UK regulations may soon regulate all tweeters, bloggers, and other people who post on the Internet as part of a new system of press regulation.
Today in London, Parliament is the in throes of a closed-door horse-trading exercise over “Leveson” — that is, the Leveson Inquiry in to the bad behavior of the British press, whose tabloids got caught illegally spying on people (from MPs and Lords down to grieving parents of murdered children), bribing cops high and low, and otherwise engaging in shenanigans that were pretty awful. Strangely, although all of these things were already illegal (but were not vigorously investigated by cops and politicos who were beholden to the press for lucrative “columns,” gifts, and favourable coverage), the English political establishment has decided that the real problem is that the press isn’t regulated enough.
The Tories want the press regulated without a specific law — they favour an obscure instrument called a Royal Charter. Labour and the LibDems want a press-regulating law. All of the coverage of this issue today is about the difference between these two options. What neither of them are talking about is Schedule 4, which establishes that the new rules will cover “a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)” where publication “takes place in the United Kingdom” and relates to “news or information about public affairs” or “opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs.”
In a nutshell, then: if you press a button labelled “publish” or “submit” or “tweet” while in the UK, these rules as written will treat you as a newspaper proprietor, and make you vulnerable to an arbitration procedure where the complainer pays nothing, but you have to pay to defend yourself, and that will potentially have the power to fine you, force you to censor your posts, and force you to print “corrections” and “apologies” in a manner that the regulator will get to specify.
As Alec Muffett writes, “anyone who says ‘Yes, but this is all about ‘smoke filled rooms’ and controlling Murdoch, they’d never do it to bloggers’ has no memory of any previous overreach of powers by the state, police or other regulators.”
Written by Cory Doctorow