Critical Analysis Of Censorship In Uk Media Essay
I chose the subject of censorship in media as my dissertation as I am somewhat concerned about some of the censorship that is being suggested for the future for some of our media such as Film and the World Wide Web and would like to look further into these suggestions, to discover what methods are currently being implemented to censor both of these mediums as well as how up to date they both are. As a lover of most media and a content creator myself I am very interested to see how censorship alters across the two different mediums one that is relatively new in the grand scheme of censorship (the World Wide Web) and the other that fairly grounded and a more manage form of media (Film) I feel researching this will help to give me a better understanding on how censorship comes into play when creating (such as cuts and edits etc.) as well as finding some interesting issues along the way.
Through the process writing this dissertation the areas in which I have been researching and focused on writing about have refined over time. At the outset my lead question was far broader looking at all areas of censorship including political, religious and self-censorship. As my research continued I realised that the topic of censorship was so huge it would be more interesting to focus on one area within censorship; media. This refined again as through the process of my research I understood that the world of media censorship was so complex I would not have enough words to get an in-depth perspective about all of the key issues and areas of debate surrounding other mediums such as TV, Games and Radio. It is at this point I decided to look deeper into the issues of film and web censorship feeling that they were both incredibly interesting yet wildly different forms of media.
The structure of the dissertation will be split into three chapters and a conclusion. In the first chapter I will be looking at the history of censorship in order to get a fundamental understanding of what censorship actually is and how it has developed over the years to be what it is today. The history of censorship will be of particular importance when assessing if censorship is up to date. Some areas I will be exploring include the early censorship of literature such as the notable banning of “Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in U.S public libraries and the change in censorship laws in the UK with novels such as “Lady Chatterley's Lover” by DH Lawrence being at the forefront of those changes.
In the second and third chapters I will be exploring different censorship issues and areas of debate within both Film and the Internet. I will be exploring these areas of debate heavily to understand them, and find out if both mediums are up to date in terms of how they are being censored.
In chapter Two I will be researching and discussing censorship within Film. There are a number of areas up for debate in regards to the UK’s actions of censorship in film that is overseen by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). These areas include “Cutting for Category” which is the process of cutting or editing a film to obtain a lower category to obtain a wider audience base. Looking into this issue can raise questions such as “Is it morally right for both the film makers and the general public” as they are not watching what was initially intend by the director. There is also debate surrounding “Cutting for Category” as to whether it is a marketing decision or censorship decision. Another very prevalent issue within film I will be exploring is the process of rejecting a film from a UK audience. This issue also raises debate as to whether or not the decision is right or wrong to simply reject a film from being seen by mature adults that can now decide for themselves. Lastly I will be exploring the BBFC guidelines to see how up to date they are and how they have been challenged in the past by more controversial films that lie between two categories. There is also question over the frequency of the updates to the guidelines with some arguing they are not being updating enough.
In Chapter Three I will be looking into the more current internet censorship laws that are starting to come into effect or are currently being looked at by the British Government. The most recent parliamentary inquires particularly interests me which is called the “Online Child Protection Inquiry” that would require internet users to opt out of a web filtering service that would filter all “adult” content. This interests yet concerns me as it is one of the first attempts by the British government to censor the internet via an opt out service, meaning users would have this censorship brought on upon them and would have to ask to have it taken off. This provokes questions such as “Should the internet be censored in the same way Film is?” and “Should it not be a parent’s responsibility to moderate their child’s internet consumption” I also would find it interesting to look into other countries that take a firmer stance on internet censorship such as China. Looking into this matter brings up questions such as “How effective is internet censorship”. Lastly I want to find out what the general public’s opinion on internet censorship is. With it being such a regularly discussed topic among governments and more specific groups such as parents, I want to find out what the general consensus is when it comes to censoring the web. I will then be assessing my finding to question if censorship within the World Wide Web is up to date.
Chapter 1 – An Introduction to Censorship
In order to understand how film and the internet is censored, it is vital to first understand what censorship actually is. Simply put, censorship is the control of information and ideas that are circulated within a society. For example, many forms of media such as film, books and the internet can be censored if the content is considered harmful, sensitive or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body. (“What is Censorship?,” http://gilc.org) The way in which content is censored depends on the medium. For example, film can be censored by cutting/editing a section to remove an area that could be deemed inappropriate. There are also more severe methods of censorship such as banning an item in question so it is completely suppressed from being seen by society. It is important to understand where censorship in media started before film and the internet to grasp how much censorship has evolved over the years and how much has stayed the same.
One of the earlier forms of censorship throughout recorded history is the censorship of literary materials for children in 399 B.C. It was argued that early exposure to fiction can cause children to overly identify with fictional characters and subsequently emulate their worst characteristics. It was thought that it was society’s moral obligation to exercise control over everything children see, hear, or read. (“Guarding Public Morality: A Global History of Censorship,” http://www.randomhistory.com) The reason behind this form of censorship was to protect the innocence of youth, but interestingly this is still one of the main arguments that is used in modern forms of censorship, such as the internet, where the protection of children is of utmost importance.
