A little bit of calm reflection on the Royal Charter and bloggers

Some rights reserved by Ben SutherlandI’ve been doing a little bit of Googling to find a few informed articles on the Royal Charter and bloggers. The passage of time and a bit of reading does the world of good.

Only last Monday there was panic in the blogosphere, exemplified by Iain Dale, for whom I have the greatest of respect as a blogger and a broadcaster, saying he’d have to shut his blog down because he’ll be covered by the Royal Charter.

I hope and trust that, by now, Iain and other bloggers have realised that the Royal Charter simply sets up a recognition body, so that the references within it to “relevant publisher” (defined in schedule 4 of the document as including “a person (other than a broadcaster) who publishes in the United Kingdom a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)”) purely refer to membership of or employment by the recognition body.

So panic over – on that front, anyway.

Tim Lowles on Informm’s Blog explains it all very well. Tim is Senior Associate in the IP and Reputation Management team at Collyer Bristow.

The Crime and Courts Bill amendment 18 refers to the management of exemplary damages by the courts. The Bill defines “relevant publisher” slightly differently, referring to “a person, who in the course of business (whether or not with a view to profit), publishes news related material-
(a) Which is written by different authors;
(b) Which is to any extent subject to editorial control”.

So one-man band authors would not be covered by the Crime and Courts Bill amendment about exemplary damages. I will shortly be posting a YouTube video of Leo Sayer singing “One Man Band” to celebrate this fact.

But bear in mind that all bloggers and tweeters are already open to being sued and potentially having to pay out on a whole range of existing issues such as defamation, breach of privacy, incitement, breach of copyright etc etc.

It’s worth noting that Hacked Off appear to have been appalled by the blogger/Twitter implications of the Crime and Courts Bill amendment and have proposed another amendment to rectify it in the Lords on Monday, according to their website:

For what it is worth, we believe the potential impact on bloggers and small publishers was unforeseen – an accident in the drafting – and we know of no reason why politicians might resist efforts to put things right.

If the amendments that we propose are accepted, almost all bloggers, with a very few, rare exceptions, will be completely untouched by the changes.

We hope that this reassures bloggers that they’re not being forced into a new system; though they would be welcome to join if they wished.

Brian Cathcart of Hacked Off has written a very good article which reminds us of the words of Lord Leveson which have been carried through into implementation by the proposed Royal Charter and the two associated Bill amendments:

The legislation would not give any rights to Parliament, to the Government, or to any regulatory (or other) body to prevent newspapers from publishing any material whatsoever. Nor would it give any rights to these entities to require newspapers to publish any material except insofar as it would require the recognised self-regulatory body to have the power to direct the placement and prominence of corrections and apologies in respect of information found, by that body, to require them.

It would be great if a few more people read that and Brian Cathcart’s article as a whole. To say that we’ve had “state regulation of the press” introduced this week is simply not true.

Radio 4’s Media Show, presented by the superb Steve Hewlett, has an excellent discussion of all this, including an interview with Helena Kennedy QC here.

I close with the words of Lord Puttnam from the Guardian’s Comment is Free:

I hope the events of this past week signify that we have collectively turned the page, and that politicians of all persuasions now recognise that the regulation of the media, entirely independent of government, and backed by appropriate powers of civil enforcement, is one of the fundamental guarantors of a healthy democracy in the 21st century.


Photo above: Some rights reserved by Ben Sutherland

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