Today show transcript

Right-click, download mp3 here. MP3 and transcript below (by TRS-80, cheers!) are copyright BBC; if they object I’m sure they’ll let me know.

I’m on Channel 4 News and More4 News tonight, possibly another thing too. HOLY CRAP.

Broadcast on 2008-12-08, on BBC Radio 4‘s The Today Programme between 08:54:11–08:59:56 (UTC)

James Naughtie
The time is six minutes to nine. Another curious story about censorship is spreading across the internet, it’s all about a page on the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, about a heavy metal band of 25 or 30 years ago, The Scorpions. The image at the centre of the story is a record cover from an album of the early eighties featuring a picture of a naked child, which the Internet Watch Foundation says could be illegal. Now the foundation is a watchdog funded by the internet services industry, but Wikipedia says that it’s unacceptable censorship. Susan Robertson speaks for the Internet Watch Foundation, and David Gerard is here, he’s a volunteer media spokesman for Wikipedia in this country. Susan Robertson, now what is it that’s lead you to think that this, which after all appeared in a publicly available album cover 35, 25 years ago, is now illegal?
Susan Robertson
Good morning. We received this report last week at the Internet Watch Foundation and then assessed it according to our normal channels, which is it’s reviewed by our team of analysts, in conjunction UK law enforcement.
So somebody simply said “Have a look at this, because it looks to me as if it’s over the top” ?
Exactly, the Internet Watch Foundation is the UK hotline providing just that service; if the public are worried they’ve stumbled across content which might be illegal, they can report it to us. Our job then is to assess that content then and trace it and indeed our assessment last week was that the image in question was indeed a potentially illegal child-sexual abuse image.
So, which law would it contravene?
It’s the Protection of Children Act 1978.
Right. So, in fact would it have been illegal, do you think, if someone had complained at the time? …I can’t remember when that album came out specifically…
Yeah, I under the album came out before that date, of course it’s an important issue—we’re applying today’s standards and today’s legislation to the reports we’re receiving today. Obviously, y’know, this is an old image.
David Gerard, speaking for Wikipedia, what do you make of that?
David Gerard
The album was issued in 1976, it’s been available continuously for 32 years. The album cover was changed because some various people told the band “this is a stupid and crass image”, which it is, and I’m not questioning it’s a tasteless image, but that’s quite different from illegal. You can still buy the record with this image in The Scorpions box set, in any high street. There are many other record covers available; Blind Faith by Eric Clapton, Houses of the Holy by Led Zepplin, Nevermind by Nirvana which feature naked underage people. None of these albums are illegal, you can go into high-street record shop and buy them. You can see this image—the image of the album Virgin Killer by The Scorpions—on the Amazon website right now. When we asked the Internet Watch Foundation why they blocked Wikipedia and not Amazon, apparently their decision was quote “pragmatic” unquote, which-
-we think means that Amazon have money and would sue them, whereas we’re an educational charity and-
Well Susan Robertson, can I just put that point to you; if it’s proper to block Wikipedia, it’s proper to block Amazon?
Absolutely; we only act on the reports we receive, and as I understand it, the only report we received regarding this content as of Friday was the content on Wikipedia-
So you’ll go for Amazon will you?
We need to take a view today, obviously we need to look at the reports that have come in over the weekend, I know there’s been a lot of activity as you’ve said on the internet. We need to take a view with our analysts here and with our police partners.
Yes, indeed, but you confirm it isn’t a question of how much money somebody’s got, if it’s a principle, it’s a principle and it applies to Amazon as well as to Wikipedia.
Absolutely. We process about 35,000 reports every year, only about a third of those are confirmed to be potentially illegal, as such they’re all treated the same.
What can you do, many people are concerned about you know, the consequences of the freedom which they value on the internet, and a lot of people think that the Internet Watch Foundation is a sort of guardian for them, but what can you actually do?
What we do do is do our very best to ensure that the only content that is inaccessible is the specific content, including illegal images, so how we block… I mean, our main function is a hotline—we’re also a take-down body for illegal content when it’s hosted in the UK. But if it’s hosted abroad-
There’s nothing you can do.
There is, and our industry members have asked us to provide them with a list of specific URLs, which we do. All the URLs, which as an individual webpage are live, and they’re depicting child-sexual abuse images.
David Gerard, everyone will know, most people will know if they use the internet, about Wikipedia, and how it works and what source of information—occasionally disinformation—it is. Do you object to the idea that there is someone out there, funded by the industry, who can take down something which is regarded as so offensive, or potentially illegal that it goes beyond the boundaries.
Nobody objects to the IWF blocking actually illegal content; that’s what it’s for. What they object to in this case is they blocked an image that is not illegal, that has not been found illegal anywhere in the world, that has been …it was investigated in America by the FBI in May after a complaint by a fundamentalist Christian group, who told them to go away. The IWF also censored the text—what the issue in this case is they censored encyclopaedia text on the number four website in the world. This is the biggest website the IWF has ever blocked, and we think it was an experiment to see what they could get away with, without people noticing.
From IWF point of view, last world Susan Robertson, was it an attempt to see what you could get away with?
It was absolutely not an experiment, we don’t experiment. Look, we do our job in good faith, we apply the Protection of Children Act, and the UK sentencing guidelines-
-Blocking text?
We’ve only blocked the URL that contains the page-, the image.
Susan Robertson, David Gerard, thank you both.

