UK Culture Secretary Wants Movie-Style Ratings for Websites

LONDON, England - Britain's Culture Secretary Andy Burnham would like to see movie-style ratings for websites.

In a BBC interview, Burnham said, "The Internet is becoming a more and more pervasive entity in all our lives and yet the content standards online are not as clear as we've all been used to in traditional media." His goal is to protect children from harmful materials on the Internet.

Burnham plans to reach out to the new administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and wants to propose new rules and regulations for English-language websites. He also cited the need for UK and European-centric ISPs such as BT, Tiscali, Sky and AOL as well, among others, to enact restrictions based on age ratings for sites.

Burnham told the BBC, "I think we do need to have a debate now about clearer signposting and labeling online because it can be quite a confusing world, particularly for parents who are trying to ensure their children are only accessing appropriate stuff."

Burnham did make it clear he is not suggesting censorship. "It's not about banning or stopping people having that freedom of expression," he said. "It's simply about clearer signposting, more information, so people know where they're working."

Additionally, Burnham would like to see massively popular public sites such as YouTube and Facebook monitor potentially offensive content to a greater degree, removing it within a specified time period. Burnham told the BBC, "I think that there is definitely a case for clearer standards online. More ability for parents to understand if their child is on a site, what standards it is operating to. What are the protections that are in place?"

Burnham's comments came in the wake of Australia recently announcing plans to scrutinize its Internet content.

For years, many adult websites have had content warnings on their home pages, with the option for those under 18 to leave the sites immediately. The industry has also often urged parents and guardians to monitor their children's Internet viewing.

The global reactions to Burnham's comments have been swift, with numerous critics and pundits suggesting age ratings may be a proverbial "slippery slope" on the road to censorship Burnham said he is against. And it wasn't too long ago that mega-corps Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were lambasted for allowing nations such as China, Russia and Malaysia to filter Web content - especially that of a political nature - accessed by its citizens.