Saturday, 27 December 2008

Andy Burnham's latest sally into censorship

. I'm back people (don't all cheer at once). Obviously we are now at the time of year when people start thinking about New Years resolutions. I think top of Andy Burnham's list should be to try and avoid frankly silly and rather self-satisfied attempts to get his grubby mitt's on the internet. The latest rather daft proposal is that internet sites be classified like films; what makes this so wrong-headed is the rather obvious point that such a system would never work.

Pornography sites already display disclaimer's that allegedly only allow over 18s access and we all know how that works out; it doesn't. Other problems arise around how a classification would be determined; personally I have blogged about issues around and used the 'sex' word twice. However, does anybody seriously think this blog merits an '18' rating??

You cannot even argue that this would help 'inform' parents who, frankly, should be bothered enough to inform themselves. This, in itself, should shoot straight through his argument that;

"This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people".

Tellingly, he 'reveals';

"that his children are only allowed online under close supervision."

So, my question to Mr Burnham has to be that if he can do it why can't others?? Why does the government have to step-in where Mr Burnham has shown that responsible individuals are more than capable of doing the job themselves??


asquith said...

Quite an interesting discussion on this has occured at Letters From A Tory, to which you might like to make your own contribution. I'll cut & paste my observations from there :)

Oh, & the discussion of libertarianism at Liberal Conspiracy is looking quite good, though it hasn't attracted as many responses as it might.

The thread avoided hysteria so far, because certain... mutual mates of ours haven't "contributed" yet.

asquith said...

"Apart from the unwieldiness of this system, & the fact that it’s never likely to work, New Labour could quite easily claim that any given website is not suitable for young eyes. Surely there are better ways of dealing with those who may be seduced by extremism. It reminds me of those parents who blame their teenage children’s suicide on the websites they went on, when in many cases they’d actually be better off looking at their own behaviour, accusing themselves & other adults such as teachers of failure to spot warning signals.

If it is assumed that the internet is now safe, & parents can let their children browse freely, it will be as harmful as plumping them in front of the TV for hours on end, which many parents of low intelligence & little inclination to actually be parents currently do.

I would be the first to argue that child pornography should be stamped out & anyone who posesses it should be treated as a criminal for whom no excuses can be made. As for things like “happy slapping”, they are exactly the same. But again, why hold Youtube or Facebook to account as the puerile tabloid press do? They didn’t go out there & commit these crimes, just as no bank ever held the idiots down & forced them to take out loans they would never be able to repay.

It is all geared towards the Daily Mail & will actively harm trying to protect the youth, not help it. Those who are to implement these policies know this in advance but persist, which is the real shame of New Labour. But does any other party have more sense?"

Darrell G said...

Asquith :),

Lol I think they are on a longer Xmas sabbatical than most of us that is why....

As for your observations I rather agree...I know at least one campaign against suicide sites which is all very worthy but rather passes the buck :). Websites tend not to be able to systimatically reduce self-esteem in such a way....

asquith said...

Yes, it isn't websites that cause the problem. It is bad parenting, bullying at school, struggling with the normal problems of adolescence... all manner of things.

But it's easier to blame the internet. Those who do so, & call for hysterical outrage-based "policies", will make problems worse rather than solving them.

This is generally the point where I stop bothering :)

Darrell G said...


Totally agree :)

Anonymous said...

People, not the internet, are at fault, so don't have any rules around the internet?

People, not knives, are at fault, so don't have any rules around the sale of knives?

People, not guns, are at fault, so don't have any rules around the availability of guns?

There are lots of arguments around Burnham's proposals, but saying don't blame the internet only makes sense if you are a hard-core libertarian. Otherwise it's just lazy government bashing.

Darrell G said...


I have to say that I have been called many things but a 'hard-core libertarian' is not usually one of them.

Your argument doesnt really hold I am afraid because you are conflating different things. The internet is a form of media where as a knife is something you spread butter with or you can attack people with.

Media reflects as much as shapes society where as knives and guns are inanimate objects which are used soley depending on the whim of their is a living organic thing and err knives and guns arent.

