Only “very stupid” think press regulation should go beyond big media, argues Tom Watson

March 22, 2013 8:51 am

At 3pm today, the deadline arrives for changes to the clauses around Leveson. Of particular concern is the extremely broad definition of “relevant publisher” – which would include blogs such as LabourList (and many small print publications) – in a sweeping expansion of new regulator’s remit.

With only 6 hours to go, we’re told that Labour and Tory DCMS teams are meeting this morning to try and find a solution. We certainly hope there is a willingness to do so – The Leveson process was never intended to lead to a blog regulator.

One person who also seems to disagree with the “relevant publisher” clause at it currently stands is Tom Watson – who as a campaigner on both press regulation and digital rights has a particular interest in this area. Speaking to LabourList this morning, he told us:

“It is clear to all but the very stupid that the new system should only apply to big media -with print operations that might also have a digital presence. Maria Miller should urgently clarify how this will be achieved.”

We couldn’t agree more – the clock is ticking. 3pm is getting close. Other politicians take note.

  • Earlshill

    too late Tom….as you sow, so shall you reap……

  • Hugh

    So what does he reckon?

  • http://twitter.com/ariehkovler Arieh Kovler

    Surely this actually demonstrates the flaw in the whole concept? The Daily Mail website is the world’s most read online news source. Is Tom really arguing that if the Mail scraps its print edition (like Newsweek did) then it should automatically escape the new regulatory regime but until then it should be bound by it? because that’s actually pretty odd, no?

  • Pingback: Tom Watson Backs Blog Off - Guy Fawkes' blog

  • Steve Buckingham

    This whole deal does remind me a little of the shambles that was the Dangerous Dogs Act.

    Who gets to decide whether a blog should be regulated? Is having a news section enough? Is it only blogs with a certain number of page views per week? Is it only websites that are related to a print title? What about an internet only blog that has a larger readership than a print newspaper (and lets remember that print readerships are declining).

    What happens if more people read LabourList than the Yorkshire Post?

    Although I can see a logical exclusion for blogs with a single contributor, for blogs with multiple contributors that act as news sources I think that whilst you could perhaps set a fair measure based on say unique visitors vs. circulation between print and internet, and only regulate above a certain level, to exclude a site from regulation simply because it is internet only is to ignore where the world will be in a few years. Looking at the way The Guardian is going it is already hard to see why they bother with their print edition.

    Beyond some fare readership level comparison I think you’re either basically for regulation or against. To be against for the internet only is to say either ‘the internet is good and doesn’t need to be regulated’ or ‘the internet is special we shouldn’t be subject to the same journalistic standards as a print journal with the same readership level’.

    • http://headoflegal.com/ Carl Gardner

      The answer to the question “who gets to decide whether a blog should be regulated” should be: each individual blog itself. That’s what Leveson wanted.

      I don’t think it should be Tom Watson or Maria Miller who decides.

  • Pingback: Did you see Leveson repressing me? | Hopi Sen

  • Amber_Star

    What’s the problem? Labour List already gives people a chance to respond to & correct anything which they dispute. I can’t imagine that Mark would be slow to issue an apology on behalf of Labour List to anybody who provided proper evidence that he’d ‘wronged’ them. Can somebody help me to understand why the regulations applying to blogs is a big deal?

    • http://twitter.com/Janiete Janet Edwards

      I’m inclined to agree with you. We have argued from the start that press regulation is not state control or restriction of free speech, but a mechanism to ensure the media behaves responsibly. In which case, why should that same reasonable principle not apply to blogs?

      • Hugh

        Threatening blogs with exemplary damages and with meeting libel claimants’ legal costs (regardless of the outcome) unless they sign up to and pay a regulator before they publish a political opinion is not a restriction on free speech?

        The same was argued for the press, yes. It wasn’t convincing there, either, but at least supporters could point to abuses (we’ll ignore for the moment that the worst were already illegal and that a Royal Statute and straight state regulation has not stopped broadcasters libeling old men as paedophiles, and covering up cases of actual paedophilia). In the case of blogs, there isn’t even that.

        Given the implicit presumption in favour regulation, why, frankly, stop at those using multiple writers? Why not just have everyone who wants to share their thoughts online sign up? Perhaps we could go with the government’s initial position, and just leave it the regulator to sort out such trifling issues.

