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16th September   Fighting New Law

More prohibitions on possessing videos on their way. I hate to think how many people will be instantly criminalised by their Spanish bull fighting home videos. There must be hours of footage in various bull fighting films and documentaries recorded off TV over the years. Sounds like another badly thought out piece of legislation ready to be used for purposes that it was not intended for.

The Government have just published a draft Animal Welfare Bill at:

The section on Fighting etc includes

(2) A person commits an offence if, without lawful authority or excuse, He:

(a) is present at an animal fight;

(b) makes a recording of an animal fight

(c) has in his possession or distributes:

(i) a recording of an animal fight,

(ii) a copy of such a recording, or

(iii) material from such a recording

(d) publishes material from a recording of an animal fight


26th August

  Civil Offenses

A ludicrously overblown news story with presumably deliberate failure to differentiate between child porn and adult porn. And to cap it all we have a shameful Lib Dem leading the witch hunt.

From This is London

At least 16 civil servants have been sacked and more than 200 disciplined over the downloading of internet porn in the office.

Staff at the Department for Work and Pensions are believed to have called up 2.3 million pages of pornographic material over eight months.

These are said to include 18,000 images (wow! that's an average of 2 pictures per person per week)

A police investigation has so far resulted in one worker being convicted and put on the sex offenders' register after accessing child pornography. Officers are looking at two similar cases.

As well as those who have been ordered to leave, three members of staff have resigned and 211 employees have faced internal disciplinary action.

The crackdown started last December after a civil servant was caught downloading porn on his office computer. A check made on all the computers of the department's 140,000 staff found nearly 600,000 pornographic images had been called up in June and July alone.

Shameful Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesman Steve Webb said: Any public servant who accesses porn sites at work should lose their job. There has to be a zero tolerance approach. (Any politician who thinks that such a minor misdemeanour should be punished with the sack should lose their job)


9th August

  Dover Arsehole

I somehow think that if mankind had the choice of giving up either religion or computer games then I know which would be my vote to make for a more peaceful world.

Based on an article from Kent on Sunday

The shameful Bishop of Dover has called for violent computers games to be banned following claims linking a now infamous title with a teenager’s death.  Manhunt , which awards the player points for killing opponents in as grisly a way as possible, has already been outlawed in New Zealand and is facing legal action in America.  The Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association said they had fallen victim to a media ‘witch hunt’. 

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Rev Stephen Venner, said it was time action was taken to stamp out ‘evil and ‘sick’ games.  He said: The idea that the more people you kill and the more brutal the killing the more points you score just seems evil.  Anybody playing these games is allowing some of the worst parts of their personality to come to the fore.  I cannot see any justification for allowing these games to be on sale at all.  It treats other human beings as objects simply to be despatched with, which is the worst sort of abuse imaginable.  We are in a society where human rights and freedom seem to be the end of all we seek, and in any civilsed society there must be limits to the extent that people can degrade themselves and others.


6th August

 Lending Blame

Clutching at straws to try and maintain discredited blame

From the BBC

Detectives investigating the murder of a 14-year-old boy in a Leicester park have rejected any link with a violent computer game. Stefan Pakeerah was beaten and stabbed to death by Warren Leblanc, 17, but the motive, say police, was robbery.

Leicestershire police have confirmed a copy of the game was found, but in Stefan's' bedroom and not with Leblanc. Stefan's parents blamed the game, which was withdrawn by some high street retailers, following the court case.

A Leicestershire constabulary spokesperson said: Police investigations did not uncover any connections to the computer game. We can confirm the game was not found in Warren Leblanc's room, it was found in Stefan Pakeerah's room.

In the wake of Leblanc's guilty plea, several stores withdrew Manhunt from sale. But sales at HMV, which has continued to sell the game, have reportedly risen.

Stefan's mother, Giselle, who called for violent computer games to be banned, claimed her son only had the game because it had been lent to him by Leblanc.

For its part, the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers' Association (Elspa), the industry body for the video game industry, has written to Home Secretary David Blunkett about the media coverage of the case.

We have been very concerned recently about the misleading and disingenuous reporting about the effects of playing interactive games software ," said Elspa. As you will know, despite many research projects into the effects of screen violence, some of which have been undertaken by eminent academics in their field, no link with violent behaviour has been found.


5th August

  War Mongering & War Funding


Britain's main online retailer has decided not to sell a book that is widely available on the high street. It is a story about a potential risk, a threat that now arguably passes to W H Smith, Waterstone’s, Tesco online and Borders – all of which are selling the title and all surely worth a few million to a litigant and, in the case of the latter, a global, US-owned company that could result in a lot of publicity.

