Is the British Government planning a new department of Digital Cleaners?

According to the FT the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, thinks he may be able to not just control product placement in TV programmes but also on the web!. To quote from Neville Hobson’s blog post (nice spot Neville)

Andy Burnham, culture secretary, said the government had an economic interest in protecting standards in UK broadcasting because they were “part of Britain’s brand when it comes to world markets”.

No worries, you might think, there’s always the internet. But they’ve got that covered, too:

[…] And in comments that may alarm the digital media industry, he suggested that the government should have a role in ensuring the same standards were met on the internet as on television and radio.

“If a clip on YouTube gets a million hits, it is akin to broadcasting and it doesn’t seem to me to be too difficult to have an alert on that clip, an alert for violence or for sex,” Mr Burnham said.

Oh dear. Someone somewhere is confused.

So what are they gonna do? Count every time every online video is watched? Which ones – the ones made in the UK, uploaded to the UK, available in the UK? Just the ones on Youtube?

Civil Surf - the UK Governments Digital Cleaners With BordersThen what? When a video reaches a certain popularity a crack team of digital nano cleaners (perhaps we could call them Civil Surf) will swoop into the interwebs and pixelate out any potentially placed product – or maybe re-arrange the ones and noughts so they look like Andy Burnham?

Or they could ban British production companies from putting products in video which may appear on the web – and in the process kill one of this countries fastest growing wealth creating industries.

Overall a sad, sad, idea.

Perhaps it does reveal how government is already thinking about ways in which it should/could control the internet when it no longer is able to regulate the media through the current mechanism of owning the bandwidth.

Update: Sunday 15th. Here’s a link to the speech itself: Some quotes:

With so much of the online world untrusted, I feel we should preserve standards of accuracy, impartiality and trustworthiness, rather than dismantle them. People still use the internet and TV for different reasons and with different expectations and we mustn’t forget that.


But the penetration of the internet to all of our lives, means that I think that people don’t want it to feel like the wild west. Things some people accept as inevitable in terms of governance, I believe we should question.

Why? Because as, for example, Tanya Byron finds in her report there is a climate of anxiety, as well as opportunity that surrounds new technology.

You do have to stop and think when you read a quote from a nine-year old boy in Tanya’s report about whether we are sufficiently controlling this online world in which our children are roaming. It’s funny but it does make a very important point. He said: “I’m worried I’ll get lost on the internet and find I’ve suddenly got a job in the army or something.”
It made me laugh and I’m glad it made you laugh too but I think it makes an important point.

I think it’s well worth a read. He’s thinking through some important problems – yet the instinct to control rather than educate is the wrong one. It goes back to the simple reality that we should teach our children to cross the road – not prevent them going anywhere near a road.


  1. Katie says:

    Well, I am unnerved and not a little intrigued to see how this pans out …

    And it makes me wonder why they’re drawing the line at online video? Perhaps they could also check podcasts, which are surely akin to commercial radio? And blogs – they’re just like print ads, aren’t they?

    Oh, and what about micro blogging? “Now, no more tweets mentioning what brand of ketchup you’re having with your dinner, folks!”

    Those Civil Surfers (nice!) are going to be one very big and very busy department, aren’t they.

Comments are closed.