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UK Government Watch

2008: July-Sept

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29th September   

Update: The UK Council for Child Internet Safety...

New censors start work today
Link Here
Full story: The Byron Report...Tanya Byron reports on media child protection

Social networking websites and major technology companies are joining the government in an organisation designed to improve children's safety online.

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety is to be launched by Schools Secretary Ed Balls and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

The council will promote responsible online advertising and will seek to shut down "harmful" websites. It will also develop a code for websites featuring users' content.

The creation of the council is the latest stage in the development of the government's safety strategy for children using the internet.

It follows a government-commissioned report by psychologist Tanya Byron earlier this year, which called for the setting up of a child safety council, as part of a drive to protect children using the internet and digital technologies.

The council, which will report to the prime minister, will have a membership of over 100 organisations, including technology companies such as Microsoft and Google, websites such as Facebook and mobile phone companies such as O2.

Speaking ahead of the council's launch on Monday, Dr Byron said: Every parent will know that video games and the internet are a part of childhood like never before.

This is extremely positive; giving kids the opportunities to learn to have fun and communicate in ways that previous generations could only dream of. But it can also present a huge challenge to parents and other adults involved in the welfare of children.


27th September   

Nasty Cultures...

Labour nutter plans internet censorship just to even things up for TV companies
Link Here
Full story: Minister of Nasty Cultures...Andy Burnham as UK government internet censor

The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, said that the government plans to crack down on the internet to even up the regulatory imbalance with television.

Burnham, in a keynote speech at the Royal Television Society conference in London, said that a fear of the internet had caused a loss of confidence that had robbed the TV industry of innovation, risk-taking and talent sourcing in programming.

Following the speech Burnham fielded questions from the floor, including one asking him to expand on the topic of the internet and the TV industry.

The time has come for perhaps a different approach to the internet. I want to even up that see-saw, even up the regulation [imbalance] between the old and the new.

He said that perhaps the wider industry, and government, had accepted the idea that the internet was beyond legal reach and was a space where governments can't go.

Burnham said that he would like to tighten up online content and services and lighten up some regulatory burdens around the TV industry.

Burnham added that the government had highlighted the way forward with its cross-industry and cross-departmental strategy , to tackle music piracy involving self-regulation: It is a new sign of our approach. It is not just about copyright or intellectual property but [things like] taste and decency in the online world. The time will come to say what are the direct interventions [needed, if any].


24th September   

Think Twice About Paying For Sex...

Home Office press release about new prostitution laws
Link Here

Human Rights Abuser

Home Office press release:


The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith today announced her intention to work with the police and other partners to outlaw paying for sex with someone controlled for another person's gain. This is aimed at protecting vulnerable individuals, for example those who have been trafficked or exploited in some other way.

This follows a six month Government review into tackling the demand for prostitution, which explored both the legislative and non-legislative options available as well as learning from the experiences of other countries such as Sweden and Holland.

The review identified a number of measures to improve the protection of vulnerable women including criminalising those supporting the exploitation by purchasing sex from them.

The Home Secretary also announced:

  • A crackdown on kerb-crawlers - removing the need to prove that a person has acted persistently. This will ensure that kerb-crawlers can be prosecuted on a first offence
  • New powers to close premises associated with prostitution - allowing police to close brothels for a period of three months. At the moment, police can only close premises associated with prostitution if anti-social behaviour or Class A drugs are involved

The Home Secretary also indicated her intention to give greater powers to local people and Local Authorities to control the opening and regulation of lap-dancing clubs, through changes in legislation.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said:

The Government has a responsibility to protect those who have been groomed or trafficked into prostitution, or for those who remain involved for fear of violence from a partner or a pimp. So we will start work to outlaw paying for sex with someone forced into prostitution at another's will or controlled for another's gain.

Communities shouldn't have to put up with street prostitution. The package of measures I have announced today will help the police and local people to crack down on it.

Minister for Women and Equality Harriet Harman said:

We must protect women from being victims of human trafficking – the modern slave trade.

The trade only exists because men buy sex, so to protect women we must stop men buying sex from the victims of human trafficking.

Commenting on the potential new regulation of lap-dancing clubs, Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said:

Local people are often best placed to know the needs of their area and to find home-grown solutions.

These new measures, alongside the robust planning powers councils already have, will see communities taking ownership/control of the environment in which they live, ensuring safer, more welcoming neighbourhoods.

Communities have an important role to play in tackling the local issues that can affect their everyday lives and their neighbours' welfare.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said:

I welcome these measures which underline the importance the Government places on ensuring the appropriate protection and safety for women involved in street prostitution and the wider community.