Initially, Amazon said that lawyer acting for the Bin Mahfouz family, sent a warning shot across the bows of in the form of a letter which led to the online retailer’s decision not to sell Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud, just published by Gibson Square.

Amazon released a statement which reads: It is unfortunate that is not able to carry the book House of Bush, House of Saud, on its web site. However, UK libel law is prohibitively restrictive, and booksellers and retailers can be held responsible for libelous statements in books as if they had published the statement themselves. is on notice that this book may contain defamatory content. Because it is impossible for us to defend or disprove claims of libel for the millions of titles we carry, we made the difficult decision to adhere to standard UK industry practice and remove this book from our catalogue.

However, on Tuesday this week, another lawyer acting for the Bin Mahfouz family told PN : We have not written to Amazon concerning Craig Unger’s book. We have been in touch with them on other matters. Those other matters refer to the book Forbidden Truth by Jean-Charles Brisard and Gillaume Dasquie.

Amazon admitted its mistake, but in a further statement said: is on notice that House of Bush, House of Saud may contain defamatory content from a variety of sources. It pointed out that the ‘innocent dissemination’ defence, as outlined in the 1996 Defamation Act, was very weak.

 Gibson Square’s MD, Martin Rynja, described the situation as ludicrous and paradoxical – you can buy the book from, but not from . He also believes is as liable as its UK wing, if the sale is made in the UK. Amazon’s spokesman confirmed that the book was on sale from because under the US constitution’s protections for free expression, booksellers cannot be held liable for the contents of books and other expressive materials published by others simply for making them available to the public for sale.

The Daily Telegraph attacked Random House’s decision not to publish the book, leading to this response from Master: Random House received advice from two legal advisors that in the light of successful libel actions, recently brought by Saudi families separately against Associated Newspapers and the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, suggestions of links between Saudi families and the funding of terrorism could not be realistically defended in the UK.’

Needless to say, the publicity following Amazon’s decision and the author’s visit last week has not harmed sales. We had to up the initial print run three times while the book was being subbed, Rynja told PN . After the first print run was fixed we had to put through a reprint and, within the space of two days, orders had again doubled. We’ve now just reprinted again.

Master says that the most serious allegations have been removed from Gibson Square’s text. All the chains have taken the title and at Borders, Marketing Manager Matt Taylor said: It’s selling well. We’ve had to order three times our original subscription . But what of the possible threat of legal action? A Smith’s spokesman said: We don’t believe in censoring the products we put on our shelves. Although we appreciate that it is a book of the moment, commercially this is not a key title for us.

Thanks to Alan

Did you spot that interesting bit down towards the bottom of the article? If the British version omits the most serious allegations, we won't really be getting Craig Unger's book in this country, but just a bowdlerised version. Maybe we still need to order it from America.

Incidentally, I wouldn't be too surprised if some of the Yank suppliers refuse to provide it to customers in this septic isle. This is what did with Kitty Kelley's tome about the royal family.


4th August   Manhunt Turns Out to be a Lynch Mob


Police involved in the Stefan Pakeerah murder case have revealed that the copy of Manhunt at the centre of a tabloid media frenzy last week was found in the possession of the victim, not the killer.

Newspapers and TV news channels gave significant coverage to the case last week, when the mother of the victim claimed that 17-year-old killer Warren LeBlanc had been "obsessed" with the ultra-violent Rockstar game.

However, according to a spokesperson for Leicestershire Constabulary, the police division which investigated the murder, the link is even more tenuous than was reported previously - with the game being found not in the room of the murderer, but of the victim.

The video game was not found in Warren LeBlanc's room, it was found in Stefan Pakeerah's room, the spokesperson said today. Leicestershire Constabulary stands by its response that police investigations did not uncover any connections to the video game, the motive for the incident was robbery.

While it's still entirely plausible that LeBlanc was obsessed with the game, as he and Pakeerah were friends, this new information does raise questions about how the 14-year-old Pakeerah was able to obtain a copy of the 18-rated game; and also about the conduct of the British media in reporting on the story.

The tabloid press, in particular the extremist right-wing Daily Mail newspaper, have already been heavily criticised for ignoring the police reports and prosecution statements which gave the motive for the murder as robbery, with LeBlanc killing his younger friend in order to pay back a drugs-related debt. Few tabloid stories made any mention of the drugs angle.

