Left Foot Forward has been broadly supportive of the Leveson process and has stood by the victims of hacking and press intrusion. But the amendment as it stands, which was passed by the House of Commons on Monday, has the potential to capture bloggers and other small publishers through its definition of what is a "relevant publisher".
Left Foot Forward has been broadly supportive of the Leveson process and has stood by the victims of hacking and press intrusion.
Creating a new regulatory body for the mainstream media with a legislative back stop is essential for strengthening our democracy, but the process risks falling into disrepute if an amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill is passed as it is currently worded.
The amendment as it stands, which was passed by the House of Commons on Monday, has the potential to capture bloggers and other small publishers through its definition of what is a “relevant publisher”.
According to the amendment, a relevant publisher is:
“a person who, in the course of a business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit), publishes news-related material –
- which is written by different authors, and
- which is to any extent subject to editorial control.”
This is deeply worrying, and would drag the blogosphere into the orbit of the new regulation. Those that remained outside of the new system would be liable for “exemplary damages” and the award of costs should a person or organisation seek damages through the courts.
Alternatives on the table
Bloggers are campaigning to be excluded from the definition of “relevant publisher”. There are a number of ways this could be achieved.
- Exempting any media outlet which meets the definition of a small or medium sized enterprise as defined in Sections 382 and 465 of the Companies Act 2006 – i.e. those companies which have a turnover of less than £6.5 million.
- Other lower thresholds involving turnover are also in play. A number of left-wing bloggers have suggested the figure of £250,000 when lobbying in Westminster yesterday.
- Non-profit organisations could be excluded, as well as
- publishers who focus on a specific locality or region and only report national issues on an incidental basis that is relevant to such local or regional matters;
- those who operate as non-charitable campaigning organisations and are publishing material incidental to the organisation’s aims and objectives.
Those lobbying the mainstream parties have also suggested that bloggers could be incentivised to join a regulator with the carrot of access to arbitration services to resolve disputes, rather than the stick of punitive exemplary damages.
Websites like Left Foot Forward have nothing to hide. Indeed, the nature of the platforms we use make it easier to issue apologies and correct inaccuracies than the print or broadcast media. But the proposed arrangements would place burdensome and unfair requirements onto websites that are not part of the problem.
The amendments go to the House of Lords on Monday for what is likely to be their last stage in Parliament. Changes to the amendments must be made by 3pm today.
We would urge politicians to amend this amendment and ensure that independent online media is not damaged.
Update: An amendment to the amendment has now been tabled by Lord Lucas which read:
‘Exclusions from definition of “relevant publisher”
“A publisher who does not exceed the definition of a small or medium-sized enterprise as defined in Section 382 and 465 Companies Act 2006.”
This would exclude independent bloggers from the legislation.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.