Culture, media and sport

17 Nov 2008 13:00:20

John Whittingdale calls for tougher controls on the Internet

John_whittingdaleThere are a number of issues on which sincere Conservatives sincerely disagree. One of them is media content, and the extent to which the Government should intervene on matters of decency and to protect the vulnerable.

On Thursday, Westminster Hall hosted a debate on the Internet and video games. It was chaired by Buckingham MP (and former Shadow Cabinet member) John Bercow. What price Mr Bercow will one day be a candidate for Speaker?

John Whittingdale chairs the Culture, Media and Sport select committee (and is a former Shadow Culture Secretary). His committee undertook a "a major inquiry into the whole question of harmful content on the internet and in video games". Mr Whittingdale said that although extremely violent and sexually explicit material was an obvious concern, as was the use of the Internet to harm children, these were not the only matters that the committee considered. The encouragement of suicide, the glorification of guns and gangs, the encouragement of anorexics not to eat, terrorist networks and cyberbullying were all of interest.

Mr Whittingdale made clear that he was a fan of the Internet but that it can be misused:

"I want to preface everything that I say by making it clear that in my view, and in the view of the Committee, the internet is an extraordinary development that is overwhelmingly a force for good. ... It has revolutionised life, and there is no going back. We cannot disinvent it; nor would anyone want to. It has rapidly become a research tool, a source of information and knowledge, a means of communication and a convenient method of purchase. We do not wish to give the impression that we think that the internet is a bad thing that has to be controlled, even if it were possible to do so. None the less, the truth is that it can be abused. The purpose of our inquiry was to focus on those areas in which abuse can take place and to consider ways in which it can be tackled."

Mr Whittingdale supported what can be described as a low standard of proof for tackling potentially harmful material:

"Much of our conclusion was based on the fact that evidence of harm does not necessarily exist. If one looks for empirical, hard, factual evidence that viewing a particular video or playing a video game has led someone to go out and commit a crime such as a rape or an act of violence, there is very little. Our view was therefore not that we should necessarily say “In that case, we cannot act,” but that we should act on the probability of risk. Where there is a probable risk that someone would be influenced by exposure to such material, that is sufficient cause for intervention to protect that person from being exposed to it."

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10 Nov 2008 18:25:13

Andy Burnham on the X Factor

Andy_burnhamPolitics is often compared, clumsily, to reality television. Shows like Big Brother and X Factor are claimed to capture people's interest more readily than MPs. And sometimes politicians can't resist the temptation to try to get a piece of the action. Culture Secretary Andy Burnham was so seduced today, during oral questions for Culture, Media and Sport.

In fairness, Mr Burnham was commenting in response to questions about the Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross affair. The BBC reports that he said MPs:

"should resist that temptation to comment on editorial matters. Although the temptation is great in my case, having seen the wonderful and talented Laura White very harshly voted off X Factor on Saturday."

Laura White lives in Mr Burnham's constituency - which is Leigh, in Greater Manchester. Perhaps the Culture Secretary could recommend her for a peerage instead.

Maybe people like their elected representatives to be up on popular culture. An alternative view is that it is somehow comforting if they are admirably ignorant of it!

20 Oct 2008 15:58:40

Conservative MPs disagree over TV licence fee

Bbc_logoOn Friday, backbencher Christopher Chope had the Second Reading of his Broadcasting (Television Licence Fee Abolition) Bill. He explained:

"This debate is about abolishing the television licence fee, which is more accurately described as the television tax. It is not about abolishing the BBC. One can be a friend of the BBC—as I am—without being a supporter of the licence fee, although the lengths to which the BBC sometimes goes to defend the licence fee often create enemies."

His effort, inevitably for now, failed. It was opposed by Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey, who said:

"I want to put it on record that I am a firm supporter of the licence fee, as is the Conservative party. Nevertheless, no one should be afraid to rehearse the arguments about whether the licence fee is the best funding mechanism."

Mr Chope quoted former BBC Director-General Greg Dyke, who said the licence fee has:

“always been an unfair tax—the rich pay the same as the poor— will be increasingly difficult for the BBC to collect the amount they collect now. In the age of internet TV, how can you insist people continue to pay a licence fee? A licence fee for what? Already you don’t need to pay the licence fee to watch most of the BBC’s programmes if you watch them on your computer via the iPlayer”.

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27 Feb 2008 08:24:49

Jeremy Hunt attacks Labour's zig-zagging approach to gambling

HuntjeremyincommonsExtracts from the response by Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to yesterday's statement on the future of gambling in the UK:

Dealing with problem gambling: "I want to welcome certain elements of this statement, particularly the commitment to increased resources going to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, run with great tenacity by my hon. friend the member for Ryedale.  Is he aware, however, that nearly three quarters of the funds raised by the Trust are used for treatment, which whilst being extremely important, does not address the policy changes necessary to prevent people becoming gambling addicts in the first place?  The Government’s own problem gambling prevalence study identified internet gambling as one of the fastest growing areas of problem gambling, yet he did not mention it.  Is he aware that approaching one in 10 adults who gamble online have an addiction?  So why did the Prime Minister, in has last budget as Chancellor, introduce a new 15% tax for online gambling operators, meaning that not a single one has re-registered in the UK where children and other vulnerable groups are protected by much safer and stronger regulations?  Does the Secretary of State now think it was wrong to liberalise gambling advertising in September in a way that makes it easier for overseas gambling operators not subject to those regulations to promote their online products in the UK?  More fundamentally, given that even now there appears to be no consistent strategy to deal with problem gambling, is there not a danger the Government’s efforts to appear tough on the issue will be perceived as more PR than reality?"

Zig-zagging policy on casinos: "With respect to casinos, the policy appears even more confused.  First there was no limit on the number of supercasinos; then 96; then 40; then 8; then 1. Today it's none.  No supercasino. But 16 larger casinos instead.  Not so much a U turn as an S bend."

Related link: Brown's U-turn on supercasinos masks damaging gambling liberalisation by Jeremy Hunt