Censorship of literature continued in a similar vein. One example of this is the banning of many books in U.S. public libraries as they needed to be responsible for the public and would only allow “appropriate literature”. One of the most notable books banned was “Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in 1885 due to its “questionable content” and “coarse language”. The book until recently has come under scrutiny regarding its appropriateness for young readers. (“BBC News - Furore over ‘censored’ edition of Huckleberry Finn,” http://www.bbc.co.uk) The censorship of Huckleberry Finn demonstrates another early form of media censorship with the key issue being language and how it is inappropriate for younger age groups or earlier, society as a whole. The issue and censorship of language is still one that is prevalent today as seen in modern censorship of media such as film and games, showing that there are strong parallels between older forms of censorship and modern-day censorship.
Censorship has not always been used to protect society. Sometimes it has been used to manipulate or hide media from the general public. One example of this is the period of strict censorship in Germany under the Nazi regime. People were fed with material only acceptable by the Nazi state. Newspapers, radio and all other forms of media were put under the control of the Nazis to ensure them on a daily basis on how their lives had been improved from the day Hitler took power (“Censorship in Nazi Germany,” http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk). Censorship has been used in many other areas of history to censor a nation. Another example of this is the use of censorship in the Apartheid regime of South Africa, where any materials supporting the African National Congress, an anti-Apartheid liberation movement, were censored. These materials included all types of media spanning from newspapers to radio and even education. This censorship continued until the end of the regime in 1994. (“Guarding Public Morality: A Global History of Censorship,” http://www.randomhistory.com)History like this shows the ugly yet serious side of censorship, and why it is so important for a society to keep discussing and debating what is being censored and why. However censorship that is used properly, serves as a valuable tool to protect areas of society such as children and the filtration of obscene content.
It is also important to understand how censorship has changed and developed through history. There are many areas of media in which censorship has changed to accommodate the views of a more modern society. This can be seen with the passing of the Obscene Publications Act 1960 in the UK, that allowed books such as “Lady Chatterley's Lover” by DH Lawrence that had been banned when it was initially published in 1928, due to the explicit language it contained, to become freely available for the first time in 32 years. (“The trial of Lady Chatterley’s,” http://www.guardian.co.uk) It is not just literature that has seen censorship change to accommodate more modern views of society. Film has also had many changes made to guidelines (that decide the rating of a film) and legal acts such as the “Video Recordings Act 1984.” (“Video Recordings Act 1984,” http://www.legislation.gov.uk) One example of a films censorship changing is “Visions of Ecstasy” that was originally refused classification by the British Board of Film Classification in 1989. However more recently in 2008 blasphemy laws in the UK were repealed allowing the film to be released with an 18 certificate with no cuts or alterations. (“VISIONS OF ECSTASY rated 18 by the BBFC,” http://www.bbfc.co.uk)Both of these examples show how censorship is not stagnant yet constantly evolving to fit the views of modern society. Knowing this gives greater understanding when exploring current censorship issues and when trying to assess if censorship is up to date.
It is critical to be conscious of the underlying themes and parallels of past censorship to be able to understand and debate more recent censorship issues in modern society. The next two chapters will explore modern censorship issues in depth to see how censorship is currently being implemented and how it is changing to keep in touch with the ever-moving thoughts of British society.
Chapter 2 – Film Censorship
Film is currently one of the most popular, widely spread and influential types of media in society. With over three hundred and fifty worldwide releases in 2011, the movie industry has never been so saturated. (“2011 Yearly Box Office Results - Box Office Mojo,” http://boxofficemojo.com) With all these worldwide releases, each film needs to be reviewed and classified with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence, and other types of mature content. (“BBFC – The Guidelines,” http://www.bbfc.co.uk) This system has been constructed to help parents/guardians decide if a movie is suitable for their children, and to add a legal age requirement for movies with more explicit content. Most countries have an individual rating system and review board that will review a film and then proceed to give the film an age certificate warning. This system is put in to place as the influence of specific factors in deciding how a rating varies from country to country.
The UK’s board of classification is called the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and is required to view and classify both Film and Games that are to be released in the UK. The British Board of Film Censors was established in 1912 by the film industry when local authorities started to impose their own widely varying censorship standards on films. The BBFC uses its own system to administer age restrictions for each film once it has passed the reviewing system by the board. (“The SBBFC Student Guide,” http://www.sbbfc.co.uk)
(The current BBFC system and ratings bracket can be found in the appendix.)
For the most part the BBFC has been regarded among film critics and press for doing one of the most open and accountable jobs of certification in the world. However, there are still a few minor areas for debate in regard to some of the BBFC’s actions and future actions. Some of these areas include cutting films to achieve a certain rating, rejecting a film completely from being seen in the UK, and changing the frequency of updates to the BBFC guidelines. This chapter will address all of these areas in detail to find and analyse the debate, as well as explore how up to date film censorship is.
The first aspect of film censorship this chapter will explore is the cuts and rejects process, as major changes can be made in this time that can drastically change the certification of a film. Sending a film to be reviewed by the BBFC in the editorial process is common, and, after being reviewed, the process of making further cuts to lower a film’s rating to achieve a wider audience base is becoming the norm with certain certifications. (“To Cut or Not To Cut,” http://www.sbbfc.co.uk) In some cases, there can be debate as to whether or not this activity is morally right to both the film makers and the general public, as they are not watching what was initially intended by the director. There is also debate as to whether these cuts are a marketing decision or a censorship decision.
