Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Pornification of a Generation

 The conference was addressed by seven under 30s.  These included a psychotherapist, an educator and a youth worker who gave their professional opinions on the impact of pornography on young people with whom they work.  Also speaking were two young men and one young woman who spoke with searing honesty about their own addiction to pornography and the effect this has had on their lives and relationships.  The programme also included contributions from three MPs and clip from Baroness Kidron’s excellent film on young people’s internet use, InRealLlife.

When dealing with pornography and its effects it is hard to offer a visual aid (within reason!) to illustrate the problem; something that would speak as powerfully as the models of slave ships and the manacles that Wilberforce used so effectively in the fight to abolish the slave trade.  The humble and powerful stories we heard last week are our most potent weapon; young men and women casting off the constraints of embarrassment and fear to sound the alarm for the sake of their generation and the next.

On the day of the conference The Times published a letter signed by all the speakers.  Their unequivocal message: pornography is doing great harm to our young people and the Government and society must do far more to protect them and the generations to come.  You can read the text below.

An audio recording was made on the day and hopefully it will be possible to share it with you in due course.  However, you may find a documentary which shown last week on BBC 3 of interest. 

Porn: What’s the Harm presented a snapshot of young people’s experiences based on a survey of 1,000 16- to 24-year-olds.  The programme featured interviews with young people and those who work with them and was full of worrying statistics.  Two facts stood out: firstly pinpointing 2002, when the internet became available in most households, as the time when porn use amongst young people became widespread; and secondly the worrying rise in teenagers’ requests for genital cosmetic surgery.  There was also a look at sexting as experienced by 20-year-old Sophia, who spoke frankly about how easy it is to get drawn into it.

This programme is the second to be broadcast in the last year which seriously examines the negative impacts of pornography on young people; a clear sign that this is an issue which society cannot continue to ignore.  The programme is not an easy watch but if you would like to see it, it will be available on the BBC’s iPlayer until 21st April.

Letter published in the Times 7th April 2014


We the undersigned, all under the age of 30, share a deep concern about our generations unprecedented consumption of internet pornography. There is currently an epidemic of unregulated online pornography, our generation is largely unprotected, and some are compulsive users of this free supply of hardcore material.

We have grown up surrounded by internet-enabled technology which enables everyone to be fully connected but also makes the most extreme material imaginable instantly available to even the youngest children.

Research and our collective experience show that pornography is taking a very real toll on the mental, emotional and physical health of many of our peers and poses a serious challenge to public health in the UK. It is very far from being the harmless and victimless activity portrayed by the increasingly powerful pornography industry.

Much has been done to educate the public about smoking, alcohol and drugs but the same is not true of pornography. It is warping young peoples views of sex and body image and impeding the formation of healthy relationships.

We urge the Government to:

  1. ensure that the major ISPs complete the introduction of network-level filtering* by  the end of this year and encourage all remaining ISPs to do the same
  2. introduce legislation if self-regulation does not work
  3. make effective age verification** a priority
  4. launch a public health campaign to highlight the harmful and potentially addictive nature of pornography
  5. give parents encouragement and help with setting internet filters and talking to their children about the dangers of online porn
Jonny Adams, Chioma Ahunanya, Bethany Becconsall, Kate Massey-Chase, Sarah Percival, Aston Stockdale, Maktuno Suit
* plans for opt-in filters that were announced by David Cameron in July 2013
** in line with Baroness Howes Online Safety Bill

Friday, 4 April 2014

Action to protect children online

Last Friday ATVOD, the regulator of television-on-demand, published the results of its research into children’s access to online pornography.

Using a similar methodology to that used to estimate TV viewing habits, the study found that last December 6% of children aged 15 or under had accessed an adult website. If scaled up nationally, the research suggests that 44,000 primary school children had accessed pornographic material – and 200,000 under-16s. One site, Pornhub, was visited by 112,000 boys in the UK aged between 12 and 17.

