BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media said that they had "developed and agreed a code of practice" based on recommendations made in a Government-commissioned report on the sexualisation of children published earlier this summer.
That report called for the Government to regulate if the internet industry did not voluntarily develop better parental controls over online content. Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mothers' Union charity and author of the report, had raised concerns about the increasing commercialisation and sexualisation of children.
Under the ISPs' new code customers will now be asked to choose whether to use parental controls when purchasing the service, according to the Department for Education (DfE).
"BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are pleased to have developed and agreed a code of practice, including measures to ensure that customers are provided with an active choice as to whether to activate parental controls in the home," the ISPs said in a joint statement.
“The four internet service providers have worked closely with Government and a range of stakeholders to swiftly introduce measures which address the recommendations set out in the Bailey Report," the companies said. "The ISPs have committed to improve the way we communicate to customers enabling parents to make simple and well-informed choices about installing and activating parental controls and other measures to protect their children online. The four ISPs are working with parents’ groups and children’s charities on this important initiative and will continue to do so."
UK communications regulator Ofcom also announced the launch of a new centralised complaints portal supported by regulators across the media industry. Ofcom said that the ParentPort website is "aimed at helping parents make their views heard on issues relating to inappropriate programmes, adverts, products and services" and was set up "in response" to the Bailey Report.
In his report (108-page / 2.49MB PDF) in June Reg Bailey had called for regulators across the media, communications and retail industries to collaborate on a single website that would "set out simply and clearly what parents can do if they feel a programme, advertisement, product or service is inappropriate for their children; explain the legislation in simple terms; and provide links to quick and easy complaints forms on regulators’ own individual websites".
The ParentPort website is supported by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Authority for Television On Demand, the BBC Trust, the British Board of Film Classification, Ofcom, the Press Complaints Commission and the Video Standards Council/Pan-European Game Information.
Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said the regulators wanted to "help protect children from inappropriate material" and are "committed to helping parents make their views and concerns known".
"We have already tested the website with parents and the feedback has been positive," Richards said in an Ofcom statement. "We will keep listening to parents and intend to develop the site in light of further feedback."
Reg Bailey said he was "really encouraged" by the development of the site.
"This will be one place where parents can make their voices heard and tell businesses and broadcasters if they feel they have overstepped the line in what is appropriate for children," he said. "Parents told me that they often didn’t know who to complain to or whether anything would be done as a result of their complaint. Parents are the best judges of what is acceptable for children so it’s important we all take their views more seriously."
The ASA has also issued stricter guidance http://www.asa.org.uk/Media-Centre/2011/ASA-statement-on-sexual-imagery-in-outdoor-advertising.aspx (Click through for 4-page / 227KB PDF) on the kind of advertising images it would probably consider too sexually suggestive to be positioned near schools. Its guidance also includes reference to the kinds of images it would rule overtly sexual for any outdoor advertising.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed "the progress being made" to combat the "growing tide of concern up and down the country among parents who, like me, are concerned about our children being exposed to inappropriate advertising and sexual imagery and growing up too early," according to a DfE statement.