One recent example of these kinds of cuts being made was in the latest of the Taken series, Taken 2. The original Taken received a 15 certificate in cinemas across the UK, and on DVD. The newly released sequel Taken 2 was reviewed by the BBFC and the company was advised that the film was likely to receive a 15 rating, but that their preferred 12A rating could be achieved by making changes to three scenes. These changes were to reduce elements of violence and threat. When an edited version of the film was submitted for formal classification, the scenes had been changed and the film was consequently rated 12A. (“TAKEN 2,” http://www.bbfc.co.uk/CFF291014/)
These cuts received criticism from reviewers of the film, slating the fact that the film was deviating away from the original to obtain a wider audience and that it was “much tamer” than the original. One critical review explained:
“We can't help thinking that this is one instance where chasing a broader certificate may well isolate part of the audience who liked Taken in the first place.”
(“Taken 2 re-edited to get 12A rating in the UK,” http://www.denofgeek.com)
Despite the critical opinions from reviewers the film went on to gross £6.19m over the three-day weekend – grossing more than the entire UK run of the original Taken. (“Taken 2 takes UK box office by storm – and,” http://www.guardian.co.uk) These figures suggest that the general public were not affected by the censorship in the form of cuts and opening up a film to obtain a lower category rating is becoming the smart business decision in many circumstances. However, the debate of whether or not this self-censorship is morally right from the film makers’ perspectives still exists, as they are not showing what was initially intended when creating the film.
Regarding this, one opinion from a BBC journalist and reviewer when talking about the cutting of The Hunger Games explained:
“In the case of large-scale movie production, it's unnecessary - foolhardy, even - to treat art and commerce as antitheses of each other. Yes, artistic integrity is important, but so is the obligation of the key crew to see that the millions of budget dollars are being used responsibly.”
(“BBC - Mark Kermode’s film blog: Who Cut The Hunger Games?,” http://www.bbc.co.uk)
This is an interesting point and somewhat summarises that the decision to cut a film to obtain a lower rating is a business decision made by the studio and not the BBFC. However film makers are often faced with problems in the edit, and whether or not the film maker agrees with the process of cutting for category is still up for debate. In order to assess this debate further from a film maker’s perspective an interview was conducted with film maker Sir Trevor Nunn, who has directed films such as Lady Jane and Twelfth Night. (The Interview in full can be found in appendix a)
In the interview with Sir Trevor Nunn the issue of cutting for category was discussed in order to explore any personal experience he may have had with the issue. He explained that when he was nearing the end of the process of directing Lady Jane, the film was aiming to achieve a U certificate rating. However, the film had to come to a climax with the brutal and ruthless execution. He went on to recall a meeting he had with Paramount Studios who argued that the film should end just as the young loves unite at the Tower of London, before the sentences of execution were passed. Nunn argued that the subject was a matter of history, and it didn’t end happily; that in his mind this was the point of the film. The Studio executive replied saying “You know that, I know that, but the folks out there in the audience, they don’t know that, if it works as a love story, we should give them a love story.” Nunn admitted that he felt that the studio were commenting on their marketing of the film, and consequently did not remove the scenes as an artistic stand point. However later on in the interview he admitted that it became clear that audiences were shocked and repelled by the brutal ending – therefore, if the studio had had their way, then the film may have grossed better in the box office. (Nunn, 2012, email)
The answers from this interview give an interesting insight into the eyes of a film maker’s experience with ‘cutting for category’. It is apparent that cutting film to achieve a lower rating is a more favorable business decision by studios so they can acquire a higher amount of viewers for their releases. Film makers’ opinions are certainly important and can change the outcome of a film’s certification depending on the size and scale of a film. It is also interesting to note that cutting for category is not a new technique – as seen in Sir Trevor Nunn’s example of Lady Jane that was released in 1986 (“Lady Jane (1986) - IMDb,” http://uk.imdb.com) – however it may be becoming a more prominent technique to access a higher viewer count of the general public.
Rejects or rejections are another interesting form of censorship that has had some controversy or debate. Rejections are where a central concept of a film is unacceptable, or if editing or cutting a film would be too extensive or complex, and the work may be rejected. (“Classification - Cuts/Rejects/Appeals,” http://www.sbbfc.co.uk) Rejects are arguably the most severe form of censorship the BBFC can enforce and there is debate surrounding this form of censorship on whether it is right that films should be censored this severely past the age of 18 or adulthood.
To analyse this issue further it is important to understand why the BBFC have rejected films in the past, and how seriously they take such a decision as severe as this. The most recent film to obtain a rejection by the BBFC is The Human Centipede 2 (“BBFC REJECTS THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE),” http://www.bbfc.co.uk). A report published by the BBFC in regards to the rejection of this film explained that it was a “real risk” and then explained the central plot of the film as the "sexual arousal of the central character at both the idea and the spectacle of the total degradation, humiliation, mutilation, torture and murder of his naked victims". (“The Human Centipede sequel just too horrible to show, says BBFC,” http://www.guardian.co.uk) This broke many of their guidelines under the 18 certificate rating. The breaking of the highest rated guidelines (the 18 certificate) is ultimately what pushed The Human Centipede 2 into being rejected.