ATVOD added that the survey probably underestimated the scale of the issue since smartphone and tablet use was not included in the figures. 

In recent years pornographers have taken inspiration from the likes of You-Tube and now offer hours of free content, making their revenue from advertising and encouraging users to ‘trade-up’ to premium paid for services.  This changed business model makes it easier for children to access explicit material.

ATVOD presently forces pornographic websites based in the UK to carry out age verification checks before customers can view explicit content; this is done by requiring credit card details or personal information which can be cross-reference with the electoral roll or other ID database.  However the vast majority of online porn is hosted overseas and beyond the reach of UK regulator.

To tackle this ATVOD wants all adult sites to request a licence that would only be granted if age checks were in place with banks and other payment processors not allowed to handle fees for services from UK citizens to unregulated sites.  Payment firms say they will act if shown that sites are breaking the law and the regulator accepts that this means new legislation.

ATVOD’s chief executive explained: “We’re a very substantial market and to access the money that’s flowing from the UK would be quite a powerful incentive to introduce restrictions.”

He called on the government to act to protect children and said that the matter was so urgent it is ‘critical the legislation is enacted during this Parliament’.   The government has indicated that it needs time to consider the request.

This proposal has been criticised as ineffective and unworkable – not least by Jerry Barnett of the pro-porn Sex & Censorship group who previously ran an adult website and was fined for failing to prevent children accessing its content.

However, as ATVOD’s chief executive explained, “We’re not saying this will stop all children from seeing all pornography online.  But our argument is that even if you reduce the number of children who are accessing hardcore pornography online by 10% that would be a significant win.”  We can only concur with his analysis!

Friday, 21 March 2014

MPs call for more protection for children online

Last year Mediawatch was pleased to be able to provide written evidence to the Culture Media & Sport Select Committee into online safety.  On Wednesday the Committee published its report and called for stronger action to be taken to protect children from online bullying and pornography.

The Committee found that more needed to be done to protect children online particularly with regard to content that is legal but still harmful to children yet which is freely available to them.   

John Whittingdale MP, the Committee Chair said: “those who profit from the internet must demonstrate the utmost commitment to protecting children and should be prosecuted and penalised if they don't.”

The report said protections like those in place in the "real world", such as putting pornographic magazines on the top shelf of the newsagent and stopping children entering sex shops, had to be provided online and at the moment too little is being done in this regard.  MPs proposed that sites that are "particularly harmful" and “make no serious attempt to hinder access by children” should be blocked altogether.

The Committee said that adult sites could restrict access by children in a number of ways:
  • a robust age verification process should be in place 
  • requiring payment by a credit card linked to an adult;
  • shielding the content behind a warning page; 
  • attaching metadata to the website to make it easier for filters to operate and for search engines not to return the material when operating in a safe search mode.
Falling short of our recommendation for statutory backing for the current voluntary protections put in place by ISPs, the report said that Ofcom should do more in terms of monitoring internet content and advising the public on online safety.

The Committee had been particularly keen to look at ways of preventing abusive or threatening comments on social media.  Having heard the evidence the report criticised the age verification processes used by Twitter and Facebook, saying these were "at best flimsy" and led to younger children accessing their sites.
The recommendation was made that social media providers should offer a range of prominently displayed options for, and routes to, reporting harmful content and communications.  Much of the abuse and bullying that takes place online is covered by existing laws and some of the worst online bullies and trolls are being brought to book in the courts, but the report called for clarified and guidance to be updated for the online space.

Although it fell short of recommending statutory backing for the voluntary measures developed to protect children online, this report is to be welcomed.  The internet has revolutionised life for our children and it behoves us all to ensure that they can use it safely.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The wit and wisdom of Mary Whitehouse

Many members have been in touch about our Mary Whitehouse quote project which we are running during this, our anniversary year.

It’s ironic that much of what we know about her views has come to us filtered by the media itself so, since 1st January we have been tweeting a quote from her writing every other day.  We have also updated a dedicated Facebook page and website.

