Persistence pays off…. ward committee restarts live streaming.

Posted on 31st July 2015 by

Last year we provided support to councillors at the Billesley Ward ctte for them to experiment with low cost live streaming.  They tried it once as a learning exercise – 15 months later they back with this….

It’s just shows that patience and persistence pays off and something we find all the time: that the skills you help someone develop today can turn into fruitful activity much later. Bravo Cllr Alex Buchanan for taht persistence.

Do hyperlocal websites fall foul of Leveson and the new press regulator and libel laws?

Posted on 13th July 2015 by


Last week I spent a couple of hours at a consultation in Birmingham run by the Press Recognition panel, which is the regulator set up to oversee the creation of (a?) new press regulator(s) following the Leveson Inquiry and the Royal Charter. (I know this has already got a bit “what?”, but stick with me.)

I was there because I’m interested in what it means for hyperlocal websites (which we have helped people set up over a number of years).  Especially the implications for those run for the love of their community,  sites like B31voices or WV11 –  not run for the money. Talk About Local has already questioned whether hyperlocals fall within Leveson and I wanted to be clear one way or the other…

So this is how my thinking has evolved…. if you find an asterix next to an assertion I’m not 100% sure this is right – or that I have conveyed it correctly (some things may be accurately reported but are factually wrong!)

This is a disaster!


This is what I picked up from the press recognition panel.

  • Under the new law a publisher is someone(two) who publishes either online or in print and has two or more authors.  So according to this a publisher would include a number of no pay hyperlocals.
  • In the autumn the law of how a libel action is brought will change for publishers.
  • If you are part of a recognised Royal Charter approved press complaints body – complaints against you will come through that and will be resolved through mediation.  If someone does sue you they will be required to pay both their’s and your legal fees*.
  • If you are not part of a recognised complaints body people can sue you and you will be required to pay both yours and their legal fees.

This leaves two or more person hyperlocals that are not in it for the money very exposed. The conversation, involving myself, Dave Harte and others, at this consultation included various thoughts that I took down in note form…

The mere threat of bankruptcy can stop people publishing,  Does this mean we need a hyperlocal regulator to provide this protection to hyperlocals?  Who pays for it, do the hyperlocals need to pay for it? How to create one as cheaply as possible?  Could there be a cooperative? Are hyperlocals aware of their potential exposure?

This also seemed to have implications for student journalism and perhaps even for sites like Birmingham Newsroom – blogs published by public services.  two or more people writing them?  Then they are publishers.

The two people from the press recognition panel were very clear that hyperlocals fall within the change of law.


Oh hang on. Phew, I think…


That was last Wednesday evening and I left worried about the future of hyperlocals.

On Thursday I spent the morning at #commscamp15 and popped along to the legal session run by David Banks.  He was talking about other changes in libel law and I shared what I thought I had learnt from the night before – and my concerns about it.

Someone else in the session looked a bit more closely at this.  Kelly Quigley-Hicks dug out the legislation and (I think) established that the understanding I (and others) had gleaned from the consultation was wrong.  The hyperlocals I’m concerned about are exempt… this is what she writes:

What is the definition of a ‘publisher’? If you have more than two people publishing news-related content, you may be defined as a publisher and be sued for libel as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. Exceptions include public bodies and charities publishing “news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its functions.” and multi-author blogs that come under “microbusiness” definitions

Checking her working I find the law says “exclusions from the definition of relevant publishers” include:

Public bodies and charities

6   (1) A public body or charity that publishes news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its                  functions.

(2) “Public body” means a person or body whose functions are of a public nature.
Company news publications etc

7   A person who publishes a newsletter, circular or other document which—

(a) relates to a business carried on by the person, and

(b) only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the person’s business.

8  (1) A person who, in carrying on a micro-business, publishes news-related material where either condition A or condition B is met.

(2) Condition A is that the news-related material is contained in a multi-author blog.

(3) Condition B is that the news-related material is published on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main  activities of the business.

(4) “Micro-business” means a business which—

(a) has fewer than 10 employees, and

(b) has an annual turnover not exceeding £2,000,000.

(5)  The number of employees is to be calculated as follows—

(a) find the total number of hours per week for which all the employees of the business are contracted to work;

(b) divide that number by 37.5.

(6) “Employee” has the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (see section 230 of that Act).

(7) “Multi-author blog” means a blog that contains contributions from different authors.

So this appear to mean that most hyperlocals are not included.

So questions to resolve….


  1. Is this right, are most hyperlocals excluded, therefore don’t need to join a press complaints body?
  2. If this is right what is the libel law that now applies to hyperlocals (who pays the legal bills)?
  3. Does this exemption apply to student publishing online as part of their course?  After all universities are not micro-businesses.

Any answers?