When asked about the rejection from the BBFC the director of The Human Centipede 2, Tom Six said “Apparently I made an horrific horror-film, but shouldn't a good horror film be horrific?” He then went on to say that “it is all fictional. Not real. It is all make-belief. It is art. Give people their own choice to watch it or not.” (“Is this the sickest movie ever made?,” http://www.dailymail.co.uk)
The decision for the rejection of the film is final but the question still remains as to whether or not the decision is right or wrong to simply reject a film from being seen by mature adults that can now decide for themselves. It is argued that film makers should try and find more creative or sensitive ways to portray controversial scenes such as rape or abuse that break the BBFC guidelines. One film journalist talking about rejections explains
“There seems to be a lack of restraint or imagination when film makers try and work their way round dealing with sensitive issues.”
(“BBFC Ban Again...The Bunny,” http://www.youtube.com).
Using techniques that are less direct could be a clever way round achieving certification for films that have or might be rejected – however, this still does not address the issue of adults making their own decision to see a rejected film. The argument for adults to decide what they can or can’t see is also apparent, with one Journalist writing about film censorship stating:
“The point of classification is to allow adults to make informed decisions about what material they wish to be exposed to. Indeed, the first principle of the Classification Code is that “adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want.”
(“‘Refused Classification’ - a classification black,” http://www.onlineopinion.com.au)
Both arguments are valid with the BBFC stance, stating they are simply trying to protect Britain as a society from potentially harmful content. (“The Human Centipede sequel just too horrible to show, says BBFC,” http://www.guardian.co.uk) However there will always be individuals – whether they are film makers or the general public – that want to publish and watch material that pushes the boundaries of graphic film.
Another important issue in regards to film censorship in the UK is the frequency of updates to the BBFC guidelines. The BBFC guidelines are created for each rating and help to decide which category a film should be put in. These guidelines take into account many different aspects of a film (these can be found in full in the appendix). These guidelines are important and are all changed under the context in which they are used. (“BBFC – The Guidelines,” http://www.bbfc.co.uk) Taking all this information into account is how classification is decided upon. The BBFC update the guidelines every 4-5 years to keep them in line with the current thoughts in British society. (“BBFC – The Guidelines,” http://www.bbfc.co.uk) However, there has been argument over the frequency of these updates with some film journalists criticising the updates not being frequent enough, especially in regards to controversial releases such as The Hunger Games that are on the border between two certifications, which should require a reassessment of the guidelines to see if they are up to date.
When asked about this issue the BBFC director stated:
“It was important to regularly update the guidelines to ensure they ‘not only take account of relevant UK legislation, but accurately reflect public attitudes and concerns’. He accepted that people might not expect a ‘massive shift’ in attitudes since the last guidelines were published in 2009 but stressed there have been some subtle but very important changes made based on what the public have said.”
(“Making your views known... New BBFC Guidelines,” http://www.sbbfc.co.uk)
This response is an interesting one as Cooke is expressing that the public may not expect a “massive shift” where critics of how often the guidelines are updated think the opposite. In one article a journalist talking about the guidelines in regard to a blood scene being removed from The Hunger Games explains:
“Do BBFC bigwigs actually know any children of those ages? They often see blood. Sometimes they even draw it, from themselves or from each other.”
(“The Hunger Games cut by the BBFC: 13-year-olds should be allowed to see ‘splashes of,” http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk).
He goes on to explain that it is the violence and bloody scenes themselves that are the reasons why teenagers love this type of film.
It is releases such as The Hunger Games that push the boundary of the guidelines where the premise of the film is fairly disturbing, but what is graphically being seen on screen has been toned down. When these controversial films crop up are when the guidelines are questioned and the frequency of the updates to them are scrutinized.
The issues explored here are important and will require further debate. Censorship in film will change and adapt to what society deems appropriate and what film makers are producing. As to whether film censorship in the UK is up to date, the general consensus is that the BBFC are doing a fair job of governing the censorship board and the issues regarding film censorship are fairly small in the grand scheme of media censorship. Some of the issues are more centred around moral debate such as cutting for category, however these arguments can be timeless as film makers, studios and certification boards all have different views on what is morally right or wrong when distributing film. Film censorship for the most part is structured and a manageable media form opposed to others such as the Internet that can be far more accessible and hostile in places. The next chapter will discuss further these broader and extremely prevalent issues that can come alongside having such an open form of media like the World Wide Web, and what censorship is being currently implemented around it.
Chapter 3 – Internet Censorship
The internet is the most unregulated and uncensored form of media in the world. With over 7 billion internet users globally, people are accessing the World Wide Web daily, but very little censorship is restricting what is seen at what age. (“ICT Facts and Figures,” http://www.itu.int) Censorship of the web is becoming more and more of a regularly discussed topic in governments, and some countries are starting to act and make the first attempts of regulating the web. This chapter will analyse these attempts of censorship, as well as past attempts, to see how effective they have been. The public opinion on web censorship is also discussed to see if it is being advocated by the masses or not.
