Saturday, 23 July 2011

Levenson inquiry Part I terms of reference for regulation

In between all the police-politco-press scandal, there is a serious long-term intent: "To make recommendations: for a new more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and freedom of the press, the  plurality of the media, and its independence, including from Government, while encouraging the highest ethical and professional standard; for how future concerns about press behaviour, media policy, regulation and cross-media ownership should be dealt with by all the relevant authorities, including Parliament, Government, the prosecuting authorities and the police."

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ofcom Regulating the Media: Part CXXXVII

Ofcom has issued a very useful 'fit and proper person' Q&A based on section 3(3) of the Broadcasting Act. For the avoidance of doubt, let me explain that BSkyB will never lose its licences - as a judicial review of an Ofcom decision would have to consider the fact that the obscene Richard Desmond, a billionaire pornographer of the very lowest reputation, owns Express Newspapers since 2000, and in 2010 bought national terrestrial TV licencee Channel 5.
He stopped contributing to the supine Press Complaints Commission via its parent body in 2007 though was not expelled until January 2011, becoming a 'rogue operator: "They feel they can operate the principles of self-regulation themselves and don't feel they need to do that by being a member of the PCC".
He has often been reprimanded by his other self-regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, for cross-promotions without proper flagging of advertorial amongst other transgressions. In short, he is as unfit and improper as Ofcom considers acceptable - and Murdoch would need to go some to get anywhere near his level of disrepute.
Note: Ofcom did in 2010 revoke the licence of a hardcore daytime porn channel provider that had flouted its rulings SIXTY times in short succession.
Disclaimer: I was delighted in 1989 not to have to deal with Desmond's then porn publisher Northern & Shell (he sold many grumble-mags in 2004 to clean out the print Augean stable, or rather focus on satellite TV porn channels) when at Journalists' Week.
UPDATE: Nice reminder about Russia Today, CCTV, Press TV, controlled by respectively the Russian, Chinese and Iranian governments.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Gordon Brown on public interest in media, Cameron as News Int. interest

"In the month that I started at No. 10, there were already issues of state involving News International—a decision that the Government had to make on a Competition Commission inquiry into the recently acquired stake that brought its ownership of ITV up to 16.8%. It was for the Government to decide on any referral to the competition authority, and the Government approached this with no bias against BSkyB. However, after examining in some detail BSkyB’s activities, the Government, on the advice of the relevant authorities, found a case to answer and announced the strongest remedy possible—a referral to the competition authority, which went on to rule that BSkyB’s share purchase in ITV was not in the public interest. So far from siding with the News International interest, the Government stood up for the public interest by making the referral. While we correctly gave it time to sell its shares, its shares had to be sold. Next was the proposed Ofcom review into the onward sale of BSkyB sporting and other programmes, and the claims of its competitors that it had priced BT, Virgin and other cable companies out of the market. The public interest was in my view served by due investigation. We did not support the News International interest, but stood up for what in our view was the public interest. The Ofcom recommendation, which News International still opposes today, demanded that there be fair competition. It is no secret that the 2009 McTaggart lecture given by Mr James Murdoch, which included his cold assertion that profit not standards was what mattered in the media, underpinned an ever more aggressive News International and BSkyB agenda under his and Mrs Brooks’ leadership that was brutal in its simplicity. Their aim was to cut the BBC licence fee, to force BBC online to charge for its content, for the BBC to sell off its commercial activities, to open up more national sporting events to bids from BSkyB and move them away from the BBC, to open up the cable and satellite infrastructure market, and to reduce the power of their regulator, Ofcom. I rejected those policies...Those policies were clearly in News International’s interests, but were plainly not in the British people’s interests. The truth is there in Government records for everyone to see. I am happy to volunteer to come before any inquiry, because nothing was given: there were no private deals, no tacit understandings, no behind-the-scenes arrangements and no post-dated promises. I doubt whether anyone in this House will be surprised to hear that the relationship between News International and the Labour Administration that I led was, in all its years from start to finish, neither cosy nor comfortable.
I think that if people reflected on events as early as the summer of 2007, with the portrayal of me in The Sun as the betrayer of Britain, they would see them as somewhat absurd proof of an over-close and over-friendly relationship. Headlines such as “Brown killed my son”, which made me out to be the murderer of soldiers who were actually killed by our enemy, the Taliban, could hardly be a reflection of a deep warmth from News International towards me. The front-page portrayal of me as "Dr Evil" the day after the generally accepted success of the G20 was hardly confirmation of The Sun’s friendship and support as the world battled with the threat of a great depression...
I have compiled for my own benefit a note of all the big policy matters affecting the media that arose in my time as Prime Minister. That note also demonstrates in detail the strange coincidence of how News International and the then Conservative Opposition came to share almost exactly the same media policy. It was so close that it was often expressed in almost exactly the same words. On the future of the licence fee, on BBC online, on the right of the public to see free of charge the maximum possible number of national sporting events, on the future of the BBC’s commercial arm, and on the integrity of Ofcom, we stood up for what we believed to be the public interest, but that was made difficult when the Opposition invariably reclassified the public interest as the News International interest."

