Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

ATVOD Alive and kicking BBFC rejects

Atvod is worth noting in any analysis of convergence, and is also linked to the BBFC. Be aware (see note below) that it often rules on adult content. It comes from EU law (The Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2007)

The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD), formerly the Association for Television On-Demand, is a quango, regulatory agency designated by Ofcom as the "co-regulator" of television on demand (VOD) in the UK. ATVOD was founded in 2010 following a European Union directive on the regulation of audiovisual media. It is responsible for regulating on-demand services such as ITV Player and Channel 4’s All 4, as well as paid-for content on websites which are deemed to be "tv-like". [Wiki]
NB: please note that Gayle's article (linked below) features an image illustrating the theme of adult content, and that many links to AtVod you may encounter will feature discussion of adult content, which seems to have been the main type of media content targeted by it, thus far. Quotes from this include some explicit sexual terms, and are only viewable if you click 'read more'.
QUOTES FROM GAYLE'S ARTICLE [analysis follows]

Free-speech campaigners have condemned the first rulings against film-makers under new rules banning the depiction of harmful sexual fetishes.
The Authority for Television on Demand (Atvod) ruled that sites run by two dominatrix film-makers offered video-on-demand clips that would be banned if they were for sale on DVD.
But activists from the group Backlash, which promotes freedom of sexual expression, said the rules applied by Atvod amounted to illegal subversion of free speech and accused the regulator of being out of touch with the online world.
The rulings are the first to be brought under rule 14 of the Atvod rulebook, which bans a video-on-demand service from showing material that would be refused classification by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification).
The ruling added: “... this goes beyond the allowance made by the BBFC [British Board of Film Classification] for ‘moderate, non-abusive consensual activity’.”
Both sites were also found to have breached a second rule intended to keep hardcore pornography out of the reach of children.
Ruth Evans, Atvod’s chair, said: “Under the new rules, material which is banned from sale on a DVD in the UK is also banned from UK video-on-demand services.
“This is particularly likely to affect pornographic videos which feature violence or in which consent is not clear. If you can’t walk into a licensed sex shop and buy it, nor can you view it at home on a UK video-on-demand service regulated by Atvod.”
Rule 14 came into force in December amid protests by sex workers, pornographers and free-speech campaigners. Those opposed to it drew wide publicity with a protest outside parliament that included “face-sitting”, a sexual activity banned under the rule.
Campaigners with Backlash told the Guardian they believed the new regulation, brought in using a statutory instrument (a law enacted through delegated powers), went beyond the scope of the EU directive it was based on and as a result would fail a judicial review. 
Itziar Urrutia, who runs the Urban Chick Supremacy Cell, a dominatrix fetish website, said: “The patriarchy knows full well that the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] don’t prosecute these minority-interest websites under the Obscene Publications Act because a jury wouldn’t convict. So they resort to illegal ‘rules’. This will end in a grown-up court.
Atvod have erected themselves as the UK’s Pornfinder General. A modern witch-hunt against a peril that sacrifices children to a fantasy evil created by the state. The sole purpose of this new puritanism is mass control and surveillance, under the pretence of ‘protection’.”
Urrutia successfully fought Atvod last year over rules that demand explicit material must be kept out of the reach of people under 18. She added: “I have some bad news for our government: like it or not, paywalls don’t stop minors from accessing porn because they don’t need to pay for it. They are far more techie-savvy than these luddite civil servants. 
“What children need is sex education to help them understand the role of porn in society,” she said.

Quotes from [Wiki] unless otherwise stated. Look out for the AtVod tag too...

AtVod is still a fairly new regulator, launched by OfCom in 2010 to meet the legal requirements of an EU directive on audiovisual media. EU law is often overlooked when analysing media regulation!

