Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

May 03 2011

11:23

It’s all a matter of trust

According to the latest Ipsos MORI poll on trust in people, only 1 in 5 people think journalists tell the truth. They’re still more trustworthy than politicians generally and government ministers! Phew.

But telling the truth and being trustworthy are not the same thing. There’s not believing what they say and then there’s knowing that what they say is wrong and doing something about it. Which is why we have the Press Complaints Commission.

Here at ScraperWiki we also have a group of developers that don’t just complain when sites don’t work, they do something about it. That’s what Ben Campbell did for the Press Complaints Commission. He scraped the PCC to produce this site (pictured above) for the Media Standards Trust.

‘Trying to work out basic stuff, like which newspapers are the most complained about, is virtually impossible on the existing PCC site. So we scraped the data to make it easier (oh, and it’s the Daily Mail)’
- Martin Moore (Media Standards Trust)

Just as a news story can be presented in myriad of ways so too can data. Some representations are more useful than others. Many have different purposes,  a different audience. Others are so buried behind web forms and coding, they can’t reveal a story unless liberated.

Scraping creates a data wire service. And our developers are showing how even creating a simple league table (with realtime updates) can tell a completely different story.

Press Complaints Commission – you’ve been ScraperWikied!


March 02 2011

12:06

Guest post: Do we need moderation guidelines for dealing with mental health issues?

Last month the Press Complaints Commission made a judgement in a case involving discriminatory comments on a newspaper article. The case highlighted the issue of journalism on mental health and how it is treated by publishers alongside similar considerations such as sexuality, gender, religion and ethnicity. The complaint also led to a change in The Guardian’s moderation rules.

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog the person who brought that case, Beatrice Bray, writes about her experiences of comment abuse, and the role she feels publishers should take in dealing both with comments relating to mental health, as well as writers with mental health issues.

Last April I wrote a rallying cry for the Guardian for all who have endured taunts about mental ill health. In my reply article Cartoonists should be careful how they portray mental health (23/4/10) I reclaimed the word “psychotic”. Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson had used the word to abuse Mrs Thatcher. I put him right.

I am a long-standing reader of the Guardian newspaper but I did not know the website audience. Being a proud campaigner I told Guardian readers that I had bipolar disorder and had experienced psychosis.

I expected a civil hearing. Newspaper readers did oblige but many online readers were foul.

The Guardian’s managing editor Chris Elliott did not warn me about the impending abuse. That was a mistake. I think Mr Elliott knew I would face hostility but I do not think he realised how badly I would be hurt.

Those insults made me physically sick. My head was sore for many weeks. This was all so pointless. If Mr Elliott had given me a chance to discuss the risks involved we both could have taken precautions. Instead there was a row.

Guardian staff gave me an apology but told me to grow a “thick skin”. That jibe spurned me into going to the Press Complaints Commission. It is free. It is also less adversarial and less costly than a disability tribunal.

I was not asking for anything unprecedented. The BBC has guidelines on working with vulnerable people. We need to extend this to new media.

Working with vulnerable people

For example when dealing with discussion sites moderators need to deal swiftly with abuse. They also must facilitate discussions so that they do not turn nasty.

Staff should appreciate the reasons for this action. This is not prima donna treatment. This action is necessary because the writer and many of the readers share a common disability. They all have mental health problems.

Section 2 of the PCC Editors’ code promised fairness to complainants. I thought it only fair to ask for warning of abuse but in my PCC ruling the Guardian and the PCC disagreed with me. The PCC did not say why.

However, I did score other points.

Before the PCC ruling the Guardian at my request did add the word “disability” to its moderation rules.

The PCC and the Guardian and did apologise with regard to the abuse.

Guardian online readers called me, amongst other things, a “nutter” and a “retard”. Unfortunately both the Guardian and PCC refused to accept that this was discrimination as defined by the terms of section 12 of the Editor’s code of the PCC.

This is not just semantics. To me the word “discrimination” is a word with power. It holds the abuser responsible but the PCC fights shy of doing that online.

