The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Latest Developments in Online Regulation

The CMF’s Executive Group member for Digital, John Kent, outlines our involvement in the continuing policy debates around children and the internet. 

Over recent months, we’ve been busy in Parliament (thanks, Jayne Kirkham!) trying to ensure that children’s rights and behaviour in the digital space are not ignored.

Digital Economy Bill

The Digital Economy Bill passed into law this week just before Parliament prorogued for the General Election. You might remember that CMF made a substantial submission last summer while the Bill was in committee stage, and Baroness Benjamin has been active in driving the debate in the Lords. However, at the time of the last update, we felt that many of the issues we (and others) were highlighting were likely to fall by the wayside because of internecine political debate.

The final version of the Bill was debated in Parliament on 26 April, and we can now see what’s left from the original draft. It’s actually much more positive than we thought! The key elements for children and young people are that there will be a requirement to verify age to access pornography, an instruction to Ofcom to ensure that PSB’s support children’s content, and a requirement for the DCMS to issue a code of practice for providers of 'Online Social Media Platforms’ around bullying, intimidation, humiliation, etc.

The protection of children on social media - including the need to ensure children can use social platforms safe from bullying, intimidation and humiliation - and the unwillingness of the commercial providers to even accept that children use their platforms, is a major concern for us. While we would have loved for the Bill to have been more explicit with respect to children, we are realistic in that we had thought their rights would be ignored altogether: on that basis, the Code of Practice feels like a positive first step.

Our focus now is to engage with the DCMS to try and ensure that the Code reflects the reality of children on social media.

Growing Up with the Internet

While the Digital Economy Act was making its progress through Parliament last year, the Digital Team also contributed to the Lords’ investigation into what it means to be Growing Up with the Internet. The final report, largely authored by Sonia Livingstone, was published on 21 March.

The report is thorough and substantive, and most of our concerns and ideas are included - however as this was essentially a research exercise it is uncertain whether the initiative will be progressed after the Election. This is a topic we expect to return to later in the year.

Age Verification and the Digital Policy Alliance

Following on from our work on the Digital Economy Bill, the CMF was invited to join a meeting of the Digital Policy Alliance. The DPA have been active in driving a requirement for age verification to access porn - and we were invited to represent the views of young people.

After John and Greg introduced themselves as representatives of the kids audience and children’s media, we found that we were in a meeting mostly attended by makers of adult content and pornography: not our usual operating environment!

The meeting was interesting. The DPA is an extremely well funded group, and has worked hard to lobby for the age-verification requirement in the Digital Economy Bill - they see it as a politically astute way of protecting their revenue stream. They know that if kids are widely recognised to be accessing porn, they’ll be regulated more tightly. They have even paid for a British Standard around age verification and porn that could be adopted internationally.

Now that the Bill has been passed, they are aware that they need to think more widely, and are considering areas that are not mentioned in the Bill - social networks, user-generated content, etc. It was fascinating that they are aware of the problem, but have no understanding of what young people are doing online. When we spoke, they listened and were grateful that we’d moved them on.

How this relationship progresses remains to be seen. We have been invited to join the Alliance, but it’s expensive and not a core objective for the CMF. We would be happy to contribute and help connect them to researchers and the kids' media sector if we’re invited again.

Action CMF Updates Policy

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The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)