PCC wants its hands on blogs

The head of the Press Complaints Commission wants bloggers to sign up to a voluntary code of practice. He says:

“…there are no professional standards, there is no means of redress…”

However, bloggers do not have the resources of media organisations to deal with complaints. Can most bloggers be defined as professionals? Is the ability to post a reply not a means of redress? Also the same legal options for redress apply to bloggers as their much larger old media cousins.Meanwhile Alistair Campbell opined that;

“perceived as a positive development”

but complained they produce;

“some of the most offensive stuff”.

  • pondersomething

    I agree with FD’s points, and would be unhappy to see Slugger sign up to any such PCC “regulation”, no matter how “voluntary”.

    I also would not view any imprimatur from this organisation as a plus for any blog I was reading – quite the opposite in fact. It would say to me that here is a blog that intends to stay within intellectual and linguistic boundaries, set by unaccountable others.

    The Press Complaints Commission is *not* an independent public body, but is a tool of the newspaper and magazine industry, who fund it’s activities.

    This industry is in competition with bloggers – they do not exactly have the blogosphere’s interests at heart.

    Also, even more worryingly, many newspapers are now attaching clauses to an Editor’s contract, stating they can be dismissed for failing to follow a PCC ruling. Such employment clauses are surely a breach of editorial independence?

    And as for our outdated libel laws which ensure we have significantly less freedom of expression here in the UK than they do in the States… well, I guess that’s a topic for another day!

    I hope all UK bloggers approach this PCC call with an appropriate wariness.

  • pondersomething

    That link should of course be

    Press Complaints Commission (Wiki entry)

  • Pete Baker

    To hyperlink use: [a href=”http://URL”]name[/a] then change the [] brackets to <>

  • pondersomething

    Thanks! I had just given up, lol!

    In that case its:

    Press Complaints Commission

    (hope it works!)

  • Lads, there has to be some guidelines in place stronger than what already exists, this site included.
    I have lost count of how many times I have seen named individuals libelled on this site.
    Sure, the mods take the comments down as soon as they spot them but if a case were to go to court this isn’t good enough.
    Slugger makes money from advertising, it has won awards, it is widely recognised as a forum for political discussion, it must get thousands of hits per day. Therefor it needs to be regulated, it’s a kop out to say “it’s only a blog”.
    Unless there is safguards it will only be a matter of time, despite the best efforts of the mods, before someone is libelled and Slugger is shut down. Hence the need for a code of practice.
    I say this with the best interests of the site at heart.

  • joeCanuck

    Paul

    Regulated by whom?
    You might as well try to regulate street corner conversations. The horse hasn’t just bolted; it’s miles away, over the horizon.

  • dpef

    Well, some bloggers are more self regulating and compliant than the MSM, as this weekend on Slugger’s and its protection of a legally inclined journalist exhibited.

    The UDA hit squad story was questioned. The sources questioned. The story questioned. The UDA completely denied it.

    Questioning of the journo involved in potential fiction was strictly moderated.

    No questioning of motivation or ability was allowed.

    This blog censored, again, in this journalist’s case.

    Other ‘sources’ deny a story, laugh at the ‘journalist’ involved but we aren’t allowed question…because he threatens legal action when questioned?

    Another pathetic instance of Slugger’s protecting the same journalist when he was cuaght out! Another example of this blog letting them/him away with it, if they have a form for threatening legal action.

    Truth to power? You wouldn’t let us!

    Slugger’s doesn’t need regulation. It already over-regulates and as a result killed a debate the MSM caught on to days after it was killed here.

  • Cato

    I agree with Paul that libel is a danger but I think that an updated Defamation Act could consider making the person who makes an online post liable for defamation rather than the host. If someone distributes their own series of newspapers libelling another, it is not the company which makes the paper which is liable. I know this runs into difficulties with postings which will prove difficult to track but better those people go unpunished than the blog sites get closed down because of malicious posters.

  • miss fitz

    Joe
    I agree completely. Its one thing for contributors to follow some sort of code of practice, but sure its all for nowt when some idiot comes on and makes a comment with impunity. Additionally, the anonymity of cyberspace makes this near impossible to imagine controlling unless all sites requried registration.

