Exam date

When's the 2016 exam? Wednesday 8th June, am.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Parliament v press over post-PCC regulator

Daily Mail splash on the battle over press regulation
See Media Guardian's press regulation micro-site for lots more news and analysis on this.
So... we initially had the Tories seeking to minimally apply Leveson, backed by most of the press (The Guardian and Indie took a separate line broadly favouring tougher regulation), seeing Cameron, otherwise criticised by the right-wing press for being insufficiently right-wing(!), hailed as a hero defending ancient freedoms.

Belatedly, the 3 big parties came to an agreement, and a beefed-up self-regulator, backed by Royal Charter (and with the threat of 'exemplary damages' hanging over any publications who refused to sign up), with no press industry right of veto over the members of the new organisation, was agreed. Notoriously, this was agreed at a meeting that ran into the early hours and included Hacked Off representatives.

Guardian led on the story
The press were not happy. Are not happy. So ... they've now come up with their own proposals! They reinstate the press' right to veto appointments. They keep a potentially stiff fines system (up to £1m - half of what the parties agreed upon?). They removed the right of parliament to reform this body with a 2/3 majority in the Commons. They argue such a measure would overturn '3 centuries of press freedom', a phrase you'll see used frequently in press coverage (referring to the 1694 abolition of licensing - that sounds better than 150 years (the abolition of stamp duty) which is more commonly seen as the moment when a free press was established, though Curran and Seaton would of course disagree!).

They also think they've managed to blocked the politicians' hopes of setting up a royal chartered organisation: according to their legal advice, if any royal charter is rivalled or seen as controversial it must be rejected.

The government, and major parties, say they're determined to press ahead.
The press are adamant they won't co-operate.

There is some divide amongst MPs: the influential Tory Chair of the Culture Select Committee, John Whittingdale, has written in the Sun stating he loves their proposal and would back it over the government's.
Its a year and a half since the PCC announced it was scrapping itself. It continues, with its successor still to be settled on.
Who will win this battle of wills and public opinion?
Sun was blunt in its threat to parliament

(article created after reading Roy Greenslade's typically sharp analysis, and Lisa O'Carroll's analysis of the likely political response to the press plan: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2013/apr/26/press-regulation-national-newspapers and http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/apr/29/newspaper-industry-royal-charter-david-cameron)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

EU Article 8 Right to Privacy + online issues

Its not just the press that raises issues around the right to privacy, enshrined in European law:
Article 8 – Right to respect for private and family life
1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. [source: Wiki]
ISPs and sites such as Google face huge pressures to store and pass on user data to governments and law enforcement agencies, and the UK is no exception, notwithstanding our supposedly high standards of democratic freedoms. Our governments, politicians and media routinely condemn 'authoritarian' regimes for snooping on their citizens and restricting freedom of expression, but how well does the UK's reputation stand up when scrutinised?

There are many examples of powers given to police and politicians to access our individual online footprints, including on social media and email, and no likelihood of anything but ongoing pressure (not least from the right-wing press, outraged as they are by any attempt to regulate the press as an attack on democratic values) to increase this. We're seeing this in April 2013 with the Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May attempting to pass new legislation granting government and police the right to access any part of 'suspects' online history, requiring the creation of a database of simply colossal scale:
May has fought hard for the legislation, designed to fill a growing gap in the ability of the police and security services to access records of the web and social media activity of serious criminals and terrorists.
The deputy prime minister sent the original legislation – the draft communications data bill – back to the drawing board after insisting it was first scrutinised by a committee MPs and peers.
The committee's withering verdict described it as "overkill", complained it "trampled on the privacy of British citizens" and said its cost estimates were "fanciful and misleading". They did however agree that new legislation was needed to plug the gap caused by rapid changes in technology.
The revised proposals tabled by May offered significant concessions but did not include movement on access to blogs or everyone's history of their use of websites or social media, or on requiring British phone and internet companies to intercept data from overseas providers. They proved insufficient to persuade Clegg to sign up to them.
Both parties campaigned on general election promises to roll back the surveillance state ... [source: Guardian]
I'll add links to previous posts on SOPA etc later.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

1989 Calcutt Committee: parallels with Leveson today

To understand Leveson you really need to grasp the lessons of history - and there are striking parallels between Leveson, which is set to lead to a new self-regulator under some threat of statutory regulation if the press doesn't clean up its act, and Calcutt, which was ... basically the same in this regard. Both were set up after public outrage over tabloid excesses, with privacy issues to the fore. Both were set up with the existing press self-regulator, then the Press Council, now the PCC (although its chairman Lord Hunt announced its intention to replace itself back in December 2011), widely seen as having failed.

Indeed, both could/should have been replaced earlier if there was political will: the 3rd Royal Commission was scathing of the PC, whilst Calcutt's 1993 review strongly recommended statutory regulation be brought in. A weak Labour government in 1977 was no more willing than a weak Conservative government in 1993 to attract the damaging hostility of most of the press (although Labour could arguably have taken the chance as most of the right-wing press was very hostile anyway).

