Terry Burns is set to become the new chairman of Ofcom in January 2018. As part of the approval process he was asked to appear before parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. And the topic of conversation was internet
censorship, in particular censorship of social media.
He was asked his thoughts on whether social media platforms such as Facebook should be recognised as publishers and therefore regulated. He responded:
I think it's a very big issue. It's becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between broadcasting and what one is capable of watching on the internet.
However, I think in many ways the main issue here is in terms of legislation and it is an issue for parliament rather than Ofcom.
I've been following this issue about platforms versus publishers... There must be a question of how sustainable that is. I don't want to take a position on that at this stage. As far as I'm concerned the rules under which we are working at
the moment is that they are defined as platforms.
There will be an ongoing debate about that, for the moment that's where they are. I find it difficult to believe that over time there isn't going to be further examination of this issue.
Asked whether there was a role for Ofcom to monitor and check social media, Lord Burns said:
I don't see any reason why if parliament wanted Ofcom to do that it shouldn't [do so]... I'm not quite sure who else would do it.
Update: New Chairman of Ofcom
16th December 2017 See Ofcom press release
The Government has appointed Lord (Terry) Burns as the next Chairman of Ofcom.
This follows the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee pre-appointment hearing with Lord Burns. Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has now confirmed the appointment .
Lord Burns was until January 2016 the Chairman of Channel 4, having served for six years at the public service broadcaster. He has also served as Chairman of a number of private and public-sector organisations, including Marks & Spencer,
Santander UK, Welsh Water, the National Lottery Commission and The Royal Academy of Music.
From 2004 to 2006, Lord Burns was Independent Adviser to the Secretary of State on the BBC Charter Review. He sits as a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords.
As previously announced, Dame Patricia Hodgson is stepping down as Chairman of Ofcom at the end of the year. Lord Burns will take up the role from 1 January 2018.
Ofcom has appointed Monisha Shah and Jonathan Baker to its Content Board.
Ofcom's Content Board is a committee of the main Ofcom Board. It has delegated, advisory responsibility for a wide range of content issues, including the censorship of television, radio and video-on-demand quality and standards.
Monisha and Jonathan join Ofcom's Content Board on three-year terms, serving until 30 September 2020.
Monisha is an experienced arts and media executive, who has held prominent roles on a number of high-profile commercial and public-sector Boards.
She is the current Chair of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance; a Non-Executive Director of Imagen, a media management technology company; and an Independent Board Director of the publishing company Next Mediaworks.
Monisha is a current Trustee of the ArtFund and served as Trustee of Tate from July 2007 203 2015. She was also Tate's liaison Trustee on the Board of the National Gallery, and has served on the Boards of the Foundling Museum and ArtUK. Monisha
worked at BBC Worldwide for 10 years before stepping down in 2010.
Jonathan brings over 40 years' journalism experience, and is currently the founding Professor of Journalism at the University of Essex.
He began his career as a reporter at the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, before joining the BBC, where he held several roles in radio and TV news. He was Editor of the Nine O'Clock News bulletin when it moved to its current Ten O'Clock slot,
where it received multiple BAFTA and Royal Television Society Awards under his editorship.
Jonathan also spent five years as BBC World News Editor, later becoming Deputy Head of the wider Newsgathering department. He was also appointed Head of the College of Journalism, with responsibility for training 8,000 BBC journalists.
Wanted is a 2008 USA / Germany action crime fantasy by Timur Bekmambetov.
Starring Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman.
A young man finds out his long lost father is an assassin. When his father is murdered, the son is recruited into his father's old organization and trained by a man named Sloan to follow in his dad's footsteps.
The film is 18 rated by the BBFC for strong bloody violence.
Sky1, 18 September 2017, 21:00
Wanted is a film about an office worker, Wesley, who learns that he is the son of a professional assassin and that he shares his father's superhuman killing abilities. It is an action thriller that was classified at an 18 rating by the British
Board of Film Classification in 2008.