Friday, 15 July 2011

Regulatory capitalism, whistle blowers and co-regulation

It's notable that WikiLeaks has been entirely replaced as the biggest story in the British media by tabloid newspapers, specifically the Murdoch press and their control over broadcasting. This in the week of Assange's appeal against extradition to Sweden. One Australian, Mr Murdoch Senior (I know he renounced it for business interests...), replaces another. I know which is more guilty of inspiring female fear of  predation.
In regulatory terms, what we had here was, as Lord Justice Leveson said, a need to watch the watchdogs. More particularly, as the former Prime Minister explained while Tory hyenas barked - including the horrible Graham Stuart who has prettified Cambridge by moving away, and the execrable Penny Maladroit, who went to the States and worked for Dubya in 2000 and 2004 - the IPCC, PCC, police, CPS all failed to act, while News Corp. and the Conservative Party was putting pressure on Ofcom and the BBC, and select committees were being ignored. Result: the Cabinet secretary argued strongly against an independent inquiry, even non-judicial.
What Britain needs is to institute a proper system for protecting and rewarding whistle blowing in both public and private sectors - that is what should be examined as a result of WikiLeaks, the Iraq inquiry, MP expenses, phone hacking. Pigs may fly.
The reforms in the Dodd-Franks Act may be a good start, and it is encouraging to see that the practical implications appear to have created an SEC system whereby it is worthwhile for lawyers to help whistle blowers against their former employers, the masters of the universe...Reading Braithwaite last year, it struck me just how miserable Britain's record at helping whistle blowers is - maybe a reason why Colette Bowe said nothing in 1985, why we were fooled into war in 2003, why Craig Murray is so entertaining but such an example to others in the Foreign Office not to repeat his actions. The British government frame ambassadors who whistle blow, let alone soldiers such as Bradley Manning.
For Leveson LJ, it may be a step too far, but he should certainly consider regulation of broadcast TV and the Internet-  a 'press commission' would be a nineteenth century inquiry.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Leveson inquiry: plus ca change...

Tonight, News International controls 39% of BSkyB - and the Murdochs control about 36% of News Corporation. Guess what changed today? They chose not to make it a full 100% even though Mr Hunt had offered it to the Competition Commission to chew on for a year.
Meanwhile, the 2006 Information Commissioner report's biggest sinners, the Daily Mail & General Trust (see p.9), as well as pornographer Desmond's Express Newspapers and his many porn TV channels, continue to pour their effluent over British democracy.
Leveson LJ is the prosecutor who could not convince a jury to convict Ken Dodd over his extraordinary tax practices. He will soon top that with an inquiry which makes Calcutt look rational and Hutton insightful. As Simon Jenkins explains, 21st century politicians lack the balls to confront the press, they are pygmies - look at Obama with Murdoch in the US. The press is both corrupt and vital in a democracy - fortunately we have the Scott Trust, Presssdram and BBC to drag the rest  out of the slime occasionally.
And Wikileaks, unless we decide to deport the real hero (and very flawed, as all good ones should be)  in all this.
For they are all, all honourable men.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Competition Commission role in BSkyB and other regulatory matters

