LONDON—The conservative Daily Mail is gloating at the news that Prime Minister David Cameron has, as the paper put it, "intervened to insist a default block on porn, deactivated only when users make an active choice to have it switched off, is put back on the table." The paper has mounted an aggressive campaign over the past few months to pressure internet service providers and the government into implementing an "opt-in" process whereby porn sites will by default be blocked from households, which can request that they be allowed through. Similar attempts have been made in the United States, but have thus far failed.
"Today [Cameron] will announce a consultation on whether to introduce automatic filters, or a less stringent system which would mean people would have to make an ‘active choice’ on whether or not to view explicit sites when they sign up with an internet service provider," the paper reported Thursday. "The move marks a significant step forward for the Daily Mail’s Block Online Porn campaign, which has called for a consultation on the introduction of content filtering systems for internet accounts."
However, the less reactionary Independent noted in its coverage of the development that "critics have warned that such a bar would be impractical, expensive and draconian. They suggested the consultation was more about appeasing right wing newspapers that have been campaigning for such a filter and deflecting attention from the party's expected poor performance."
If it was not obvious, the comment by the Independent's Oliver Wright was a not-so-subtle slap at the Daily Mail for being a de facto mouthpiece for the government. Such criticism in the wake of devastating hearings that have exposed a disturbingly cozy relationship between Rupert Murdoch's media empire and Cameron reinforces the feeling among many that the state of official corruption in the United Kingdom has reached epidemic proportions. Defecting attention away from that by positing a national (indeed, international) crisis that threatens the country's youth, was almost inevitable.
The "opt-in" plan is of course controversial for many both in and outside of Britain, and had in fact hit a wall of sorts when a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport stated recently that it was not inclined to support the proposal on civil liberties grounds.
"Instead," reported Tech Week Europe, "[Culture Secretary Jeremy] Hunt wants ISPs to be forced into providing customers with an 'active choice' for filtering porn, which would see end users given the simple task of selecting 'yes' or ‘no’ if they wanted access to adult content."
That, responded the Daily Mail, "angered campaigners," and also, it implied, forced Cameron to intervene.
That may be wishful thinking on the paper's part, as well as its way of lighting an additional fire under the beleaguered PM, who now says his government will "consult" with the country's ISPs, the details of which have not yet been revealed. The Daily Mail, despite its bluster, is hardly assured by the government's "intervention."
"The Prime Minister has taken a significant step in the right direction," it opined today. "Now he must not let the web giants escape with a compromise which continues to leave our children in danger."
Orwell would have nodded his head in recognition.