Notes to Editors:

1. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced a package of new offences designed to tackle various forms of sexual exploitation. These included:
• Causing of inciting prostitution for gain
• Controlling prostitution for gain
• Trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation
There are however currently no specific offences to tackle those who pay or offer to pay for sex with someone who has been trafficked or exploited, unless there is sufficient evidence to prove that person knew the person selling sex did not consent to sexual intercourse. In these situations, the police and prosecutors would look at prosecution for rape. The Government's intention is to look at criminalising those who pay or offer to pay for sex with victims of these crimes in order to deter the sex buyers who fuel illegal exploitative and coercive practices, as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

2. In England and Wales, the act of purchasing sex is not a criminal offence. There are, however, offences that effectively prohibit individuals from paying for sex on the street or in a public place. The Sexual Offences Act 1985 introduced two distinct offences which can be used to prosecute those who buy sex:

• kerb crawling (where someone solicits from a motor vehicle, or within the vicinity of a motor vehicle), for the purposes of prostitution, persistently or in a manner that is likely to cause annoyance to people in the neighbourhood; or

• persistent soliciting for the purposes of prostitution (effectively kerb crawling but without a vehicle)

The Government now intends to remove the 'persistence' requirement from both offences and in the case of kerb-crawling to remove the alternative requirement of "in a manner that is likely to cause annoyance to people in the neighbourhood". The purpose is to make it possible to prosecute the kerb crawler in the first instance, increasing the deterrent to those who consider paying for sex on the street or in a public place.

3. At present, the police have no powers to close premises associated with the sexual exploitation of adults or children, unless there is sufficient evidence to warrant the use of a premise closure order or a crack house closure order. However, many premises where sexual exploitation takes place will not be associated with anti-social behaviour or the use, supply or production of Class A drugs. This means that in practice, premises that are subject to police investigations for offences relating to sexual exploitation can reopen and begin operating again quickly.

The Government now intends to introduce a new order that allows for such premises to be closed and sealed for a set period, providing an opportunity for agencies to act swiftly and decisively to prevent further exploitation and abuse from taking place. The order will prohibit entry to the premises by any individual for a period of three months.

4. The results of the recent lap dancing consultation made it clear that Local Authorities in England and Wales felt that the Licensing Act 2003 offers little or no opportunity for local communities to object to lap dancing clubs opening in their local area and has limited powers for Local Authorities to control the growth of these establishments. Difficulties arise where residents and local authorities try to use the current legislation to tackle general concerns about these clubs being situated in a particular area (for example, near schools, historic tourist areas or churches) or because of concerns about equality, public decency, obscenity and the sexual exploitation of women.

The Government now intends to give greater powers to Local Authorities and local communities to control the opening and regulation of lap dancing clubs and will do this in consultation with stakeholders through legislation as soon as Parliamentary time allows.


18th September   

Update: Tightening the Censorship Noose...

Government to rewrite 1961 Suicide Act
Link Here

The law on pro-suicide websites is to be 'rewritten' to ensure people know that such are illegal, the government has said.

It follows findings that people searching for information on suicide are more likely to find sites encouraging the act than offering support.

It is illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act to promote suicide, but no website operator has been prosecuted. The law will be amended to make clear it applies online and to help service providers police the sites they host.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said there was no "magic solution" to protecting vulnerable people online: Updating the language of the Suicide Act, however, should help to reassure people that the internet is not a lawless environment and that we can meet the challenges of the digital world. It is important, particularly in an area of such wide public interest and concern, for the law to be expressed in terms that everyone can understand.

Ms Eagle said she hoped the changes would be in force by next year but warned there are "inherent difficulties" with policing "suicide websites" as most are based overseas.


18th September   

Update: Unavoidable Statement...

The government requires that customers select whether to use Phorm or not
Link Here
Full story: Behavioural Advertising...Serving adverts according to internet snooping

The government has outlined how a controversial online ad system can be rolled out in the UK.

In response to EU questions about its legality, it said that it was happy Phorm conformed to EU data laws.

But any future deployments of the system must be done with consent and make it easy for people to opt out.

In its statement sent to the EU the government said: Users will be presented with an unavoidable statement about the product and asked to exercise choice about whether to be involved. Users will be able to easily access information on how to change their mind at any point and are free to opt in or out of the scheme.


3rd August   

Government Propaganda...

Yet another step towards Orwellian Britain
Link Here

Beat: Life on the Street is a documentary funded by the Government following the lives of PCSO's. The Government-funded propaganda portrayed PCSOs as dedicated, helpful and an effective adjunct to the police

The Government has spent almost ฃ2 million to fund programmes that are all but indistinguishable from regular shows, The Sunday Telegraph has established.

