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UK Government Watch

2013: Jan-March

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Using a Hammer to Crack a Blog...

Government seems keen to censor small bloggers, so as to ensure that anything bigger doesn't slip through the net

Link Here26th March 2013

Big Brother Watch writes:

We have highlighted that the current drafting of relevant publisher for the purposes of the Leveson law risks capturing blogs and organisations like Big Brother Watch in a system of regulation never intended for them.

The Government's amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill exempts a person who publishes a small-scale blog from the definition of relevant publisher is an attempt to deal with growing concern, as demonstrated by the 20 person signatory letter in Saturday's Guardian.

Sadly the amendment offers no definition of what is small scale or how it relates to an organisation who publishes the blog in question, so the compromise arguably makes the situation worse. The first time an organisation is sued as being a relevant publisher would have to fight in court to prove they are not -- or risk facing exemplary damages. That could be a hefty legal bill and for small organisations a fight they might not be able to even consider, let alone see to the end.

However the Government stills seems keen to only exclude the tiniest of the tiny

See  article from .

The government has moved to exclude small-scale bloggers from the threat of media regulation, and will hold a mini-consultation with the newspaper industry on how best to construct a workable definition of the bloggers that need to be protected.

Ministers concede that the definitions offered so far may have loopholes, and will attempt to put in place a clear watertight amendment after Easter when the crown and courts bill returns to the Commons.

Lord McNally, the justice minister, said the government's aim was to bring under the ambit of the regulator only the main elements of the press as well as what he defined as press-like activity online. He said:

I have seen over the past week some concerns voiced regarding the extent to which bloggers and tweeters may be caught.

Clearly, the online version of the national press or their regional counterparts, or indeed an online press-like news site, carry with them very different public expectations when compared with a small-scale blog or for that matter a tweet.



Update: Such Serious Issues Debated at Such Irresponsible Speed...

Realisation that a whole host of tiny websites, including Big Brother Watch, would be covered by the provisions of the new press regulator

Link Here 22nd March 2013

Big Brother Watch writes:

As the bell tolls for press freedom, the realisation that a whole host of tiny websites, including Big Brother Watch, would be covered by the provisions of the new press regulator is dawning on Westminster.

On Monday, the Lords will vote on the legislation underpinning the Royal Charter on press-self regulation. They will determine who is to be a relevant publisher and at present risks catching broadly any site that is has more than one author, carries news or information about current affairs, or gossip about celebrities, and has some kind of editorial control.

We are urgently trying to garner support for the below amendment to exclude small organisations from the provisions of what is already becoming an unwieldy and unpredictable piece of legislative horse trading.

This is not an ideal situation -- as with most things formulated in meetings at 2am -- and it would make much more sense for this to be handled rationally and thought through properly. This amendment protects a few, but the principle has already gone.

We are still looking for a peer to table this amendment -- any help is appreciated -- please call the office on 0207 3406030.


Insert into New Schedule 5 of the Crime and Courts Bill Exclusions from definition of "relevant publisher"

9) "A publisher who does not exceed the definition of a small or medium-sized enterprise as defined in Section 382 and 465 Companies Act 2006."

Let us be clear

The manner in which this has been brought to bear, in 2am meetings with lobbyists, no civil society input, rushed drafting and ill-considered consequences should not be the way to make law. Indeed, we cannot think of a worse way to make law.

See  article from

Meeting Hacked Off

The explosive revelations that websites will be included in the post-Leveson press regulation arrangements this weekend led to a flurry of analysis --- and a meeting between Hacked Off, bloggers and free speech groups yesterday.

See  article from



Update: Introducing the UK News and Internet Censor...

So will websites be liable to astronomic and unjust 'exemplary' damages?

Link Here21st March 2013

The very worrying establishment of a UK news and internet censor has been rushing through parliament with the lack of scrutiny and consideration that you would expect given a 3 party stitch up.

See  Hansard transcriptions of the latest debate from

See Bill amendments containing the new laws [pdf] from

Press regulation deal sparks fears of high libel fines for bloggers

See article from

Bloggers could face high fines for libel under the new Leveson deal with exemplary damages imposed if they don't sign up to the new regulator, it was claimed on Tuesday.

