The implementation of the Leveson Report’s conclusions was always going to be fraught by difficulties: different vested interests; short-term emotional vs long term needs; political faction; and the emotional context of the debate. But, as far as social media and networks are concerned, we maybe had a right to expect that simple ignorance would not be added to this list.
Yet, as discussed on this blog before, a 2,000 word media report with one paragraph on social media is not a great way to start. In January we noted:
“any legislation produced by politicians and civil servants who are largely ignorant of the day-to-day workings and impact of social media, based on a report which ignores it, will not produce a great result”
Indeed, in social media terms the debate seems to have concluded before it has really started – with a ‘deal’ between fragmented political parties which has found both support and opposition from a fragmented mainstream media. But where is the voice of social media – OUR voice – in all this? Well, lost, really with unintended consequences to come.
Personally, like many I remain ambivalent about the ‘free speech vs privacy/decency’ debate in terms of the mainstream media. I understand the visceral concern over ‘red top’ dirty tricks in respect of vulnerable individuals – and the media appeal of hacked (and Hacked Off) celebrities. But I also fear that we have not thought through the implications of a regulatory regime which is ultimately controlled by government through appointments to the panel and by politicians through legislative oversight. So I also understand the concerns of the liberal (and conservative) free speech lobby.
But my main concern here is the last minute tacking on of ‘the Internet’ to the terms of reference in the Royal Charter with social media suffering inevitable collateral damage. It seems the thought behind this reflects the same minimal attention devoted by Leveson.
It’s not that easy to find the Royal Charter draft text (see here) – and you have to go to appendix 4 for the relevant definitions. Here they are:
b) “relevant publisher” means a person (other than a broadcaster) who publishes in the United Kingdom:
- i. a newspaper or magazine containing news-related material, or
- ii. a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine);
d) a person “publishes in the United Kingdom” if the publication takes place in the United Kingdom or is targeted primarily at an audience in the United Kingdom;
e) “news-related material” means:
- iii. news or information about current affairs;
- iv. opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs; or
- v. gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news.
Now this is very scary stuff. There are all kinds of opportunities for confusion and cock-ups. Taking each of these clauses in turn.
First, who is liable, ie what’s a website, these days? How does that differ from a ‘platform’? We’ve heard various unofficial statements this week from that this does not mean an individual. So:
- what about an individual journalist who just happens to publish on his own blog?
- And, conversely, what about shared blogs – is two contributors OK, or three or 10?
- What about shared accounts on other platforms, Twitter, Facebook etc which may also be deemed ‘websites’?
Second, it only matters if it is ‘in the UK or targeted primarily at UK citizens’Good grief, how dumb. That warm feeling you’re getting is reflected heat from international lawyers rubbing there hands together with glee.
Third, it applies to news, opinion or gossip.
So in effect this Charter, and its regulations and million Pound penalties, although intended for UK mainstream press offenders, will also apply to ALL individuals and groups who publish anything interesting.
Of course the get out clause is the definition of a UK publisher. From now on my blog’s gonna be in Bhasa Indonesia or Esperanto – from a ‘website’ in Finland.