But unlike normal documentaries, the programmes are commissioned by ministers with the purpose of showing their policies or activities in a sympathetic light.

The media watchdog Ofcom has disclosed that it had opened an investigation into one of the programmes, Beat: Life on the Street to see whether it breached its broadcasting code.

Media freedom campaigners, broadcasters and opposition politicians expressed alarm over the Government-funded documentaries.

The Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow said: I find it extraordinary. So the Government is funding commercial television productions highlighting government policy? Presumably they don’t criticise government policy.

The Government has funded at least eight television series or individual programmes in the past five years. Subjects range from an Army expedition to climb Everest to advice for small businessmen on how to improve their company’s fortunes.

However, the show about PCSOs and a newly commissioned programme about Customs and Immigration officers are particularly controversial because they deal with sensitive political issues and policies.

Beat: Life on the Street , which was supported with ฃ800,000 of funding from the Ministry of Propaganda. One Whitehall source admitted of the documentary: It allows the Government to have more air time and get its message across to people. Ministers are so pleased with the way the series, which drew in audiences of three million people on ITV and changed the public’s perception of the officers, that they commissioned a third series, to be broadcast next year.

But The Sunday Telegraph established that the programmes appeared to break Ofcom’s broadcasting code by not making it clear that they were funded by the Ministry of Propaganda.

In a further apparent breach of Ofcom rules, this time on independence, Ministry of Propaganda officials were directly involved in the making of the series. They were allowed to view a second edit of individual programmes and were able to suggest changes to some of the “terminology” and “language” used in the narration.

David Ruffley, the shadow police minister, said: People want the Government to put police on our streets, not propaganda on our television sets.


1st August   

Update: Promoting Censorship...

Even more censorship from a government committing electoral censorship
Link Here

Websites which encourage teenagers to commit suicide will be blocked under Government plans.

The measures are supposedly aimed at preventing a repeat of the dozens of copycat suicides linked to internet usage and social networking sites.

Internet service providers (ISP) are being urged to veto websites which promote suicide among young people, some of which even give advice on suicide methods.

The ISPs are being told to provide automatic links to support organisations like ChildLine and The Samaritans, which would be triggered by users searching for information on suicide.

The Ministry of Justice is examining whether more legislation is needed to control assisted suicide websites.

Under laws introduced in 1961 aiding or encouraging suicide is illegal - but only if the offender meets the victim face to face.


1st August   

Update: The Never Ending Consultation Game...

Margaret Hodge announces another consultation on BBFC vs PEGI
Link Here
Full story: The Byron Report...Tanya Byron reports on media child protection

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge has announced a consultation on whether the ratings for games should replicate the system for movies.

Dr Tanya Byron recommended that the rating system for games be reformed to make it easier for parents to work out if a video game was appropriate for their children. Dr Byron suggested a hybrid scheme putting BBFC ratings on the front of boxes and PEGI ratings on the rear.

Announcing its response to the Byron Review recommendations, culture minister Margaret Hodge, said: The current system of classification comes from a time when video games were in their infancy.

She added: The games market has simply outgrown the classification system, so today we are consulting on options that will make games classification useful and relevant again.

Over the next few months the government is seeking responses to find out the favoured method of changing ratings and giving them legal backing.

The four options are:

  • A hybrid BBFC/Pegi system
  • Pegi ratings only
  • BBFC ratings only
  • No change except for the introduction of a scheme to ensure shops and suppliers comply.

But a report published by MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has backed the BBFC to be the body to oversee games ratings.

For its part the Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association (Elspa) said it would prefer that the industry-backed Pegi scheme became the only rating system.

What we are asking for is the government to empower Pegi with legal backing, said Michael Rawlinson, managing director of Elspa.


30th July   

Update: BBFC to win the Battle of Milton Keynes...

BBFC to win the Battle of Milton Keynes
Link Here
Full story: The Byron Report...Tanya Byron reports on media child protection

Ministers will tomorrow give the go-ahead to the first strict and legally binding classification system for video games.

Culture Minister Margaret Hodge is understood to be ready to accept recommendations from television psychologist Dr Tanya Byron, who conducted a review for the Government.

The proposed changes would mean all games coming under a system of statutory labelling, backed up by heavy penalties for underage sale.

Mrs Hodge is expected to give the go-ahead to a compulsory age classification system set down in law, expected to include 18, 15, 12, PG (parental guidance) and U (universal), the same as the system used for films.

The BBFC is likely to have to certify all games attracting a 12 certificate and above. The ratings will have to be displayed prominently on the front of the games.

Retailers who sell video games to underage children in defiance of the new ratings are likely to face heavy fines or up to five years in prison.

Tory MP John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said: 'Computer games, like films, provide entertainment, but some content is quite plainly unsuitable for children.