I now know that you can only complain to the PCC if a staff member makes a discriminatory remark about you. Comments made by non-staff members do not fall within the PCC’s remit. My abusers were not Guardian staff.

It is a shame. By being discrimination deniers both the Guardian and the PCC cut themselves off from a store of knowledge on handling disability and mental health in particular.

September 17 2010

10:07

Press Complaints Commission: Sunday Times columnist breached Editors’ Code

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint from television broadcaster Clare Balding against language used in a television review by AA Gill, published by the The Sunday Times in July.

Balding complained that a reference to her in the article as a “dyke on a bike” was a pejorative reference to her sexuality, irrelevant to the programme and a breach of Clause 12 (discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The newspaper had defended its columnist on grounds of freedom of expression and said the word “dyke” had been reclaimed as “an empowering, not offensive, term” by two “Dykes on Bikes” organisations. But the PCC said in this case the term was used in a “demeaning” way.

In this case, the commission considered that the use of the word “dyke” in the article – whether or not it was intended to be humorous – was a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant’s sexuality. The context was not that the reviewer was seeking positively to “reclaim” the term, but rather to use it to refer to the complainant’s sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way. This was an editorial lapse which represented a breach of the Code, and the newspaper should have apologised at the first possible opportunity.

See the full adjudication here…Similar Posts:



September 07 2010

10:05

July 01 2010

15:26

PCC director speaks out over Lord Puttnam’s criticisms of regulatory body

The director of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Stephen Abell has come out fighting in an article on Index on Censorship after Labour peer Lord Puttnam said earlier this week that the regulatory body should be shut down.

Speaking in a speech on parliament and young people on Tuesday, Puttnam said the PCC should be scrapped if newspapers failed to improve their behaviour within a year. In comments made to MediaGuardian, he said the PCC should work to prevent “the slow reduction of politics to a form of gruesome spectator sport” and “ensure the general representation of young people is more representative of reality”.

Abell says Puttnam’s remarks were not based on “well-informed and considered comment” about the PCC’s role and work, but says they are a starting point for debate:

Lord Puttnam is keen to assert that the PCC “cannot” instruct newspapers to be nicer to politicians and young people (two items on his wish list) without pausing to ask the question: should it? There must be the argument that if any body – even a self-regulatory body like the PCC – were to dictate the tone of political coverage, or suggest that there should be more positive stories on youth issues, the result would be a very significant restriction on freedom of expression.

(…)

However, and this is very important, he is right that the PCC must be active agents in maintaining newspaper standards. The coverage of politics, or of issues affecting the young, are two important areas. The PCC must ensure that we hold editors to account for what they report and how they report it. We must ensure that inaccuracies are corrected, intrusions and distortions prevented.

Related reading on Journalism.co.uk: Stephen Abell’s first interview as the new director of the PCC.Similar Posts:



May 19 2010

15:24

April 14 2010

10:15

March 29 2010

17:09

PCC upholds complaint over Rod Liddle’s Spectator post; first ever blog censure

Just in from the Press Complaints Commission: its first ever magazine/newspaper blog censure – for Rod Liddle’s 92 word Spectator post on 5 December 2009, that claimed an “overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community”. A reader’s complaint of inaccuracy was upheld.

“This is a significant ruling because it shows that the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions,” said PCC director, Stephen Abell.

“There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed.  And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.”

Here’s the PCC’s statement:

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint about an entry by Rod Liddle in his blog for the Spectator.  This is the first time that the PCC has censured a newspaper or magazine over the content of a journalistic blog.

The piece in question was published on 5 December 2009 and claimed that ”the overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community”.  A reader complained that the statement was incorrect.

In concluding that the article was indeed in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the PCC recognised the magazine’s argument that the nature of a blog post is often provocative and conducive to discussion.  It was certainly true in this case, for example, that a number of readers had taken issue with Mr Liddle’s claim and had commented on the blog.