The news will also pour cold water on the intentions of American lawyer Jack Thompson, infamous for his chasing of cases relating to what he judges to be immoral media. Thompson apparently plans to bring a major lawsuit on behalf of the Pakeerah family against Rockstar; the revelation that the game belonged to their son, not to the killer, may well mean that this case is quietly dropped.


30th July

  Manhunt Witchhunt

Based on an article from The Times

Nutter outrage yesterday forced a video game off the shelves after it was blamed for the murder of a 14-year-old boy by an older friend.

Dixons and the Game chain removed from sale Manhunt , a game which awards players points for inflicting the most grisly death possible.

The mother of Stefan Pakeerah, who was battered with a hammer and stabbed to death, said her son’s killer was “obsessed” by the game.

Dixons said it had withdrawn the game out of respect for Stefan’s parents, and in response to complaints from customers. Other retailers, including WH Smith, are considering whether to withdraw the top-selling game, which should only be sold to customers over the age of 18. It has already been banned in New Zealand.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport told shop managers that they faced up to six months in jail if they supplied 18-rated computer games to anyone under the legal age. But although experts insisted there was no proof that computer games could influence the behaviour of adolescents, ministers appear to be on a collision course with Britain’s £2 billion computer game industry.

Shameful Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, called on games manufacturers and retailers to take action to prevent children being exposed to the “extreme violence” of Manhunt and other titles. The Pakeerah family’s local Leicester MP, Hewitt had taken a special interest in the case and said more must be done to protect children.

Hewitt said: As a mother myself I share her (Mrs Pakeerah’s) anxiety about the violent computer games that too many teenagers are exposed to. It is illegal for retailers to sell these games to under 18s, but we all need to do more — manufacturers, retailers, parents and schools — to protect our young people from immersing themselves in images of extreme violence.”

Games are monitored by the BBFC, and the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (Elspa). Ratings are only compulsory under the Video Recordings Act (1984) for games that contain violence or sexual activity.

Manhunt was awarded a rating of 18, for its violence. Elspa said yesterday that it had no plans to change its ratings. Roger Bennett, Elspa’s director-general, said that Hewitt and Dixons were indulging in “kneejerk” reactions. It has been considerably overblown. There is no substantive evidence in this case to link this tragic event to the fact he was playing a game. The police have confirmed that they found Manhunt in his room, but there was no mention of it during the court case .

He said that he believed Stefan’s parents had jumped to the wrong conclusion. There are always scapegoats. Inevitably the family will be searching for explanations and they have come to the conclusion, wrongly, in our view, that a game was responsible.

Hewitt’s department claimed that Britain had the most restrictive video classification system in the world and noted that there was no evidence that Manhunt had been sold to a minor.

Guy Cumberbatch, a psychologist who specialises in violence and the media, said that he was sceptical as to whether violence in computer games could be linked to real-life violence. He said: The claim that the boy who killed Stefan was obsessed with the game came from Stefan’s mother. We don’t know whether he was obsessed or not. The connection has come from the distressed parents.

The creator of Manhunt has become one of Scotland’s great hi-tech success stories and the company fiercely defended its products. The Leith-based Rockstar North, which also produces the top-selling Grand Theft Auto games, said Manhunt was intended for a “mature” audience and had been cleared with an 18 rating by the BBFC.

A consumer boycott of Manhunt could threaten Scotland’s thriving computer games industry. Rockstar North employs about 50 software experts and the Grand Theft Auto series has generated £1 billion worldwide.


25th July

  Dodgy Figures

Just to put things in perspective 10,000 requests a day is hardly very many. The Melon Farmers get an average of 8000 page requests a day. The amount of spam I get related to the website suggests that there an awful lot of spiders out there scanning every web site that they can get hold of. The figures therefore suggest that this is total non-story

From The Register

BT insists that any attempt to identify the number of people accessing illegal content on the Internet is "pure speculation".

Its response follows calls for independent analysis of its Cleanfeed Web filtering system because of concerns that the data might be giving a misleading picture of the scale of Internet child abuse.

Some media reports claimed thousands of people were accessing child pornography in the UK. Yesterday, ISPA - the trade group for the UK's ISPs - said it wanted to examine the Cleanfeed stats, so that "appropriately informed comment on the system and the data that has been published".

Only then will we be in a position to ascertain if and how many people are actually trying to access these websites and hence understand the true scale of the problem, ISPA said.

