point.

Select committees inquire, ministers discuss, but in the current impasse over porn-blocking I suspect that only money talks. We – the consumer – are "the money". And it's time to shout the whole house down.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Consultants - IT - Trainee / Experienced

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40-50K first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Primary teachers needed for supply in Huntingdon

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers need...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

KS2 Teacher Plymouth

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: genius of Apple, fools and commercial enterprises, and the Queen

John Rentoul
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” following Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip  

i Editor's Letter: Douglas Carswell's defection

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone