Open letter on blog regulation

Last night I published the wording of a Labour/Lib Dem amendment to the post-Leveson proposals that – whilst imperfect – would save the vast majority of blogs and small online news sites from the new regulator. But until that amendment – or something better – is accepted by the government, or voted through the Lords, pressure still needs to be kept on the politicians who are finalising the process.

That’s why a broad (politically speaking) cross-section of bloggers, online journalists, campaigners and writers have written an open letter today – published in the Guardian – expressing their concern with the process and the proposals as they currently stand.

I’m proud to have been involved in the drafting to process and to be one of the signatories – the letter is below:

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The Leveson Inquiry was set up to address “the culture, practices and ethics of the press, including contacts between the press and politicians and the press and the police”. Our views diverge on whether the outcome of the Leveson process — and the plans for a new regulator — are the best way forward. But where we all agree is that current attempts at regulating blogs and other small independent news websites are critically flawed.

The government has defined a “relevant publisher” for the purposes of press regulation in a way that seeks to draft campaign groups and community-run websites covering neighbourhood planning applications and local council affairs and campaign groups into a regulator designed for the Guardian, Sun and Daily Mail.

Even the smallest of websites will be threatened with the stick of punitive “exemplary damages” if they fall foul of a broad range of torts encompassing everything from libel to “breach of confidence”. The authors of these proposals should reflect on their remarkable achievement of uniting both Tom Watson and Rupert Murdoch in opposition.

This appears to be the outcome of a botched late-night drafting process and complete lack of consultation with bloggers, online journalists and social media users, who may now be caught in regulations which trample on grassroots democratic activity and Britain’s emerging digital economy.

Leveson was meant to be focussed on the impact of “Big Media”. In the end it may come to be seen as a damaging attack on Britain’s blogosphere, which rather than being a weakness in British politics, has proved time and time again that it is a real strength.

We will all continue to write, publish, campaign, cajole, amuse and irritate online. But we consider the current proposals a fundamental threat to doing just that.

Regards

Mark Ferguson, LabourList
Tim Montgomerie, ConservativeHome
Stephen Tall, LibDemVoice
Laurence Durnan, Political Scrapbook
Paul Staines, Editor, Guido Fawkes’ Blog
Harry Cole, News Editor, Guido Fawkes’ Blog
Alex Wickham, Reporter, Guido Fawkes’ Blog
Sunny Hundal, Liberal Conspiracy
Jag Singh, Messagespace
Neal Lawson, Compass
Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Emma Burnell, ScarletStandard
Adam Bienkov
Luke Akehurst
James Bloodworth, Left Foot Forward
Jon Lansman, Left Futures
David Hencke, Exaro
Laurie Penny, New Statesman
Owen Jones

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