Why should the Internet be censored? The main argument that has attracted the most attention (and is used most in governments) revolves around the protection of children. Internet usage statistics posted by the NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Admiration) show us that in 2010 60% of children and teenagers between the ages of 5-17 years were using the internet in the US. (“Expanding Internet Usage,” http://www.ntia.doc.gov) With the internet as accessible as it is today for children, the threat of them being exposed to “Adult Content” such as pornography or gambling is very real.
With the threat of this exposure to children being at an all-time high, should the internet be censored? Parents and governments are concerned about how unregulated the web currently is, but there is a problem in finding a way of protecting children without infringing on the rights of adults. It is this dilemma that has caused many different views on the way to censor the internet and whether it is right to do so.
One of the main arguments against internet censorship is that it should be up to the parents in question to censor the web for their children by using commercial filtering software or just simple strict parenting. This proposal eliminates the threat of other people’s rights being infringed upon, as the censorship would only be active within the homes of the parents who chose to do so. This is an interesting approach however it does have several problems. The first is that some parents may not have the means (or knowledge) to filter their home connection, and would rather rely on a third party this may be the ISP (Internet Service Provider) or even the government to intervene for them. This issue has been addressed in parliament with MP Annette Brooke voicing her thoughts on the issue in particular:
“Parents want to do the right thing by buying equipment for their children but really do not have the knowledge or confidence to go along with this path.”
(“Independent Parliamentary Inquiry Into Online Child Protection,” http://www.claireperry.org.uk P.76)
A “YouGov” survey also showed that
“Many parents report feeling left behind by the evolution of technology and that they lack the knowledge and skills to educate their children about internet safety”
(“Independent Parliamentary Inquiry Into Online Child Protection,” http://www.claireperry.org.uk P.5)
Another issue is that a simple filtering system can easily be bypassed with a simple Google search and some websites and restricted content can slip through the net, allowing children to still accidently see adult content. This could lead to parents having a false sense of security for their children’s safety. This issue was addressed in the “Child Protection Inquiry” that was carried out in April of 2012. Its findings showed that:
“Children spend increasing amounts of time online, are often more "tech savvy" and knowledgeable than their parents and know how to circumvent or avoid device filters.”
(“Independent Parliamentary Inquiry Into Online Child Protection,” http://www.claireperry.org.uk)
This kind of filtering can often lead to blocking out what is known as “false positives”. This is when the filtering system will block out a website or page that is fine for children to look at or access. This can become frustrating for both the adults and children of the household who are trying to use the internet for basic use.
It is at this stage of the debate that governments and ISPs are being considered, and whether they should step in to aid in censoring the web for the younger generation. Each country has their own take on how to censor the web, with some being more severe than others, but there has still not been an overall consensus as to what is the best method of web censorship. For example, the most widely known and severe country to censor the web is China. China hires more than 30,000 internet police and has been dubbed “The Great Firewall of China”. (“Great Firewall Of China,” http://www.youtube.com)
China uses a number of sophisticated techniques to censor the web, such as “Content Scanning” and “URL Keyword Blocks” implemented regularly, which are far more advanced than what other countries implementing web censorship are using. (“Great Firewall of China: Explained,” http://www.lostlaowai.com) These actions show China is very serious when it comes to censoring the web, and is definitely the most advanced when it comes to technology.
But the question remains that even with all this technology, behind censorship of the web in China, how effective is it? For anyone who is “tech savvy” enough there are still ways to circumvent “The Great Firewall of China”, by using proxy servers outside of the firewall. For example, VPN (Virtual Private Network) and SSH (Secure Shell) connections to the outside of China are not blocked by the firewall allowing many users to bypass all of the censorship. (“BBC News - Cracks in the wall: Will China’s Great Firewall backfire?,” http://www.bbc.co.uk) Statistics from the “Global Web Index” (who track the growth of social media) show that Chinese users have been accessing blocked sites such as Twitter and Facebook on a large scale with the amount of users accessing Twitter growing from 11.1 million to 35 million in the second quarter of 2012. (“Millions Bypass Chinese Firewall,” http://www.pcmag.com) The founder of “Global Web Index” commented on this data saying: "The 'Great Firewall' is not as solid as many people think” (“Millions Bypass Chinese Firewall,” http://www.pcmag.com)
However the Chinese do have clones of many of the popular websites from the western world, such as Youku (the Chinese alternative to YouTube) these are thriving and are perfectly legal. Hamid Sirhan, a strategist at social media agency FreshNetworks in London explains:
“Although it is possible for more technically-savvy internet users to access banned Western websites and services, most Chinese are perfectly content with home-grown alternatives.”
(“BBC News - Cracks in the wall: Will China’s Great Firewall backfire?,” http://www.bbc.co.uk)
Despite the alternatives, the effectiveness of the censorship in China is questionable as anyone that wanted to try and break free from the shackles of web censorship would not have to look very far to find a way.
