Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400-408)|
THURSDAY 13 JUNE 2002
400. Video on demand is quite a good illustration
of this, is it not, because the intention is that the Government
does not wish to regulate and will not regulate unless there is
an inadequate self-regulatory solution, and therefore by extension
you could say in relation to the Internet generally it could be
a good principle if the Bill sets out some legislative intentions
that need to be met in the first instance on a self-regulatory
basis. That gives some protection before the point at which Orders
are presented to Parliament saying, "Here is a problem and
here is a regulatory solution."
(Mr Davies) The sentiment can be agreed to by me and
perhaps by all sides, but the devil is in the detail. Some people
might fear what that could mean later.
401. One of the things that OFCOM will come
across through the European regulators' club, if you like, is
you will get countries like France trying to protect their culture
from the Internet. Do you see a problem in that the pressure will
come on OFCOM from that kind of European perspective that the
whole culture of the United Kingdom needs to be protected and
therefore Internet content needs to be more regulated than it
(Mr Darlington) There is a terrific court case on
this issue at the moment in France where a Jewish group took legal
action against Yahoo for hosting the auction of Nazi memorabilia
on its site. They argued that that was illegal in France but Yahoo
said, "It may be illegal in France but it is not illegal
in the States and that is where we host this." That is the
dilemma with the Internet. It is a global medium and there is
no way you can have one country's values or systems imposed upon
it across the globe. My own view is that companies could be more
sensitive about cultural and national differences and enter into
more dialogue and discuss what is technically possible. It is
technically possible, within limits, to restrict the sites to
which a particular country's citizens could access. Whether that
is a good idea or not is another matter. We have to accept that
the Internet is something different. It cannot reflect one country's
values or culture. Even the French, if I may dare to say so, have
different cultures and different values. A French Moroccan immigrant
might have a different view from Monsieur Le Pen on what he should
be able to see on television or access on the Internet. I would
come back to our starting point that with a global medium like
this it cannot be regulated in the old ways. We should be moving
towards techniques whereby we empower end users as to what they
access and when they access it. It may be in a few years' time
that in spite of these fears about broadcasters regulating the
Internet, what happens is exactly the opposite and that the devices
we are talking about in relation to empowering end users on the
Internet will increasingly map across to the broadcasters. It
may be that OFCOM will increase people's knowledge of the Internet
industry on what is happening in the industry, how the end users
are being empowered and to what extent might that be appropriate
to radio television or film.
402. So when can we get rid of licensing?
(Mr Daelington) It is going to be like the Marxist
state, I think it is going to wither away. I do not think there
is going to be an end date, but my own view is that licensing
will have a finite time. I have said several times that we have
to manage expectations because at the moment most users of electronic
networks, whether they are radio, television or the Internet,
have expectations about what is going to be on it, and if we are
going to put more responsibility on them, it is going to take
time to achieve that and we are going to have to empower them
and we are going to have these media literacy programmes which
we have talked about and which we would like to support.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
403. I have got two questions, one is a nice
factual one and the other is a rather nasty one. You heard when
I talked to the ISPA about relationships with ICSTIS and things
like that. You in your submission have noted and commented on
the Government's failure to clarify what it sees as OFCOM's relations
with organisations like your own. Is this not really a matter
for OFCOM and you and something that we cannot put into legislation?
I have to go to my colleague Lord Crickhowell and say if you want
it put in the legislation then you have got to write it and put
it to the Bill team.
(Mr Darlington) The most we could expect from legislation
in these terms is something along the lines of OFCOM should use
its best endeavours to consult as widely as possible with existing
self-regulatory or co-regulatory institutions. It would not be
appropriate to name those institutions because they may not exist
in five years' time and you might miss some out. You might argue
that is not necessary, that OFCOM will by its very nature be inclusive
and collaborative. You may be right, but I do not think it would
do any harm to put a requirement of that general nature in the
404. In my view they will. They would be foolish
not to. You talk a lot about your organisation protecting children.