    Paul
    If a commentator makes the libellous comments, I am not sure how rigorously Slugger would seem to be liable. The controllable factors are the contributors, and if they dont cross the line I imagine you are staying within safe territory

  • McGrath

    PP:

    The first lesson in suing someone is determining if a judgement can be enforced and or collected.

    As an example, why would I not sue Mick Fealty? Because he doesn’t have any money (that I can collect). Why would I not seek an injunction against a blog like Slugger O’Toole? Because plaintiffs in libel/defamation suits really only want money. Plus, this blog could reappear overnight hosted in another jurisdiction, granted it would probably lack Micks driving force, but as a plaintiff I would have wasted a lot of money and gained no relief.

  • dpef

    McGrath,

    The first lesson is to make them frightened enough to delete or recant.

    That happened here.

    A pathetic set of deletions based on being scared of the person/’journo’ that wrote some crap. As a result challenging crap is against site rules (in certain cases)………

  • McGrath

    dpef:

    In the small world of NI, placation is often a good policy.

  • joeCanuck

    McGrath

    I agree totally. I don’t think Mick is awash in money for a start.
    And there are other characters in the song who could be a substitute.

  • Can I just say that THIS blogger says No to the Head of the Press Complaints Commission? Old Media needs to take a hike….

  • dpef

    David,

    Well Mr Fealty deleted comments that questioned a ridiculous story, later questioned throughout even the MSM.

    Fealty was so frightened of a litigatious journalist, a BS story couldn’t be questioned.

    Good on you for standing up, being an independent voice. Fealty won’t let people if the ‘journo’ complains enough regardless of validity.

    This blog is part of the mainstream, won’t allow fellow travellers/employees to be challenged.

    The Stone hit squad ‘story’ and censorship of rebuttal is just another example.

    Slugger’s is MSM or complicit.

    An award winning blog becoming just the same as the rest of it……… (just as he always wanted)

  • jone

    Couple of points on this one – firstly the PCC should take a hike. It’s an utterly self serving, cockeyed regulator which often seems to exist to cover the arses of its most powerful members (the red top tabs).

    Most national editors view the PPC with contempt which isn’t surprising when you consider some of it’s perverse decisions: eg, giving the thumbs up the News of the Screws paying £10k to a convicted criminal who cooked up a fake plot to kidnap Posh then censuring the Guardian for paying an ex-lag £700 for writing a critique of Jeff Archer’s prison diaries.

    Secondly much as I revel in the democratising impact of blogs there is a delinquent element which will become more damaging as blogs become more powerful. Simply put reputations are valuable both professionally and personally – it’s not unreasonable to say they shouldn’t be damaged by the lies or mischief of anonymous cranks. Let information be free, but don’t confuse that with a free for all.

    On the libel front lawyers I talk to are of the opinion that a small post-moderated blog will have a good defence of innocent disemmination (known in broadcasting as the live defence) so long as they get stuff down as soon as they’re aware of it and bar persitent offenders.

    Furthermore the recent Jameel case (http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/uklibel1010.pdf) which clarified the Reynolds defence in favour of journalists makes it easier to publish thorough, serious investigative journalism.

  • Pete Baker

    dpef

    “regardless of validity”

    That goes to the heart of the problem with some comments and why they are moderated.

    We have a very straight-forward rule, a voluntary code of practice if you will, which all commenters implictly agree to when they comment here – see Commenting Policy

    It’s usually summed up as – Play the ball, not the man.

    That, we have found over time, allows for and encourages discussion of the merits and detail of any particular story, without straying into libellous terrority.

    As a rule, it’s proven its value over time.

  • joeCanuck

    If I go into a shop, take a newspaper from the rack, go to the back of the shop and write something libellous on the top margin of page 3, return the newspaper to the rack and someone else purchases it, is the newspaper publisher guilty of libel?