However, the Commission did not agree that the magazine could rely on publishing critical reaction as a way of abrogating its responsibilities under the Code.  While it had provided some evidence to back up Mr Liddle’s position, it had not been able to demonstrate that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of crime in all the stated categories had been carried out by members of the African-Caribbean community.

Nor could it successfully argue that the claim was purely the columnist’s opinion – rather, it was a statement of fact.  As such, the Commission believed that ”the onus was on the magazine to ensure that it was corrected authoritatively online”.  In the absence of such remedial action the Commission upheld the complaint.

Similar Posts:



March 25 2010

10:21

Complaint to PCC raises further criticism of Sunday Times’ environment coverage

According to a report in the Guardian yesterday, Simon Lewis, an expert on tropical on forests at the University of Leeds, has filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about an article in the Sunday Times.

The article published on 31 January, which alleged that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had made mistakes in a report on global warming, was “inaccurate, misleading and distorted”, according to Lewis, who says he contacted the newspaper before the story was published and has since written letters and tried to leave comments on the website.

Questions have been raised by several bloggers over the Sunday Times’ environmental coverage – particularly following reports that the title had been banned from receive pre-publication releases from some scientific journals for breaking embargoes.

The article at the heart of Lewis’ complaint and those that resulted in bans for the Sunday Times from PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) were written by Jonathan Leake, who recently responded on blog Embargo Watch, saying he was unconcerned about the bans:

As you can see, these press officers have claimed they have banned us from their embargo system but this is rather misleading because we have a policy of not signing up to these embargo systems. Since we are not part of them we can hardly be banned. The press officers in question do know our position and I would suggest their statements are knowingly misleading.

Similar Posts:



March 23 2010

17:04

March 03 2010

16:27

The police’s “narrow” approach to phone hacking: not a crime if message had been listened to first

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger raised what he said was a little known fact about phone hacking evidence, in yesterday’s press regulation debate in the House of Lords.

He had been told by Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Yates, he said, that the police only considered the interception of phone messages an offence if they hadn’t been listened to.

Once messages were stored after they were listened to by the message recipient, subsequent access by a third party was not considered a criminal offence. The public should be aware of the “narrow definition” of phone hacking, the Guardian editor warned.

As reported in last week’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee report:

“The police also told us that under Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) it is only a criminal offence to access someone’s voicemail message if they have not already listened to it themselves. This means that to prove a criminal offence has taken place it has to be proved that the intended recipient had not already listened to the message. This means that the hacking of messages that have already been opened is not a criminal offence and the only action the victim can take is to pursue a breach of privacy, which we find a strange position in law.”

The committee recommended that “Section 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is amended to cover all hacking of phone messages”.

“Narrow definition” line is a “convenient PR shelter for Scotland Yard”, argues Davies

The Guardian’s evidence of widespread phone hacking attempts contradicted police reports that only a ‘handful’ of victims had been targeted, so Scotland Yard is trying to “justify its position” by raising the narrow legal definition of the criminal offence, Guardian journalist Nick Davies told Journalism.co.uk.

Davies also challenges the legality of any kind of phone hacking:

“The narrow legal definition is highly contentious. The idea is that it is illegal to listen to somebody’s voicemail only if they have not themselves already heard it. This not written in the law at all; it was clearly not parliament’s intention. It’s an interpretation – not one that has been tested and accepted by a court, simply something that was said during a legal conference at the Crown Prosecution Service while the police were investigating the original case.

“It was said by David Perry, Crown counsel in the case, but he didn’t even produce a written opinion and never mentioned it in court when Goodman and Mulcaire came up.” A future court may or may not agree with this definition, Davies added. “At the moment, however, it is a convenient PR shelter for Scotland Yard who are embarrassed by their handling of the case.”

Satchwell claims phone hacking case has ‘grey areas’; challenges Guardian’s proof

The liveliest part of yesterday’s House of Lords debate came when executive director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, challenged some of the Guardian’s claims and insisted there were “grey areas” in the case.

Journalist Nick Davies vehemently disagrees: the black and white is there, he later told Journalism.co.uk, but newspapers and the Press Complaints Commission don’t want to see it.

