Age ratings a possibility for websites

Websites could potentially be given film/gaming style age-ratings to limit children’s access to harmful and offensive materials. Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said clearer standards need to define what can be displayed online.

Mr Burnham has said the government is looking at a number of possible new internet safeguards and they also plan to negotiate with the USA on drawing up international rules for English language websites. Mr Burnham, states that internet service providers (ISPs) should offer child-friendly web access.

The internet is becoming a more and more pervasive entity in all our lives and yet the content standards online are not as clear as we’ve all been used in traditional media. I think we do need to have a debate now about clearer signposting and labelling online because it can be quite a confusing world, particularly for parents who are trying to ensure their children are only accessing appropriate stuff.”

He has insisted he is not trying to curb free speech, but wanted to protect the public from “unacceptable” material.  “It’s not about banning or stopping people having that freedom of expression,” he said. “It’s simply about clearer signposting, more information, so people know where they’re working.”

John Carr, secretary of the UK Children’s Charities’ Coalition for Internet Safety, said other countries were looking at similar measures.  “Nobody would deny there are enormous practical problems, there isn’t a body, an obvious body, that could do this type of classification here in the UK at the moment, but it’s definitely an aspiration that many governments across the world are now reaching to.

A poll carried out by the NSPCC in October 2008 suggested three out of four UK children have been disturbed by images they had seen on the internet.

Diana Sutton, head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC, said “It’s one thing to have a political commitment, but it’s much harder to actually enforce it, we want these ideas to have teeth. And these mechanisms on their own aren’t enough. They’ve got to be combined with greater parental awareness. Most parents have no clue what their children are up to online. What I think is missing from these proposals is that it’s not just about what sites children might see, it’s about who they might meet online”

 

Could this idea could potentially lead onto a situation much like that in Australia, which is due to start live trials of ISP-level content filtering? The Australian scheme is costing approximately £55.2  and has met with much uproar from it’s citizens, an online poll by a newspaper in Queensland showed that 86% of respondents did not support the scheme.

The Australian project proposes to offer a “clean-feed” web service to all homes, schools and public internet access points in the country. All feed will have two ‘blacklists’: one that blocks all illegal material, such as child abuse images; and the second which blocks a list of things deemed unsuitable for children, which will determined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Only the latter blacklist will be optional for Australians.

Currently filtering in the UK’s is not mandatory by ISPs, they can block sites according to information which is provided by the Internet Watch Foundation.

 

Is such a scheme feasible in today’s society?  Is it needed or even manageable? What other options should the Government be considering alongside the idea of ‘cinema’ style ratings for websites?

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