The Law Commission has released their Issues Paper: The news media meets ‘new media’: rights, responsibilities and regulation in the digital age. I was asked to contribute my thoughts and ideas and it looks like they have consulted widely amongst the new media.
Unusually for me this is a Law Commission report that I largely support.
Chapter 4 outlines the philosophy underpinning the issues paper. Pages 77 – 94 paragraphs 4.43 – 4.174, are of particular interest.
This is a hugely positive step int he right direction. In order to qualify as a “news media” though the Law Commission proposes a number of criteria by which a publisher is measured:
- has a significant proportion of their publishing activities being the generation and/or aggregation of news, information and opinion of current value
- disseminates this information to a public audience
- regularly publishes
- is accountable to a code of ethics and a complaints process
This blog easily qualifies under points 1 to 3, But I would need to add the accountability and complaints process to qualify. There needs to be a bit more exploration of the details surrounding this but I am broadly in support of this.When I discussed issues with the Law Commission I told them how I had tried to join the Press Council and was basically told to go away. Under this regime so long as I agree to submit to the rules, process and responsibilities as outlined then it is very simple, I will classified as “news media”.
It does need to be voluntary though. When I was asked about this by the Law Commission and subsequently by journalists my answer has been the same. By having it voluntary bloggers can choose to seek “certification”, so to speak, and in doing so they are signalling that they are prepared to be responsible news and commentary providers. Likewise a blogger can choose to remain outside of the regime and suffer the impression of a lack of responsibility and the accompanying diminishment of the value of what they have to say. Professionalism and competition will ensure that bloggers and other new media people will voluntarily join the regime. Remaining outside will eventually marginalize those who opt to stay outside of regulation.
Chapter 6 outlines the preliminary proposal for a new independent news regulator.
I really like the idea of the new independent news regulator. Insofar as it remains voluntary. I oppose compulsion where it isn’t needed. By merging the Press Council and the Broadcasting Standards Authority into a new truly independent media watchdog there exists an opportunity to modernise the regulatory environment to match the reality of convergence.
Broadcast media, I would think, will be welcoming this proposal with open arms because it removes them from the tyranny of the Broadcasting Standards Authority and applies the same standards across all forms of news media, eb it print, online or broadcast.
Likewise the print media should be happy too in that proposed new regulatory body would have far more teeth than the Press Council, which largely existed as a patch protection organisation.
Of course having this sort of regulatory body and the associated “certification” that bloggers are in fact news media will mean the barriers to joining the Press Gallery would be diminished significantly. These changes are refreshing and welcome.
The second part of the paper deals with the larger legal framework which governs all speech/communication , irrespective of the medium or who is communicating. It looks at the type of problems which are emerging within the web environment, including issues like cyber-bullying, harassment and defamation in social media, and asks whether the law can be better adapted to this new publishing environment and whether the courts are the best forum for resolving these sorts of disputes between free speech and rights to privacy, reputation etc. Chapters 7 and 8 are the relevant chapters.
It is important to stress that this is a preliminary paper designed to garner wide public debate and feedback on the scope of the problem and best solutions. It will be followed by a Final Report and recommendations to government in late 2012.
I will certainly be submitting and I encourage others to submit also.