“Satchwell says editors don’t know the truth about all the material confiscated by the Information Commissioner’s Office from [private investigator] Steve Whittamore in March 2003 because the ICO didn’t investigate it. That isn’t correct.”

“The ICO analysed all the material and produced spreadsheets – one for each newspaper organisation – and the spreadsheets lists all of the journalists who asked Whittamore to find confidential information, all of the targets, all of the information requested, how it was obtained, how much was paid.

“The ICO and police worked together to prepare three court cases: one led to four convictions, the other two collapsed for technical reasons. You really can’t say that there wasn’t an investigation. Furthermore, when the new information commissioner, Christopher Graham, gave evidence to the media select committee, he said he would not publish the spreadsheets, but he clearly indicated his willingness to talk to any editor who got in touch in search of detail.

No editor has asked for extra information from ICO
“I checked last week with the ICO as to how many editors had now got in touch to ask which of their journalists are named in the spreadsheets and also to ask whether the PCC had approached them and asked for information,” said Davies.

“The answer was that no editor and nobody from the PCC had asked.” Furthermore, Davies said, he had written detailed stories about the contents of the spreadsheets.

“So, if editors are still in a grey area on all this, it’s because they refuse to look at the facts in black and white, even though the facts are there for them.”

Similar Posts:



February 24 2010

08:24
08:22
08:19

CMS report: No case for a general privacy law

As part of its report into press standards, privacy and libel, the Culture Media and Sport Committee had said there is currently no case for a general privacy law.

“Since the passage of the Human Rights Act, there have been a growing number of cases brought on grounds of privacy. While some argue that Parliament should introduce specific legislation in this area, it will still be for the Courts to interpret the law and seek to find the right balance between freedom of expression and the right to privacy. Each case will be different and we do not believe the case has been made for a general privacy law,” says John Whittingdale MP, who chaired the CMS committee.

“However, we are deeply concerned at the confusion that has arisen over the right of the press to report what is said in parliament. The free and fair reporting of proceedings in parliament is a cornerstone of our democracy and the government should quickly introduce a clear and comprehensive modern statute to put this freedom beyond doubt.”

The committee had the following to say about the reporting of parliamentary proceedings, an issue highlighted by Carter-Ruck’s attempt to gag the Guardian reporting a parliamentary question relating to oil trader Trafigura. The report recommended creating “a modern statute” to protect this reporting as an important element of freedom of speech.

Full coverage of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report at this link…

Similar Posts:



February 05 2010

10:13

Press Complaints Commission to join Twitter; wants to explore social network debate

While the Press Complaints Commission has had limited contact with social networks directly, it’s an area the industry self-regulatory body wants to look at in further depth, the new director of the PCC Stephen Abell has said.

The PCC is soon to join Twitter (we’ll let you know when it announces the handle), and will be taking part in an event about the media’s use of social networks organised by the think-tank Polis (more details when announced) Abell told Journalism.co.uk, in his first media interview since taking over the role from Tim Toulmin.

“Newspapers use it [social networking] a lot and it’s a legitimate resource, but it’s certainly not a free for all.”

It’s for the PCC to offer guidance and explore the area, he said. But where does the PCC fit into this exactly? Is the self-regulatory body there to explain the dangers of social networks to the general public? “I think the PCC’s role is for people to understand their right in regards to what the media might do,” he said.

How far should newspapers go with their use of social networks? As Abell was keen to point out, the PCC recently upheld a complaint against the Sunday Times for one of its journalist’s “intrusive” use of Facebook. Users can control what is private and public with different settings, he says, but added that maybe people don’t know enough about “marshalling” their accounts.

But how about if a journalist ‘befriended’ a subject to gain access to private information, and a complaint was later made by that user? It would “raise an issue about a journalist of how honest they have been,” he said. “I think that would depend on the individual case.”

“There’s a function for us there – certainly to train journalists,” he said. “We go into a newspaper and say these are the last decisions we made [on social networking].”

