Local Government


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.

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.
Micro-businesses

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?

Update….

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

Five good habits for better public services

Posted on 6th July 2015 by

The magazine New Start has been looking at alternative approaches ot create economic vibrancy in a number of uk cities, including Birmingham and the West Midlands.  They asked me to write something ….

———————-

Senior leaders in the city know that they need to help their teams focus on the values that shape what they do. It’s hard to do though, hard to lift the head from process to values. Here some simple ideas from the people we have worked with and the experience we’ve had over 10 years at Podnosh:

1. Be useful and helpful:
This is a statement of the obvious, This is the whole point of public service, isn’t it? So often we meet people embroiled in public services that simply seem to be a process. If the process is useful to anyone it often feels like it’s the people who designed it. Have you created a service which allows the people on the coal face to say what’s the most useful thing I can do now? And then they can do it? Can they ask themselves how can I help here and have the permission to do the next most sensible thing? If not who is it for and is it likely to be wasting public effort ? So less like a mobile phone operator trying to prevent you closing your account and more like a neighbour who’s sharing their oven when yours is broken.

Good examples:

Pregnancy Outreach Service
Timebanking

2. Act like citizens:
Citizens tend to spot bullshit where bureaucrats don’t. Citizens tend to do what makes sense for their community, not their organisation. Citizens tend to get active about complacency or waste, not wearied by it. Why can’t workers also think and behave like citizens some or all of the time?

Cotteridge Park *
B31 Voices *
NHS Change day*
Young Rewired State*

3. Keep it simple – where you can:
Complex problems often lead to complicated processes to help solve them. We can easily get bogged down in the complicated. So how far can you get by doing simple things that can just be done?

Social Media Surgery*
#hellomynameis
New Optimists*
Hyperlocal Bloggers
Casserole club
Greaves Hall coffee mornings
Big Lunch
Park Run

4. Good relationship make for better services:
Collaboration is a product of good relationships, so concentrate on the relationships.

Community Policing
21st century public service*
Creation of a regional super council?
Birmingham Open Spaces Forum*

5. Be Generous:
Give so you can receive. If you want to collaborate with people in Birmingham to create public good start by giving what you can. Co-production is born from relationships, not wishful thinking. Open data is a generous act, it is trusting that, if you share, people will do good with this stuff.

Nat West/Entrepreneurial Spark
Birmingham Data Factory
#SU4Brum
Makeshift in Wolverhampton – supporting community activity, mentoring
Livebrum

I don’t pretend that this will solve all problems and the analogies I use won’t apply to all people. But I do think that framing public service using these principles more often will free up more resources for the very difficult or very complex problems.

Tranparency: The examples included here are just that, there will be many more and some you might dispute. Where there is an * asterix us lot at Podnosh have either worked on this or been involved with it.

 

A challenge to the idea of economies of scale in public services…

Posted on 28th February 2015 by

Locality has published some research which counters the argument that large organisations will deliver public services the most efficiently and cost effectively.  It’s timely when budget holders are looking at cutting the small, perhaps seduced by the arguments of the large.

A new paper, ‘Public Services, Civil Society & Diseconomies of Scale’, outlines this research project arguing that human scale operations deliver high quality services as well as value for money.

Locality’s members, some of the most active and ambitious community organisations, have described inefficiencies in large-scale services across the UK. This ranges from youth to legal aid services, mental health interventions through to employability schemes such as the Work Programme. It is having disastrous consequences for poorer communities and smaller providers.

– See more at: http://locality.org.uk/news/diseconomies-scale/#sthash.GJtoAlqX.64MXMylL.dpuf

13 pages. Have a read.  There’s also and event in Birmingham on March for the launch of their keep it local campaign http://locality.org.uk/events/local-campaign-launch/