Kelly  found this, which suggest others think there is confusion…  http://www.englishpen.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Who_joins_the_regulator_5_Nov_2014_English_PEN.pdf

Free fair for creative and active citizens in Birmingham

Posted on 27th May 2015 by
Click on the image to book on the eventbrite page

Click on the image to book on the eventbrite page

Creative Citizens is a project that’s been running for a couple of  years bringing together research and activity around hyperlocal websites and active citizens.  There’s some fine people involved, including Dave Harte (an old friend and collaborator of ours) and one of the researchers has also been investigating motivations behind the brilliant WV11 blog run by our own Steph Clarke and her very fine husband James.

So there is going to be a fair for active citizens and creative citizens organised as part of this programme.  To get a free ticker go here  www.creativecitizensfair.eventbrite.co.uk.

What to expect?  Organiser Jez Turner says :

Thousands of citizens in the UK take part in community projects every day, from citizen journalists to breadmaking collectives, cycling social enterprises to craft makers. If you run a community project, are thinking of starting one, or are just interested in meeting like-minded people, join us at the first Creative Citizens Fair.

Talks will run throughout the day from community and voluntary projects, sharing their experience and tips, with plenty of time for questions.

In the Fair space you can:

  • talk to some of the organisations
  • take part in activities and workshops
  • see the Creative Citizens photo exhibition
  • find people to collaborate with
  • find out about the Creative Citizens research project
  • grab some lunch and coffee

More details at www.creativecitizens.co.uk


The venue is the Impact Hub in Digbeth, which is another home for creative citizens.


5 stars of open local democracy?

Posted on 19th June 2014 by

5 star

There’s a conversation going on in South Birmingham – led by Karen Cheney and Austin Rodriguez and others – about how to get more public democratic processes shared more widely.  This builds on various work (including a Cllr in Billesley buying some kit to live stream for the first time their ward ctte meeting).    At a meeting yesterday we talked a bit about equipment and platforms, but also that not all meetings need to be live streamed etc.  So, I wondered, could establish stages of activity for digital open local democracy?  I said I write up my thoughts as a blog post….

What are the principles?

In the mould of Tim Berners-Lee, I’m adapting his 5 stars of open dataI’m know I won’t be the first person to think through these stages, – I’ve searched but not found the 5 stars thing for very local public meetings. If you find it then please share.  Update: this is where I’ve seen something similar before: http://www.comms2point0.co.uk/comms2point0/2014/6/3/proposals-to-improve-health-and-wellbeing-board-social-media.html/

This is a summation of some of our experience social reporting over the years and the following list applies to local processes, currently things like police priority setting meetings,  patient forums for GP and CCG’s, council ward committee’s, housing association walkabouts, neighbourhood forum meetings or neighbourhood watch groups.  This is the myriad of daily democracy that we have created over time.

5 stars of  open (hyper)local democracy


1 star:  Be seen and be welcoming.  Putting agenda’s and minutes somewhere where it is very easy to find them and where it is easy for others to share them. Make sure everyone knows they’re invited.  (This could be a blog, just on google docs with a link or creating an eventbrite to invite people to meetings. It can include putting invites through doors and agenda’s and minutes on public noticeboards.)

2 star: Talk about what you’re doing.  This means that you have a #hashtag for your meeting and publicise it and also share what you know (make sure that background information to papers is publicly available). You are open to others live reporting or recording what you are doing.

3 star: Do it live.  You do the above but you also do it during your meeting or event.  This is where you can introduce a livestream of video or audio or live social reporting through twitter, facebook and or a blog. This also means you only hold meetings in places where there is good, publicly usable wi-fi or 3g.

4 star:  Involve people outside the room in the meeting.  This is a step change from being seen to be doing. This values the questions and comments made on the web as being as important to your meeting as the ones made in the room.  They are incorporated though hashtags or services like cover it live, blyve or a facebook q&a as the event unfolds.  This could also mean organising events specifically for talking to people on the web.

5 star:  It’s a permanent conversation. This fifth step recognises that the civic conversation you’re having doesn’t just happen at times and places you decide.  It can happen all the time. It means being responsive in between meetings when, for example a comment appears on a website or a hashtag.


There are other stages I could have added – using open data for example, but I’m trying to envisage stages by which we can help us develop from the familiar “meeting with 1 man and a dog in a draught village hall”.  So perhaps the 5 stars of “more” open local democracy.

Behind all this is another core principle:

Keep it simple:

  • Collaborate.  Don’t do this in silos, have things that involve many services, voluntary or statutory.
  • Use available tools.  make things happen with the mobile phones around you, using livestreaming through google hangout or similar, rather than needing to build a thing.  (there are very fine services used for some formal democratic processes, but they’re not essential here)
  • Use available kit – what can you achieve with a smart phone or two?  How much do you really need to buy, is video right for your sort of event?
  • Go to where people are  If the busiest place to find people is on facebook can you use that for your online conversations.  Sharing live events online through hyperlocal blogs is another example

If you can’t make it work without these then clearly start looking for other ways of doing but start with keep it simple, not with “we need to build a portal for that” .

Thanks also to our very own Steph Clarke for helping me think through this – she’s oodles of experience of encouraging public services to get involved with people online both at work and her volunteer efforts at www.wv11.co.uk