Abell claimed that the presence of 10 lay members on the commission – “with a broad range of experience” – helped the Commission keep up to date with social media trends: “they can reflect changes in cultural expectations”.

With the PCC’s move into this area, it will be interesting to see whether newspapers will face sanctions for the way they use social network information: could they be penalised for presenting information out of context?

A blogger in Ireland, for example, has been in contact with the Irish Ombudsman over an article in the Irish Mail on Sunday which lifted material from her blog. The Mail has defended its actions in a lengthy statement, but bloggers and commenters remain angry about the way the blogger was portrayed in the article. How would the PCC act in a situation like this? Abell agrees that context is a key issue, and complaints over social network use could be made on the grounds of both privacy and accuracy.

“Indeed the internet is itself a very self-regulatory body”
Although the PCC seems to be increasingly engaging with online content, comments by its chair, Baroness Buscombe, to the Independent newspaper, taken to mean that bloggers might come under within the PCC’s remit, did not go down well with many high profile bloggers.

“Frankly, we do not feel that the further development of blogging as an interactive medium that facilitates the free exchange of ideas and opinions will benefit from regulation by a body representing an industry with, in the main, substantially lower ethical standards and practices than those already practiced by the vast majority of established British bloggers,” wrote Liberal Conspiracy and Guardian.co.uk blogger Sunny Hundel at the time.

On this subject, Abell claims that Buscombe’s comments were misinterpreted (as she did herself): “I think the point Peta was really making with bloggers, is that she was talking in the context of a speech she was making, talking of the dangers, or the impracticability of top-down regulation – in a world where everyone is a publisher.

“There’s an argument that any form of the internet is going to be about self-regulation – people voluntarily adhering to a set of standards. That might not be anything to do with the PCC at all, but self-regulation fits the internet very well.

“And indeed the internet is itself a very self-regulatory body and blogs tend to work by someone making a proposition and someone challenging it via comments: that can correct any misapprehensions in the beginning and create a dialogue.

“The way it works with newspapers is a useful model I think. Newspapers are voluntarily buying into the PCC (…) a set of standards they are voluntarily adhering to.”

It seems that the point that Abell is making is that both bloggers and newspapers self-regulate, and don’t need statutory control; bloggers could have their own code, even. But bloggers under the PCC? He won’t even go there:

“I think the point about blogging and regulation … it’s far too early … I’m not even saying it [independent blogging] should be connected to the PCC.”

Stephen Abell discusses phone hacking, superinjunctions and forthcoming reports with Journalism.co.uk here

Similar Posts:



December 24 2009

12:33

Argus apologises to BBC producer – a note on media transparency

UK local newspaper title the Brighton Argus has published an apology on its website to Martyn Smith, the Bafta-nominated TV director, producer and writer, after wrongly identifying him its story Brighton TV producer escapes jail for “repulsive” child porn collection.

 The Argus has offered an unreserved apology and to its credit published it online at 7:15pm on 22 December – just over 24 hours after the story was published. The original story also appears to have been taken down from the site, though a cached version remains in Google News.

Interestingly the story is (at time of writing) the third most popular story on the paper’s website – good news for the wrongly identified subject?

This, and an excellent post from Andy Dickinson, made me consider how online tools on newspaper websites (such as traffic counts and commenting systems) can be used for transparency in such cases.

Dickinson’s post refers to a recent apology by the Northumberland Gazette – a Johnston Press title that has a pay wall in place on its website. The apology in this case was published behind the pay wall.

Whether this was purposeful or an oversight, it suggests that pay walls will throw up problems for newspapers, transparency and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) with regards to its recommendations for publishing apologies and corrections, says Dickinson.

If I am going to pay someone for this stuff then one of the things I should want to know is just how accurate their content is and how transparent they are.

I for one would like to see all corrections and clarifications made free and visible on all parts of media orgs websites before the paywall. That way I can make an informed choice.

What other simple tools or processes should online newspapers be using to encourage transparency?