China displays a very extreme case of web censorship however countries closer to home are starting to consider web censorship. As explained above web censorship is approached very differently from country to country. For the most part Europe has very little internet censorship apart from limited filtering of child pornography and web sites that promote terrorism or racial hatred. Statistics from the OpenNet Initiative who map out internet filtering from country to country support this showing nearly no evidence of web censorship within Europe. (“Internet censorship: how does each country compare,” http://www.guardian.co.uk) Europe also follows laws in regards to attempting to protect copyright. This could be considered as not necessarily an attempt to censor the web away from children, but instead just filtering out illegal content.
Aside from minor censorship issues concerning illegal content and takedowns the UK has seen no attempt to censor the web on a large scale outside the realm of illegal activity. However the current state of Internet censorship in the UK is in an area of change, where proposals are starting to be made to censor the web on a grander scheme than in the past.
One of the main proposals that is currently being developed within the UK is the “Child Protection Inquiry” that is being led by the Conservative MP Claire Perry. The child protection inquiry concluded that in the UK:
“Many children are easily accessing online pornography and that this exposure is having a negative impact on children’s attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.”
(“Independent Parliamentary Inquiry Into Online Child Protection,” http://www.claireperry.org.uk)
It goes on to explain that:
“Parents are concerned about many other forms of disturbing internet content including cyber bullying, extreme violence, self-harm, suicide and pro-anorexia websites.”
(“Independent Parliamentary Inquiry Into Online Child Protection,” http://www.claireperry.org.uk)
The “Child Protection Inquiry” is suggesting that the government should make it compulsory for Internet Service Providers to block adult content at the source (network level). This will still give adults the choice to access adult content, whilst giving children the freedom to surf the internet safely. This means that, as a user of any ISP, you would have to Opt out of this service, as it would be active by default on your connection. Claire Perry, head of the campaign in an interview with Radio 4 explained: "We want better protection that preserves consumer choice" (“MP: internet should be regulated like,” http://www.pcpro.co.uk)
The “Child Protection Inquiry” has over 115,000 signatories as of the 6th of September 2012, showing that the inquiry is popular and being taken seriously. However, there are some concerns about this inquiry infringing on adult’s rights. One technology journalist discussing the issue of the “Child Protection Inquiry” said:
“I don’t think anyone has an objection to ISPs offering a network level filter as long as it is not the default. If parents want to switch on these filters it is all well and good, I don’t think anyone will have an objection. Having this filter imposed is where it crosses the line.”
(“PC PRO Podcast 208,” http://video.cloudfront.pcpro.co.uk)
There has also been backlash from certain ISPs who feel it is not their duty to police the internet. Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the Internet Service Providers' Association explained: "It's not for the ISPs to be the police of all that content." (“MP: internet should be regulated like,” http://www.pcpro.co.uk)
These concerns from ISPs and journalists are valid but are only one side of the argument in regards to the Child Protection Inquiry. In order to assess the Child Protection Inquiry further I spoke with Jack Withrington, Parliamentary Assistant to Claire Perry MP the head of the Child Protection Inquiry.
In the interview with Jack Withrington (found in full in the appendix b) the issue of internet censorship was discussed at length. The first point regarded who needs to have this turned on automatically, rather than being able to call up the ISP and get it turned on themselves and why? Mr Withrington explained that as children have access to so many difference devices with access to the internet, it is becoming increasingly difficult to filter all of these devices, especially with adults that aren’t so technology minded. The Child Protection Inquiry aim is to put parents at ease knowing that all of the devices are filtered by default and there is no confusion in the matter.
The next issue addressed involved parents complacency with this filter active, and how it could stop “real world parenting” as they are could simply start relying on a filter to restrict content for them. Mr Withrington replied by explaining how the inquiry also suggested that more resources would be given to parents on educating how to protect their children online through other means, i.e. not just using the opt out filter.
In a follow up to this I asked about how websites that could be deemed as inappropriate for children to view could slip through the net of the internet filter and what his thoughts on this were. He replied by explaining that this is where adults need to talk to their children about content online and that the Child Protection Inquiry could not solve everything, but is just a step in protecting children as much as the government can.
I also wanted to find out who exactly this legislation was targeting. Jack’s explanation was that it is mainly focusing on parents who are worried about their children’s whereabouts online. While TV and Films are censored, and the parents have guidelines they know they can follow, the internet does not, making some parents across the UK concerned and unable to act accordingly.
Lastly I wanted to know what he thought the future of censorship on the web was if the Child Protection Inquiry did not work out. He explained that there are many complications when it comes to implementing such a filter, as there are a number of regulators of the web such as the BBFC, Ofcom and others, and it was finding a way to make all of them work together to implement a system nationwide. He went on to explain the future may not be the Child Protection Inquiry but there does need to be something implemented that does somewhat regulate the web in the same way that TV or Films are. (Withrington, 2012, Phone Interview)
The answers and opinions of Jack Withrington are extremely interesting and are a valuable insight into pro web censorship. He addressed a number of issues but one that is particularly valid is that parents are clearly concerned about their children’s welfare online, but are finding it hard to restrict adult content from them as the number of devices that can access the web is growing, making it harder for parents to find a technical solution to filter the web that they can understand. This is a strong argument for why a filter does need to be put in place at some kind of network level, however the reasoning for making this filter an opt out service rather than opt in was to “Put parents minds at ease.” This could be considered a strong over-reaction by the government to simply please one section of British society, while creating work and sometimes confusion for those without children.
