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UK Press Censor News

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: Royal Newspaper Censors...

Plans to set up a press censor receive some political support from all parties

Link Here13th February 2013

Labour and the Lib Dems have cautiously welcomed Tory plans for a new press censor backed by royal charter in the wake of the Leveson inquiry. The plan proposes a censor with a royal charter supervised by a recognition panel . The Tories say their plans mean legislation, as proposed by Lord Leveson, is not required.

The Lib Dems said the ideas were a starting point for talks, while Labour indicated there was a prospect of a deal if changes were made.

The plans have been posted on the Department of Culture website, but make clear they are being published outside of the normal arrangements for collective agreement, and [do] not reflect an agreed position between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties .

Royal charters are formal documents that have been used to establish and lay out the terms of organisations, including the BBC and the Bank of England, and cannot be changed without government approval. Under the Conservative plans, the charter could only be amended by the recognition body if the leaders of the three main political parties in the House of Commons agreed and any changes were approved in Parliament. Worryingly, if the Privy Council wanted to make changes to the charter it would not have to get the approval of the leaders of the three main political parties.

The independent self-regulatory body would be governed by an independent board supposedly appointed in a genuinely open, transparent and independent way, without any direction from industry or influence from government .

The board itself would be made up of a majority of people who were independent of the press but include a sufficient number of people with experience of the industry such as former editors and senior or academic journalists. Serving editors, current MPs or government ministers would be excluded.

Under the proposals, news websites published by both newspapers and other companies would fall under the remit of the press censor for the first time.

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