Monthly Archives: December 2016

Implementing Leveson, how the national newspaper groups use the local press as “human shields” – Hugh Tomlinson QC

In this guest post, Hugh Tomlinson QC, Chair of Hacked Off, considers the press’s response to the Government’s consultation on the implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – a significant component in the Leveson system of press regulation.   

nottingham-postThe local press has, over the past few weeks, been running an anti-Leveson campaign in response to the Government’s unfair and unbalanced consultation on the implementation of Leveson. The themes are familiar: local newspapers are the life blood of democracy, they didn’t do phone hacking but they will be financially ruined if section 40 is implemented.

The first two points are true but the third is not. The innocent and popular local press is being used by its guilty and unpopular national big brothers to defend the indefensible – as a “human shield” against proper regulation.

Let’s take the example of the response of the Nottingham Post. This is a daily newspaper with a circulation of 18,000 in Nottingham and the surrounding area. It provides a valuable service to the local community and is, indeed, essential to local democracy. But it is not a plucky little independent paper struggling to survive. It is owned by Trinity Mirror, a profitable newspaper group with an annual turnover of around £200 million.

It should be remembered that although there are over 1,000 distinct daily and weekly newspapers in the UK, five publishers own 80% of these titles. In other words, the typical local newspaper is not a struggling small business, but part of a larger media corporation. Many of these local newspaper owning groups are profitable, despite the severe pressures on the local press resulting from the decline in classified advertising.

Back to the Nottingham Post. This local newspaper – along with all the others owned by Trinity Mirror – has refused to submit itself to independent regulation but, instead, has joined the body created by the national newspapers, IPSO. This has, of course, not carried out meaningful regulation of any kind.

So why will the Nottingham Post not join an independent regulator? After all, it is something that opinion poll evidence shows is overwhelming favoured by the public.

The Nottingham Post gives its readers two reasons.

First, it says that if it had to sign up to a recognised regulator such as Impress it would be forced to

“commit to a potentially expensive compulsory arbitration process They could well have to find thousands of pounds to contest every case heard, as complainants queued up to cash in on minor errors when a swift apology would suffice”.

So, it is said, “potentially” a local newspaper “could well” face additional expenditure under the arbitration system offered by Impress to readers. This is, of course, not an argument available to the big national newspaper groups. An arbitration system would save them large sums in court costs – their concern is not low cost arbitration but avoiding independent and effective regulation.

The local press is being used to advance an argument against section 40 to shield the national press from the full operation of the balanced Leveson for audited self-regulation. But the argument does not work, even for the local press. There are four reasons for this:

  • As the use of the word “potentially” shows, there is no evidence whatever that the arbitration process will be expensive for the local press. The claim is pure scaremongering. Of the 140 IPSO complaints brought against local newspapers over the past 2 years only 14 could even theoretically give rise to a legal claim – at most there are likely to be a handful of arbitration claims against the local press. Bad claims would be weeded out by the arbitrator at an early stage. The likely additional cost to local newspapers would be negligible.
  • The suggestion that “minor errors” would give rise to arbitration claims is a deliberate misrepresentation – an arbitration claim can only be brought if there is a legal “cause of action” such as defamation or privacy. “Minor errors” do not give rise to legal claims.
  • Arbitration is cheap. That is its most obvious virtue. At Impress a claimant will pay less than £100, while a newspaper’s costs need not rise above a few thousand – a tiny fraction of court costs.
  • The Royal Charter contains specific provision to protect local newspapers against even the costs of arbitration – where they have been caused serious financial harm the PRP can allow a recognised regulator to proceed on the basis that that the local and regional press need not participate in the arbitration system. This provision was inserted into the Royal Charter specifically to assist the local press – but they never mention it.

Second it is said, that IPSO has refused to seek recognition by the PRP

“for the simple reason that it believes it would be submitting to state regulation”.

This is nonsense. The PRP is not a “regulator” at all – it is simply a body that audits regulators to determine whether they come up to proper standards. Seeking recognition from the PRP is not, in any sense, “submitting to state regulation”. What is more, the national press (who control IPSO) have no principled objection to “state recognition”. As Lord Justice Leveson pointed out, the Irish Press Council is underpinned by statute and has “been accepted without demur” by the leading UK newspaper publishers, including Trinity Mirror. There is no “objection of principle”

The Nottingham Post, dancing to the tune of its Trinity Mirror masters, has no proper arguments against the implementation of section 40. Although the Post did not engage in phone hacking and the wholesale abuse of victims, its ultimate owners did. The Post is one of many local and regional papers acting as “human shields” – providing the excuses to justify a last-ditch attempt by the national newspaper groups to avoid participating in a proper system of regulation.

Hugh Tomlinson QC is the Chair of Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press which is urging supporters to respond to the Leveson implementation consultation.

This post first appeared on the Inforrm blog. It does not represent the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre or the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. 

Network Neutrality: From policy to law to regulation

network-neutrality-coverBook launch at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
Charles Clore House
17 Russell Square
London WC1B 5DR
6pm – 8pm, 9 February 2017

This event is FREE but advanced booking is required on the IALS Events Calendar

Speaker: Professor Christopher T. Marsden: Professor of Internet Law, (University of Sussex Law School)

Discussants: Dr Angela Daly, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow, (Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Law); Research Associate, Tilburg Institute of Law, Technology and Society; Professor Ian Walden, Professor of Information and Communications Law, (Queen May, University of London.)

Net neutrality is the most contested Internet access policy of our time. This book offers an in-depth explanation of the concept, addressing its history since 1999, its engineering, the policy challenges it represents and its legislation and regulation.

Various case studies are presented, including Specialized Services and Content Delivery Networks for video over the Internet, and the book goes on to examine the future of net neutrality battles in Europe, the United States and developing countries, as well as offering co-regulatory solutions based on FRAND and non-exclusivity.

It will be a must-read for researchers and advocates in the net neutrality debate, as well as those interested in the context of communications regulation, law and economic regulation, human rights discourse and policy, and the impact of science and engineering on policy and governance.

This seminar will be followed by the book launch of “Network Neutrality: From Policy to Law to Regulation” by Christopher Marsden, (Manchester University Press, 2017).

Freedom of Information at 250: now on Storify

Last week, Article 19 held the ‘Freedom of Information at 250‘ event at the Free Word Centre. The aim of the event was to commemorate, celebrate and scrutinise the adoption of the first freedom of information law in Sweden and Finland in 1766.

Participants also discussed the relevance and significance of the law today and the future of freedom of information, in a national and global context.

There was a range of speakers on the day including Maurice Frankel and Des Wilson from the Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFOI), the new Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, and Lord James Wallace of Tankerness, former member of Scottish Government, who piloted the Freedom of Information Act through the Scottish Parliament.

We have collected a number of tweets from participants at the event using #FOI250 and published them on Storify to help capture the flavour of the discussions which took place.

The collection documents the two moderated discussions and the evening panel. There is also a list of resources and reaction at the end of the collection. Click here or on the image below to view the Storify collection.

foi250-event-storify

Freedom of Information at 250 was an Article 19 event held at the Free Word Centre with the support of the Information Law and Policy Centre at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, and the Embassies of Sweden and Finland.