Law, Justice and Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘leveson inquiry’

George Brock: The post-Leveson dog’s breakfast

In Comment, Journalism, Law on April 25, 2013 at 9:47 am

Professor George Brock

This post originally appeared on georgebrock.net.

I know that this week’s media debate is going to be all about the pros and cons of real-time news sharing in fast-moving crises like the Boston marathon bombings and subsequent shootouts, but my blog has a little catching up to do. While I have been writing a book, the government, Houses of Lord and Commons and the Hacked Off campaign have managed to make a gigantic dog’s breakfast of the follow-up to the Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking.

This was pretty much the only subject on which I published during the long winter, so I’ll start by rounding up that stuff. It’s hardly surprising that inventive lawyers intent on intimidation are using Leveson’s recommendations to try to silence newspaper reporting or that the Metropolitan Police, who had a grimly embarrassing time in front of Leveson, are being cautious and unhelpful. What has surprised me is the depth of the legal and political doo-doo into which the government has stepped. In a hurry to get the Leveson Inquiry dealt with before the 2015 election season opens next year, the government tied itself in knots which may take years to unravel. The Royal Charter deal on a new press regulator was a rushed botch.

The largest single dilemma which Leveson plonked in the government’s lap is defining “the press”. Leveson was so heavily preoccupied by the issue of the misuse of power accumulated by the major newspaper groups, that he did not treat this as a central issue. He should have: defining who is to be covered by law or regulation dealing with news publishing is a basic issue in an era when “the press” doesn’t really exist any more. I argue in a TLS review (£) of Leveson and a report from the Columbia Journalism School on “post-industrial journalism” that the Leveson report’s worst flaw was that it was so backward-looking.

Thrashing round trying to define internet sites and blogs which are “news-related” and suchlike won’t work for anyone except lawyers who can spend happy years in court fighting over definitions. In this BBC explainer there is a nice little film by Newsnight’s David Grossman trying to explain the new law as it relates to online publishers. The Department of Culture Media and Sport have produced a colourful new diagram to help publishers work out if they’re covered by the new law. Here’s Patrick Smith of MediaBriefing picking holes.

The government seems frightened of open public debate about issues such as “public interest”. The reporting of the Leveson Report when it came out late last year was shoddy and partial. The negotiations leading up to the Royal Charter were opaque. The legislation is whistling through the Commons. Debate hasn’t happened. Opportunities to find better ways have been missed. And Leveson was a great chance to improve law and regulation of the news media, as I tried to explain in this lecture at Gresham College. Pity it was missed.

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Lorna Woods: Reviewing the Communications Review

In Journalism, Law, Research on March 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Professor Lorna Woods

As part of the ongoing discussion surrounding the Communications Review, Lorna Woods, Professor and Associate Dean of Research at City Law School, City University London, explains which areas of communications regulation are being given the most attention, and which areas should be given more. This post was originally published on the LSE Media Policy Project blog.

The current government has long promised us a review of the Communications Act 2003, but with Leveson rumbling on in the background, progress seems slow.  The review process was launched by Jeremy Hunt in 2011 who issued an ‘open letter’ and DCMS created a review webpage. In 2012 a series of seminars were held (aimed at industry, not consumers/audiences).  The topics identified were:

  • Consumers: this includes content regulation, and online transactional and audience behaviour.
  • Competition in content: this envisages the market as the solution to diversity issues.
  • Spectrum: this concerns greater roll-out/connectivity and assumes the desirability of spectrum trading.  For example, Ofcom has recently issued a consultation on one aspect of spectrum: whether there should be charges for national digital terrestrial TV (DTT), local TV and digital audio broadcasting (DAB), in line with Ofcom’s duty to secure optimal use of radio spectrum.
  • TV Content: this questions the current requirements of the existing regulatory framework for broadcasting and looks for other options such as the introduction of tax incentives to support the creation of digital content. It also considers the policy objectives for UK and European regulatory requirements for Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) prominence, conditions for carriage consent and product placement. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee is examining these issues as part of its inquiry into support for the creative industries, with a focus on the development of high quality British content.
  • Radio: this questions whether the radio licensing regime is sufficiently flexible for future changes, and whether there are existing barriers to the on-going success of the radio sector.

Two points should be emphasised. The first is a recognition of a changing media environment that focuses on new (or not so new) services beyond traditional mass media.  The second is a deregulatory impulse.  These are no doubt important topics, but does the Communications Review cover everything that is actually under review, or needs reviewing?

While the review did identify carriage issues – and certainly the issue of the fees charged to PSB by satellite companies has risen up the agenda – it did not raise the issue of net neutrality directly, although this has already been the topic of considerable discussion.  (See, e.g., Ofcom’s approach as well as the voluntary code. Ofcom’s workplan suggests there may be more to come.)

The review did not directly address challenges in broadcast regulation, implicitly affirming the consensus established in the 2003 Act. Several broadcasting licences are currently being renewed, while the BBC Charter is not due for renewal until 2016. It may be that the Government was wary of opening the door to calls for Leveson to be implemented, or that the government is complacent if certain PSB obligations are weakened following licence renegotiation. Moreover, it is often unclear which platforms for content are subject to which types of regulations, such as the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) rules. Having a fractured and piecemeal system does not reflect a converged environment and may be confusing for consumers.

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George Brock: Leveson – how to avoid the pitfalls of “better mousetrap” press regulation

In Comment, Journalism, Media regulation on May 17, 2012 at 9:10 am

Professor George Brock

Towards the end of next month, the Leveson Inquiry into the British press will turn from its current, revelatory phase about media relationships with politicians and address again the knotty question of regulating journalism.

The inquiry’s most basic dilemma hasn’t changed: how to prevent and discourage the wrongs which have occurred without tipping over into state control of the news media.

When he has grown bored and irritated with an editor waffling vaguely about how things will be improved by a few light adjustments to the present rules, Lord Justice Leveson usually asks one of two questions and sometimes both: what would you actually do?

Will what you suggest command public confidence? Next month will bring forth a slew of ideas for regulation designed to work better than the much-abused self-regulation of the past. Legal and media experts are busy putting the finishing touches to better mousetraps.

Read the post in full on George Brock’s blog here.