Education & Family

How can we protect children from internet porn?

Rihanna in concert
Image caption Ofcom censured broadcasters for playing one of Rihanna's music videos

They are scantily-clad, mega-rich stars in a billion-dollar music industry and they are performing in your living room, on your TV, computer screen and increasingly - in your phone.

If you have children - do you want them there?

If you don't, how easy is it to evict them?

This is one area being tackled by Reg Bailey's review into the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood, due to be published on Monday.

The review calls for music videos to have age-ratings to help parents and broadcasters limit children's access to sexually-explicit material.

There have been complaints about the sexual images and lyrics in such videos - and rows among performers about what is right or wrong.

But for many campaigners the bigger issue is how to stop children accessing porn at the click of a mouse or on a mobile phone.

After all, age-ratings alone will not stop a child watching an explicit music video or finding - accidentally or otherwise - porn on the internet.

Children routinely claim to be older than they are to access websites.

John Carr, of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety says accessing extreme pornographic websites can disturb young children.

He says: "There is too much [pornography] around and it's too easy for kids to get at.

"We are talking about gross horrible stuff - gang rape, bestiality. What harm is that going to do to a five-year-old boy or girl?"

There have been mounting calls for Internet Service Providers - companies supplying the internet to our homes and digital devices - to do more to help parents stop their children seeing pornographic images.

It is understood the Bailey Review will say online parental controls are not always easy to set up and that the internet industry "could do a lot more to help parents block adult content from children".

Mr Bailey, the chief executive of the Mothers' Union, believes people should be given "an active choice" about whether they want adult content on their home internet, laptops or smart phones, rather than receiving it automatically and having to set up filters to remove it.

The review will also call on the industry to develop more robust online age-verification systems.

'Parents feel helpless'

The recommendations should please the Conservative MP Claire Perry, who is leading a campaign to persuade ISPs to offer their internet services with a default setting of "no adult material".

She too believes people should have to "opt in" for this kind of content, rather than opt out by activating parental controls on devices.

This would affect all the devices running off broadband in a home.

Ms Perry told the BBC news website: "I have three children aged eight, 12 and 14 and I know from talking to other parents there is a real concern about what children are seeing and accessing.

"It's not the porn we used to snigger at behind the bike sheds. You can get appalling things. Parents feel helpless.

"I Tweet and I Facebook and am reasonably technologically literate but I thought not enough was being done in terms of regulation - even though all other areas of the media are regulated."

Image caption Youngsters are exposed to porn and sexualised marketing on the internet, campaigners say

Not all parents are so expert on the internet, with many saying their children are way ahead of them.

Sally Russell, co-founder of the parenting website Netmums says it's vital that businesses and organisations work with parents to protect children from inappropriate content.

But she says parents should also take responsibility.

"It's also up to parents to use their common sense when it comes to what they expose their children to.

"They can turn off the TV when an adult music video comes on, not give in to pester power over buying age-inappropriate clothes or make sure that parental controls are set on computers," she says.

The government is keen to give parents more support in controlling what material their children have access to - and a simpler way of complaining when they are unhappy.

But it wants to do this through self-regulation of the industry and educating parents to enact controls rather than law-making.

Behind the scenes, under Labour and the current government, a committee called the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) has brought together organisations and individuals from government, industry, law enforcement, academia and charities - with the aim of working in partnership to keep children and young people safe online.

One of the executive board members, Professor Ian Walden of Queen Mary College, University of London, says the government is using a "carrot and stick approach" with the industry - with the stick being that legislation could be brought in if the internet industry does not do enough.

Porn availability

"Industry recognises the need to protect children and wants to ensure that it creates a safe and trusted environment where children can enjoy the benefits of the internet, " he said.

Hamish MacLeod, representing the Mobile Broadband Group (MBG), says the issue is not simply one of whether people should be able to have a filter of adult content set as default.

"The customer base is very diverse, the methods of connectivity are very diverse and the technology is moving very quickly," he said.

"The MBG therefore supports an approach that allows for a portfolio of network based and device based solutions."

John Carr, who is also a member of UKCCIS - says it doesn't matter if change comes through self-regulation or a legal change.

"I can't believe that action against pop videos will be the most important issue from this review. The most important thing is what are ISPs going to do about the availability of porn," he said.

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