CMF Research Blog Research Forum

Objectionable content?

Post by

David Buckingham is Professor of Media and Communications at Loughborough University, UK, and a Visiting Professor at the Norwegian Centre for Child Research. His work focuses on children and young people’s interactions with electronic media, and on media education. He has directed more than 25 research projects on these issues, and been a consultant for bodies such as UNESCO, the United Nations, Ofcom, and the UK government. His recent books include Beyond Technology: Children’s Learning in the Age of Digital Culture; The Material Child: Growing Up in Consumer Culture; and The Civic Web: Young People, the Internet and Civic Participation.

‘Basically, porn is everywhere’ was the title of a report published last year by the UK Children’s Commissioner. If not exactly everywhere, pornography is certainly much more accessible today, not least to children and young people. Estimates suggest that there are over one million pornographic websites, and that one in eight online searches is for porn.

This year, the government introduced compulsory filtering of internet services in an attempt to prevent children ‘stumbling across hardcore legal pornography’, as Prime Minister David Cameron put it. Yet many commentators believe that filters are unlikely to be effective; and it seems that the filters are already blocking a much wider range of material – including sex education sites, and those aimed at victims of abuse.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report argued that there was a role for schools here. Teachers should recognize that children are bound to encounter pornography, and they should be prepared to teach them about it. This is an idea that is now quite widely accepted by people from many different viewpoints. Indeed, some innovative sex education projects – such as BishUK – have been doing it for some time.

Pornography is obviously a form of media, and as such it should be an issue for media educators as well. We can analyse pornography both as a form of representation and as a commercial business, and we can evaluate the claims about its effects on the people who see it. We can also discuss the broader issues at stake in attempts to regulate and censor the internet.

A few weeks ago, I was commissioned to write an article about this topic for the Media Magazine, which is targeted at students of A-Level Media Studies (aged 16-18). The article aims to introduce students to the issues, and to provide ideas for discussion and further research: the topic is especially relevant to the ‘media debates’ aspect of the syllabus, which includes a topic on media regulation.

I think it is a fair, balanced and informative piece about a subject that most A-level students will already know quite a lot about. You might well disagree – but if you go to, you can read it for yourself.

What I didn’t expect was that my own article would be blocked. The Media Magazine is published by the English and Media Centre, an educational charity which provides training and educational resources for teachers. Contrary to the strong wishes of the magazine’s editor, the Directors of the Centre decided that my article should not be published. It seems that they felt the topic was too controversial, although it’s also apparent that they personally disagree with my arguments, for reasons that have not been explained.

So, should we be teaching young people about pornography, and if so, what should we teach them? Or should we refuse to address it, in the expectation that it will then somehow disappear? I don’t imagine teaching about this would be easy. However, I do think we should be enabling young people – and certainly A-Level students – to think critically about the whole range of media, and to participate in public debates about them.

Leave a Reply