Trying to work out what the proposed royal charter means for this blog – and for my tweeting dragon fairy
I’m still trying to work out how the exocet missile that was supposed to be heading towards the corporate print press guilty of a huge number of hacking-related crimes has ended up targeting social media world.
Let’s start with Leveson – because this is what the whole thing stems from. What were his terms of reference? They are here. Part 1 is about “the culture, practices, and ethics of the press”, while part 2 is about News International and the police. Not only that, Leveson’s final report dedicated just a single page to all things internet.
“Doesn’t matter Sir, the law is the law and you’re going to need a licence for that dragon of mass destruction!”
Actually, it’s not been passed yet.
But the way the whole thing seems to have been handled leaves a lot to be desired.
Fleet Street Fox arguably hit the nail on the head when, on ITV’s The Agenda on 18 March 2013 said that we are using a medieval power held by an hereditary monarch to regulate the internet. Exactly.
You then have the opening debate in the Commons (taking place on the same day) where MPs debating the draft charter did not actually have a copy of the draft in hand until the debate had started. #ScrutinyFail? When it comes to important legislation – in particular primary legislation, there is a time delay between ‘First reading’ (where Parliament technically authorises the publication of a draft bill) and ‘Second reading’ (where MPs debate the broad principles of the bill) allowing MPs to examine and analyse the proposals in front of them. The problem here is that the proposals haven’t gotten anywhere near the level of scrutiny that a normal piece of primary legislation would get.
Because the clause that grants powers to set up the royal charter have been introduced at Lords’ report stage for the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. This means that the primary legislation granting such powers will, if they ‘stand part’ of the Bill and are enacted, will have bypassed First & Second Reading in the Commons, Commons Bill Committee Stage, Report and Third Reading in the Commons, First and Second Reading in the Lords, and the Lords Committee Stage. Now, I don’t know about you but that looks like a hell of a lot of scrutiny that has been bypassed on a subject as important as providing recourse to victims that have been unfairly – and sometimes illegally – hounded by the corporate media. (I’ll provide the links when Hansard updates itself later).
Anything that stems from Leveson around the mainstream media is too important to be dealt with in a last minute amendment to an existing piece of legislation.
There are a whole host of other questions that haven’t been answered – ranging from plurality of ownership, where the owners are based and the entire ‘direction of travel’ given the blurring of the lines between the print and broadcast media in a digital media age. (Are the proposals regulating on the wrong things?)
Yes, the corporate print media has been out of control. Yes, there is too much influence in the hands of too few people. Yes, there is not nearly enough transparency and accountability. (My view is that sales is too blunt an instrument to measure accountability in this day and age – but that’s for another blogpost). Yes, there needs to be much better systems of redress and much better systems of protection for the general public that do not seek the public eye.
If the decision to implement any of Leveson’s recommendations requires so much as a single clause of primary legislation, it should be tabled as a separate piece of primary legislation and take its normal course through Parliament. Not rushed through all on the same day as with emergency legislation, but in good time so as to allow the rest of us to scrutinise and suggest improvements to it. Because if we’re not careful, the law of unintended consequences will require me to head down to whatever this new regulator will be to ask if I can have a licence for my dragon fairy. Do we really want the legacy of Leveson to be a fumbled attempt at licensing blogs and Twitter?