Protecting minors in the media and promoting media skills

Protecting minors in the media and guidelines on media content

The use of digital media provides us with many new opportunities. However, the risks associated with digital media are particularly prevalent for children and young people. Swisscom is determined not to leave parents to shoulder the responsibility of handling these risks alone. Instead, it supports parents and teachers by providing a wide range of information, resources and products.

The private sphere plays a particularly important role in youth media protection. Children and young people who disclose private or even intimate information on social networks are often unaware of the repercussions this may have.

Swisscom supports the High Principles on Child Protection. Together with the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), Swisscom has reformulated its terms and conditions of use on youth platforms so that children and young people understand them.

Under the terms of the Swiss Federal Penal Code, it is forbidden for providers to offer content of a pornographic nature to persons under the age of 16. Swisscom is therefore rigorous in its interpretation of the regulations of the Ordinance on Telecommunications Services regarding the blocking of value-added services. For example, no adult content whatsoever has been offered on the Swisscom information portal since 2009.

Since 2008, the Industry Initiative of the Swiss Association of Telecommunications (asut) for Improved Youth Media Protection and the Promotion of Media Skills in Society has recommended a list of youth media protection measures in addition to the legal requirements, which Swisscom has pledged to comply with. For example, Swisscom provides filtering software for the Internet, carries out its obligation to actively provide customers with information, shows a willingness to engage in dialogue with organisations committed to youth media protection and has appointed a youth media protection officer.

However, an evaluation of the industry initiative through the programme “Youth and Media”, which was carried out by the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO), found deficiencies in its implementation and enforcement. Swisscom is grateful for the critical feedback and has taken direct measures to improve the areas where deficiencies were identified. For example, it launched a major training initiative to further improve the preparation sales staff receive as regards addressing the special needs of concerned parents. In 2015, Swisscom will participate in a round table discussion organised by the industry organisation asut. This event will serve as a forum for various interest groups to discuss further measures for improving youth media protection.

Swisscom goes beyond the legal requirements for youth media protection:

  • Age limit for access to certain services (value-added services) was voluntarily increased to 18
  • No adult content whatsoever is included in the video-on-demand offerings on Swisscom TV or on the information portal
  • Additional channel blocking via PIN on Swisscom TV
  • Providing youth media protection with the new “Replay” TV function
  • Providing FSK age rating recommendations for all video-on-demand films
  • Exceptionally stringent requirements apply to third-party providers of value-added services

The Telecommunication Services Ordinance requires telecommunication service providers to disclose information on the existence of a blocking set at least once a year. A blocking set prevents access to chargeable value-added services on specific lines. Swisscom sends its customers a bill enclosure every year to inform them about this free service. The blocking set is automatically activated for young subscribers under the age of 16 and can only be deactivated with the consent of their parent or legal guardian.

Youth media protection and support initiatives

The measures Swisscom has taken in the area of youth media protection minimise many of the risks that arise when children use media. The company considers the promotion of media skills among children and young people to be the best method of further reducing the risks. Swisscom has therefore been involved for a number of years with a wide range of programmes aimed at helping children and young people use digital media sensibly and in moderation:

  • Media courses for parents, teaching staff and pupils: The courses are held on parents’ evenings and as part of further training sessions for teachers. The aim of the course is to raise the participants’ awareness of the risks and to make recommendations on the use of media at home and in school. In total, Swisscom held more than 1000 media skills events with over 25,000 participants throughout Switzerland in 2014.
  • The JAMES Study: The JAMES Study investigates the way in which media is used by young people aged between 12 and 19. In 2014, Swisscom, in cooperation with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), conducted the third nationwide “JAMES Study”. The findings from the JAMES Study allow conclusions and measures to be formulated in the fields of science and politics based on reliable, scientific data. With this study, Swisscom is bridging a gap in research that has existed for a long time, particularly as surveys into media usage among young people were not consistently carried out before 2010.

National programme for the promotion of media skills

In summer 2010, the Swiss federal government set up the programme “Youth and Media”, aimed at improving the media skills of children and young people. The Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO) is responsible for implementing the programme, which is set to run until 2015. As the principal partner of the programme, Swisscom firmly believes that co-operation between the public and private sectors is particularly important in the field of youth media protection and therefore provides financial and communications support for the programme.

Media courses for parents, teaching staff and pupils

Swisscom has been expanding its course offerings since 2012 to promote media skills. In addition to the information events for parents and teaching staff, it now also offers a modular course for secondary school pupils (year 7 to year 9) and a flexible module for primary school pupils (year 4 to year 6). Teachers can choose from a range of modules dealing with general media usage behaviour, legal issues on the Internet, social networks, safe surfing and the new issue of cyberbullying. Swisscom appoints a dedicated course instructor for the participating classes. This service again met with a great deal of interest in 2014. The experience and feedback gained have been positive, with the recommendation rate exceeding 97%.

The effectiveness of the media courses has been evaluated by a study carried out in collaboration with the Swiss Distance University of Applied Sciences (FFHS) under the leadership of Prof. Per Bergamin. The study shows that students who only have limited prior knowledge benefit particularly from the media courses. After the course, 47% of the young participants make sure to use more secure passwords. 38% gain a better understanding of the legal situation on the web as a result of their visit.

Swisscom Academy

The Swisscom Academy has been teaching people how to use mobile devices and the Internet since 2005. Courses are offered on a daily basis at the training centres in Berne, Basel, Lausanne, Lucerne, Geneva and Zurich. The academy is also mobile and present at additional locations every year. In 2014, over 16,000 people attended courses on how to use modern communications media. Since the launch of Swisscom Academy, some 295,000 people in Switzerland have taken advantage of the courses it offers. The courses are aimed at the general population in Switzerland and are open to customers and non-customers alike. Through the courses, Swisscom is playing an important role in reducing the digital generation gap.