Press Association/AP
British Culture Minister Andy Burnham

British Minister’s Internet Ratings Plan Met With Criticism

December 30, 2008 01:33 PM
by Josh Katz
The British culture minister’s plan to coordinate a joint effort with the United States to rate Internet content for children has unleashed strong opinions.

British Culture Minister Calls for Internet Ratings Plan

Britain’s minister of culture, Andy Burnham, said on Dec. 27 that the Internet should adopt ratings for Web sites similar to those used for television. Burnham hopes to work with the administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to protect children from Web sites deemed inappropriate by creating international rules for English-language sites, according to Reuters.

“If you look back at the people who created the Internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that governments couldn’t reach,” Burnham told The Daily Telegraph. “I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now.”

The culture minister also raised the possibility that Internet service providers could provide only sites considered appropriate for children.

It worries me—like anybody with children. Leaving your child for two hours unregulated on the internet is not something you can do,” Burham said, according to The Guardian. “The internet has been empowering and democratising in many ways, but we haven’t yet got the stakes in the ground to help people navigate their way safely around what can be a very, very complex and quite dangerous world,” he said.

Opinion & Analysis: Vetting Burnham’s plan

Adam Frucci of Gizmodo greets the British culture minister’s proposal with less than open arms. “Beyond the obvious logistical problems here (Who rates the websites? What websites would assent to this? Where’s the line between kid-friendly and kid-unfriendly?), this is clearly an attack on freedom of speech rights.” He goes on to say, “Luckily, I’m pretty sure the chances of pro-net-neutrality Barack Obama agreeing to these idiotic plans are slim to none, so we’ll just let Burnham talk all he wants. As long as they stay on his side of the pond, he can say whatever he likes.”

A firestorm of blogosphere criticism similar to that expressed by Frucci of Gizmodo has surrounded Burnham’s proposal. But, although Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC says he shares many of the concerns about the plan, he says that Burham’s views at least warrant a dialogue from all sides. For example, “He may be betting that millions of parents share his concerns.” In other words, “Mr. Burnham could explain more clearly exactly what he has in mind in terms of producing a safer web—and his online opponents could explain, probably in less sarcastic language, just why they think those proposals would not work, and whether there is any role for government here.”

Related Topic: FCC tries, unsuccessfully, to filter Internet porn

On Dec. 18, the Federal Communications Commission was expected to unveil a proposal to sell public airwaves with the stipulation that some of the broadcasting be allotted to free Internet. But congressional opposition caused the cancellation of the meeting. The airwave access would have also had an automatic filter meant to block pornography and other content unsuitable for children.

But Kevin Martin, the chair of the FCC, told Ars Technica on Dec. 29 that he has revised his plan, and the new version no longer contains the controversial plan to filter pornography.
“I’m saying if this is a problem for people, let’s take it away,” Martin said. “A lot of public interest advocates have said they would support this, but we’re concerned about the filter. Well, now there’s an item in front of the Commissioners and it no longer has the filter.”

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