Facts of the matter
The cynical view is that David Cameron stuck his oar into the internet censorship debate merely to distract the conservative press fromhis party’s dismal performance in the recent local elections. If so, the stunt worked. His statement last weekend that he wished to ‘make children safer’ in relation to online content has been seized upon by the British media as an opportunity to rehash an old favourite: the pornography debate.
The campaign to regulate internet porn has been led (noisily) by Claire Perry, a Tory backbencher. She chairedan independent inquiry into online child protection last month which found that youthful over-exposure to porn can lead to ‘early sexual involvement and an increased consumption of sexual media’.Confronted with this new evidence, David Cameron has promised a review of a range of options for filtering porn. These include the opt-in system favoured by Perry, whereby customers would have to specifically request access to adult content when signing up to a new broadband contract.
The Daily Mail has fallen over itself to back Perry and prevent “the wholesale corruption of childhood”. Its preferred call to arms has been a string of real-life stories on the victims of the wave of perversion sweeping Britain. ‘Jamie is 13 and hasn’t kissed a girl. But he’s now on the Sex Offender Register after online porn warped his mind’, read one headline.
Voice(s) of reason
Michael White’s article in The Guardian hits the nail on the head. The libertarian position on porn, adopted by many left-leaning columnists, is superficially attractive. Unlimited access to porn / drink / cigarettes is easy to justify if you bandy ‘liberty’ around enough. But the consequences can be unpleasant. “Whether it’s sex or violence, physical or mental, being bombarded with the stuff is bound to coarsen young sensibilities.” At the end of the day, White says, “It’s easy to tease the Mail… but surely we should do our best to make it difficult for eight-year-old computer whizzes to stumble upon disturbing and unsuitable material online?”
Charles Arthur, also at The Guardian, disagrees. Arthur believes that “nothing short of a direct meteorite” will stop adolescent boys accessing porn. Maybe so. But this does not mean that they should be confronted with it whenever they surf the net – we should make it harder for children to find adult content online. Arthur’s solution to the problem of online pornography – that parents should keep a tighter rein on their kids – is also unconvincing. Children “don’t need legislation; they don’t need complicated filters… they just need to be part of the family.” This smacks of middle class complacency.When children do not have access to the supportive environment Arthur envisages, the state must step in.