Similar Posts:



December 21 2009

10:09

Stephen Abell officially takes over as PCC director

It was an appointment announced in November 2009, but today Stephen Abell starts as director of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). In a release issued today, the PCC says:

He assumes responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Secretariat, succeeding Tim Toulmin who announced he was standing down from the role earlier in the year. Stephen was previously deputy director.

Background: PCC appoints Stephen Abell as new director

Similar Posts:



November 19 2009

21:15

What I was told when I asked about blogs joining the PCC

Following recent coverage of the PCC’s Baroness Buscombe’s Independent interview where she possibly mooted the idea of the PCC regulating blogs, I thought I would share some correspondence I had with the PCC recently over the same issue. In a nutshell: blogs can already choose to operate under the PCC anyway.

I asked Simon Yip of the PCC whether a hyperlocal blog could opt in to the PCC Code and self-regulation. These are his replies:

“They can decide to adhere to the PCC Code if they choose. To fall formally within the system overseen by the PCC, they would have to subscribe to the body responsible for funding the Commission.

“I am afraid I am unable to answer the question of cost, as it depends on the circulation of the newspaper [sic]. As you can imagine, it would vary from publication to publication.

“For any publication to subscribe to the Code of Practice, the publication would contact Pressbof.”

So there you go. If you can afford to pay for a shiny PCC badge, then you’re welcome.

And of course, that’s the main hurdle to the idea of PCC regulation of blogs: few blogs could afford to pay, and even fewer would want to. Meanwhile, there is no financial incentive for the PCC to recruit blogs (nor is there any incentive for bloggers – yet – in joining an organisation whose 2 main purposes appear to be to stave off statutory regulation and to mediate disputes to avoid legal costs).

Whether there is financial incentive in trying to attract public funding to do so, or to use blogs as a common foe to do the same is, of course, a separate matter.

What is much more worrying than this blogging regulation sideshow is the apparent ignorance demonstrated by Baroness Buscombe in talking about Google and the news industry’s business plans, described earlier on this blog by Matt Wardman.

The most curious quote for me from her SoE speech is this one, following on from a paragraph which attempts to conjure up the now almost pantomime-like Monster Of Google.

“I urge you to recall the recent words of Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO: “We use as our primary goal the benefit to end users. That’s who we serve.” So there you have it: the end user matters, not those who create content in the first place.”

Is she saying that serving users above content creators is a Bad Thing? Weren’t newspapers supposed to serve their readerships as well? Or did that change while I wasn’t looking?

10:43

Baroness Buscombe, the Press Complaints Commission and the Internet: Hard Questions

Baroness Buscombe, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, gave a speech this week to the Society of Editors, followed by some comments to Ian Burrell of the Independent about a desire to “regulate the blogosphere “.

The Baroness has taken several steps backwards from her previous statements to Mr Burrell, and has attempted to emphasise that any proposals would be “voluntary”.

I am sceptical as to whether this is a true change of mind, or a simply more nuanced journey aiming for the same destination by a more circuitous, and perhaps better hidden, route. Ian Burrell has pointed out that he had a direct interview with her for 40 minutes, so making that mistake would not be easy. However, that has been addressed elsewhere by perhaps hundreds of people, with a vigorous collective letter from hundreds of bloggers.

For me, in addition to the “will we … won’t we … will we … won’t we … regulate the bloggers” game of Hokey-Cokey, this affair has highlighted a number of problems with both the Press Complaints commission, and perhaps with Baroness Buscombe herself.

Firstly, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission is a position which surely depends on political and commercial neutrality. Perhaps it can only be compared to that of Speaker of the House of Commons. How is it possible for a Peer who takes the whip for a political party to be neutral?

Secondly, despite the Chairman of the PCC clearly needing to be a neutral figure, Baroness Buscombe used her speech to the Society of Editors to make party political points.

Thirdly, having read Baroness Buscombe’s speech to the Society of Editors, I think that her, and the PCC’s, level of knowledge and understanding about the Internet is open to question.

