Bloggers stifled? Press rules damned by Index on Censorship
'Chaotic' attempt to apply new regulator to websites could stifle bloggers and limit free speech, say critics
BLOGGERS could be stifled by the government's new press regulation body, says Index on Censorship, while other voices say little thought has been given to how the rules will apply online. While the Daily Mail reports that print publications are unhappy with the proposals – The Spectator and Private Eye will not sign up, the Telegraph is unsure and even the pro-Leveson Guardian is worried – the greatest confusion surrounds online outfits. Here are the big questions:
Will websites be forced to sign up to the new watchdog? No, as with newspapers, subscribing will be voluntary. The 'stick' to make sure websites do sign up is the threat of punitive damages that could follow if you don't. These damages could be awarded against them by judges if a complaint about content leads to a libel case which could have been avoided if they had signed up. This threat also applies to newspapers which refuse to join.
Will the regulations cover individual bloggers? The government says it doesn't want them to. As blogger Sunny Hundal told The Guardian, "even" Leveson admitted that regulating bloggers would be "a step too far".
So what makes a blogger a blogger? Most blogs won't count as "relevant publications" as defined on Monday by Culture Secretary Maria Miller. She said that to be governed by the new regulatory body, a news source – web or print – would have to meet three tests: "whether the publication is publishing news-related material in the course of a business, whether their material is written by a range of authors – this would exclude a one-man band or a single blogger – and whether that material is subject to editorial control".
But is everybody happy with this definition? No. The BBC says the government has admitted confusion over how the charter applies online and Kirsty Hughes of Index on Censorship told The Guardian she fears thousands of websites will fall under regulatory control and "bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place".
What about specialists? Another headache for Maria Miller: she says the new legislation is couched to make it clear that only general news publications can join the regulator. Specialists, like the wine magazine Decanter, will therefore be exempt from the punitive damages 'stick', she believes. But what about the British Medical Journal, asks The Guardian. It is currently a member of the PCC, but would it be eligible to join the new body?
What about overseas sites? The government still hopes to regulate websites aimed at the UK even if they are based abroad. Sceptics doubt this will happen. And what about UK sites whose servers are located abroad? The political blog Order-Order is one of those whose servers are situated overseas: one of its writers, Harry Cole, believes his site will escape regulation. He dubbed the coalition's attempt to legislate the web "chaotic". ·