There has been evidence from a coalition of children's charities.
It is long but it is not very complimentary to you. "The
UK does not have a self-regulatory regime for the Internet. At
various points . . . mention is made of the UK's existing self-regulatory
regime for the Internet as if this were an established fact, a
tangible and successful instrument of policy. This is an extravagant
and misleading use of language . . . The IWF has had a clear operational
remit to do only one thing: act as a notice and take down service
in relation to child pornography. More recently it has agreed
to act as a notice and take down service for illegal racist material"but
nothing has been done about it". . . These two responsibilities
alone would hardly justify the grandiloquence of describing the
IWF as `the UK Internet's self-regulatory body.'" They do
not seem to like you very much. Are they wrong?
(Mr Robbins) I am not sure they dislike us.
405. My goodness, you could fool me!
(Mr Robbins) Because we know their motive is well-intentioned
in the sense that we also wrestle with this problem of being labelled
as the self-regulatory body for the Internet industry, which we
are not. What they are making the point about there is exactly
what we are in the business of doing, which is focusing on child
pornography, removing it from the Internet and in recent years
taking on a remit further to deal with racialist sites as well.
We are in a limited part in the dark side of the Internet; we
are not regulating the whole of the Internet.
406. Do you think there ought to be a self-regulatory
body like the Press Complaints Commission? You admit that you
cannot describe yourselves as a self-regulatory body. You have
got very limited fields. There are other nasty things apart from
child pornography and racialism. Do you not think this sort of
submission argues that you or an alternative body should have
a wider self-regulatory remit? We realise they do not want statutory
regulation. We have listened to a lot of that this morning, but
self-regulation does not seem to raise as many problems. Why should
the Internet not have self- regulation?
(Mr Davies) Can I start off by saying, if we are known
as the internet self-regulatory body it is because we are the
only one doing the regulation.
407. But you do not do it.
(Mr Davies) We do with child pornography very clearly
and very successfully. The fact we are only able to analyse a
small section of content on the internet should not detract from
what we are doing, it is just it is a sound bite and it is easy
for journalists and others to describe us as the industry's self-regulatory
body. We have no pretensions about our current potential which
is limited, and it is limited not by ambition but by funds and
also by practicality. As we have mentioned before, as soon as
we move away from content that is illegal to possess, it creates
far more complexities.
(Mr Darlington) The evidence was, of course, written
by a member of the IWF Board, which shows you how inclusive we
are, but these issues are subject to debate. One issue we have
to constantly remind ourselves and the Committee about, and it
fits in with something Lord McNally was saying, is that the internet
is only a delivery mechanism and everything which is illegal off-line
is illegal on-line. Insofar as it may be difficult to police some
things on-line, in many respects it is because of the law. Where
child pornography is concerned the law is very clear, simple possession
is an offence, so the law is crystal clear and the penalties have
recently been increased. When it comes to adult pornography, you
rest on a very difficult definition of what is obscene. When it
comes to race hate, you rest on a very difficult decision about
material which is intended to incite racial hatred. These are
definitions which have been decided by Parliament, yourselves,
if I may put it that way, and insofar as our remit is concentrated
on combatting criminal content on the UK internet, we work with
the definitions which you have given us. As regards racist content,
the author of that document is wrong. For two years we have investigated
every case of alleged criminal racist content, but because the
definition is so difficult, we have not been able to say, "Yes,
this is actually illegal", and you will find very little
material in the off-line world which actually meets that definition.
If that is a problem, it is not the IWF's problem, it is Parliament's
problem. Our job is to do what we can, working with the industry
and law enforcement, to apply the UK criminal law on-line. That
is overwhelmingly in relation to child pornography but occasionally
extreme forms of adult pornography and race hate where we rest
on your definition.
408. In view of what you have just said, do
the Bill team have any issues or questions which they would like
(Mr Susman) No, we are fine, thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.