News Site “UK Column” Removes All Videos After Brush with ATVOD

Few people in the UK are yet aware that for the past few years, the huge media regulator (and censor) Ofcom has had the power to regulate online video services. The EU’s Audio Visual Media Services Directive (AVMS) was intended to extend broadcast regulation to online TV catch-up services. In this country, Ofcom was tasked with implementing the directive, and promptly outsourced the job to a private organisation, ATVOD.

The regulations were originally expected to apply only to services such as 4oD and the BBC’s iPlayer; but ATVOD had different ideas, taking a far broader view of what constituted a “TV-like” service. ATVOD’s first move was to effectively wipe out the UK porn industry overnight by insisting British porn sites verify the age of all visitors before allowing them to see any naughty bits: a requirement so onerous that no site could possibly hope to implement it and stay in business (ATVOD claims the support of the “responsible” adult industry, but this in fact consists of TV and DVD companies who are delighted to see their online competitors closed down).

In the interest of full disclosure, mine was one of many businesses affected, and I closed my company in 2012. Playboy moved its core operations from London to Canada (losing UK jobs and tax revenues), and many smaller sites were simply forced to shut down. But the new regulation poses a threat far beyond the right to operate a porn site. All websites deemed TV-like by ATVOD are forced to pay the regulator a fee, and then become liable for implementing rules designed for large broadcast corporations. Breaching these complex rules can mean the site’s operator receives a penalty of up to £250,000.

Suddenly, individuals running video websites, or even YouTube channels, must conform to the same rules as the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. The corrosive effect on free speech is potentially catastrophic. And this week, the threat proved to be more than theoretical.

The campaigning website UK Column, which reports on corruption within the British establishment, decided to remove all of its video content after being deemed an “on-demand programme service” by ATVOD. The site’s co-editor Brian Gerrish said: “This represents an immediate and dangerous attack on free speech on the internet and should be of massive concern to all Youtube users, as the government seems to be moving to censor individuals directly, putting them on the same regulatory footing as global corporations like the BBC and CNN. As a government agency, ATVOD’s clearly flawed working practices and their alignment to the corporate media pose a direct threat to our personal liberty and freedoms.”

For 20 years, the Internet has threatened the power of the state and corporations to set the message. Ordinary citizens have become publishers of blogs, podcasts and videos. In Britain, this era of unprecedented free speech has now come to an abrupt end. The British state has signalled its intolerance for citizen broadcasters.

Pornography is the canary in the coalmine: it is the playing field upon which censors can hone their methods before turning their gaze elsewhere. The British press, from the Guardian to the Mail, and the political class from Labour to Conservative, has almost universally allowed the Porn Panic to proceed without question. And yet censorship powers developed for one reason can easily be reused elsewhere. This week’s events are a wake-up call to those who had not yet noticed that British democracy is in an increasingly weakened state. Free speech is in undeniable decline. This is no longer about the right to watch pornography: it is about whether Britain is losing the freedoms that are so fundamental a part of this country’s history.


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12 thoughts on “News Site “UK Column” Removes All Videos After Brush with ATVOD

  1. “this era of unprecedented free speech has now come to an abrupt end”

    no it has not! Free speech is NOT in undeniable decline!

    from what I have seen this has been a huge overreaction from UKcolumn

    “OFCOM have ruled multiple times that Youtube content does not fall under ATVOD’s remit, including a high profile case involving the BBC’s channels.

    Furthermore the action seems to stem from the fact that the UK Column domain name is registered to a UK citizen, and there web servers are based in London. All they would have to do is switch to a US host (which any geek knows is cheaper anyway) and they’d be fine. Or alternatively only host their videos on third party sites like Youtube and Dailymotion etc, instead of their own UK based server”

    1. This is wrong Chris. The socialbarrel story is inaccurate – the BBC won their appeal for other reasons, not because the videos were on YouTube.

      More important, it doesn’t matter who owns the servers or the domain name. ATVOD is only interested in where “editorial control” lies and since UK Column is made in Plymouth that brings them within UK jurisdiction.

      1. but the thing is UK Column videos are still up but they have been put on private not delete also we have yet to see ATVOD go after other alt media and citizen broadcasters

        sorry I sounded rude but there may of been a overreaction from UK Column

    2. “Furthermore the action seems to stem from the fact that the UK Column domain name is registered to a UK citizen, and there web servers are based in London. All they would have to do is switch to a US host”

      Doesn’t say much for free speech in the UK does it? Having to use foreign servers and rely on foreigners to protect free speech in the UK, because if you don’t the Government will close you down.

      I believe in censorship, but it must be an option of last resort, used in the most extreme cases to protect against real harm. Not used indiscriminately as a precautionary measure against a wide range of targets without consideration for the chilling effects that it causes that we are now seeing.

    1. no one using the porn filters last time I checked no one is opting in to the filters so its not a “firewall to block whatever they put on the list” but I may of been wrong with some of the stuff I linked

      1. also the filters the ISPs use are different from each other and overblock or underblock different things to the point no one is using them

        1. And you don’t think that ‘opt in’ system could be very easily told to block anything chosen by whoever runs the system? Or that it could stop being opt anything?

          Once the moral panic blocker is built, it can be used to block anything.

  2. I’ve said it for a long time. Porn has been the soft target that allowed censorship to get a foothold and the fact that adult content producers and the adult community are walking around blind without a cane to this is only helping to facilitate censorship happening faster.

    We can expect more of this happening in the future unless people see the impact it has now to do something about it

    Regulation is not a better option where education is more effective. Lets not forget the people we are trying to protect are the children. Therefore shouldn’t we promote efforts in the direction of making this a priority to parents in knowing how to use controls available to them?

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