Friday, 12 April 2013

DCMS and "small blogging"

There is some mini-outrage out there about how the "consultation" on "small scale" blogs is being handled for the Leveson-based regulation proposals going through parliament. The story goes like this: The government is trying to curtail the freedom of speech of bloggers at the same time as regulate the press, and now they won't even talk to us about it, they'll only invite a super secret set of bloggers who don't represent me.

Meh.

The trouble with this whole process is that it entirely misses the point of why the regulation is there in the first place...

Regulation is being given teeth because prominent and affecting reporting of current affairs can sometimes cross the line and it takes too long and too much money for someone to counter it.

Small bloggers, big bloggers, back-yard youtubers or big press barons...how much your speech or writing becomes a problem depends not on where you do it from, how many people you do it with, or how much money you make...it depends on how much you are heard.

Unfortunately there are those with a political ideology that states having a statutory overseer of independent regulators is something that hampers free speech. This is pretty much nonsense but it doesn't get in the way of a good anti-state outrage. These people are jumping on the blogger issue as "proof" that the whole thing is a shambles, rather than the reality which is that the bit that covers bloggers is a shambles (they're using the audience correctly, since there are equal ambiguities with small local publications, but no-one seems to care about that).

No, the issue that resides here is how much money it costs to get in to a regulator that exists. This is the issue because *everyone* should be happy to become part of a regulated body, the benefits far outweigh the costs to do this as long as the price of entry is correct, i.e. free for those who don't generate an income from their writing. The benefits outweigh the costs because once you've joined a regulator there is literally zero change to how you can go about your business of writing your thoughts up online, while the benefits are that you have better protection from legal attacks and speedier resolution of those claims, not to mention expertise from those you're subscribed to in an environment where, when you are struck with a letter from a solicitor, you're currently probably in a situation where you have no clue if you're in the right or wrong.

The question that should be being asked is how the regulatory model can be better defined in the Royal Charter to protect those that should join the regulator, to protect themselves and those that wish to have speedier resolutions to their legal claims, and not make it prohibitive to do so.

All of this wrangling on trying to have exceptions to the law that would normally see you hit with excessive damages is arbitrary and thus potentially short lived in it's relevance. No-one should be saying that their "legal right" should be to defame someone, or invade on their privacy, with less punitive damages than a national paper just because they don't meet an income threshold EVEN IF their article receives as much (if not more) attention than said national paper. It is already written that regulators don't have to charge anything, the funding model has essentially been left free from state control, and it is not allowed for a regulator to bar entry to a publisher (which any blogger is defined as being).

Maybe the new regulator(s) will be effectively lobbied to include free or discount entry options for "small" bloggers on their own terms, maybe bloggers will get shafted and decide "Hey, we need a blogging regulator that views things in the context of the fast moving web, and respects the small blogger"? Is it wrong for the state to let the regulators do this? In theory no (indeed the same people decrying this legislation surely would not want the sttae sticking their nose in on independent regulator business?), though the vacuum of certainty before things are ironed out is clearly and understandably a scary place. People like Index on Censorship could be taking the lead here in getting a jump on everyone else and actually start the process of building the "blogging regulator" in conjunction with other important members of the community, instead they will stamp their feet and throw their toys out of the pram (Yes, I can use pointlessly over the top metaphors too).

Assuming it is not cost prohibitive I shall be joining a regulator if it is available, it's the right thing to do, it will improve my legal protection and it'll give any readers of this particularly small blog peace of mind that if for some reason I fail in my ethical duty they will be dealing with someone that has every intention to rectify their issues in an amicable manner.