A report from Whittingdale's committee is tomorrow expected to back moves to give
the BBFC responsibility for legally-enforceable ratings for video games.

It will also point to risks to children from the Internet, particularly from social networking sites.

The moves to enforce cinema- style ratings are likely to anger games manufacturers.

The world's largest games developer, Electronic Arts, said the new scheme would be confusing for parents and would lead to games being released later in Britain than in the rest of the world.


25th July   

Update: New Proscription Arrangement...

Consultation: Protecting the consumer at heart of future for media services in the UK
Link Here

Plans to regulate video-on-demand services and product placement on British television are set out in a consultation document published by Culture Secretary Andy Burnham.

The proposals are part of a comprehensive consultation on how the UK should implement the EU Audio Visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. The Directive includes both compulsory and optional elements, some of which are expected to lead to new legislation.

The Directive updates EU minimum standards on scheduled television services. It also for the first time brings in common standards for video-on-demand services.

Secretary of State Andy Burnham said:

Preserving standards must be the guiding principles as we look to the media of the future. We need to ensure that traditional protections against inappropriate content and advertising standards are secured as technology advances.

While citizens embrace the opportunities offered by massively increased choice of content, and can watch on demand on TVs, online or phones, it's right that the same standards apply.

These proposals are designed to protect the consumer without causing unnecessary burden on industry. Media regulation in the UK has been effective in offering safeguards and at the same time, workable for broadcasters. We want to keep that balance.

The consultation focuses on the Government's proposals on three specific issues in the Directive. These are:

- product placement in television and video-on-demand services
- introducing a system for regulating video-on-demand services in the UK
- and controls over the content of non-EU satellite channels which are uplinked from a ground station in the UK.

Under the Directive the UK has an obligation to ensure its video-on-demand services meet new cross-EU standards. It encourages Member States to seek a 'co-regulatory' solution in which the system of regulation is owned and run by the video-on-demand industry, but with backup powers for Government or a national authority such as Ofcom to intervene if need be. The consultation seeks views on a number of different options designed to achieve this.

AVMS will also give the UK new responsibility under EU law for the content of a small number of non-EU satellite TV channels which legally broadcast into Europe from ground stations in Britain. New legislation is required to allow Ofcom to exercise this responsibility and the document sets out some options to consider.

The consultation concerns three parts of the Directive that require changes to the law in the UK. Other parts, which do not require changes to UK law, are not discussed in the consultation document in any detail. in particular an enhancement to existing procedures under which a Member State can raise concerns about television broadcasts from another Member State which do not comply with the first Member State's own domestic rules

The consultation runs for three months and closes on 31 October, 2008.


4th July   

Update: Appropriate Rewards?...

Keith Vaz gets a plush new office
Link Here
Full story: Keith Vaz...Keith Vaz in votes for knighthood claim

Gordon Brown tells Keith Vaz I didn't try to bribe you.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, has challenged Gordon Brown to confirm he was not bribed ahead of the vote on 42 days.

Keith Vaz was originally opposed to the proposed counter-terrorism measures but later offered his full backing

Appearing alongside other committee chairman at their regular grilling of the Prime Minister, Vaz asked Brown about the Telegraph's revelation that he received a letter from Geoff Hoon, the Chief Whip, saying he hoped he would be "rewarded" for supporting the Government's anti-terror plans: Is it the case that you authorised or offered any backbench Member of Parliament a peerage or a knighthood or honour, or even the Governorship of Bermuda in order to vote for your legislation?

Brown replied: Not at all. Nor do I recall sending any letters to anyone.

See full article from the Daily Mail

Keith Vaz has been given a plush new office in Westminster. He moved into the sought-after room – which boasts a Thames view – following the death of its previous occupant Gwyneth Dunwoody.

However, both Geoff Hoon and Gordon Brown vociferously denied that the office was his reward for doing so.


3rd July   

Update: A Manhunt for Keith Vaz...

Rumours of a knighthood may be somewhat premature
Link Here
Full story: Keith Vaz...Keith Vaz in votes for knighthood claim

Censorial MP Keith Vaz is fighting to cling on to his position following the leak of a letter to The Daily Telegraph which suggested he could expect to be “rewarded” for backing the Government in a crucial vote on anti-terrorism laws.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, received a handwritten note from Geoff Hoon, the chief whip, which said he hoped Vaz would be appropriately rewarded for supporting laws to detain terror suspects for 42 days without charge.

Members of the Home Affairs Select Committee have said that Vaz had questions which need to be addressed.

David Cameron, the Conservative leader, is understood to be “appalled” at the contents of the letter and raised the issue in the House of Commons.

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