Email to the BBFC regarding audio
Sent to Murray Perkins, BBFC Head of the DEA - the principal adviser on the Digital Economy Act to the Chief Executive, responsible for managing the BBFC's ongoing responsibilities under the Act. 

Dear Murray,

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 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.


Pandora Blake