13 Responses to “Today show transcript”

  1. […] il comunicato stampa di WMF e le FAQ, e un’intervista del press contact inglese. Scritto: Lunedì, Dicembre 8th, 2008 alle 15:08 in: wiki, tristezza da Frieda. […]

  2. mint says:

    Er.. its James Naughtie not Evan Davies

  3. David Gerard says:

    @mint – thank you! Fixed.

    (Should I confess at this point that I’d barely heard of the Today show and was only told its significance after I’d booked the appearance? Or will they deport me?)

  4. mint says:


    Funny thing. I used to be a Wikipediaholic but since the birth of my son I hardly get the time any more. I’d just finished feeding him this morning when I turned on the TV and .. bored of BBC Breakfast decided to see what they were talking about on Radio 4 (channel 0104 on Sky). I never normally do that! I joined the programme while Ms Robertson was initially being questioned by Naughtie. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known about this situation. I’m on Be internet and its blocked for me.

    It might be worth pointing out in your interviews that the Wikipedia page is viewable on Google’s cache (presumably yahoo etc too), and the Wayback machine, and the image itself is visible at a much higher resolution using a simple Google image search.

    The IWF’s action, even if justified appears to be incompetent, because it hasn’t stopped anyone seeing the image and it has just given the image more publicity.

    You might want to look at the BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones’s blog – – I left a comment myself just after 10am.

    I’ll be tuning in for Channel 4 News.

    Good luck.

  5. barakta says:

    Thanks for the transcript – this deafie appreciated it!

    You came across as well read, having done your research and consistent. Unlike the IWF.

  6. […] of Wikipedia links in honour of their role in this story.  One more link: a transcript posted by the author of this wikipedia entry of this morning’s […]

  7. Tawker says:

    “We only block the URL that contains the page” – then block the image and make it 404.

    It seems like a major snafu on the part of the IWF, and they’re tyring to save face rather than admitting that they errored that they didn’t expect to get called on.

  8. Torsten says:

    A little error: The FBI investigations were never confirmed. Nobody is sure if there was an investigation at all.

  9. Ian Bell says:

    I heard the programme when it was broadcast (like I do every morning ;-)

    When Susan Robertson claimed that they had only blocked the “URL that contains the page. the image” (her last line), my first thought was that she had just plainly lied on the Today programme.

    When I had a look online, it appears I was right, she did lie, and much more is blocked than just the image itself (which isn’t even effectively blocked).

    It always annoys me when people get away with lying on the Today programme, but this time it particularly annoyed me, as there has been no apology for it from the IWF.

  10. David Gerard says:

    @Torsten – o rly? Hmm, I’ll have to stop saying that then.

  11. Nix says:

    Well, you’ve appeared on a British institution: I guess you’re officially famous now ;))

  12. Torsten says:

    David: Jay Walsh said so.

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