Today, BT has responded to ISPA, acknowledging that the 230,000 attempts to access banned sites does include both "deliberate and accidental attempts to access blocked sites as well as multiple attempts".

BT's Statement in Full

From Mike Galvin, BT Director of Internet Operations

"BT has been totally clear about the figures. Basically, there was an average of 10,000 blocks a day between 21 June and 13 July but the figure was 23,000 a day during the last week when the test period had ended and the system was fully in place. These figures include both deliberate and accidental attempts to access blocked sites as well as multiple attempts. The figures give no indication of the intent behind an access attempt so any claim to identify the number of people from the number of blocked visits is pure speculation.

"BT has always said the technology is not a total solution to this challenging problem, but it is a start. BT agrees with ISPA that the IWF has made great progress with tackling the hosting of such sites in the UK and BT sees this technology as a step forward. It is different in that it tackles the problem from another angle by preventing people from deliberately or accidentally sites including those located overseas.

"The fight against child abuse is a global one and so it is important that everyone works as closely as they can with the relevant law enforcement agencies and bodies such as the IWF. As a result, we have said we are willing to share the technology with other service providers on a non commercial basis and so we look forward to discussions with them."


11th July

    Inadequate VodaFilters

Based on an article from The Register and first spotted on the Cut blog

Vodafone UK has defended the early introduction of adult content filters for its mobile phone users, saying that the system is necessary to protect children.

The operator launched the filters with great fanfare last week, five months ahead of the mobile phone industry's self-imposed deadline. However, aside from a smattering of applause from child protection lobbyists, the response to the launch has been critical.

Al Russell, head of content services at Vodafone, says the company wants parents and guardians to feel that their kids are safe using Vodafone's services. This is not an area for compromise. The choice was, do we want to wait to protect minors until the end of the year, or do we implement a transparent and pragmatic system now?

Other operators have written the move off as a publicity stunt, pointing out that there is not much competitive advantage in launching first. Their point was made for them: Vodafone has set the system up so that subscribers must prove that they are 18 to be gain access to restricted sites. However, deficiencies in the software meant large sections of the Net were classified as 18+ classification, regardless of their content.

The filtering system uses a rating dis-service bought in from a third party, which Vodafone is, as yet, reluctant to name. It uses a combination of a database of classified sites, and a dynamic rating service.

Andre Pyler, Vodafone's man on the ground, says the system is classifying everything except for half a per cent of user-requested URLs. In such cases, the URL is sent to a human operator for manual classification.

However, a glitch at launch meant subscribers trying to access pages that were unavailable for other reasons ended up seeing a restricted access notification, instead of a '404 not found' message. Also, the filter automatically barred sites that it couldn't automatically classify. The company says it has fixed both problems, and that complaints have dropped off substantially.

The industry-wide decision to introduce self regulation was prompted by the usual hints from government that life would be oh-so-much-more-complicated if it had to get involved. Vodafone says it was also contacted by several "charity stakeholders", who were just as keen to see some kind of restriction on the access to porn and betting sites.

By the end of 2004, all the operators in the UK will have content regulation, with the still-to-be-appointed Independent Content Board (ICB, as it will be known) taking responsibility for rating content.

The ICB, or the lack of the ICB, is also proving controversial. Although Russell insists Vodafone does not see its role as that of censor, he concedes that the situation will be more comfortable when a third party is responsible for rating content, and there is clear accountability in place.


7th July

  Dodgy Filters

From The Register

Vodafone's new mobile content filtering system, designed to stop children accessing Web nasties with their mobiles, raises more questions than it answers.

In January, the major UK operators agreed to implement a content filtering system, with an independent body in place to rate content, by the end of the year. Vodafone has launched its filtering system five months early, presumably hoping to steal a media victory from under the noses of its rivals.

Child protection groups have welcomed the Voda's decision to begin content filtering before the December deadline, but early indications are that the operator has bitten off more than it can chew.

The Register has been flooded with reports of technical difficulties. Some Vodafone users say they have been unable to access corporate email - Vodafone's Blackberry service was apparently disrupted for a time. Others have been unable to access the Sky News website. Access to pornography, however, does not appear to have been universally restricted.

Vodafone argues that teething troubles are to be expected when a system like this goes live to so many users. It is less forthcoming with explanations of how the system should work, once the problems have been ironed out.