  • parcifal

    “As a rule, it’s proven its value over time.”
    hear hear pete

  • McGrath

    Joe:

    No, as no contract was formed between the Newspaper and the writer.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting blog and a very erudite discussion.

    McGrath has hit several nails on the head when he talks about the practicability of taking an action against a blogger.

    Sarah Carey, speaking on a two hander we did on Matt Cooper’s Last Word programme argued it was almost impossible for a blogger to be sued. My response was whilst that may or may not be true, it pays to remember the libel laws when blogging just as much as when you put something in print.

    Apart from anything else, it contributes towards keeping standards of discussion relatively high.

    Slugger remains a post moderated blog: ie everything is valid unless there is good reason to take it down. I hope it can remain as such. I have always wanted to facilitate as wide ranging a discussion on Slugger as possible, but I have never for a moment resiled from an owner’s right to take down anything s/he sees fit.

    Interestingly, only two of the several individual complainants I’ve had over the years have not been journalists. The sole politician (in four and a half years) who did make a complaint made it directly to the person who actually made the allegation.

    I really think that some of those individuals ought to read this thread. And in particular, re-read jone’s line, “reputations are valuable both professionally and personally – it’s not unreasonable to say they shouldn’t be damaged by the lies or mischief of anonymous cranks.

    BTW, people should test dpef’s claims of censorship for themselves. You can find the relevant thread here.

  • joeCanuck

    OK
    Another example.
    If I anonymously post a libellous comment about joeCanuck, can I, joeCanuck, then sue Slugger?
    I don’t see mick being successfully sued under any circumstances.
    Keep it up Mick and the other contributors.

  • McGrath

    Joe:

    You can sue anyone about anything you like. If your claim is totally frivolous, you will have wasted your time and money and opened yourself up to a cost recovery claim. If your claim is upheld, you still may not be able to the collect or enforce the judgement.

    You would successfully have to identify the person making the libelous comment, and that they were the person who actually typed the comment. That would be really hard to prove. “I didn’t do it” is a perfectly good defence and the onus of proof would be on the plaintiff.

    After that, the owner of the blog (Mick) could be named as a third party in the action. He could also be sued directly as a party facilitating the libel. As Mick would have more to lose than an irreverent poster, he would try to defend himself. However, this would involve legal defence costs. The cost of defending himself is why Mick would avoid being drawn into such an action, and hence his moderation policy.

  • miss fitz

    With respect to the thread on the UDA hit squads, or lack thereof, my opinion is that the story was dealt with and commented upon by the posters. Indeed, I came away with the distinct feeling that there was going to be real trouble verifying the article written by the journalist, and indeed that has been the case.

    The thread was about the article and it remained that way. DPEF appears to have a problem with the fact that the journalist in question was not taken to pieces. Well, in my understanding that would have constituted playing the man and not the ball. The ball in question was very clearly the story and not the author.

    I do not see that censorship played any part in moderating the comments on that thread, but a good use of the ad hominem rule to which we should all adhere.

  • miss fitz

    Whoa McGrath
    You mention ‘facilitating the libel’, but you dont mention that to be succesfully sued you would beed to have ‘knowingly facilitated it’ surely?

    Unless you are trying to say that by virtue of the fact you are hosting a blog you are potentially facilitating libel and I very much doubt that would have a leg to stand on

  • dpef

    Mick,

    My comments challenging the journalist have been deleted from that thread!

    I questioned the truth, ability and reasons… long before he was found out (again)

    My questions (they were questions not allegations) were deleted so referring people to a thread where questions have been removed is hardly a validation of this site and it’s willingness to stand for truth against power.

    It’s ridiculous linking to a thread where legitimate questioning posts have been removed and making no reference to the multiple deletions.

    The content has been challenged, even in the MSM. You delete challenges to the author’s pieces, I feel this is because you fear legal action from him… he has scared you off?

    but you give that particular journalist protection from questioning…..

    I wonder why?

    Delete this too?

  • jone

    A short and interesting piece here http://www.kaltons.co.uk/articles/191.cfm on cyber libels.

    In a nutshell – there’s hardly any case law on cyber libel and the little there is pretty unsatisfactory.

