Is your blog on the right side of the law?

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leveson-report_2413607bThe issue of whether bloggers qualify as journalists has rumbled on for a few years now.  The recent inquiry into journalistic behaviour here in Britain has cast new light on this debate.  With Lord Leveson recommending stricter regulation of the UK press it is something of interest to all bloggers.

The recommendations made by the report have been debated by politicians over the past week, with cross party support for tighter regulation of the press from a new media watchdog.  Whilst the new organisation is not designed to monitor the blogosphere, many are concerned that the new rules it is hoping to enforce are very open to interpretation.

With fines of up to £1 million available for misbehaving publications the stakes are high.  The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) stressed this week that small bloggers won’t be subject to the new regulation, but the new body will nonetheless have a brief over news related websites.

The report believes that a blogger becomes a news website they must meet three criteria:

  1. They must publish in the course of business
  2. They must publish news-related material written by a range of authors
  3. They must be subject to editorial control

Many of the websites I write for meet those three criteria, so a blogger such as myself would appear to come very much under the remit of the new watchdog.  The DCMS have been quite woolly on the matter.

“Ultimately, it is a matter for the court to decide on the definition of a relevant publisher based on assessment of the facts, in accordance with the three interlocking tests (course of business, range of authors and editorial control), but if material isn’t subject to editorial control it shouldn’t be caught.” they said.

What this means for bloggers

So it’s quite possible that if you blog for a site meeting those three criteria you will be exposed to the scrutiny of the new watchdog, in which case there are some things to bare in mind.

The punishments available to the new watchdog include fines based upon the turnover of the publisher.  For smaller blogs that make little to no money therefore the punishments are likely to be qualitative.  For instance bloggers may have to make apologies for posting inaccurate content very prominent on their blog.

Most of this is already covered by existing laws however.  For instance blogs are already covered by things such as defamation law or privacy law, or any of the many other laws that cover the things we can and cannot publish.  It’s hard to shake the feeling that politicians are keen to push this through in order to stop further digging into their own affairs, and they have not thought through the repercussions the ruling will have on a wide range of publishing channels.

As such, it seems likely that this debate will rumble on for a bit longer yet.  Until such time as its resolved however, it seems sensible that we take extra care with what we write.

2 thoughts on “Is your blog on the right side of the law?

  1. They seem to have made a right pigs ear of this legislation. It seems to be more for political purposes than anything else.

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