The major debate behind the “Child Protection Inquiry” lies in the “Opt Out” form that the filter is suggesting should be implemented. From evidence and research, it is clear that some sections of society are concerned about the openness and accessibility of the Word Wide Web in the UK. The “Child Protection Inquiry” is a step towards answering those concerns but also raises many more in the process of doing so. There are some areas that Withrington mentioned (such as allowing more resources to be allocated to parents to protect their children via other means.) Which are less technical but are possibly unexplored. These could be an elegant solution in helping parents understand and protect their children’s welfare online, without affecting others in the process. As to whether the “Child Protection Inquiry” is the right solution is undecided. It is clearly full of good intentions, but doesn’t completely resolve the issue of infringing on adults rights in the process of protecting children.
With internet censorship being so important in worldwide governments I wanted to find out what the public opinion is on this issue. A poll in February 2010 commissioned by McNair Ingenuity Research interviewed 1,000 people from different age groups, asking questions about web censorship. The results of this poll were interesting, showing varied results. For example when asked the following:
“Would you be in favour or against of a Government appointed body determining whether a website is appropriate for you to visit?”
(“Internet Regulation Survey,” http://www.abc.net.au)
The results came back very even. These results clearly question whether having a public filter would be appropriate if nearly 50% of people disagree with the idea, even though it hasn’t had too much public attention as of yet. However it does demonstrate how much debate and opinion there is around the subject.
Another interesting question that was asked in the poll was as follows:
“Some opponents of the Government’s mandatory Internet Filter are concerned that if it were put in place, future Governments could use Internet Filtering technology to restrict free speech or block other forms of website content they don’t approve of. Do you share this concern?”
(“Internet Regulation Survey,” http://www.abc.net.au)
These results were also extremely interesting showing that 70% of people would be concerned, and this touches on something further down the line that this chapter has not discussed so far (how an internet filter could be abused.) These results in comparison to the first questions show us that while 50% of people might be a proponent to a government internet filter, if they are educated on some of the issues that come with implementing such a system, the minds of the public could be changed fairly drastically.
Whether or not the “Online Child Protection Act” (or similar actions on web censorship) will be put into place is undecided and will vary from country to country depending on the views of the public and their governments. Internet censorship is certainly a hot topic with strong arguments from each side, and the debate will proliferate as time continues. Whether the technology or method of implementation has been discovered is unsure, and it will be interesting to see further ideas and methods to censor the web develop. The question of whether web censorship is up to date is unclear as for most countries there is little to no censorship being implemented. The countries that do have some form of web censorship (such as China) are leading the pack in terms of implementation, but as to how effective it is, the evidence is still questionable, with many users finding methods to bypass the filtering entirely. The idea of web censorship is a relatively new concept making it hard to justify how up to date it currently is.
This dissertation has investigated issues regarding censorship within film and the internet. While both of these areas I have explored are media, they are two completely different beasts with their own issues and area of debate. Currently film is far more versed in the ways censorship is implemented around the world and in the UK, by using a certification rating to quantify who can and cannot see a film. The areas in which there is debate are fairly minor in the grand scheme of censorship; these mostly centre around moral arguments such as cutting a film to obtain a lower category or restricting a film from being viewed by the public. Film is also a much more manageable form of media compared to others such as the internet that are far more widely spread. Because of this I feel it is far easier to implement and update censorship guidelines and rules from country to country. However the future of censorship will not be stagnant and constantly evolves to what society deems appropriate and what film makers are producing. The speed in which this evolution of censorship will develop is still being argued with some wanting areas of certification to be reviewed and modified more regularly while others are happy with the current state of film censorship. Despite this the consensus is film censorship is very up to date compared to other media and the certification and rating process is doing a very informed and accountable job at keeping up to date with modern society’s views and opinions.
The internet on the other hand is far less versed when it comes to censorship. Simply put the idea of web censorship is still a relatively new concept compared to other mediums such as film. We have seen some countries such as China make the first attempts to censor the web however I question the effectiveness as research has shown many users to be bypassing the Chinese filter entirely. However more governments are showing signs of implementing their own form of internet censorship. The UK’s interest comes in the form of the “Child Protection Inquiry”. After assessing my findings and research, it is clear the “Child Protection Inquiry” is full of good intentions and is simply trying to address the needs of concerned parents. As for the method of implementation (filtering at source network level) via an opt out system, I feel the “Child Protection Inquiry” is not fully taking into account the needs of those without children but is instead creating work and confusion for those who do not want their connection censored. A solution to this could be to make the filter and opt in system allowing parents who are concerned to censor their connection by choice. This action would go towards taming the needs of areas in society that are anti-internet censorship while still addressing the issue at hand: the protection of children. While research in the form of opinion polls show parents have shown need to “do the right thing” I feel there needs to be a higher level of initiative in the form of “real world parenting” that the “Child Protection Inquiry” is trying to encourage by spending more money on educating parents on the issues surrounding the web. The question whether the process of censoring the internet is up to date is interesting, as it is clear that the internet is still in its “growing phase” when it comes to figuring out how to do so without infringing on the rights of adults. There is still so much debate to be had surrounding the topic that it is hard to justify the web being up to date in terms of how it is censored.
