Tuesday, 19 March 2013

What is "significant"?

To continue on from yesterdays blog post on the Leveson style Royal Charter and it's implications on regulation of blogs I think it's best to clear up something.

First of all, we need to understand scope. There are two relevant "bits" of legislation when it comes to regulation of anyone coming out of yesterday. One is the Royal Charter and one is amendments to allow for "Exemplary Costs" to be put against a defendant in a case who should be regulated but isn't.

The scope of the former is purely about setting up an oversight body and their functions. The latter is purely about defining who will be eligible to be hit with these punishment charges and the circumstances underwhich they will apply.

It is really important to understand that between the two, as it stands, a "publisher" in one doesn't not account for who a "publisher" is in the other.

You can be a relevant publisher by running your own blog (like I do here, though this is a grey area through blogger, see side note below), and thus refused from being able to serve on the body that will assess how well independent regulation of other publishers is going, but at the same time *not* a relevant publisher when it comes to whether you'll be able to have exemplary costs brought against you in court.

This doesn't mean bloggers like me are free to defame and to tell lies, that could still land you in court as before, but we wouldn't have to worry on top of worry about heavy handed costs intended only to publish those that are intended to find regulation.

The problem here is the term "significant" and it's subtle use in the Royal Charter.

10. The Board of the Recognition Panel must:
a. prepare and publish a report of any review it conducts, whether of a cyclical or
exceptional nature; and
b. inform Parliament and the public as soon as practicable if, on the first anniversary
of the commencement of this Charter and thereafter annually if:
i. there is no recognised regulator for a continuous period of 3 months
after the first anniversary of the commencement of this Charter; or
ii. in the opinion of the Recognition Panel, the system of regulation does
not cover all significant news publishers

Emphasis is mine.

The term "significant" is only used twice in the Charter when referred to this way, and the first is the synopsis.

AND WHEREAS the Report of the Inquiry recommended that for an effective system of selfregulation to be established, all those parts of the press which are significant news
publishers should become members of an independent regulatory body:

It's not quite true to allude, as in this guardian live blog that the Royal Charter doesn't try to say who is intended to be regulated, or that it's scope is purely about appointments, but the reality is that there is no definition available anywhere that gives a dividing line between different levels of news publishers.

What is needed quite urgently is this definition for "significant", so that there is no doubt as to where the line is drawn on expectations. The sensible path would be to define it in the same way it has been defined in the amendments that discussed last night in the Crime and Courts Bill debate, and as I discussed yesterday.


I saw this in the amendments...

For the purposes of this section, a “significant news publisher” is a news
publisher which in the opinion of the Recognition Commission has a weekly
readership which would place it within the first 20 of a list of news publishers
ranked in descending order of weekly readership.

It seems to me that this is the benchmark that the government is intending to put publishing bodies against, and that this text takes precedence over the separate draft Royal Charter that people are referring to that I guess we need to hope this kind of definition will make it into the wording officially.

Side note

I don't believe that tweeters fall under the Schedule 4 of the Royal Charter, I believe that Twitter falls under it as the publisher of the website. Similarly platforms like Blogger cause am interesting dilemma. Is the blogger URL the website, or is the sub-domain site (such as this blog) the website.

After a day to think over it, and hearing other opinions, along with reading about how Twitter sees it's own operation as a network and not a publisher, my view has swung slightly to that tweeters are indeed publishers, but that as single individuals (group tweet accounts obviously being different) they wouldn't fall under the regulation requirements for those that can be charged exemplary damages against.

Maybe along with "significant", "website" needs to be better defined too.

What do you think?

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