A major conference on children and the UK media held at Bath Spa University last week has sparked a national debate on how we best protect children online.
Organised by Bath Spa University in partnership with David Niven Associates, 'Childhood and the Media: Images, Rights and Responsibilities' took place on Friday 21 April, and scrutinised various aspects of children’s representation and rights as well as media responsibilities and regulations.
Speakers included Elisabeth Ribbans, Managing Editor of the Guardian; Simon Milner, UK Head of Policy at Facebook; Naomi Gummer, UK Public Policy Analyst at Google; Sue Steel, Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance; and Dr Fleur Fisher, Chair of the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel.
One of the key debates was on whether new legislation is needed to protect children from internet pornography. There have been recent calls for an ‘opt-in’ system to automatically exclude internet users from accessing internet pornography unless they specifically sign up for it.
At the conference, Google argued that laws would not be sufficient to protect young people as technology is moving too fast for legislation and that the onus should be on parents to monitor their children’s internet use. Facebook also told delegates they were unable to prevent children under 13 setting up Facebook accounts, despite this being against government policy.
The debate continued in the national press with the Telegraph and the Daily Mail responding to Google and Facebook’s comments.
Professor Stephen Ward, Dean of Bath Spa University’s School of Education, said: "The conference was a great success and there were many valuable and interesting discussions on both how children are represented by the media and the responsibilities of the media in protecting our young people. We managed to attract some leading names to speak at the event, confirming Bath Spa’s reputation in the areas of education policy and child protection.
"Not surprisingly, the issue of protecting children from online pornography led to a heated and impassioned debate. Through our teacher training at Bath Spa we are only too aware of the need to help children manage their lives in the increasingly complex digital world in which they are growing up. We are pleased to see this issue has been picked up on a national level to inform all those who are concerned with children’s safety and well-being and we will monitor with interest how this develops and whether or not government takes the legislation route."
David Niven, Managing Director of David Niven Associates, added: "Once again controversy is generated as to the best way to protect our children and young people, and to whose responsibility that ultimately is. It’s not a question of only one side having responsibility, much like manufacturers of cars are responsible for all aspects of in-car safety, but drivers have responsibility for how they drive their car.
"So, organisations such as Facebook and Google are responsible for as much online safety as they can (and more is possible). But, parents and young people are responsible for how it is used. There is no easy answer, but much more education is needed all round to improve the experience and safety of our children."