It lost its first major tussle when it tried to force newspapers to submit its website to AtVod regulation. (See my detailed post on this). Does the UK media regulation environment cope well with convergence? No seems the most reasonable answer - no better than it copes with cross-media ownership.
In a letter to publishers the body has bared its teeth by identifying “television-like” content currently being displayed on newspapers without regulation was a loophole that it, alongside co-regulator Ofcom, wished to see closed.... The PCC are resisting the measure, pointing out that their remit was expanded in 2007 to cover the content that Atvod now wishes to get its mitts on.If Atvod is successful in its bid it will be the first time that the UK press, which cherishes its self-regulatory status - has been brought under legislative control. [quoted from The Drum, cited in this post]

ATVOD has acted promptly following a decision by Ofcom today to uphold an appeal by News Group Newspapers Ltd. against a determination by ATVOD that The Sun’s website included a video on demand service which fell within the video on demand regulator’s remit. Given the similarities between The Sun case and other newspaper and magazine websites, ATVOD has today announced that it will withdraw its Determinations that The Sunday Times Video Library, Telegraph TV, The Independent Video, FT Video, Guardian Video, Guardian You Tube, News of the World TV and Elle TV were On-Demand Programme Services. [AtVod, 2011]
It was also forced to reduce its fees in 2013. (Note that the BBFC are sometimes criticised for their fees too, and that when Desmond quit the PCC it was the fees to PressBof that he was most unhappy with). The BBFC's fees upset some too (they do do a student discount)
Each ODPS is currently subject to a regulatory fee, normally £2,900, and its editorial content and advertising must comply with rules enforced by ATVOD and the Advertising Standards Agency respectively. [ODPS = On-Demand Programme Services. Source: FieldFisher]

The question of what online content, what 'channels' or sites, comes under its remit is still very much in flux. OfCom ruled that YouTube wasn't, but 'in February 2014 ATVOD determined that the feature film streaming and downloading service provided by Sainsbury's Entertainment does fall under its remit.

It has considerable powers (reflecting its status as an OfCom subsidiary, not a self-regulator): 'Sanctions against those who fail to comply with these regulations include fines of up to £250,000, suspension of service and criminal prosecution.' Effectively, it can be said to have licensing power. Blocking payments is a key power:
ATVOD only has the jurisdiction to take action against websites that are based in the UK. Consequently in 2013 the regulator proposed the introduction of a new licensing system. Licences would only be granted to websites that have suitable age checks in place. Unlicensed websites would have their payments from UK customers blocked.
'In practice the majority of ATVOD's work consists of regulating UK websites that host videos to ensure that services containing adult content cannot be accessed by users under 18.' I noted above that this is an OfCom subsidiary, and thus has teeth:
In 2012-13 ATVOD took action against 16 services deemed to be in contravention of the regulations. Ten of these made changes to bring them into compliance and three closed. Two of the services were run by Playboy TV and these received fines from Ofcom totalling £100,000. One website was shut down by an Ofcom order after ignoring an ATVOD enforcement notice issued against it. [Wiki]
OfCom has removed the licenses of several digital channels, and imposed large (multi-million) fines on a range of broadcasters to boot. 

Whilst it is an OfCom subsidiary, it is also, indirectly, carrying out BBFC work. Its the new (from December 2014) Rule 14 that makes this most explicit and which sparked protests outside parliament by sex workers, freedom of speech campaigners and others:
Ruth Evans, Atvod’s chair, said: “Under the new rules, material which is banned from sale on a DVD in the UK is also banned from UK video-on-demand services.“This is particularly likely to affect pornographic videos which feature violence or in which consent is not clear. If you can’t walk into a licensed sex shop and buy it, nor can you view it at home on a UK video-on-demand service regulated by Atvod.” [Gayle article]

ATVOD - THE ISSUES, in brief!!!:
Overlapping with above points, this raises issues around:

  • overall, uncertainty over what AtVod actually covers, with court cases continuing to define this
  • especially given the Tory election victory, EU law imposed on the UK is somewhat controversial
  • convergence; is there an adequate response to this?
  • cross-media ownership; similarly,  is there an adequate response to this?
  • distinguishing between commercial VoD and UGC is problematic
  • does not regulate YouTube or many similar content providers
  • scale of the task: is it really feasible through a small organisation?
  • faces accusations of very partial selection of cases to pursue
  • UK-based: defining this is rather slippery
  • protecting children - the usual issues with lack of evidence and impacting on adult choices
  • digital-savvy children are surely better able to get round any online restrictions better than most adults?

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