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Ofcom refuses to bend over smut TV link-links

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If you thought that Australia rules when it comes to over-zealous censorship, you may need to think again, as the UK’s very own Ofcom looks set to challenge the nanny-crats down under for first prize.

Australian censorship, as exemplified by ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, came to our attention last year when it required the takedown of a page linking to a link to allegedly harmful content. Not to be outdone, Ofcom this week came out with a remarkably similar ruling – although since the link in question wasn’t even on the net, some might argue it goes a stage further than the Australian authorities.

The link in question belongs to TelevisionX (NSFW), an adult channel located on the Freeview platform. In March this year, two complainants spotted that the channel was airing a static interactive information page which provides viewers with details of how they can register for subscription to TelevisionX.

From there, viewers who click the yellow button can go on to view summary terms and conditions for said subscription: and for those who wish to read the full Ts and Cs, the summary page helpfully contains the online address for that service – which just happens to be TelevisionX.com.

Anyone desperate to seek out a touch of smut can then copy down the address, enter it into their laptop, and cast their eyes over the relatively harmless welcome page for TelevisionX. Those who then choose to disregard the warning marked "Adult Content", as well as the intro which explains in the first couple of lines that the site contains hardcore porn and that persons under the age of 18 should click no further, may go on to look at the real stuff.

That’s a lot of work – and our guess is that the average teen porn-surfer either couldn’t be bothered, or would already be up to no good on sites such as omegle. However, Ofcom begs to differ. In its ruling, delivered on Monday, it stated: "Any references to websites or URLs made on air, which can be through an interactive element of a service (ie the yellow button), are broadcast content. Ofcom therefore has the duty and the power to regulate such references under the Communications Act 2003.

"The issue in this case was whether the website address was suitable to be referred to on a licensed television service that was broadcast without mandatory restricted access, and so complied with these rules. When accessed merely by clicking a button on a warning page to confirm that the user was over 18 the www.televisionx.com website contained images of R18-rated equivalent material.

"This included explicit images of a woman inserting a dildo. This website did not require prior registration to view and therefore the reference to its URL on the terms and conditions page, which clearly directed viewers to the website, was of serious concern to Ofcom. Ofcom considered that the broadcast of this website address was a breach of generally accepted standards because of the unprotected and explicit sexual material it led to.

"In Ofcom's opinion, given that this website reference was broadcast between 03:00 and 23:00 on a Freeview service without mandatory restricted access, its broadcast was not justified by the context.

"Ofcom therefore concluded that the reference to www.televisionx.com, as broadcast on the terms and conditions page of the service Television X, via the yellow button, was in breach of Rules 2.1 and 2.3 of the Code."

In fairness to Ofcom, this state of affairs is not entirely of its choosing. This is how the law works in the UK: if a broadcaster directs viewers to "regulated" material by any means – whether through the content of a programme, or even through printed teletext of one form or another – then it is subject to the law as it stands, and, where a complaint is made, Ofcom must act on it.

This focus on regulated material is also the reason why it is OK for a TV presenter to mention a work of film pornography (entrance is regulated on the door), a subscription online porn service – but not a service that is free to view and contains (R-18) smut.

Is that clear?

Coming up: a prize for the first reader to spot a regulatory body censoring links to links to links to content. ®

Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet

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