In the example I gave we see how the media reflects something but doesnt create it; people would have low self-esteem and feel suicidal regardless of whether suicide sites exist or not and the fact they do is a reflection of the former fact not it's cause.

Anonymous said...

Darrell - I know, which is why I found your use of libertarian-style argument surprising.

I don't see the difference between knife and website in the way you do. Neither are living. Both have been produced by a living person. Both can offer temptation to do something far worse than if the temptation wasn't there.

Your example of suicide is an interesting one. The vast majority of people who attempt to commit suicide and fail, do not try again. That suggests that if it were harder to commit suicide, fewer people would do so - and they would not regret that, ie we would be saving them from something they regret, rather than preventing choice.

That is why I am in favour of fencing etc around bridges to reduce suicide risk. Suicide websites are very difficult because I am also a liberal and do not believe in censorship except under the most extreme / necessary circumstances. But in principle the issue is that same as if someone wanted to place "how to" suicide ads in the newspapers each day.

Wherever we draw the line, it being a newspaper rather than a website doesn't change the principle.

Of course, there is a matter of practicality too, but a voluntary self-classification system would achieve a lot of what Burnham wants and technically is feasible - the PICS standard is already there for people to use.

Although I say that, I am not convinced it would be the right thing to do. But the arguments against used above are not ones that persuade me!

Darrell G said...


But do you not accept the point that the primary responsibility for regulating these kind of things lies with parents?? Also, do you not accept the point that taken in concert with Burnham's other comments it shows a misplaced regulatory zeal??

I have no intention of 'self-classifying' this site because simply I wouldnt know how to begin. As I have also said all the indications are that it simply wont work...

The vast majority of people who try to commit suicide have serious underlying issues which need to be addressed and those aren't magicked away by the regulation of websites. It seems to me something of a case of 'shooting the messenger'.

I am not saying I am in favour of the sites as I wouldnt be the articles but nonetheless I think it is a case of attacking a problem from the wrong angle....

Anonymous said...

Darrell - yes, and I think such a voluntary self-categorising scheme would help parents.

Almost any definition of anything has some difficult to decide borderline cases. That doesn't become a reason to never classify. It'd be like saying daylight and night are the same because it's hard to tell the exact moment one switches to the other.

Self-classifying works well for children's books (many publishers and bookshops give suggested age ranges, there are no legal sanctions). Guidelines help parents make their own choices. Why not for websites?

The point I wanted to make about suicides is that many people who attempt it appear to regret trying, but if they succeed they get no chance to regret it. Would you be happy with daily newspaper adverts explaining to people who they could commit suicide? If not, what's the reason?

Darrell G said...


Would it really?? If we look into how classification works with films then I dont feel that it does and frankly, and I have direct experience of this having worked in a cinema, it is often the case that parents ignore such things in any case.

What would really help parents is if they actually made the effort to inform themselves. You also ignore the argument that self-cassification would actually *increase* the appeal of sites to children who feel naturally inclined to 'push the envelope'. We all know what a thrill it can be to sneak into an '18' at 16.

The essential differece between books and websites is that nobody could realistically expect a parent to read every page of a book where as a similar process for websites is much easier.

I already said I wouldnt but neither am I particularly happy with an approach to an issue which actually avoids the main crux of it and assumes that the way to solve a problem is through regulation of the media.

Darrell G said...

And incidentally Anon, you have already pointed out self-classification is let people who want to do it do it but do not argue the government should become involved and make it more or less mandatory which Burnham would....

asquith said...

Anon, I gave the suicide analogy. I did it because I think it is totally inappropriate to shuffle blame onto a suicide website. Maybe they gave the trigger (no pun intended) but something must have been going wrong & it should have been picked up on.

That is just one of the ways in which Burnham's proposals won't help.

I explicitly said that child pornography & happy slapping should be illegal & sternly punished. But what I don't want is for some mong to be saying "Right, the internet's safe now, I'll leave my kids in front of it for a few hours & not bother monitoring them".

People do that with TV, & it is inappropriate. Giving people a sense of security would do more harm than good.

I am not a libertarian, & know absolute freedom must be balanced against other goods. But I do not think the end of child protection will be served in this manner, so I don't support it. It is half-arsed shite geared towards getting headlines rather than doing something useful.