Under clause 29 introduced to the crime and courts bill in the Commons on Monday night, the definition of relevant bloggers or websites includes any that generate news material where there is an editorial structure giving someone control over publication.

Bloggers would not be at risk of exemplary damages for comments posted by readers. There is also a schedule that excludes certain publishers such as scientific journals, student publications and not-for-profit community newspapers. Websites are guaranteed exclusion from exemplary damages if they can get on this list.

Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, which campaigns for press freedom around the world, said it was a sad day for British democracy. This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people's web use, she said.

She said she feared thousands of websites could fall under the definition of a relevant publisher in clause 29. Hughes said:

Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place.

There does seem to be two exclusions to signing up for censorship. Solo bloggers seem to be excluded as the law only applies to websites with multiple (presumably two) authors. There is also an exclusion for single interest publications, but definition are vague enough that this will be worthless when courts get involved and interpret the rules to suit the authorities.

Offsite: An in-depth examination of the bill's clauses about liability to news censorship

See  article from

There are doubts that the censor will be able to address all the issues anyway

See  article from

The Leveson-inspired draft bill deals with the past, not the future, of the press in failing to address the myriad ways we now receive news' What Miller seems to want to define is a news business , which fails to admit any complexity at all in the news ecosystem as it is presently constructed.

The press is melting before our very eyes, and the public it served is trickling away in a thousand different streams. The impact a story has now is as much dependent on the network it travels through as on the news brand that presents it.

The sole blogger , or even a person in possession of a microblogging Twitter account, can have as devastating effect on any number of lives as the front page of a tabloid newspaper. Under Miller's definition of press , the richest and most powerful publishers of all, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, are arguably exempt because they do not seek to exercise editorial control or indeed report news as part of a business model. It would be interesting to know whether Miller views an algorithm as editorial control . I suspect not, even though by most definitions it is just that. It was once the case that to reach a broad audience you needed an industrial publishing complex behind you, whereas now, you just need a mobile phone.

And the buzzards are already circling

See  article from

'Cut the wire ' Max Mosley calls for websites to be closed down if they flout new Press watchdog rules

His remarks were condemned by anti-censorship campaigners claiming it would turn Britain into a totalitarian state like China or Iran



Extract: Justice Based on Pakistan's Blasphemy Law...

Forbes points out the reprehensible injustice behind 'exemplary' damages cited in new UK news censorship law. Innocent people can be screwed by mere accusations, regardless of how baseless they are

Link Here20th March 2013

The British Government Has Decided To Censor The Entire World's Press And Media

They've agreed a law which effectively censors the entire world's media. And they've done this simply because they are ignorant of the very laws they're trying to change. Which is, I think you'll agree, a little disturbing, that politicians would casually negate press freedom just because they don't know what they're doing.

The problem is the particular restrictions that they've decided to bring in. Essentially, to be a news or current affairs publisher then you must be registered as such with some regulatory body. That this is a despicable idea goes without saying: it's a reversal of the past three hundred years of liberty where we've been allowed to say or print whatever we damn well want to subject only to the laws of libel, incitement to immediate violence and pressing concerns of national security (and even that last was a voluntary matter). If there's a complaint about something you've published then that regulatory body can get you to correct it, apologise, pay damages and so on. And of course we all worry that this will then morph into more direct control of the press.

The basis of the English legal system is that yes, of course, you can bring a case against anyone you like for whatever you want to allege. But the limit on people doing so is that if they lose said case then they've got to pay the legal costs of the defendant. This is how we prevent most (but sadly not all) frivolous cases from ever making it to court. You have to take a risk in bringing a case.

Note that, if you're a publisher who is not regulated, then you won't get your defense costs paid even if you do win. Therefore there will be costs associated with being complained about: whether that complaint has any justification or none. This does rather leave all press outlets open to shakedowns from anyone and everyone.

...Read the full article



Update: Breaking News...

Major political parties come to an accord on plans for a new UK news censor

Link Here19th March 2013

A shellshocked newspaper industry was struggling to come to terms with a sudden all-party agreement to create a powerful new press censor.

The nominally independent censor seems be subject to state approval and will have powers to impose fines and demand prominent corrections. Courts will be allowed to impose exemplary damages on newspapers that fail to join the body.

