Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK media companies sign up to online content guidelines

Out-Law News | 26 Feb 2008 | 10:24 am | 1 min. read

Some of the UK's biggest media and internet companies have agreed to warn users when they publish material that some might find offensive. A series of guidelines has been brokered which will see online material tagged for suitability.

All four UK terrestrial broadcasters – the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five – have joined with Bebo, Google, AOL, Yahoo! and mobile phone networks to sign up to the guidelines. They have agreed to abide by the rules brokered by Government advisors the Broadband Strategy Group.

"In the linear television world, viewers are familiar with the tools that have been provided to enable them to make informed choices about what they and their families watch," say the guidelines, the Audiovisual Content Information Good Practice Principles.

"The programme’s scheduling (whether it is broadcast pre or post-watershed), the announcement before the start of the programme (perhaps warning that it may contain scenes of violence), the programme’s title, the viewers’ previous knowledge of the programme and the brand reputation of the channel all help them to decide whether a certain piece of content is suitable for viewing or not."

That kind of guidance is not available for online content which, once made available, can be watched at any time. The Principles have been designed to allow viewers or their guardians to know what kind of content is going to be watched.

The signatories have pledged to give information about "content that may be harmful or offensive to the general public, and that may be unsuitable for children and young people. In particular, content information is designed to enable parents and carers to exercise supervision over the content viewed by those they are responsible for," said the Principles.

The Principles only apply to commercially produced content, not to user-generated content such as home made videos published via sites such as YouTube. It also does not apply to advertising, which has its own rules.

The Principles do not dictate a single way in which warnings should be given, but they do say that they should be " easy to use and understand; give adequate information to enable the user to make an informed choice about whether or not to access the content [and use] plain and consistent language, practical for the medium in which it is made available."

The new rules were backed by media regulator Ofcom as well as the BSG, and the move represents the first time that the principles of mainstream broadcasting content warnings have been applied to internet-published new media on an industry wide scale.