  • Pingback: Press regulation deal and blogs: where things stand | Liberal Conspiracy

  • Pingback: Relevant Publishers around the World | In Defence of Liberty

  • Pingback: Why press regulation should cover blogs | Head of Legal

  • http://headoflegal.com/ Carl Gardner

    Tom’s dead wrong on this, I’m afraid, in spite of the great work he’s done on holding the press to account. The whole point of Leveson (who clearly recommended that self-regulation be open to even very small web publishers) is that if offer benefits for being regulated that he thought outweighed the burdens. Why else did he think his recommendations contained “incentives” for self-regulation? It wasn’t all stick.

    As a lone blogger, I would like to be regulated, and as a result, protected from having to pay someone’s costs if they sue me for libel. That on its own would remove the biggest single threat to my website.

    I have no fear of exemplary damages. I might libel someone inadvertently. But I’m pretty sure I’m not going to recklessly disregard their rights in an outrageous way, which is what I’d have to do to have exemplary damages awarded against me. And anyway, if I did that, it’s possible a court could award exemplary damages against me even if I weren’t subject to regulation.

    I think bloggers are afraid of the “burdens” of regulation only because they don’t understand Leveson’s recommendations. I have no problem with any blogger who chooses to be unregulated. I think they should be free to make that choice. But I want the choice to go the other way. I don’t want Tom Watson making the choice for me.

  • markfergusonuk

    Carl – there’s a huge difference between choosing to be regulated, and being effectively forced into a regulatory system designed for newspapers on the basis of poorly worded legislation and the threat of exemplary damages.

    • http://headoflegal.com/ Carl Gardner

      People aren’t being forced into regulation by threats of exemplary damages, Mark. That’s tabloid propaganda. If you look at the provisions, you’ll see that exemplary damages will only be award in very narrow circumstances (just as they can be already in libel cases). I’d be absolute lf amazed if you really thought LabourList could ever behave outrageously enough to have to pay them.

      The costs provisions are much more important – and will operate in favour of bloggers who join, but not against them, if it was reasonable for them to choose not to.

      This is a choice, and a good one for bloggers, either way. Ed Miliband was right to back Leveson, and I hope he continues to back Leveson’s logic against the scaremongering of the tabloids. This blog thing is just the latest scare.

  • Pingback: Leveson: Why press regulation should cover blogs – Carl Gardner | Inforrm's Blog

Latest

  • News Are Labour going to make the NHS the focal point of the 2015 campaign?

    Are Labour going to make the NHS the focal point of the 2015 campaign?

    Earlier this week, a poll found that Labour hold an 18-point lead over the Tories as the most trusted party on the NHS – the only topic voters consider a “major issue” that sees a Labour lead. The NHS being a crucial issue of the Scottish referendum, with both sides accusing the other of lying. Many of today’s votes rest on whether they trust Yes Scotland or Better Together’s claims about the health service. Now reports say that Labour are considering […]

    Read more →
  • Comment We stand up for human value – we proudly defend the Human Rights Act

    We stand up for human value – we proudly defend the Human Rights Act

    If you’re part of the Labour Party, or hold any similar values, you will certainly share the absolute belief in respect and dignity for everyone. I don’t think anyone in our movement, with our principles, would disagree. And so, with those common values, we are entirely right to stand up, loud and proud, for the Human Rights Act. The publication this week of Human Rights: Reflections on the 1998 Act by Jonathan Cooper in Stephen Hockman’s Law Reform 2015 (with […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Scotland Friendship and solidarity must prevail, as the fog clears

    Friendship and solidarity must prevail, as the fog clears

    The air hangs thick this morning with the referendum. Last night a deep fog rolled down across Edinburgh, but in reality it is the campaign which has blotted the vision and stopped even the keenest of observers from seeing what lies just a few footsteps ahead. The final days has provided one crucial clarification though – the No campaign is capable of great passion and powerful rhetoric. Mocked, endlessly criticised, a reputation dragged through the muck. Despite it all – […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scottish Referendum – The Liveblog

    Scottish Referendum – The Liveblog

    Are you campaigning in Scotland today? Send us your stories (named or anonymous) to elections@labourlist.org – and we’ll run the pick of them on the liveblog. 16.14: Need some cheering up after all these stories of intimidation? This is good: selfies, speeches, leaflets and memes – it’s Labour No’s campaign wall. 15.41: In Newarthill, Labour NEC member Johanna Baxter tells us that one man refused a poster today because the guy who was putting up No codex boards in his […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Scotland Please don’t go

    Please don’t go

    I’m pretty well known for writing from a personal perspective. So I thought a column comparing the pain I feel about the referendum to the pain of my divorce would be easy to write. maybe a little trite even. How can this compare to that kind of personal pain? Well, it does. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. I feel like a lover treading on eggshells desperate to please. I really, really don’t want Scotland to leave me. So yes, […]

    Read more →