All three party leaders hailed the historic deal, sealed in extraordinary late-night talks on Sunday in the office of the Labour leader Ed Miliband after months of wrangling, but many of the country's leading newspaper publishers were ominously wary.

Under the deal, the newspaper industry has lost its power to veto appointments to the body that will replace the Press Complaints Commission.

In a statement, Associated Newspapers, News International, the Telegraph Media Group and the Express's publishers, Northern & Shell, said they would be taking high-level legal advice before deciding if they could join the new watchdog. The deal, they said, raised several deeply contentious issues.

No representative of the newspaper and magazine industry had any involvement in, or indeed any knowledge of, the cross-party talks on press regulation that took place on Sunday night, they said. We have only late this afternoon seen the royal charter that the political parties have agreed between themselves and, more pertinently, the recognition criteria, early drafts of which contained several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry.

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian's editor-in-chief, gave a cautious welcome to the deal. He said:

We welcome the fact that there has been cross-party agreement. The regulatory settlement is by and large a fair one, with compromises on all sides. We retain grave reservations about the proposed legislation on exemplary damages. The agreed terms are not ideal but after two years of inquiry and debate we finally have the prospect of what the public wants - a robust regulator that is independent of both press and politics. It's a big improvement on what went before.

Downing Street sought to reassure small-scale web-based news providers and blogs that they would not be required to co-operate with the new regulatory system. No 10 said bloggers, tweeters, news aggregators and social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, as well as special interest titles, would be excluded, but there was concern that a workable definition of these would be difficult to come up with.



Update: Quick and Nasty...

Scottish report following on from Leveson proposes a very wide net of news censorship

Link Here16th March 2013

  A rather lightweight report on the regulation of the press in Scotland has recommended statutory controls underpinned by law which applies to all news media no matter how small.

John McCluskey was invited to chair a committee by First Minister Alex Salmond after the Leveson Report. The McCluskey report concluded that a voluntary code was unlikely to work, but opposition parties at Holyrood described the proposals as draconian .

The former high court judge and solicitor general chaired a group set up to recommend press regulation reforms in Scotland.

His report recommended the creation of an independent, non-statutory, regulatory body of a character to be proposed by the press , alongside an independent body with responsibility for ensuring that the independent regulatory body complies at all times with the Leveson principles .

The expert group said that if Westminster fails to create a UK-wide press regulator, Holyrood should create one.

The regulator could have the power to censor newspapers, magazines and websites, including gossip sites, while the expert group said further regulation of social media may also be required.

The co-convener of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, said his party supported the implementation of the Leveson proposals. But he added:

The McCluskey report appears to go much further than anyone had expected.

To include every source of news coverage would result in a torrent of complaints about every website, every blog, even every single tweet. I cannot see how this is remotely practical, even if it was desirable.

If the will exists in Scotland to see the Leveson proposals implemented, it should not be beyond our ability to ensure that professional, commercial media organisations are properly regulated, but individual citizens are not caught up in the same system.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said:

We agreed with the first minister that this group should look solely at the technicalities of implementing Leveson in Scots law. We did not agree to the Leveson recommendations being re-written or built upon.

While Lord McCluskey and his fellow panel members are not to be criticised, rather than pursue the original agreed objective they were asked to rework Leveson on a ridiculously short timescale.

That in itself appears to be bad faith on the first minister's part. We hope he will take forward the recommendation that Scotland would be best served by having a UK-wide solution.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson accused the first minister of trying to shackle a free press at a time of the utmost political sensitivity .



Offsite Comment: Journalistic sources and the law: blowing the whistle on truth-tellers...

Link Here 19th February 2013
Police forces, hospitals and others must be open to scrutiny, giving genuine whistleblowers protection rather than restraint

See article from



Ed's Programme Guide...

The Government looks set to extend broadcast levels of TV censorship to all internet TV channels that present themselves in a TV's EPG

Link Here14th February 2013

On 12th February 2013, the government minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, appeared before the House of Lords Communications Select Committee to give his opinions about media convergence.

One interesting point was that the government intends to extend internet censorship in the upcoming Communications white paper.