The Murdochs have done the only sensible thing - take media pluralism out of the hands of their politicians, who had become liabilities due to public anger, and into the hands of the non-pluralism experts at the Competition Commission (following an earlier stab at it by the Office of Fair Trading), who nevertheless had slapped Sky's wrists and forced them to reduce their ITV shareholding four years ago.
What will they investigate in terms of plurality? Well, if you look at Appendix I (yes, the ninth appendix!) of that report, which was much more broad than this (in as far as we know about this one, the terms are late being published), then they were concerned with Ofcom and others' evidence on news consumption. Note that they looked at the TGI survey which overstated Sky News' importance - it is a minor and little-watched channel in truth - as well as the overall Ofcom figures which showed that a steady 65% of the population uses TV to watch news, and 6% use the Internet - though the latter had trebled in 4 years to 2006.
Let's extrapolate forwards - if Internet use for news has grown at the same rate, which Twitter may suggest but which a maturing market may argue against, then in 2012 up to 30% of the population might rely on the Internet first. While that is unlikely, it does appear quite likely that the Internet - and its newspaper and broadcast sites - is now the second-largest medium at over 15%, with a real long-term decline in TV reliance.
What does that mean for the Competition Commission? It means they should not ignore net neutrality in their inquiry - Sky should be required to not throttle alternative video and text-based news outlets for a lengthy (say ten-year) period after News Corporation taking over. That is much more important than empty gesture politics such as that which will take place tomorrow.
As the Conservatives except for Jeremy Hunt will now vote that it is against the public interest for Murdoch to be allowed to own BSkyB, does that mean that after 8 months the Competition Commission recommendations to Hunt will then be rejected by him? Or will he gamble that by summer 2012 the public will have stopped caring?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

British government and Internet regulation: what Murdoch's press scandal tells us

For overseas readers, it's worth explaining the specific problems in the recent cause celebre - not about the incidents of voicemail hacking, but the wider picture.
From approximately 2001 until at least 2006, the News of the World (NOTW) engaged private detectives to conduct widespread hacking of celebrities, politicians and murder victims, as well as terrorist victims. It is claimed that up to eleven other tabloid (mass market) scandal sheets engaged in similar practices, and even that some were hacking each other's news desks, as well as sending Trojan horse viruses to computers, including those of British spies. The practices appear to have been enormously widespread. The Metropolitan Police knew almost all the NOTW cases by 2006 when they seized Glenn Mulcaire's notebooks with 10,000 pages of detailed notes. They had confronted the editor of the NOTW in 2002, after her reporters had spied on a murder case detective. She lied to them about the motives for the spying at that meeting.
Since 2002, the senior executives at the Murdoch press have lied to their self-regulator (the PCC) which was memorably described as being as effective as a 'fishnet condom', 'gelded' Parliament, the police some of whose members were paid for information which is a criminal corruption, and refused to appear before a Parliamentary inquiry. Any new inquiry will need to consider all these matters.
The most senior NOTW journalist now heads the UK operations of Rupert Murdoch, and will soon control the largest pay-TV operator and fourth largest ISP, BSkyB. BSkyB is licensed by Ofcom and its owner must be a 'fit and proper person' under "section 3(3) of the Broadcasting Act 1990. This requirement applies to the directors and chief officers of any corporate body intended to hold the licence, and of any person or associated corporate body of the applicant deemed to have control of the applicant for the purposes of section 357 of the Communications Act 2003 and in accordance with section 3(7) of the Broadcasting Act 1990, to be in a position to comply with other licence conditions placed upon broadcasters."
The chairman of the holding company for BSkyB at News International is likely to be Mr James Murdoch, who paid off several hackees to purchase their silence in covering up the scandal. Given that obscene pornographer 'Dirty' Richard Desmond holds the licence for Channel 5 and ruthlessly cross-promotes his media properties while lying about his porn empire, it is extremely unlikely that Ofcom will take any action.
The second most senior left the NOTW after leading the industrial scale hacking, to become spokesman for David Cameron between 2007-2011, culminating as his highest paid political staff member as Prime Minister.
This begs the question of the degree of independence of regulatory rule-making by the government in communications policy. The conclusion must be that the government has not a shred of credibility in its decision making over the media, and its censorship proposals for the Internet must be tainted by that association. Moreover, it has a dead-in-the-water press self-regulator which had been making designs on Internet self-regulation for the last five years. This is an ex-parrot.
UPDATE: the useless self-regulator (sic) PCC is to be abolished, and an inquiry started into what form of self-/co-regulation ought to replace it. Separately, an inquiry (which will achieve nothing) will be launched into why the British police were willing to walk into Parliament to seize documents from the Opposition spokesman, but not to walk into News International to prevent large-scale destruction of email evidence as well as payments to police officers and hackees in what appears to be an arguable case of conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice (indictable under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the US as News Corp. is a US-headquartered company).