Rushed legislation is bad legislation. Proposals in the current crime and courts bill to extend regulation to the blogosphere at the switch of a clause without proper debate or consideration is daft and dangerous.
I have seen the detailed clauses put down for debate when Parliament returns this month – and frankly the only use for them is to swell the already well lined pockets of m’ learned friends. Taken together they are neither use nor ornament and if they became law all they would do is spread confusion and clog the courts with hours of pointless legal argument.
The aim is to try to bring the completely unregulated blogosphere within the new regulated press and media. The proposal was neither sought nor demanded by Lord Leveson, whose inquiry concentrated on big media. Leveson probably didn’t understand the blogosphere and as far as I know isn’t on Twitter.
The amendments tabled in the House of Lords just before the recess on March 27 can be seen here (http://bit.ly/14AyRHO). It looks as though it is in response to a letter from a number of bloggers from Paul Staines and Tim Montgomerie to Laurance Durnan and Sunny Hundal to the Guardian who objected to even more drastic measures (see http://bit.ly/XTs84y ).
But I still have enormous problems with the amendment. It is still not clear whether this blog should be covered by the law or not. On the one hand it is primarily a news blog ( should be covered then) but written by one person ( shouldn’t be covered then). It involves some editorial control – either pre moderation or post moderation of comments – depending on rules set by WordPress.com not me.(could be covered or not depending on your view.)
I can just imagine the arguments in a courtroom between lawyers on this blog and others. What will be the definition of incidental news ( how many stories do have to have to qualify) – what happens when a subject -like the current police investigations into paedophiles becomes news (do sites that write this up become news when it is the headlines, and not news when it is not).
When is a blog like Broken Barnet by Mrs Angry considered a community asset (exempt) or a news blog (not exempt). What is the definition of a small blog – one of the weird Lords amendments ( is it the number of hits, unique visitors, blog followers? Or as one person has suggested is it registered for VAT and does it pass the threshold for VAT?)
The main proponents for these new controls appear to be the Media Reform Coalition who have written this blog ( see http://bit.ly/13Mgr7S ) . They appear to be a self-appointed group of academics and lawyers. Their argument is that I should be registered to save exemplary damages being awarded against me by the rich and powerful and to avoid paying my opponents’ legal costs.
Since this blog appeared the Media Reform Coalition have today (Thursday) launched an on line consultation and more detailed explanation of the proposed changes. Those interested can find this at http://fb.me/2z6xrP6qz
Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy says this is not the case and there will be three weeks of consultation to try and get un registered bloggers the same privileges as those who are registered and define properly what is a small blog. (See http://liberalconspiracy.org/2013/03/27/bloggers-to-get-three-week-consultation-on-regulation).
It remains to be seen how successgful this will be.
In the meantime I am not swayed by the exemplary damages argument – it costs £1600 alone just to take out a libel writ at that level – so it would be beyond most people’s means. And also I suspect that many small bloggers caught in this trap wouldn’t employ lawyers – they would be become litigants in person – and clog up the courts just as the famous pair who took on Mcdonalds. And they won’t have the money to pay the other sides legal costs anyway – so whoever took them would end up out-of-pocket themselves. The case would also become a cause celebre.
My gut feeling is to rely on the new Defamation Act – which will restrict libel cases against anyone – as the rich and powerful will have to show the story has caused major damage – not just any damage. I think all sides would benefit if any proposals to include blogs were dropped from the remit of the regulator – until at least there is a considered debate. As I said making law on the hoof is a disaster. You have only to look at the Dangerous Dogs Act to see this. This is the equivalent of the Dangerous Bloggers Act!