Ofcom received a complaint about the broadcast of the word fucking and a sex scene shortly after the watershed. The complainant said that her 11 year old son was watching and that she considered the scene unsuitable for the time of
The film was scheduled to start shortly after the 21:00 watershed. From 18:30 to 21:00, five episodes of The Simpsons were broadcast.
The film cut at 21:03 to a scene in which Wesley’s girlfriend and friend, Cathy and Barry, were shown having sex on a kitchen table. Barry was naked from the waist down, while Cathy was in a skirt and bra. Barry was shown standing while having
sex with Cathy, who lay on the table with her legs wrapped around him, slapping his buttocks. The scene was shot mainly from the side and behind Barry. It lasted about 10 seconds.
We considered Rule 1.6:
The transition to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the watershed (in the case of television) …For television, the strongest material should appear later in the schedule.
We first assessed whether the sex scene was more adult material. We considered that, although relatively brief, and although the couple were partially clothed, it clearly depicted them having sex. In addition, at the same time as the sex scene,
the word fucking was used. Ofcom's 2016 research on offensive language4 highlighted that the word fuck and similar words are considered by audiences to be among the most offensive language. Therefore, in our view, this material was aimed at an
adult audience and could be considered more adult material in the context of Rule 1.6.
We considered that broadcasting a sex scene and an instance of the most offensive language three minutes after the watershed, and on a channel which had just broadcast family entertainment, was an unduly abrupt transition to more adult material.
Ofcom's Decision is that the material was in breach of Rule 1.6.
54% of 12- to 15-year-olds use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to access online news, making it the second most popular source of news after television (62%).
The news that children read via social media is provided by third-party websites. While some of these may be reputable news organisations, others may not.
73% of online tweens are aware of the concept of 'fake news', and four in ten (39%) say they have seen a fake news story online or on social media.
The findings are from Ofcom's Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017 . This year, the report examines for the first time how children aged 12 to15 consume news and online content.
Filtering fake news
The vast majority of 12-15s who follow news on social media are questioning the content they see. Almost nine in ten (86%) say they would make at least one practical attempt to check whether a social media news story is true or false.
The main approaches older children say they would take include:
seeing if the news story appears elsewhere (48% of children who follow news on social media would do this);
reading comments after the news report in a bid to verify its authenticity (39%);
checking whether the organisation behind it is one they trust (26%); and
assessing the professional quality of the article (20%).
Some 63% of 12- to 15-year-olds who are aware of fake news are prepared to do something about it, with 35% saying they would tell their parents or other family member. Meanwhile, 18% would leave a comment saying they thought the news story was
fake; and 14% would report the content to the social media website directly.
Children's online lives
More children are using the internet than ever before. Nine in ten (92% of 5- to 15-year-olds) are online in 2017 -- up from 87% last year.
More than half of pre-schoolers (53% of 3-4s) and 79% of 5-7s are online -- a year-on-year increase of 12 percentage points for both these age groups.
Much of this growth is driven by the increased use of tablets: 65% of 3-4s, and 75% of 5-7s now use these devices at home -- up from 55% and 67% respectively in 2016.
Children's social media preferences have also shifted over recent years. In 2014, 69% of 12-15s had a social media profile, and most of these (66%) said their main profile was on Facebook. The number of 12-15s with a profile now stands at 74%,
while the number of these who say Facebook is their main profile has dropped to 40%.
Though most social media platforms require users to be 13 or over, they are very popular with younger children. More than a quarter (28%) of 10-year-olds have a social media profile, rising to around half of children aged 11 or 12 (46% and 51%
Negative online experiences
Half of children (49%) aged 12 to 15 who use the internet say they 'never' see hateful content online.
 But the proportion of children who have increased this year, from 34% in 2016 to 45% in 2017.
