UK is “plain wrong” to seek online curbs

On January 19th, the UK government’s Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the Oxford Media Convention that he would be formulating new regulations covering online programming. “I do want to look at what can be done to strengthen child protection on the internet and whether the structures we have in place are the best way to give reassurance to parents that their children are not going to have easy access to unsuitable content,” he told delegates.

Hunt said a key underlying issue was the disparity between tough traditional TV broadcasting regulations and the relatively unregulated landscape of the internet.

A leading media lawyer says Hunt’s comments are “plain wrong” and rules already exist to cover the very ‘transmissions’ that seem to cause such alarm. Tony Ballard, a partner at media and entertainment law firm Harbottle & Lewis, says Hunt is wrong if he is considering a crackdown on online television, apparently in the belief it is not currently regulated.

“Under the AVMS (Audio Visual Media Services) Regulations, linear services on the internet are subject to full broadcast regulation, and on-demand services, if they are TV-like, are subject to some content regulation including some protection for children,” said Ballard.
“The real point that emerges from his speech and the reported comments from senior regulators – that they are going to look again at whether content should be regulated without regard to the method of delivery – will exasperate some European countries. The Labour government campaigned against extending content regulation to the internet on the basis that is was impractical and damaging to the international competitiveness of European TV services.”

To be specific, the provision of “television programme services” on the Internet or mobile platforms without an Ofcom licence is already an offence under the AVMS rules, enacted in 2009.

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