The powers that be are itching to get their hands on social media

The post-Leveson stuff stinks. They're trying to get their hands on bloggers, sources and the mainstream media. So goodbye, free press...

by Robin Mitchinson on 29 March 2013 13:29

I have been trying to devil out what the devil is going on post-Leveson, no mean feat because the details have been under-reported.

One thing of immediate import is the danger that the rules will be used to suppress bloggers. It looks as if they will be used against ‘professional’ bloggers and those who sell advertising – users of Wordpress, for example.

But we can be pretty certain that powers-that-be are itching to get their hands on social media generally. And we can be equally certain that any deal that has the agreement of all three parties is bound to stink.

A disturbing aspect is that hacks will have to justify their sources of information, which opens the door to outing whistle-blowers and journalists’ otherwise protected sources.

The present mess stems from Lord Justice Leveson’s probe into the murkier corners of Fleet St, the phone hacking scandal, the intimidation of celebrities and crime victims, the cuddly relationship between the media and the police and politicians, and giving bribes in return for information. The irony here is that all the misdeeds committed by the 'red tops' were capable of being dealt with under existing law. The lack of law enforcement might have had something to do with the recipients of brown envelopes.

What is proposed is a new press regulator created by Royal Charter. The ostensible reason for choosing this archaic and bizarre device is supposedly to remove press regulation from political control.

There will be a ’recognition panel’ to supervise the regulator. I have yet to discover the exact powers of the regulator.

The press will be expected to sign-up to the new system. A newspaper that refuses to join may face punitive damages in the event of a successful complaint.

There is an almost total lack of clarity about who will be appointed to the new bodies and by whom.

And the sanctions to be imposed on offenders are fuzzy, apart from giving apologies the same prominence as the original story.

So will it work? I doubt it. The big players – News International, Telegraph, Mail, and Mirror – seem to have already decided to play hard-ball. 

The Speccie, Private Eye and indeed The Commentator have already announced non-cooperation. All this comes at a time when the print media is fighting for survival, with circulations halved in recent years and increasing competition from electronic media; both the Gruaniad and the Indy seem doomed in inky format.

The real choice is between a press that can often be vile, but which has been relentless in the pursuit of lying politicians, expenses fiddling, and all manner of public scandals that would otherwise have remained hidden, and a regulated press minding its Ps and Qs.

But the general public doesn’t seem particularly bothered either way, and that really is worrying.

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