How are sites classified? How accurate is that classification, and what should a site do if it thinks it has been unfairly grouped under the 'adult' banner. Why does Vodafone think it can decide what is appropriate content - after all, who is it answerable to? Site operators who feel they have been unfairly or inaccurately classified can appeal to Vodafone to change its mind. But what is the appeals process. And what if a publisher sued Voda for defamation if its website was wrongly tagged as adult content.

Vodafone's customers would like to know the answers. So, it seems would Vodafone. Confusion reigns within the company, which was unable to provide answers to some basic questions about the way the service operates.

Despite two days of calling, we have been unable to determine who at Vodafone is responsible for classifying material; nor have we been able to confirm how the operator is filtering content.

Some users report that they have been unable to access corporate email - Vodafone's Blackberry service was apparently disrupted for a time. Others say that they have been unable to access the Sky News website.

Calls to customer services elicit the explanation that some of the news is deemed too violent for children. An alternative suggestion was that Sky News has a gambling section, which would fall under the banner of restricted access, and cause the site to be barred.

Both explanations are silly. Firstly, whole news sites are blocked because of one story or one section, and secondly, anyone who wants their 16-year old to be able to access the news, has to register them as being over 18. This delivers access to the very sites they are supposed to be protected from.

The problem seems to stem from the binary nature of the classification scheme. So far as we can determine, a site is either universal, or it is adult. There is no middle ground.

There is a way round this: as with services like Bango, content providers are asked to classify their own content as either suitable for universal access, or for adults only. Webmasters can divide their site along these lines and allocate content accordingly. The difference is that Bango asks its client content providers to classify their material like this. Vodafone is asking it of the entire Web.

A spokeswoman for T-Mobile told El Reg that any competitive advantage Vodafone hopes to gain with the move would be short lived. This doesn't make Vodafone any more worthy that any of the rest of us. We are all working on the same systems. T-Mobile has always planned to implement its filtering system once the classification body is in place. It is hard to see how we could do it any other way. "

T-Mobile anticipates that this body would be appointed in the next few months. In the meantime, Vodafone is out on its own, and its progress is being watched closely.

Especially by Vodafone's customers, many of whom are already losing patience.


5th July

  Dodgy Signals

I wonder why Vodafone are so keen on getting credit card details. If an obvious adult walks into a vodafone shop then surely they have proved their age.

I am concerned that my wife who does not have a credit card will be unjustifiably be denied her human rights by Vodafone.

From AVN

Vodafone has begun barring customers from reaching adult Websites through their handsets, saying the move is aimed primarily at protecting children. Vodafone customers will have to prove now that they are over 18 before the restrictions are lifted.

We have seen the popularity of mobile Internet to access things like chatrooms, said Vodafone chief of content services Al Russell, announcing the new policy, and if we didn’t take action it was inevitable that minors would be exposed to adult services. An estimated 16.5 million out of 47.5 million British mobile phones have some kind of Internet access, according to several published reports.

The restrictions also cover gambling sites and Internet chatrooms that are unmonitored or otherwise deemed for adults, Vodafone said announcing the new policy. Other than proof of age, the wireless giant added, the blocks go on and stay on until a customer opts in and asks for the blocks to come off. If they want the blocks off, Vodafone said, they will have to provide credit card details for verification, online, on the phone, or at a Vodafone store.

Vodafone said it is using a filter to look for particular words and content to pick off adult Websites and block them. The company claims to be the first mobile operator around the world to do this, seven months after the British mobile industry agreed to take action to block porn sites.


4th July

  Ethically Noxious Bankers

As reported on the excellent Cut blog

The banks are expanding their blacklist of internet businesses to includes sites which publish images of sexual violence, or promote racism or terrorism, effectively denying them the use of credit card facilities, reports The Guardian. The new guidelines, which at this time remain advisory, were published earlier this week by the Association for Payment Clearing Services, which represents the major banks and building societies, and is in part a response to intensifying concerns about the apparent inability of the state and the law to regulate online content.

The guidelines state: Banks provide facilities to internet merchants that enable them to accept card payments for content and merchandise. [We] deplore the abuse of these facilities on ethical, legal and sound business grounds. Banks will not knowingly do business with internet sites that sell content/merchandise inciting, advocating or perpetuating activities such as child pornography, racism, terrorism and violence against persons, including scenes of sexual violence.

Sandra Quinn, a spokeswoman for the shameful APACS, said:
We are not setting ourselves up as moral arbiters. BUT we have to be sure we are doing all we can about preventing the spread of such extreme images. We had no objections from our members on the grounds of [whether this was] censorship. But we don't want to be any more prescriptive. It's a grey area.


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