  • miss fitz

    DPEF

    I dont know how long you’ve been on the site, but I certainly dont agree that questioning the journalist is a legitimate action. Question the story certainly, and that was done very thoroughly without any removal of material. As I said in an earlier post, I was left in no doubt on Sunday about the validity of the story.

    That was the point of the thread, and it fulfilled its function. An attack on the journalist was not ever part of the plan, and doing so would have been ad hominem.

    Thats just playing by slugger rules, and although we are all a little inclined to bend them from time to time, outright breaking deserves to be actioned swiftly

  • miss fitz

    Thanks for this Jone, it backs up the point I made earlier about ‘knowingly’ being party to libel. Someone hosting a blog does not have editorial control and thus would be considered most likely to be an ‘innocent disseminator’

    The Defence of “Innocent Dissemination”

    Historically, publishers of material, like newspapers, who exercise editorial control have been held liable for defamation without the benefit of the defence of innocent dissemination. However, mere distributors, like newspaper vendors, have been able to avail themselves of that defence. It provides, in a nutshell, that if innocent disseminators of defamatory statements did not know of the statements, and there were no circumstances that ought to have alerted them to it (provided that they were not negligent in not being so alerted), they are protected from liability.

  • joeCanuck

    McGrath
    I didn’t say that Mick could not be sued. I said that I doubted that he could be suedsuccessfully.
    I fully understand that Mick would be not want to be in a position where he would have to shell out money to defend himself. I’ve been a visitor to this site for a couple of years or so and I think that Mick and his moderators are doing a grand job.

  • McGrath

    Miss Fitz:

    ‘knowingly facilitated it’

    That’s not true, ignorance is not a valid defence. But consciousness of the fact makes it harder to defend yourself.

    In such a suit, everyone right down the food chain would be named in the suit, the blogger, the website owner (Mick), the hosting company, the hosting companies insurance company etc. The plaintiffs legal representation does this in an effort to thrown a net over everyone involved no matter how remotely involved in a effort to find someone with cash or insurance coverage who is prepared to “settle”. That’s the other aspect, often, no judgement is necessary, not if you can get someone to settle.

    I am not aware of any precedence for this, which probably means the lawyers have not found an easy way to make this stick. There is no “product liability insurance” for bloggers.

  • dpef

    Miss Fitz,

    I’ve been on this site a lot longer than you. I know the rules.

    I expanded on ‘The Devil’s’ thoughts. The journo either got it right and the UDA has serious questions to answer or his sources are absolutely useless (possibly non-existent). If he got it wrong, for some reason questioning the journalist, his sources their future and past credibility is worthy of deletion on this site. (don’t dare question motives of a journo that may have got it so wrong so many times recently)

    I suggest this is because some ‘journalists’ threaten legal action when challenged on this site.

    Truth to power? I suggest, frightened of threats and deleting as a result.

  • dpef

    Mick,

    Just out of interest. Which journalist threatened you with legal action before?

  • McGrath

    Miss Fitz:

    Mick etc has editorial control over this web site and as such the Innocent Dissemination test doesn’t apply. He isn’t simply distributing newspapers, he has the ability to change what the newspapers say, just like a publisher.

    As has been mentioned previously, there is very little if any precedence for this type of thing. For instance, it would have to be established that the owner of a blog is to be considered the publisher of the blog, and that hasn’t happen yet in any case law that I am aware of.

  • Aaron McDaid (was Occasional Commentator)

    At the start of this thread there were questions as to how to include links. It has already been answered, but I thought I might summarise it again.

    To include a link type this in:

    <a href=”google.com”>Google</a>

    to get this:

    Google

    The quotes ” are usually optional, but it’s best to put them in.

    To the slugger editors, to include an actual < or > you type in
    &lt; and &gt; . This should be included in the commenting help text instead of the current instruction about [ and ] which can be confusing.

    Also, when you preview a &lt; it becomes a < in the comment box, meaning you have to submit it straight away without preview, but that’s another story.

