Call for children's charities, ISPs and the adult industry to work together to protect kids from online porn
The 'For Adults Only? – protecting children from online porn' conference was organised by the UK's video on demand regulator The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) and Queen Mary University of London on 12 December and chaired by Jackie Long Social Affairs Editor at Channel 4 News.
The first part of the conference illustrated that there was both heat and light in the debate on this topic and that there is an unbridgeable gap in the opinions on the question whether the consumption of pornography can cause violent behavior in particular by men against women.
Co-organiser Julia Hörnle, a Professor of Internet Law at Queen Mary, said: "It is important to minimize children's access to hardcore pornography online (including legal content). One of the recurrent quotations was that there was no one silver bullet to achieve this."
ATVOD co-regulates TV on Demand on the basis of European legislation and the Communications Act, which was introduced in 2010. However, many (if not most) hardcore porn services are provided outside of the UK.
Professor Hörnle added: "It's timely to explore what other measures should be taken by regulators, governments and civil society to counter the potentially harmful effect of such material. The default family filters with an opt- out option will not be a particularly effective solution to the issue. Filters underblock (letting harmful content through) and overblock (blocking access to harmless, but important information such as medical information or sexual health information)".
Ruth Evans the Chair of ATVOD pointed out that research would never establish conclusive evidence that there was a causal link between the consumption of hardcore pornography and serious harm to adolescents, as research ethics would prohibit such research from being carried out and the potential harms may be difficult to measure and latent. It was therefore vital for regulators to recognize the risk of serious harm and adopt a precautionary approach to counter this risk.
Panel speakers including The Parent Zone, The Mothers' Union, BskyB and Micrcosoft as well as the Free Speech Coalition - a trade association for the adult entertainment industry in the US - called for continued dialogue between all stakeholders, effective regulation, a need for educating parents on how to make children more resilient against harmful content on the internet and better sex education for children starting at primary school.
The four main ISPs in the UK explained the family friendly filters systems they are developing, whilst some UK producers of adult material warned against 'a 'demonising' of the industry. They stressed they were keen to work more closely with other groups such as charities, health organisations and regulatory authorities and many had already introduced age verification measure to prevent under 18s accessing their sites.
Pete Johnson, ATVOD Chief Executive, said: "The overarching message of the conference was that we all need to continue finding ways to better protect children online. That is why ATVOD is working with Visa Europe, MasterCard, PayPal and others in the UK payments industry to design a process which would prevent payments being made to foreign websites which allow children in the UK to view hardcore pornography. The initiative requires statutory underpinning and we are therefore discussing with Government the options for bringing this about. In the meantime, ATVOD will continue to take robust action to ensure that UK websites keep hardcore porn out of reach of children."
Provided by Queen Mary, University of London