Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Daily Mail and Labour are Wrong

...but you probably knew that.

The Daily Mail carried the following front page headline today:

You can read the story online here. In it, they report that Labour has thrown its weight behind the Mail's campaign to "Block Online Porn". They suggest that the Government's proposed "Opt Out" system - in which Internet Service Providers will have to ask people if they want access to porn - is due to Cameron's relationship with Google and a consequent reticence to take stronger action to block content. They further report than an all party group of MPs is also in favour of an "Opt In" system.

When I saw the headline, and read at the first couple of paragraphs of the story, my first thought was that the just that I thoroughly disapproved of the idea. My second thought was - I'll blog about that later. So here is that post... it turns out, the blog is going to go in a different direction from the one I first envisaged. I'm not going to rant about how if children are accessing porn, the responsibility lies with the parents. I'm not going to argue that the Mail's proposal is an attack on civil liberties and Labour's support for it is symptomatic of their authoritarian tendencies - although it is and it is. And I'm not going to say that if I want to access porn, I don't want to have to inform my ISP - although I don't.

I'm not saying I don't think action is inappropriate - but the government is absolutely right to focus on an opting out basis, rather than an opting in. I think the proposals need additional work but the foundation is there. Responsibility has to lie with parents to manage their children's internet access and teach them how to be safe online - not the state. Something, I'd have thought the Mail would be in favour of; after all, they're normally against the Nanny State...

Anyway, as I said, I've decided not to blog on the substance of the story. What I do want to do is make some observations on the way this story is presented. 

Whilst I hadn't heard of either Shadow Media Minister Helen Goodman and Shadow Justice Minister Jenny Chapman have - and so question the idea that "Labour have thrown their weight behind" the campaign, it transpires that this is in Ms Goodman's portfolio. I would point out, though, that both these MPs are members of the Christian Socialist Movement, and this may have something to do with them being vocal on this issue.

After reporting the shadow minister's attack on Cameron's "cronies" and suggesting this is what is stopping the Government from going further, the article proceeds to report than an "all party group of MPs" had produced a report on the subject. For the average reader, I imagine that this puts them in mind of the Select Committee structure. A broadly representative committee of backbench MPs conducting enquiries, taking evidence and producing reports on specific areas of government policy or concern. 

In fact, this was a self-selecting cross-party group of parliamentarians, largely consisting of Conservatives, although there were some Labour members (including Helen Goodman) and two Liberal Democrats (Annette Brooke and Jo Swinson) on the enquiry panel. Whilst it is billed as an Independent Report, the document was sponsored by Premier Christian Media whose home page promotes their "Safety Net" campaign on this very issue.

There is an attempt to conflate the issues of pornography and grooming for sexual abuse. This is a spurious argument and similar to the justification for proposals to store details of internet-based communications. Their is also a one line denial that the an opting in system would be an attack on Civil Liberties without any explanation as to how (or, rather, how not) this is the case. Interestingly, neither of these issues rates much of a mention in the report referred to above.

This conflating of children accessing porn (which it turns out is more prevalent in Middle Class homes where it appears the parents are happy to sub-contract childcare to the laptop in the kid's bedroom) with grooming and abuse is further attempted by the positioning of a tragic story of a girl being groomed on Facebook before being raped and murdered right underneath this article online.

Tragic as that story is, it isn't a justification for large scale censorship unless you're opted in - and even the Mail's proposals wouldn't tackle the problem of grooming.

Anyway, although the story was front page in the paper copy of the Mail, this article on Kim Kardashian (no, no idea either) had a much higher billing on the online site. Ironic, as it's about alleged nude pictures of her and is illustrated with a shot of her in swimwear - as well as having a link to said nude pic. Perhaps ISPs should start offering an opt-in service for those that want to  access the Mail Online...


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