Further to my response to the BBFC consultation on age verification, I have a question about the classification of audio materials.
The Digital Economy Act defines "online pornography" to include video with and without audio, still images with and without audio, and audio alone. As far as I am aware, this constitutes a new legal definition of pornography; I do not believe that it has included audio alone before.
To date, Ofcom's guidance for broadcasters on what types of language or content should be avoided on radio (which only apply when children are likely to be listening) has been pretty broad. There are no prohibitions against, say, offensive language when children are not likely to be listening.
As I understand it, the Obscene Publications Act does not include audio; and the BBFC does not maintain guidelines on classifying audio. On what basis, then, will the suitability of online audio for under 18s be judged?
On my website DreamsofSpanking.com I publish narrative audio recordings of erotic stories - sort of like a naughty "book at bedtime". Along with subtitles for the hearing impaired, I also create audio descriptions for some of my videos to make them more accessible to sight impaired people. Will I be required to place these recordings behind age verification?
My friend Girl on the Net creates audio readings of blogposts from her sex blog, in order to make her work more accessible to people with visual impairments. Will she have to place these recordings behind age verification?
I am concerned that requiring age verification to access audio recordings will constitute discrimination against people with disabilities. People with vision can read the posts on Girl on the Net's blog, and she will not be required to place text posts behind age checks under the Act. However, sight impaired people can only access her blog content via the audio recordings.
Around 2 million people in the UK have sight loss; a significant percentage of the population. Many of these individuals use a screen reader to narrate text to them as they browse websites. Age verification is not required to view text only content. I presume (and hope) that screen reader recordings will therefore also be exempt.
The BBFC have a duty to avoid discrimination against people with disabilities; it is therefore essential that they do not impose heavier restrictions for visually impaired people than for sighted people. Such a move would be both ableist and unjust. People with disabilities already struggle to be recognised as full adults with a diverse range of sexualities. Implementing this sort of double standard would increase the infantilisation of adults with disabilities in UK law, and establish a regressive and dangerous precedent.
I haven't seen this aspect of the Digital Economy Act mentioned in any of the BBFC's guidance or commentary so far; some clarity would be very welcome.