If we roll on to 2013, we once more see a weak government, at least the majority Conservative part of it, resisting pressure from the other parties to carry out the recommendations on press regulation, calculating that this will lose them vital press support needed for the 2015 general election. Indeed, since PM Cameron came out against many of Leveson's recommendations, carried in his initial November 2012 report, he has seen negative right-wing press coverage flip, with Cameron hailed as a hero safeguarding democratic values.

Its worth noting here that you shouldn't judge an argument's merits purely by its source! There is an important principle at stake, though it is arguable that freedom of the press is only meaningful if the nature (therefore the regulations around (concentration of) ownership and proprietorial interference) of the press is fundamentally altered.

Here's some links for further reading:
Not a link: Curran and Seaton cover this!!!!
Indie article from 1993 by Maggie Brown and Michael Leapman - possibly the best of its kind, you get both the history plus searing analysis of the backdrop and relationship between press and politicians.
Guardian obit on David Calcutt.
Incisive 1990 article from Index on Censorship.
PCC Wiki, incorporates the history.

The Leveson Inquiry

I'll gradually add resources, including links to past posts, here...


Demotix covers Cameron/Murdoch protests.
Guardian articles on Hacked Off.

Andrew Gilligan is hardly a go-to guy for impartial views, but interesting argument here comparing the post-Leveson regulation to Denmark's system (DTele).
LeftFootForward: a leftist blog's articles on media.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Select Committee role: the 2011 Murdoch hearing

As well as the formal media regulators we have to consider the role of Parliament in overseeing media regulation. Governments can set up one-off investigations at times of scandal over media (usually press) behaviour, as happened with the 1970 Younger Committee, 1989 Calcutt Committee, and the Leveson Inquiry (July 2011, reported November 2012, with a 2nd part to come following the end of criminal trials). The 1985 Peacock Committee was set up with the aim of getting support for privatising the BBC or at least applying free market principles to the TV sector rather than any scandal.

When issues are seen as too sensitive for one party/government to deal with, the major parties can agree to set up a Royal Commission, as has happened three times on the press.

Its easy to overlook the important role of backbench MPs here.

Through the Culture, Media, Sport Select Committee they can investigate any area of the media, and have been holding regular hearings into press standards, privacy and libel, with some particularly famous hearings including appearances by the Murdochs. You can watch the entire July 2011 hearing at which Rupert Murdoch, having declared this was the "most humble day in my life", was attacked with a shaving foam pie and rescued by his much younger wife (who would divorce him in 2014). James Murdoch also took considerable umbrage at Labour MP Tom Watson's description of News Corp as a "mafia-like organisation".

Some useful links:
Wiki: DCMS
2010 guide to junior Culture ministers
Wiki: Culture Secretary
Shadow Culture Secretary (2013: Harriet Harman)
Mail report on the July 2011 hearing
NY Times on the same

Monday, 22 April 2013

BBC investigated by OfCom for effin boat race

Good example of the overlap between the self-regulatory BBC and the statutory (strictly speaking, quango) regulator OfCom, which polices the BBC's content too: complaints over the audible swearing of a cox during the annual boat race coverage. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/apr/22/ofcom-investigate-bbc-boat-race-swearing.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

2013 Defamation law reform

Another topic to come back to, as its still working its way through Parliament. As I write, on 17th April, the Conservatives are being criticised for overturning a LibDem amendment which would force large companies to prove actual harm before being allowed to sue for libel, seen as vital to prevent the likes of Tesco (the example given in the article cited below) from preventing public criticism.
See http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/apr/16/conservatives-block-key-libel-reform, and check http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/libel-reform for more updates on this.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Thatcher death + media reg

Typical anti-BBC flak from the Mail elides public and the Mail (read more)
Its become a cliche - in most media, just not the right-wing press - that Thatcher's death and funeral has proven as divisive as her political career. We're also seeing both the press and broadcast TV engage in some informal self-regulation, with flak flying from a particularly gung-ho right-wing press (ie, every national daily bar the Indie/i, Guardian and Mirror) over any attempt to do other than celebrate and glorify the former PM and her contribution to national life.
I'll probably add more to this over time, but, writing before her controversial £10m funeral on Wednesday coming, here's a few pertinent points on this...

More below on the anti-BBC flak that featured in this, but you can see a very clear example of how the right-left binary functions in our national press through their coverage of her death.
You can view every front page here; analysis here.
The Mail and Mirror fronts sum it up rather neatly: grim-faced, divisive figure v bright, effervescent saviour (apt, as Maggie is held up as a divinity by the likes of the Mail)
Dissenting voices were rounded on by the Mail et al - indeed, the Telegraph took the highly unusual step of banning all reader comments on Thatcher's death/funeral, after they discovered many of these were highly critical of her. Of course, Leveson didn't mention online press content, so had nothing to say on this topic.

RIGHT-WING PRESS v (INdependent???) BBC
IN BRIEF: The BBC was roundly attacked for featuring any anti-Thatcher views, its presenters not wearing black ties from the moment Thatcher's death was announced, and not banning the Ding Dong the Witch is Dead track