The government looks set to extend the onerous TV censorship regime administered by Ofcom to all channels appearing on a TV's Electronic Programme Guide. At the moment, internet TV channels are not subject to Ofcom's suffocating TV censorship. Vaizey feels that 'viewers expect' anything that looks like a TV channel which presents itself for channel hopping in the EPG to be subject to the same strict censorship as broadcast TV.

However channels presenting themselves via an app interface, seem likely to be let off the hook and censored according to the less strict censorship of the Video on Demand censor, ATVOD.

So anything featuring biased news such as Fox News, or else hardcore porn will have to stay off the EPG, and stick with being available only as an app. Vaizey's thinking is that viewers will not expect the same strict censorship for a channel that is more obviously internet based.



Hot Wax Bollox...

Victim of Dangerous Pictures Act found guilty in a jury trial

Link Here13th February 2013

A man has been convicted in a jury trial for possession of dangerous pictures.

Sen Luo had about 800 videos on his laptop and hard-drives and jurors found him guilty of two counts of possessing extreme pornography.

One charge related to images involving animals while the second related to acts which caused damage to parts of the body.

The jury was told that some showed women strapped to machines and tortured with electrodes, pins being pushed into their breasts or hot wax poured into their body. [But hot wax is just for show, it is simply not hot enough to even register as painful].

Investigating Detective Constable Kim Negus had told the Old Bailey in London that she had to view Luo's videos with the sound turned down to cut out the screams of the women. She said:

These videos were disgusting and distressing. I viewed around 18 of them and had to have the sound down.

They featured oriental women but it is impossible to say how they came to be used for these images.

Judge Charles Wide said:

This is such an enormous amount of extreme pornography which must have been amassed over a period of time.

Police uncovered the collection when they were conducting an unrelated fraud inquiry.

 Luo will be sentenced next month.



Update: Casting Off Sexualisation Hangers On...

Daily Mail reports that the government is about to scale down UKCCIS

Link Here10th February 2013
Full story: Reg Bailey Report...Mothers Union boss pens governement report

The Mail on Sunday has seen a top-level internal memo saying that the United Kingdom Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) can be scaled back . Sources suggest that ministers would halve the number of civil servants involved.

UKCCIS was set up in 2008 under New Labour charged with bringing together government departments, law enforcement agencies, academia, private industry and third-sector representatives such as charities and voluntary groups to collaborate on strategies to ensure child internet safety.

Department for Education sources said UKCCIS was still working on internet safety, but parts of the project had come to a natural conclusion. The Department refused to comment on the leak.



Update: Chilling Effects...

Keir Starmer admits that the current police enthusiasm for prosecuting internet insults having a chilling effect on free speech

Link Here5th February 2013
Full story: Insulting UK Law...UK proesecutions of jokes and insults on social media

Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said too many investigations into comments on networks such as Twitter would have a chilling effect on free speech:

I think that if there are too many investigations and too many cases coming to court then that can have a chilling effect on free speech.

This is about trying to get the balance right, making sure time and resources are spent on cases that really do need to go to court, and not spent on cases which people might think really would be better dealt with by a swift apology and removal of the offending tweet.

There is a lot of stuff out there that is highly offensive that is put out on a spontaneous basis that is quite often taken down pretty quickly and the view is that those sort of remarks don't necessarily need to be prosecuted.

This is not a get-out-of-jail card but it is highly relevant. Stuff does go up on a Friday and Saturday night and come down the next morning. If that is the case a lot of people will say: 'That shouldn't have happened, the person has accepted it, but really you don't need a criminal prosecution.' It is a relevant factor.

Starmer stressed that people who wrote libellous tweets, or messages that broke court orders or were threatening, would still face prosecution.



But then all the world's nutters will then want the banks to enforce their pet prohibitions...

Self important ATVOD think that banks should enforce an UK ban on payments to international porn websites

Link Here28th January 2013

The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) has written to Culture Secretary Maria Miller proposing that banks should withhold payment processing to international porn sites that don't implement its ludicrously impractical age verification requirements.

ATVOD urged the Government to target banks and payment processors which facilitate the provision to UK consumers of hardcore pornography without age verification.

It claims that blocking payments, estimated to total about 180million a year from British customers, would be a significant step towards child internet safety.