The future of censorship in both these areas will ultimately be down to what is deemed appropriate by society. It seems that film censorship will develop overtime, as will internet censorship but at a much faster pace considering the interest and concern there seems to be surrounding it, both in government and in specific areas of society.
For what it’s worth….
I made a film once about the life and death of Jane Grey, the unfortunate girl manipulated into becoming Queen of England, in which role she survived for nine days before she was executed by Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary.
Much of the plot of the film concerned an unexpected love story developing between the teenage Jane, and the teenage son of the chief manipulator.
The love story would have secured a ‘U’ universal rating, and have made sure that the film would be seen by young people the same age as 15 to 16 year old Jane, and by school parties and so on.
But the film had to climax with the brutal and ruthless execution, by axe beheading, in public, of both Jane and her lover.
I will never forget the meeting I had in Los Angeles with the bosses of Paramount Studios, who argued that the film should end just as the young loves united at the Tower of London, just before the sentences of execution were passed on them.
“But,” I argued desperately, “the subject we are dealing with is a matter of history. The story didn’t end happily. The two young people were beheaded. That’s the point of the film.”
The Studio Chief Executive said, “You know that, I know that, but the folks out there in the audience, they don’t know that, if it works as a love story, we should give them a love story.”
It was obvious he was really saying, “don’t restrict how we can market this movie by putting in a lot of shocking bloodshed right at the end.”
And here is the most difficult thing for me to admit. It became clear that audiences were shocked and repelled by the brutal ending, and perhaps, therefore, the box office would have done better if the Studio had got their way.
As an artist, I say thank heavens they didn’t. And now of course, there wouldn’t be a problem. Some brutal bloodshed wouldn’t have stopped it getting its 15 rating. Because the judgment of what is acceptable for what age group changes from generation to generation.
I have watched films with my sixteen year old son that he was perfectly entitled to see … but which, when I was growing up, would have been rate an ‘X’!
What will those rating categories look like in fifteen years time? Will they even exist, as our world becomes increasingly permissive?
I am consulting an expert friend for more information.
Basically my dissertation is looking at different areas of censorship within media, I have a chapter on film I also have a chapter on online censorship. I think one of the most interesting factors that comes when looking at it is finding the fine line between protecting children while still protecting adults rights. That is one area I am looking into most. I think the enquiry was very interesting and brought up some interesting ways to get around doing that. I still have some questions that I could ask you that would be great.
Can I first start by saying this is not a blanket ban on adult material it is more about the explosion of how people can access online content especially children. But there doesn’t seem to be any controls available that prevents children inadvertently accessing content that might be harmful. Clair’s point is that we want to do something similar to mobile phones where the internet has a default setting on that phone that filters out some of this content. That at the moment exists and it isn’t something too different from that.
One of the main questions I was wondering is who is it that needs to have this turned on by default? Rather than being able to call up an isp and asking for it to be turned on. I think that is one area where some people will argue that it should be up to the parents to decide if the censorship is on their connection or not, while others will argue that they would prefer to have it on by default.
The government said that ISPS would agree to something called “Active Choice” where you could be asked to make a decision if they could add parental controls to your connection. I think Clairs point is that you have parents that have to deal with a lot of new technology. Kids are growing up with a multitude of devices and it is becoming increasingly harder to filter all of these. This is just to try and make it slightly easier for parents to protect their children that are struggling to do so. It’s not blocking it is just a layer of defence.
So you are saying that it takes a tremendous amount of effort if you wanted to do it yourself to have this filter to put on all of your devices and this is just to make it easier?
Yeah, and one of the enquires recommendations was that it could increase parent compliancy where parents could start not to care at all. This is where the enquiry also suggested that more resources would be used to educate parents on parental controls.
Another Question I have is do you think that by having this opt in system there could be any un intended consequences by having this filter put on?
Like blocking websites that aren’t actually controversial?
Yeah, there are a few consequences I can think of. One being you can have false positives.
Yeah false positives, the idea is that there are already registers out there that have this information out there. There is a fine line. The big thing is that this isn’t one solution that solves everything, but we do know there are parents and children concerned. There are other lists such as the IWF list that is looking to ban child pornography as a whole; this is a constantly updated list that registers for things like that. The idea is that you would incorporate those lists and registers out there.
How about adults that would have this connection put on their household and then would start to feel more complacent about their children’s wellbeing online? But you do get websites that slip through the net that are controversial. This could happen and children could see something. With the internet evolving everyday there are bound to be some sites that slip through the net. Would it make adults feel slightly too complacent?
I think that is a good point. There is a point that adults would get too complacent in places. I think it would require parents to discuss with their children age related content at some point. For example facebook has age restriction the point being at that age the parents would have a discussion with them. One issue is there are so many different body’s that are in charge of censorship it is hard to pin them down all to agree to something.
My last question is if this filter doesn’t get put in place what do you think the future will be for internet censorship in the UK?
That’s probably a question for Claire. The idea is she just wants to help protect children that have a multitude of devices. There defiantly needs to be action whether or not it is this will be decided. But I think this is more of a question that Claire should answer.
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