It’s been fascinating to hear Mary in her own words and I thought that, if you’ve not been following the initiative, you would be interested to see some of the material posted so far.

  • “If society accepts the free distribution and display of pornography then inevitably it will fall into the hands of children.” 1967
  • “We have created a candy-floss society in which the young can find little of hard substance on which to cut teeth of conviction.” 1967
  •  “The creative growth of a society, and its stability, depend on the willingness of the individual to accept responsibility for his behaviour.” 1971
  •  “The new libertarians are, in fact, the new tyrants.  They launch an assault upon the senses and freedom of the individual which is the essence of the worst kind of dictatorship.” 1971
  •  “A simple choice: between genuine freedom and total licence, between cultural responsibility and cultural anarchy.” 1982
  •  “No other age has exploited violent crime, as ours does, by constantly exploiting it as entertainment.” 1985
  •  “Because it is such a powerful and all-pervasive medium, TV is bound to play a key role in creating the quality of life we all experience.” 1985
  •  “We trivialise the argument about what is and what is not acceptable in public and private attitudes and behaviour if we reduce the issue to personal taste.” 1993
  •  “Broadcasters should not take their decisions in a social vacuum.” 1993
  •  “Today our society ruthlessly exploits the minds and emotions of young people for financial and political capital.” 1993
  •  “We shall raise a generation which either grasps at sex as a physical lust or treats it simply as a passing fancy, no more.” 1993

If you are a Facebook user please like the page and invite your contacts to like it too and if you are a tweeter please re-tweet us.  We hope to get as many people engaged and following this as possible.  This initiative will continue throughout 2014 and we plan to use it as a basis for a major media initiative later in the year.  

Twitter: @mrsmwhitehouse

If you have not already done so please do consider contacting your MP about the Pornification of a Generation Conference which is taking place in Parliament.  You can do this simply and easily using our campaign website  Thank you to all those who have already taken the time to do this; as a result of your emails several MPs have been in touch for further details having overlooked their invitations first time around.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The Pornification of a Generation

Those under 30 make up almost one fifth of the population yet, despite their childhood and teenage years being only recently behind them, their voices are often unheard in debates about pornography and our culture.

These young people have a unique insight into the challenges presented by a society in which technology enables everyone to be fully connected, but also makes the most extreme material imaginable instantly available at their fingertips.

We are delighted to be working with a number of like minded organisations to give this under-represented group a voice.  Together we have organised a unique event to take place in Parliament on 7th April which will connect young people with legislators and other opinion formers to discuss the impact of pornography on their generation.

The Pornification of a Generation – the Under 30s Perspective will be chaired by Rachel Gardener, the President of the Girl’s Brigade and all the speakers will be under 30, with the youngest being just 17.  They will share their experiences, concerns and insights on the reality of growing up exposed to, arguably, more explicit imagery than any previous generation in history.

The speakers come from all walks of life and include a psychotherapist, an educator and youth worker who will be giving their professional views and we also have some very brave individuals talking about how they became addicted to pornography and the effect it has had on them.

Not only will this be a chance for politicians to hear authentic voices from the sharp end, we also aim to empower a rising generation to continue the fight.

All 650 MPs have been invited to attend and we hope that they will take up this unique opportunity.  If you think your MP should be there please contact them and encourage them to attend using our campaign website which has been updated for this event.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Fighting for the future


This week has seen much media coverage of the news that three senior Labour politicians held leading positions in a human rights group that backed the notorious Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE).

PIE was formed in 1974 and campaigned for "children's sexuality". It wanted the government to axe or lower the age of consent and it offered support to adults "in legal difficulties concerning sexual acts with consenting 'under age' partners". The real aim was to normalise sex with children.   Many of this week’s revelations are not new but they do reflect the shock that we feel about how a group with "paedophile" in its name could operate so openly for a decade.

