Internet Freedom Activists Plead For Amendments To Press Regulation

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From Cambridge University researchers to rights groups, bloggers are deeply worried ahead of the crucial Lords vote on Monday

There are major concerns amongst bloggers and Internet freedom activists about the UK government’s plans for press regulation, ahead of a critical Lords vote on Monday.

The three main political parties put together a deal on Monday, basing much of their plans on the Leveson report, but without consulting many members of the press nor the thousands of businesses deemed to be publishers under the guidelines.

Specifically, there are worries small organisations will be deemed publishers, and thus be under the same rules as major organisations such as News Corp or the BBC, even though they don’t have the same financial clout or quality legal teams.

Lord Justice LevesonPress regulation madness?

Press regulation and the regulator itself are being established under a royal charter, allowing for up to £1m in fines, whilst setting up a free arbitration service for victims and a speedy complaints system to ensure anyone can take action where they feel they have been wronged.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said to be affected by the rules, a publisher would have to meet three tests to check whether it was producing “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”.

Onlookers remain concerned about how the laws were rushed through, and are now calling on citizens to write to their MPs to make amendments to the rules before the Monday deadline passes.

The additional legal threats and burdens of self-regulation will be too much for some bloggers and small businesses, who will simply either give up writing on the Web or do so under the threat of bigger financial penalties than before, the Open Rights Group said.

Those bloggers or publishers who do not sign up are being threatened with exemplary damages, which could amount to significant fines for libel.

“The impact on the Internet could be to chill the free speech of many small publishers – or push them into joining a self regulation schemes that may not suit them. Others may weigh the risks and simply cease publishing,” Jim Killock, executive director of the ORG, told TechWeekEurope.

Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch, said the current wording would cover his organisation amongst many others.

“We are certainly not in a position to risk being held liable for the exemplary damages Parliament has set up.

“Given Leveson never intended to regulate blogs and small organisations and the risk of deterring people from setting up increasingly essential local news websites, it is essential the Lords act to limit the scope of this provision and correct the drafting errors that have put us in this position.”

Cambridge University researchers, writing on the Light Blue Touchpaper blog, said they may be under threat too, given some of the things they publish can be contentious.

“It’s clearly most unsatisfactory that legislation this important is so unclear, and that the Government are determined to rush it through Parliament within days rather than thinking the complexities through,” the blog read.

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