More than a third (37%) of children who saw this type of content took some action. The most common response was to report it to the website in question (17%). Other steps included adding a counter-comment to say they thought it was wrong (13%),
and blocking the person who shared or made the hateful comments (12%).
ISP Website blocking
Use of network level filters increased again this year. Nearly two in five parents of 3-4s and 5-15s who have home broadband and whose child goes online use home network-level content filters, and this has increased for both groups since 2016,
part of a continuing upward trend.
Use of parental control software (software set up on a particular device, e.g. Net Nanny, McAfee Family Protection) has also increased among parents of 3-4s and 5-15s, to around three in ten.
More than nine in ten parents of 5-15s who use either of these tools consider them useful, and around three-quarters say they block the right amount of content.
One in five parents who use network-level filters think their child would be able to bypass them, although fewer 12-15s say they have done thisOne in five of the parents of 5-15s who use network-level filters say they think their child would be
able to unset, bypass or over-ride them; more likely than in 2016. This is similar to the number of 12-15s who say they know how to do this, although fewer say they have ever done it (6%).
About this proposal for Baywatch Changing Rooms. How is that 'diverse?
It celebrates the sexuality of the community of people who are both transgender and gay. In particular those who are uncomfortable in their roles as straight men and who fantasise about identifying as gay women
Ofcom boss Sharon White has urged the BBC to lead the way on diversity in a talk at the Westminster Media Forum.
She spoke as the TV censor published revised guidance for broadcasters on promoting equal employment.
White told the forum that nothing has the power to shape our culture, values and national identity as much as television. She said arge numbers of older people, particularly women, say they feel negatively portrayed on screen. And of those
who come from an ethnic minority group, many see themselves portrayed neutrally or negatively.
There was an urgent need for broadcasters to reach and reflect every corner of modern Britain, White said.
To ensure the BBC delivers on screen, Ofcom is launching an in-depth review to understand how well the corporation represents and portrays all members of society. She said:
We will be looking at the range and portrayal of people on screen (and) on air, including in popular peak-time shows.
Ofcom is requiring the BBC to implement a new Commissioning Code of Practice for diversity, covering both on-screen portrayal and casting, as well as workforce diversity.
The BBC is to publish detailed information about the complaints it receives from viewers after Ofcom , the TV censor, demanded that the corporation become more transparent.
Under new rules the BBC will have to reveal the number of complaints it receives every fortnight, identify the shows that received more than 100 complaints, and explain the editorial issues raised by the complaints and whether they were upheld.
Ofcom's demand has prompted an angry response from the BBC, which initially fought against publishing the figures amid concerns that it would be expensive and time-consuming.
The BBC is expected to publish the first wave of information about complaints under the new system within the next few days.
Fox News is a news channel from the US shown on UK TV. Although the channel has ceased to broadcast and is no longer a licensed television service falling under Ofcom’s jurisdiction, Ofcom has decided that publication of this short form decision
is appropriate to ensure there is a complete compliance record and to facilitate public understanding of the Code.
This case concerns “due impartiality”.
In reaching this Decision, we have taken into account the fact that Fox News is a US news channel, directed at US audiences, which is available in the UK. The people who watch it in the UK are aware that it is a US channel and their expectations
are different. It is not a main source of news in the UK. However, we were also mindful that, in our view, this particular programme dealt with major matters relating to current public policy that, as well as being of international significance,
were of particular relevance and significance to UK viewers.
Hannity is a current affairs discussion programme. On 31 January 2017, it covered President Donald Trump’s Executive Order issued on 27 January 2017 restricting travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. Ofcom considered the programme under
5.9 (adequate representation of alternative views in ‘personal view’ or discussion programmes),
5.11 (due impartiality on matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy) and
5.12 (inclusion of an appropriately wide range of significant views when dealing with matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy).
