Last Monday, my former colleagues Jonathan Heawood and Lisa Appignanesi launched the Impress project. This is an attempt to devise a new press regulator that is compliant with the principles of the Leveson Report, but also tempered to resist being nobbled by either the politicians or the press. Continue reading
The Royal Charter that would establish a body to oversee press regulation was due to be referred to the Privy Council today. But industry bodies representing the press have filed an injunction against that happening. The court will examine the application this morning. Legal blogger and former government lawyer Carl Gardner says judges may grant the injunction for the time being, even as he doubts that any legal challenge by the press will ultimately succeed.
I have yet to post anything on Syria, and what the international response should be to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. This omission is mainly because I was away when the House of Commons voted on whether to join in with any military action, and I missed all the debates over the morality of intervention. By the time I began consuming media again after my time in a communications blind spot, the conversation had become about whether David Cameron and Ed Miliband’s political fortunes had been helped or hindered by the parliamentary vote. I was coming to the issue with fresh eyes and ears, and such parochial analysis felt incredibly crass and wholly beside the point.
For the past ten days, there has been much discussion about how our collective democratic experience of the Iraq war in 2003 has affected our political judgements a decade later. Clearly the sense of betrayal that many of us felt back then still remains. The brutal aftermath in Iraq, and our lengthy, corrosive presence in Afghanistan has made everyone wary of more military action in the Middle East. Continue reading
A little while back, the Independent ran a feature on ‘the selfie’, that genre of modern self-portrait taken with a smart phone. Hilary and Chelsea Clinton had published a selfie, which signalled the form’s crossover from youth culture to the mainstream.
When we discuss social media, the usual insight is that it allows people (whether they are public figures like Hilary Clinton or Rhianna, or just ordinary members of the public) to communicate without having to go through the established media corporations. But I think the great significance of social media is that the traditional media outlets have completely co-opted it into their coverage. The mainstream media’s tracking of Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong to Russia was powered by Twitter. Sports reporters quote Tweets from players and managers to gain insights into their state of mind or the state of their transfer deal.
And selfies are now routinely used by the newspapers to illustrate tragic young deaths. Whether it is a car accident, a drug overdose, a gang murder, or a bullying related suicide, the photo editors turn to the victim’s Facebook page or Twitter stream to harvest images. The latest example of this is Hannah Smith, who committed suicide last week. I noted a couple of years ago how they were used to report the overdose of Issy Jones-Rielly. And the reporting on the joint-suicide of Charleigh Disbrey and Mert Karaoglan in June was heavy with ‘selfies’. Continue reading
To pick just one statistic:
Then there’s this doozy: 29% of respondents think the government spends more on unemployment benefits – the Job Seekers’ Allowance – than on pensions. In fact, pensions cost 15 times as much (rightly so!).
Apparently the British public is similarly misinformed about the propoertion of Muslims in the country, the number of immigrants, the budget of the Department for International Development, the rate of teenaged pregancies, and the crime rate.
Massie shies away from calling the British people stupid, though the headline to his post ‘Abandon All Hope’ suggests this is what he thinks. And clearly this poll shows that we are, indeed, a highly ignorant bunch.
But I think it would be wrong for we the public to take the blame. To my mind, this poll shows that we are being failed by our media. Their primary purpose is surely to keep us informed about what is going on in our democracy, and clearly they are not doing that job effectively. That’s not something that Alex Massie cares to consider in his article.
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.
John Sargeant: if you weren't the original target of a racial epithet, you can't be the one to reclaim it. #reviewshow
— robertsharp59 (@robertsharp59) January 18, 2013
John Sargeant’s performance on the BBC Newsnight Review show yesterday was bizarre. He managed to say the n-word twice during a discussion of Django Unchained, and later described parts of a TV programme as “American bullshit”.
The Leveson Report is over two thousand pages long, and is published in four volumes. You can download the forty-two page Executive Summary and the four large PDFs that make up the full report from the National Archives (at the grandly named official-documents.gov.uk doman).
If you want a hard copy of the report, The Stationery Office will charge a whopping £250.
However, there is a cheaper option to get a printed version of the report. I have taken the four PDFs and uploaded them to Lulu.com, the print-on-demand website. Each document (I, II, III, IV) costs around £12, and so (with delivery included) one may obtain the entire report for under £60.
Is this legal? Yes. The Leveson Report carries an Open Government Licence (a variation on a Creative Commons Licence) which states that anyone is free to “copy, publish, distribute and transmit the Information”. There is no creator mark-up on the documents (i.e. I do not make any money), so ordering them in this way is analagous to clicking ‘print’ on the PDFs and feeding two-thousand sheets of paper into your office printer!
Why is there such a disparity in price? The answer is colour. The design of the report available via The Stationery Office is printed with a blue spot colour, used in various tints throughout the report. In the cheaper Lulu versions, the content is simply black-and-white.
Did anyone hear the BBC Today interview with UKIP leader Nigel Farage this morning? I was tearing my hair out at the inanity of it all.
Presenter John Humphrys repeatedly asked Farage whether he wanted to be Prime Minister and whether he thought UKIP would soon be in Government. This is a no-win question for the Interviewee: if he says ‘yes’ he will be accused of being delusional. If he says ‘no’ he is accused of lacking ambition and not worthy of a person’s vote. So, like all minority party leaders, he was forced to give an evasive non-answer.
This is ‘gotcha’ questioning from Humphrys, and reveals nothing about the matter at hand: why are UKIP doing better in the polls?
There may be instances where ‘gotcha’ questioning is appropriate – for example, to highlight a contradiction in a Government policy. However, the electoral paradox that Farage must confront is not of his making. Instead, it is a feature of the political system. There is no value in wasting broadcast time trying to get Farage to explain this. Voters are savvy enough to understand the conundrum. It is patronising to suggest that Farage is somehow pulling the wool over their eyes.
Single issue parties seeking protest votes is an entirely legitimate use of representative democracy. Any kind of electoral success brings influence and an audience, and so can be an aim in itself , not just as a route to power. When Humphrys and the BBC portray such political activism as fringe or Quixotic, they are being unhelpful to the voters and to the issues. And when this journalistic cynicism is practiced at the expense of actual scrutiny of UKIP’s policies, it is downright harmful and wrong.
Right. We all got a bit distracted there for a moment. What were we talking about? Oh yeah…
Almost all the debate about #Leveson so far is over whether the Government should introduce statutory regulation of the press. The other grave issues covered by the Inquiry, and Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations for how to fix them, seem to have prompted less discussion.
The tunnel vision of the political class, and it’s obsession with press regulation, is partly to blame for this. But it is also the fault of Lord Justice Leveson himself. He offers a detailed plan for how a new self-regulatory body might be emboldened by some kind of law… but fewer ideas on how to regulate the way the media interacts with the police and politicians.
This is a shame, because the ambivalence of the police to the practice of phone hacking (if not outright collusion) was the most shocking of last year’s revelations. It was the failure to properly investigate the phone hacking that made this controversy into a bona fide ‘gate’. Had the police done their job, and not sought friendship and favour with the News International titles and other tabloids, then the entire controversy would have amounted to nothing more than a few criminal prosecutions. Continue reading