And finally, Baroness Buscombe applauds the aggressive media investigations of the House of Commons, and MPs’ Expenses, yet suggests that they need to lay off the House of Lords – where she is a member; this at a time when the finanical skeletons have begun to emerge, creaking, from their Lordships’ cupboards into the light of day. That is a double standard.

Let me illustrate this with a few extracts.

Political Neutrality

Baroness Buscombe opens with a recounting of her experience as a Shadow Minister fighting the current Labour administration, including:

Of course the fact that unfortunately we do have such a dysfunctional democracy – particularly given the House of Commons appears almost entirely to have forgotten what they are there for – means it is vital that the press is free to investigate and probe and tell it like it is.

You can rightly feel proud that, from unraveling the government’s misleading spinning of intelligence in the Iraq War to exposing uncensored details of MPs’ expenses, the British press has filled the democratic deficit in recent years.

Does this partisan accusation, whether true or not, have any place in a speech by the person who is ultimately responsible for determining the accuracy or otherwise of such claims made by newspapers?

And why has she not, at the very least, resigned the Conservative whip?

Understanding the Internet

Baroness Buscombe, on news aggregators and search engines:

Together the press, all commercial broadcasters, film, book publishing and music industries must now work together to find a new business model with the Search Engines. The latter, the aggregators, think it is ok to enjoy the use of all your valuable intellectual property and ad revenues for little or no return.

This statement is simply untrue. Major aggregators do *not* use *all* of the intellectual property of newspapers and media. Google, which is attacked by the Baroness in the following paragraph, runs the Google News service.

Google News takes 1) a headline, and 2) up to around 155 characters of text.

It must be very depressing for journalists who spend a whole week creating a 5000-word article to realise that only the first 2 lines and the subeditor headline are of any value !

Further, Google offers a complete opt-out service, either from having articles included in the site’s cache, or from having a site indexed altogether. I use it myself on the Wardman Wire to prevent caching, since I have taken the trouble to invest in a high-quality server and want the visitors to come to my site rather than read the Google cache.

If services such as Google News are covering content from newspapers and the media, it is simply because those newspapers have made a decision to allow Google to do so.

The issue of aggregators and search engines, and their impact on the revenues of newspapers, has been one of the very highest priorities of the industry for months, and it is worrying that the head of the PCC hasn’t got to grips with the basic concepts involved after 6 months with the organisation (Wikipedia quotes her start date as April 2009).

Leave their Lordships Alone

Baroness Buscombe on the Commons, and the importance of vigorous scrutiny:

I know that this is not a popular message with many of my fellow Parliamentarians, some of whom are bruised by recent coverage, but we must consider the MPs’ expenses furore as a whole, and not focus on individual injustices.

What is the main lesson to be learned?

Surely, it is that the absence of scrutiny in the first place allowed a culture of abuse to flourish. If trust in politics is at a low ebb, it is because there has been too little freedom to shine a light on politicians’ activities, not too much.

However, about 4 paragraphs later the tone of Baroness Buscombe’s speech changes:

Which leads me to the House of Lords. I may be partisan, but is it really in anyone’s interests for the media to be party to the undermining of our Second Chamber – one of the few platforms in this country where people can stand up and say what they believe without fear or favour?

This is astonishing at a time when the light of day is at last shining on abuses of the Expenses system in the Upper Chamber. This is not a good recommendation for a Press Regulator who is trying to declare her support for strong investigation by journalists.

And that letter …

The letter should should still be signed by as wide a range of bloggers as possible, because – even if we take Baroness Buscombe’s new position as being the real one – the PCC and the Baroness clearly need someone to explain to them how the Internet works.

Wrapping Up

You can find the letter and the argument behind it, and sign up, here at Liberal Conspiracy .

Before signing, I’d encourage readers to read the whole speech and judge my comments in their full context.

At present this riposte has been driven largely by bloggers in the political niche; I’d particularly encourage bloggers in the media and journalism areas to offer their support.

But the bloggers who I really want to sign up are those for either the Society of Editors, or the Press Complaints Commission.