Ofcom considered the Order to be a “major” matter. There was intense international and UK interest in it at the time. Although a domestic US policy, its application was likely to impact non-US citizens, including in the UK. It also attracted
scrutiny as an early signal of how the Trump Administration would approach domestic and international affairs. On the day before the broadcast thousands of people joined protests in several UK cities against the travel ban, MPs held an emergency
debate at Westminster and more than 1.5 million people had signed a petition calling for Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK to be cancelled.
We went on to consider if due impartiality had been preserved by ensuring alternative viewpoints were sufficiently reflected. The opening monologue featured several video clips of public figures reacting critically to the Order. However, these
views were briefly represented in pre-recorded videos and repeatedly dismissed or ridiculed by the presenter without sufficient opportunity for the contributors to challenge or otherwise respond to the criticism directed at them. During the rest
of the programme, the presenter interviewed various guests who were all prominent supporters of the Trump administration and highly critical of those opposed to the Order. The presenter consistently voiced his enthusiastic support for the Order
and the Trump Administration.
Ofcom acknowledged that viewers were likely to expect Hannity to address controversial issues from a perspective that is generally more supportive of the US Republican Party. However, the likely audience expectations did not provide sufficient
contextual justification to outweigh the numerous highly critical statements made about people who had opposed the Order, coupled with the clear support being expressed for the policies of President Trump.
Breaches of Rules 5.9, 5.11 and 5.12
Ofcom cited a second example of Fox News one sided reporting, criticising Tucker Carlson Tonight for a programme about Islam, child abuse and terrorism.
We have investigated 67 licensees in total who failed to respond to our information request by the required deadline, or who provided an incomplete response and we have published our findings on them in this bulletin.
Ofcom considers the breaches we have found to be serious and we will be engaging with these licensees on this matter. We will request diversity and equal opportunities information annually and if the breaches continue, we will consider the
imposition of statutory sanctions.
We have examined in detail the arrangements each licensee has in place to promote equal employment opportunities and training, in line with their licence conditions, and we will be contacting licensees we assess to have inadequate arrangements in
Monitoring of the radio industry
Ofcom has already started engaging with the radio industry to discuss equal opportunities and diversity and we will begin our monitoring of radio broadcasters shortly. Each licensee will be sent an information request, detailing exactly what
information we are collecting, when it is required and what action each licensee needs to take to comply with the request.
Further monitoring of the television and radio industry
We've committed to monitoring the broadcasting industry on an annual basis and publishing the results. Therefore, in 2018 we will be requesting, as a minimum, information on the same protected characteristics of gender, racial group, disability,
sexual orientation, age, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment. We are also very keen to understand the make-up of the industry in terms of additional characteristics such as social, geographic and educational
background, and we welcome feedback on how this can be measured and improved.
The chairman of the media censor Ofcom has said she believes internet businesses such as Google and Facebook are publishers, and so should be regulated by the state.
Patricia Hodgson also revealed that the board of Ofcom discussed how the internet could be regulated in the future at a strategy day last week, although she said this was ultimately a matter for the government.
Hodgson was speaking to MPs at a hearing of the digital, culture, media and sport committee. Asked about the rise of fake news and whether internet companies should face greater regulation, Hodgson said:
Those particular distribution systems [Facebook, Google, Twitter etc] are not within Ofcom's responsibility but we feel very strongly about the integrity of news in this country and we are totally supportive of steps that should and need to be
taken to improve matters.
My personal view is I see this as an issue that is finally being grasped -- certainly within the EU, certainly within this country -- and to my amazement and interest, being asked in the United States as a result of the potential Russian
scandals. My personal view is that they are publishers but that is only my personal view, that is not an Ofcom view. As I said, Ofcom is simply concerned about the integrity of news and very supportive of the debate and the steps that are being
Theresa May's spokesman said Hodgson's comments were a matter for her as an independent regulator, but indicated that ministers were sympathetic.