  • McGrath

    Joe:

    “I said that I doubted that he could be sued successfully.”

    Sorry, I was just covering the bases.

  • dpef

    Though Mick has complied with threats of legal action – he did make a grovelling apology – remember – to a journalist? IIRC only a journalist has pursued this route.

    Remember him?

    What was his name?

  • Pete Baker

    McGrath

    That is, in most part, in order to facilitate discussion on the actually topics raised rather than the people writing about the topics raised.

    dpef

    “I’ve been on this site a lot longer than you. I know the rules.”

    If you’ve been here that long, and know the rules, you also know why those rules exist, the benefit of having those rules and the reasons why they are enforced regardless of who the commenter is.

  • It is an absolute disgrace. Support the voluntary code free zone by placing a small banner on your site

    http://disillusionedandbored.blogspot.com/2006/11/voluntary-code-free-zone.html

  • joeCanuck

    McGrath
    Understood. We really need a landmark case to decide this issue. Hope it isn’t Slugger.

  • dpef

    Pete,

    The rules have been abused by some moderator to remove legitimate questions on that thread. The ‘journalist’ has got it wrong before, he may have (IMO probably) got it wrong this time.

    I suggest questioning poor journalism (and that is as valid as exposing lies) has suffered on this site through a fear of experiencing legal threats from certain journalists. (a journalist?)

    The story has been questioned. Previous stories from that author have been similarly exposed as weak.

    Being frightened of him and deleting challenges to the author’s ability doesn’t serve anyone.

    If he is wrong, he is wrong. If he is wrong, he is either bad at his job or deliberately misinforming.

    Truth to power.

    You lot are frightened of him.

    (delete away)

  • Pete Baker

    dpef

    Perhaps more importantly, we’re not frightened of anonymous commenters.

    As long as the basic rules of discussion on Slugger are not broken.

    See Commenting Policy

    Which I’m sure you’ve already read.

  • joeCanuck

    dpef

    I’m finding it really hard to understand the basis for your arrogance.
    It’s Mick’s site and he has the final say as to what is acceptable comment.

    If you don’t like it tough!

    It’s not that difficult to set up your own blog; There are lots of free tutorials online.

  • dpef

    Joe,

    This site had a journalist exposed as a bullshitter over his UDA nonsense just a few days ago.

    Discussing it was deleted because….well because maybe a journalist in had forced Mick into a humiliating apology online before….

    The story remained absolute shite 9it wasn’t deleted)….you can’t comment fully on it or the journo’s motives/ability…challenge any of his stories….

    That is very relevant to this thread.

    This site already self censors and has little or no credibility in the argument about challenging it.

    Al mouth, no trousers. When push comes to shove this site shites itself and self censors.

  • oosthout

    We have somewhat strayed from the wider topic of debate into a specific instance on this specific blog.

    On the main topic – it is now quite simple to practically guarantee anonymity online – thanks to the good folk working over at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    The implications of such an easy-to-use anonymity project are mind-boggling – not only can one post anonymously, but soon one will pretty much be able to run an entire blog anonymously.

    Very useful indeed if you are a free thinker living in a dictatorship, or, of course, should our own currently democratic countries drift even further down the path of restricting free speech (as both the US & UK have started to do).

  • Rory

    Surely the whole point of Web based freedom of information was precisely that it was impervious to censorship – at least that is how it was glorified while the West still had an Eastern bloc enemy. Now that that has faded and the free dissemination of information and opinion begins to bite to the disadvantage of the home=grown masters, censorship (in the benign appearance of “responsible” self-control) now rears its ugly head.

    Of course the good-boy bloggers, eager to please and appeal to the sixth formers in the mainstream press, whom thy idolise, and the prefects of the political establishment, whom they fear, will be ever so eager to comply. Let them I say.

    These “grammar school bloggers” as I call them will simply be sidelined by the “corner-boy bloggers” the “punk bloggers” who don’t give a damn for censorship and even less for self regulation and it is to them that we will turn when we want the down ‘n’ dirty on what is really going on, the stuff that the main stream press and the “grammar school bloggers” deny us.