Columnist Matthew Parris said “if there was anything with the word 'liberation' in the name you were automatically in favour of it if you were young and cool in the 1970s. It seemed like PIE had slipped through the net”

At the time there was a battle raging over free speech and PIE were able to take advantage of this.  Journalist Polly Toynbee wrote of her "sinking feeling that in another five years or so, their aims would eventually be incorporated into the general liberal credo, and we would all find them acceptable".

Fortunately there were those who were willing to fight for the rights of children including The National Viewers and Listeners Association (as Mediawatch-UK was then known).  Charles Oxley, Vice President of NVALA, successfully infiltrated PIE and was able to provide police with a dossier on the group and its membership which played a crucial part in the police prosecution of its members and the disbanding of the group.

NVALA drafted proposed new legislation to make membership of any organisation which supported, encouraged, condoned or enticed adults to have sexual relationships with children illegal and to make the production and distribution of material advocating such relationships against the law.  In her book Mightier Than The Sword Mary Whitehouse wrote about standing outside the committee room in which the ballot for Private Members Bills took place to make sure successful MPs were given sight of the draft legislation and urged to take it forward.

Mary Whitehouse wrote: “As I see it there is a choice of freedoms here: either the freedom of vicious perverts to propagate their perversions or the freedom of children.”

Reading these words in 2014 it is impossible not draw parallels with our fight to protect children online today.  The ‘adult industry’ launched the Free Speech Coalition with the aim of “greater public tolerance of freedom of sexual speech” and it currently engages in lobbying, PR and litigation with to this end.  We have this group to thank for legislation in the US which removed the prohibition on depictions that appeared to be of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and opened the door to a tsunami of material known as ‘barely legal’ which features computer generated images of children or performers over the age of 18 childified to look much younger

Protecting children from pornography is much more than a free speech issue.  As more and more emerged about the effects of pornography on those who consume it is an issue of public health and we must ensure that we do not allow this fact to be clouded.

Writing in The Times the year before PIE was disbanded philosopher Roger Scruton stated his view that freedom of speech had to be sacrificed when it came to such groups. He wrote: "Paedophiles must be prevented from 'coming out'. Every attempt to display their vice as a legitimate 'alternative' to conventional morality must be, not refuted, but silenced."

It is to be hoped that we will be able to look back on our present campaigns from the future and wonder how we, as a society, ever accepted the universal availability of online pornography without protection and be thankful that the work which are undertaking today has strengthened future generations.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Playing it safe

Much has been written about the merits or otherwise of playing video games – particularly those of a violent nature.  Critics’ claim that games are addictive and can foster an obsession with killing and death whilst supporters argue that they improve visual, coordination and reasoning skills and can provide a safe outlet for aggression.

Some new research from Canada has recently been published which considers the link between the types of video games teens play, how long they play them, and their levels of moral reasoning; their ability to take the perspective of others into account.

Researchers surveyed 13 and 14 year olds of both genders; they were questioned about their gaming habits and patterns and were assessed to gauge their stage of moral development using an established scale.

Previous studies have suggested that a person's moral judgement goes through four phases as they grow from childhood and enter adulthood.  By the age of 13 or 14 young people should be entering the third stage, and be able to empathise with others and take their perspective into account.

However this latest study found that this stage appeared to be delayed in teenagers who regularly played violent video games.  Hours spent playing violent games was effectively stunting teenagers’ emotional growth.  Interestingly, there was no correlation between the amount of time adolescents reported playing non-violent video games and their moral reasoning levels.

Researcher Mirjana Bajovic said: 'Exposure to violence in video games may influence the development of moral reasoning because violence is not only presented as acceptable but is also justified and rewarded.  Spending too much time within the virtual world of violence may prevent [gamers] from getting involved in different positive social experiences in real life, and in developing a positive sense of what is right and wrong.'

Debates on violent video games often get stuck at ‘do they cause violent crime?’ but as this study shows, there are other more subtle outcomes which are also of concern.