The Leveson Report (As It Should Be)

An open, linkable, HTML version of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press

Its about time I publicised a project I’ve been working on in my spare time:
The Leveson Report (As It Should Be).

No, this isn’t a rewrite of the report where I change all Sir Brian’s recommendations to suit my politics! Rather it is

An open, linkable, HTML version of Lord Justice Leveson’s report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press

Over on the project website I have published a short explanation of why I initiated this project. In short: I think in a modern democracy, publishing accessible versions of public documents is essential. Having a simple HTML edition of a crucial text such as the Leveson Report means that more people can read and engage with it.

I hope the site is easy to navigate. To view a particular chapter of the report the site visitor simply has to type the part and chapter number after the website address. So to visit chapter 2 in Part B, you would type:

http://http://leveson.robertsharp.co.uk/B/Chapter2

In a similar manner you can jump straight to a particular section or even a single paragraph in the report. Full instructions are available on the project website.

My hope is that other people can take this project and run with it. All the HTML pages that make up this version of the report are available on GitHub, so anyone can download the files and host their own version of the report (here’s a handy ZIP file). I confess that the underlying markup (i.e. the raw code of each page) is not completely perfect, and I would welcome any help in polishing the pages. On GitHub, anyone can ‘fork’ the project and begin making alterations.

I have set up a mailing list. If the Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project is of interest, please consider subscribing. There are options to be notified of every change to the site files, or just major changes and developments with the project.

For fun, I’ve created a Twitter account, @LevesonAISB, which is automatically tweeting links to various sections of the report. I’d love it if someone helped me set up randomised Tweeting of sentences pulled from the document.

This is not the my first project on the subject of making public documents more public. See also The Defamation Act: Complete & Unabridged, Get Yourself A Cheap #Leveson Report, and Tracked Changes In the Defamation Bill.

A Leveson Word Cloud
A Leveson Word Cloud, generated using the HTML files from The Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project

Why I wrote my WordPress plugin

Strike one item off the bucket list: I’ve written a WordPress plugin.

Paragraph Level IDs is available now from the WordPress plugin directory, and I’ve created a static page on this site to explain the detail. But in essence, the plugin adds lots of little anchors into the HTML of your blog posts, before each paragraph.

This means that the author and users can link to specific paragraphs in a piece of online text.

This functionality is extremely useful when dealing with long screeds of text. Someone may quote a bon mot, but if you follow the link to where the writer says the quote came from, you often have to trawl through many paragraphs to find the quote and check the context. If a site has anchors, or id attributes embedded in the HTML, the person creating the link can send the reader to the exact paragraph in the text.

This is a very old technique, one that has been present in HTML since its earliest incarnations. But few people use it routinely on their webpages. This plugin offers an easy way to alleviate that inefficiency! Continue reading “Why I wrote my WordPress plugin”

Press regulation and the Internet's "ethical vacuum"

So perhaps Leveson is wrong to suggest that bloggers and the Internet exist in an ‘ethical vacuum’.

Following the Royal Charter announcement earlier this week, there has been much concern over how the new system for press regulation will affect bloggers.  English PEN expressed concerns about this immediately after the Leveson Report was published.  On Labour List, Mark Fergerson called the Internet ‘The Elephant in the Room‘ and in the Guardian, Emily Bell said the Royal Charter was ‘illiterate‘ about the Internet.  Since this problem arises from the lack of discussion about the Internet in the Leveson Report, it is worth revisiting that document to see what Leveson actually said.

It is technically wrong to say that Leveson only devotes one page to the Internet in his entire 2,000 page report.  In Volume I, pages 164 to 178 are given over to describing part of the online publishing ecosystem – Huffington Post, Popbitch, and Guido Fawkes.  However, there are only five paragraphs of actual analysis on the Internet, on pages 736-37 (Volume II).  Leveson says:

Many editors and commentators have argued that the burgeoning of the internet is likely to render irrelevant much of the work of the Inquiry even assuming that it has not already done so. If, for example, celebrity X’s privacy is violated online, then the metaphorical cat is well out of the bag, and there is no reason why open season should not exist in the printed media. …

In my view, this argument is flawed for two reasons. … the internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones. Some have called it a ‘wild west’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’. This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross miischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity.

The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct.

This, in a nutshell, is the justification of focusing on regulating the tradition print media, and not on the wider publishing ecosystem.  Superficially, Lord Justice Leveson’s reasoning seems persuasive, but I think he mistakes precisely what ‘freedom of the press’ actually is.  Writing in the New Statesman last July (i.e. before Leveson reported), legal blogger David Allen Green explained the term:

The “press” to which it refers is often identified by many in England with the big-P Press of Fleet Street: the professional journalists who have “press cards” and go along to “press awards” …  But this may not be the best way of understanding the term.  In fact, the expression “freedom of the press” significantly predates the existence of the modern newspaper industry, which was largely a product of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Instead, the expression “freedom of the press” came out of the great age of pamphleteering and protest which occurred during and after the civil wars in Britain of the mid-1600s…. In this way “freedom of the press” was not some entitlement of a media elite but a more basic right of anyone to circulate their ideas more widely than they could do simply by themselves.

So perhaps Leveson is wrong to suggest that bloggers and the Internet exist in an ‘ethical vacuum’.  The act of publishing what you wish, without interference, is inately a ethical act, excercising moral rights, that is available to everyone.  Its wrong to create a two-tier ethical system, with bloggers and print journalists on different planes.  And it is wrong to create enshire a two-tier regulatory system in law, too.