While it may be too early to judge the MLC, there are probably two main doubts about the new body. The first is the question of its composition: it is dominated by the education and traditional media establishment, with only one member that fits the description of a blogger, and even then, not a fairly well-known one. Though the MLC has promised to consult more widely among the online community, it would not be surprising if the latter does not vest the MLC with a good deal of legitimacy.
The second is that the MLC’s stated remit seems to overlap considerably with that of the now defunct Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS), a body set up in 2007 to advise the Government on how to deal with new media that submitted its report in 2008. There does not seem to be much substantive difference between the two bodies, despite the MLC’s supposed inclusion of traditional media as well, and it is difficult to see the MLC renewing AIMS’ more adventurous suggestions for online engagement that were rejected by the Government in 2009. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that some of the AIMS’ recommendations that were accepted seem to have fallen by the wayside, such as the "dedicated coordinating agency" for the protection of minors from ‘harmful content’ on the Internet.
The worry is that the MLC could recommend further regulation of the Internet to the Government under the guise of paternalistic attempts to safeguard civility on the Internet. Cyberbullying is an obvious target, but there is no strong indication that the current self-regulatory model does not work: all but the worst cases can be handled by forum moderators deleting hate comments or by Facebook users deploying tighter filter controls on their pages.
On a broader level, initiatives such as the MLC are patently unnecessary. The online community is more or less a reflection of its underlying real world society, albeit an unfiltered version because of the lower costs of speaking up and the immediacy in which that speech is recorded and transmitted for all to read. Hence the task of raising “media literacy” – that of encouraging people to think more critically about content put out in the media – should be centred in the offline world, in schools that encourage children to read more widely and think critically about issues, or in newspapers that question Government spin and have the courage to undertake investigative journalism. Trying to encourage more ‘literacy’ on the Internet is unlikely to have much effect if no attempts are made to change offline institutions such as schools and the media.