Sharon White, the chief executive of Ofcom, said she was wary of regulating internet companies. We feel strongly that the platforms as publishers have got more responsibility to ensure the right content, she said. I don't think it's a question of
regulation, which I think has a fuzzy boundary with censorship, but I think we feel strongly that the platforms ought to be doing more to ensure their content can be trusted.
Qatar is under the cosh in the Middle East caught in a deadly pincer movement of a Saudi led coalition of Arab countries on one side and Israel on the other. All these countries object to Qatar's funding of the Al Jazeera news channel which
provides seeming well balanced reporting across the region in both Arabic and English. Its seems that Qatar's neighbours would prefer the news to be dominated by their own, not quite so balanced, news networks, that are a little bit more
sycophantic to their own interests.
So perhaps it was hardly surprising that an Al Jazeera documentary investigating the Isreali Embassy in London would be reported to Ofcom for supposed bias.
The UK TV censor Ofcom investigated Al Jazeera after receiving complaints about The Lobby , a four-part documentary investigating the political influence of the Israeli embassy in Britain.
The programme showed Shai Masot, an official in the Israeli embassy in London, saying he would take down MPs including Sir Alan Duncan , the Foreign Office minister who is an outspoken supporter of a Palestinian state. The Israeli ambassador
subsequently apologised for the comments and Masot resigned.
Ofcom cleared al-Jazeera after concluding it did not make allegations in the documentary that were based on the grounds of individuals being Jewish and that it had included the view of the Israeli government in the programme. It ruled that
al-Jazeera had not breached rule 2.3, which relates to offensive matter, and rule 5.5 with regards to impartiality. Ofcom said:
It was the view of some complainants that The Lobby fuelled harmful stereotypes about Jewish people controlling or seeking to control powerful organisations. These complainants considered this was antisemitic and offensive.
We considered that the allegations in the programme were not made on the grounds that any of the particular individuals concerned were Jewish and noted that no claims were made relating to their faith. We did not consider that the programme
portrayed any negative stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling or seeking to control the media or governments. Rather, it was our view that these individuals featured in the programme in the context of its investigation into the alleged
activities of a foreign state -- the state of Israel acting through its UK embassy -- and their association with it.
An al-Jazeera source welcomed the ruling, saying:
This goes to show that no matter what al-Jazeera's critics say, its journalism meets and exceeds the highest standards of objectivity and balance. We feel vindicated by the rulings and ever more committed to exposing human rights violations by
anyone -- regardless of geography, religion, or the power of their lobbies.
The BBC is facing a court battle after it defied Ofcom orders to publish figures on complaints about its shows.
Channel 4 and ITV already disclose the numbers, and release detailed information about objections to their programmes every two weeks. But the BBC nsists on keeping that information a secret. Perhaps this more about revealing political
accusations of bias rather than trivial whinges by the 'easily offended.
Now TV censor Ofcom has waded in and told the BBC it has no choice but to become more transparent. Ofcom insiders have also made it clear that they are prepared to go to court over the matter if the BBC digs its heels in. Sharon White, Ofcom's
chief executive, regards it as an important point of principle.
Kevin Bakhurst, an Ofcom director and a former BBC news boss, has told Corporation executives they need to comply. In a strongly worded letter, seen by the Mail, he said:
The greater transparency we propose is necessary to build and maintain public confidence in the operation of the BBC... and to provide public accountability.
Ofcom has given the BBC until the November 19 to comply with orders and publish fortnightly complaints bulletins that go into the same level of detail as Ofcom's reports about Channel 4, ITV, Five, Sky and other broadcasters.
BBC bosses will then have to publish the exact number of complaints the Corporation receives about every programme that registers 100 or more objections. Every time a complaint sparks an investigation, it will also be forced to disclose full
details of the complaints, the points of principles at stake and the outcome of its probe.
A BBC spokesman has responded:
The BBC is already the most transparent broadcaster on complaints, including publishing data every month and responding on our website, and numbers are often influenced by orchestrated political campaigns but of course we are considering Ofcom's