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 Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?