Under the proposal, banks and other payment processors would receive a blacklist of all companies making pornography available without extreme age verification. The banks would then be responsible for ensuring that no British customer could make a payment to any of those companies.

Peter Johnson, of ATVOD, also claimed that overseas companies are potentially in breach of the Obscene Publications Act. He admitted that the most popular porn sites often offer free hardcore pornographic images and video clips. He added:

Banks will deploy lots of arguments as to why they shouldn't be the gatekeepers for this. 'But following the money and making it difficult for these sites to earn it would be a powerful step towards reducing children's exposure to hardcore pornography.

The Government's Mary Whitehouse, Claire Perry welcomed the proposal. She said:

Recruiting the financial services into the attempt to try and make websites more responsible is a very, very good idea. There is a collective responsibility here.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the report will be considered carefully as part of a recent communications review.



Update: A Good Day for Free Speech...

Insults set to be freed from prosecutions under the Public Order Act

Link Here15th January 2013
Full story: Public Order Act...Enabling police censorship

The crime of insulting someone through words or behaviour, which once led to the arrest of a student for asking a police officer whether his horse was gay, is to be dropped.

Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act currently means that threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour might be deemed a criminal offence.

It has been rightfully criticised by free-speech campaigners, and in December the House of Lords voted by 150 to 54, a majority of 96, to remove the word insulting. The move was championed in the upper chamber by former West Midlands chief constable Lord Dear.

Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed to MPs that the government would not seek to overturn a Lords amendment scrapping the ban contained in Britain's often abused catch-all laws of the Public Order Act. May told MPs:

I respect the review taken by their Lordships. They had concerns which I know are shared by some in this House that Section 5 encroaches upon freedom of expression.

On the other hand, the view expressed by many in the police is that Section 5 including the word insulting is a valuable tool in helping them keep the peace and maintain public order.

Now there's always a careful balance to be struck between protecting our proud tradition of free speech and taking action against those who cause widespread offence with their actions.

She said the government had previously supported the retention of the word insulting to prevent people swearing at police officers, protesters burning poppies, or similar scenarios . The DPP Kier Starmer's statement that he agrees: that the word 'insulting' could safely be removed without the risk of undermining the ability of the CPS to bring prosecutions. May said that in the light of Starmer's comments, ministers were not minded to challenge the Lords amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill.

Of course Labour are not the slightest impressed bit impressed by Britain allowing a little more freedom, and warned that it could remove protections for minority groups. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper pressed the government to produce an assessment of the impact of Section 5 of the Public Order Act on different groups, particularly on minority groups . S he shamefully spouted:

Many people have said that the existing Section 5 has formed some sort of protection. It is important to make sure we can protect freedom of speech ...BUT... it is also very important to make sure we can protect vulnerable groups from unfair discrimination.

Simon Calvert, campaign director for the Reform Section 5 group, said:

This is a victory for free speech.

People of all shades of opinion have suffered at the hands of Section 5. By accepting the Lords amendment to reform it, the government has managed to please the widest possible cross-section of society. They have done the right thing and we congratulate them.



Legalising Naked Rambling...

Government speaks of another Freedoms Bill

Link Here11th January 2013
Full story: Naked Rambler...Stephen Gough imprisoned for being naked

Number 10 has asked civil servants to produce a list of ideas that could be included in legislation to reduce state intrusion into everyday life.

Sources said reforms to nudity laws, which would give men and women the right to wander naked on Britain's streets and beaches without fear of arrest, were being considered.

A source added: There is some sensible stuff in the Bill, such as making it easier to get permission for street parties and other public events.

Men bathing naked on a beach not designated for naturism, or appearing nude in other public areas, can face prosecution under the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which makes it illegal to expose the male person . Women can be charged under the Public Order Act.

In a joint appearance at Downing Street earlier this week, David Cameron and Nick Clegg revealed that a new Freedoms Bill would be among key priorities for the next two and a half years of coalition government. They said:

As we take steps to reshape the British state for the 21st century, we will take further steps to limit its scope and extend our freedoms.

The Daily Mail seem to be predictably negative to the idea of a Freedoms Bill with a long rant against the already dismissed idea of reducing the age of consent to 14 for similarly aged children.

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