Thursday, 7 July 2011

Rape prevention: Culture, media and sport

[trigger warning]

So, the first department to reply to my messages about rape prevention policy is the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who sent me a reply on Thursday.

(This was actually quite a surprise - I was expecting them to be overwhelmed with all the messages they were getting recently about News International and so take longer to reply)

As I'm now coming to find is usual for government departments, it doesn't quite answer the question I asked.

Thank you for your recent email about media regulation.

I appreciate your concerns on this matter, but must emphasise that under current broadcasting arrangements, responsibility for what is broadcast on television and radio rests with the broadcasters and the organisations that regulate broadcasting - the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the BBC Trust and the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority (S4C) - within the overall framework set by the Communications Act 2003 and the BBC Charter and Agreement.

It is a long-standing principle that the Government does not interfere in programme matters, either on arrangements for scheduling or on content. It is important to maintain the principle of freedom of expression which political interference could undermine.

Ofcom, the BBC Trust and S4C are independent of the Government and responsible for safeguarding the public interest in broadcasting. They set out the rules and guidance with which broadcasters must comply. Within this framework, it is the broadcasters' job to make judgments about what individual programmes should contain and the time at which they are broadcast.

You may like to raise your concerns by writing to Ofcom at Riverside House, 2a Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1 9HA.

For printed media, the Government is likewise committed to the effective self-regulation of the press, and believes that maintaining the principle of freedom of expression is fundamental to our democracy. Therefore the Government does not - and cannot - interfere in what a newspaper or magazine chooses to publish. With this freedom, however, comes great responsibility. Newspapers must, of course, abide by the law, but they also sign up to a Code of Practice, overseen by the independent Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The Editor's Code of Practice sets a benchmark for the standards the press is expected to maintain. More information on the PCC and the Editors' Code of Practice, including details of how to make a complaint about a particular article, can be found on their website at:

Whilst at present we do not believe that there is a convincing case for further Government intervention in media regulation, we recognise that for the public to have confidence in a system of self-regulation it must be effective and robust. We therefore continue to monitor the behaviour of the press and their compliance with the Code.

Let's leave aside the difference from the normal definitions of "effective" and "robust" required to apply them to the PCC's "regulation" of the press.

Anyway, my reply:

Thank you for your reply to my earlier message.

I agree that the responsibility for what is broadcast or reported in the press rests with the broadcasters and the media, and that the government is rightly cautious about taking actions which could limit freedom of expression. I will contact Ofcom as you suggest regarding these matters.

However, there seem to be some areas in which the DCMS could take action without interfering with commercial and individual freedom of expression.

  1. The government - along with other public bodies such as police forces and local government - are major advertisers and producers of media content in their own right. Are there any relevant guidelines for this content and advertising to ensure that it fits in with government rape prevention strategies?
  2. In its role as a funder (directly or indirectly) of individuals or organisations media and arts projects, the government could encourage the recipients of this funding to avoid inaccurate portrayals of rape and sexual assault, that condone or glamourise the crimes. This would not be a restriction on freedom of expression - people wishing to condone or glamourise rape would have many non-governmental funding sources still willing to fund them - but would ensure that public money is spent in the public interest, rather than counter to it. Are there any policies of this nature within the department, or in its agreements with the bodies the department commissions to indirectly fund cultural activities?

Again, thank you for your time, and for your prompt response to my initial query at what must be a busy time for your department.

I'll write the letter to Ofcom soon. Here's the Broadcasting Code, which is the guidance that would apply.

A few relevant pieces seem to be:

  • Section 2 - I am concerned that "violence" and "sexual violence" are listed as separate categories in paragraph 2.3, but only the condoning and glamourising of "violent [...] behaviour" is restricted under paragraph 2.4.
  • Section 3 bans material "likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime". Can they be convinced that material supporting rape culture counts? - there's plenty of research to suggest it should.

The rest of it seems less relevant at an initial glance - are there any bits I've missed?