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Burnham lacks friends in Washington

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Months after announcing his intention to work with the Obama administration to develop new restrictions on "unacceptable" material online, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham is still waiting for anyone in Washington to listen to him.

At the end of December, Burnham took to the airwaves and newspaper pages to decry "content that should just not be available to be viewed". He also suggested international cooperation to create a system of cinema-style age ratings for English language websites.

Burnham pinned his "utterly crucial" hopes for tighter regulation of internet content on Barack Obama, who at the time was still weeks away from inauguration.

But yesterday in response to a question from the Liberal Democrats, Burnham's junior minister Barbara Follett conceded that four months into the new US administration, no progress had been made on the plans. Officials in London were still waiting for someone interested to be appointed across the Atlantic, she explained.

"I remain keen to discuss an international approach to areas of public concern about certain internet content and look forward to engaging with the appropriate member of the US Administration once the relevant appointment has been made," Follett said.

In December, Burnham insisted he was not aiming to impose a new international censorship scheme online. Nevertheless, he said the internet was "quite a dangerous place" and that it had been created "as a place that governments couldn't reach."

"We are having to revisit that stuff seriously now," he added.

As months pass with no action, however, the Culture Secretary's comments are increasingly likely to be seen as political kite-flying. The office of Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Don Foster, who asked the question about progress on the plans, said it was prompted by the government's silence on the issue since Burnham's statements.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport did not respond to a request for further comment. ®

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