Unfortunately, neither of them has a blogger. Perhaps that would be a good first step to find out more about the internet before Baroness Buscombe makes another speech.

They presumably already have an insight into how quickly the online community can react when necessary.

Further Coverage

  1. Mark Pack has a slightly less pointed critique of Baroness Buscombe’s speech.
  2. Roy Greenslade has three articles about the “blog regulation” incident.
  3. The Heresiarch has a different angle entitled “Bloggers Repel Boarders“. Ooh-arr, me hearties.
  4. Liberal Conspiracy has the “Unity letter“.

November 18 2009

18:18

Will inquiries find PCC a chocolate teapot, or a serious ‘moderator’?

The Press Complaints Commission enjoyed mainstream coverage this week, as newspaper titles lapped up the comments of the body’s chair, Lady Peta Buscombe, at the Society of Editors’ conference: she not only called for greater press support, but cited evidence allegedly showing that 6,000 attempted phone hackings were ‘wrongly quoted’ by solicitor Mark Lewis in the House of Commons.

Funnily enough, the papers who were so eager to report Buscombe’s words, didn’t then – save the Guardian it would seem – pick up Mark Lewis’ call for Buscombe’s resignation as PCC chair. You can read Lewis’ letter, sent to Buscombe, the select committee and copied to the Press Association, in full at this link.

Lewis has since told Journalism.co.uk:

“As I said in my [House of Commons evidence, given immediately after that of Mr Yates [Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner], it wasn’t that I had access to documents that the police did not have, I got the documents from the police. Didn’t they read them? Didn’t they understand them?”

“The PCC has shown its true colours. If there is to be non-court regulation then it has to be from an independent tribunal that is not constituted by the press. Oddly, it would work in the press’s interest if there was a body that was willing to challenge and censor the press. As I said on Tuesday, we need an ‘honest and free press not just a free press’.

“My next step will be to carry on in the pursuit of honesty in reporting. If you are in any doubt, look at how many newspapers chose not to run a story that there had been a demand for Lady Buscombe to resign. The newspapers reported Lady Buscombe’s speech but not my response to it.”

Then, just as QC Geoffrey Robertson had hoped when he encouraged editors to abandon the body, news broke of Alan Rusbridger’s resignation from the PCC Code Committee.

“I have enjoyed being on the Code Committee, which does very useful work. I look forward to the results of the review of the PCC which Baroness Buscombe has announced.  The PCC is a valuable mediator. It needs to ask itself whether, as presently constructed and funded, it is a very effective regulator,” was all that the Guardian editor had to say afterwards.

His comments last week, following the PCC’s less than critical findings about phone tapping activities at News of the World, were somewhat stronger:  speaking on BBC Radio 4, the Guardian editor described the PCC’s report as ‘worse than pointless’. “If you have a self-regulation system that’s finding nothing out and has no teeth, and all the work is being done by external people, it’s dangerous for self-regulation,” he said.

The PCC has not yet responded to Journalism.co.uk’s request for comment over Rusbiridger’s departure, but Buscombe today appeared on Radio 4 Media Show [as noted by Jon Slattery at this link]. Rusbridger is right, she said. “We don’t have serious powers to investigate. We are not a police force. We must not tread on the toes of the criminal justice system. We are more of a moderator,” she said.

So what’s the point of the body at all? MP Tom Watson, who sat on the House of Commons culture and media select committee for the phone hacking inquiry, thinks not much. Running the PCC like a clan has led to Rusbridger’s resignation, he said on Tuesday. “It could spell the end of self-regulation. How silly of the new chair,” he tweeted. While in favour of self-regulation, the PCC simply isn’t doing it, he later clarified in another tweet: “[I] believe in self-regulation. And I’d like to see the PCC try it some time.”

A toothless chocolate teapot as alleged by some, or is there a realistic future for the PCC? Investigations of the self-regulation body, such as the one launched by the International Federation of Journalists; the select committee’s inquiry; and the PCC’s own review (led by a former commission member) are anticipated with interest…

Similar Posts:



Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl