Following a rather dubious bit of political chicanery in the early hours, but not in a smoke filled room, our glorious leaders along with friends of Mr Huge Grunt have cooked up a typical mess of a piece of legislation to regulate “the press”. Of course this ignores that everything the press supposedly need to be regulated for was already illegal, and the editors and such could probably have been done on conspiracy charges, nope new legislation was needed #hackedoff insisted on it, and they got it and it went far beyond what Levesson proposed. It’s voluntary except if you don’t join in then you’re liable for costs if someone takes you to court and if you lose then you get to pay massive damages as well. Some people have said “So what the press deserve it” which is rather missing the problem with losing the freedom of the press it tends to stay lost for everyone. Our glorious leaders though and have decided this is an excellent chance to try and regulate the internet. The tricky question being just who qualifies as a “relevant publisher”, which as The Spectator reported is a knotty problem:
“Paul Waugh of Politics Home asked Downing Street whether the new quango would cover Twitter. It didn’t know. The Crime and Courts Bill says that people who publish about their hobby, trade, business or industry and the authors of online academic journals will be exempt. The government is, of course, exempting itself and all other ‘public bodies’ as well, for it would never do for the state to abide by the rules its citizen must follow. Everyone else must submit, as far as we can tell.”
So either the answer is probably that we all do or that nobody knows as No. 10 certainly doesn’t know.
Before we get onto the impact for bloggers and the rest of us, lets just think about the impact for the press. Whilst it’s possible some of them deserve it and I wouldn’t lose sleep over some papers having a horrid time, it’s more likely that the worst offenders will be ok, because they have the budget and will no doubt sign up to the charter. But we either have a free press or we don’t, you can no more be a little be regulated than you can be a little bit pregnant. The imposition of a high regulatory threshold is also a common move my large established industries to force out smaller competitors, setting up a new paper no matter how diligent you are would you dare risk breaking a story that might upset Huge Grunt landing you in court facing paying everyone’s costs and the risk of massive fines as well? So with the weight of regulation upon them we may well be left with a supine conformist press. As courts, and thus lawyers* are invovled is this more likely to help the well off and well connected who already make generous use of our libel system or the poor and defenseless?
As the regulator is not concerned with crime but with misdemeanor it will be in a perfect place to ensure the press conforms with the EU diktat that the EU must not be criticised or made to look bad.
But enough about the press, it’s hard to feel sorry for them what about the rest of us, well the proposed royal charter says the following:
Now we’ve been assured that they’re Not after the lone blogger, but that’s not in the charter and some of the definitions are in secondary legislation which is easier to change. Let’s be generous though and assume they’re not after the lone blogger (yet) once the principle of a regulated press and blogs is established it’s a small matter to tighten that particular noose. It’s also not clear what cunts as a lone blogger, I’ve had guest posts here so do I count? Many collaborative blogs would surely count such as Guido, Orphans of Liberty and Anna Raccoon to name but a few, and what about collaborative Facebook groups/pages? If there are exemplary fines for misbehavior if you’re not signed up to the regulatory body would you want to bet on it? If you’re prepared to take the risk of publishing and be damned remember if you’ve not signed up you pay the costs even if you win, so there’s no cost for people to keep dragging you to court. Still want to gamble on publishing something people in power might not like?
That regulatory body is going to be expensive as well and will no doubt need help from Huge Grunt and friends to make sure it’s set up correctly. It is after all the very parody of simplicity:
If this bill goes through at all we say goodbye to a free press, we say goodbye to the freedom to blog (at least in groups) and we lose a rather large chunk of free speech, all based on an incident which didn’t happen and a man who enjoys the press being nasty to other people. If you’re in the press Leg Iron has an idea to make Huge Grunt think twice. For the rest of us we should write to our MPs if we care about a a free press and freedom of speech at all or at the very least go and sign Guido’s Petition.
* We may of course get a whole new breed of ambulance chasers “have you had someone say something nasty about you on line, well Blogger lawyers on line, will take them to court for free and you get to keep all of your pay out” – which would be even worse but there you go.