I have just read a speech given by Richard Hooper, Deputy Chair of Ofcom and Chairman of the Content Board, given at a seminar in Hong Kong, looking at content regulation in the mutiplatform multichannel digital age.
He asks what is to be done to regulate broadcasts over the internet, to mobile phones etc, and in particular looks at the EU’s current intention to revise the Television Without Frontiers Directive.
Hooper identifies three ways forward – do nothing; rollout sectoral content regulation on to the internet; or roll back sectoral broadcast regulation to allow for equivalence of treatment with internet broadcasting as it comes of age. His views on the ‘do nothing’ approach is what really caught my attention.
He suggests the adoption a ‘modified do nothing’ policy which would take as its starting point that all websites deemed illegal under UK law, wherever they are hosted should be blocked in the UK. So far so good. However he then recommends that a body such as the IWF should be given responsibility to identify material that was ‘ harmful but not illegal’. According to Hopper we have a problem with sites that are ‘grossly offensive but not illegal’. If the IWF could identify these site, the UK ISPs could be invited to block access to such material ‘not on legal grounds but on the basis of corporate social responsibility towards their customers’
I actually had to read this a couple of times. The chairman of Ofcom’s Content Board is recommending that UK ISPs block access to content that is perfectly legal under UK law because the people at a body, such as the IWF, say I find this ‘grossly offensive’. Will Mr Hopper define for us what is ‘Grossly Offensive’ and to whom? There is a word for this I believe – censorship. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s illegal, block away, but if the UK Statue Book says its legal then Mr Hopper and indeed no one else should be able to prevent my access to it.