26 March: ‘The future of press regulation in Scotland’

Note: I will be speaking at this event on the post-Leveson debate and the regulation of content on the Internet. So if you want to know my views on the whole ‘news-related material’ and ‘OMG regulating tweets!’ controversy, this is where I’ll give them (and follow up here on this blog with a summary).





The Future of Press Regulation in Scotland

The EU MEDIADEM project is hosting a workshop on Tuesday 26 March 2013.

The expert committee chaired by Lord McCluskey has been exploring the implications of the Leveson Report for press regulation in Scotland. This workshop will examine the findings of that committee, as well as the various models of press regulation, such as a Royal Charter, that have been proposed post-Leveson. Among the expert speakers at the workshop will be members of the McCluskey committee, representatives from the press and academics working in the field.

The workshop will also consider a number of findings and potential ‘gaps’ in the Leveson Report that have attracted rather less media attention to date, notably – data protection, statutory recognition of the public interest in investigative journalism and the regulatory implications of media convergence.  Speakers will briefly introduce these topics before opening the floor to what we hope will prove to be a lively discussion.

The workshop will take place in the Ken Mason suite, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh EH8 9YL from 4pm – 6pm, followed by a wine reception.

The event is open to the public and we invite students, academics, journalists, civil servants, representatives from civil society organisations, the legal profession and members of the public to join us in engaging with these topical issues. Places are limited, so please confirm attendance with the administrator for the conference, Ms. Yolande Stolte. For further information call: 0131 650 2094.

Devolution & Independence: The Future of the Media in Scotland (7 January 2013)

The EU MEDIADEM project is hosting a one day workshop in Edinburgh on Devolution & Independence: The Future of the Media in Scotland.  Ms. Birgitta Jonsdottir (Member of the Icelandic Parliament & chair of the International Modern Media Institute) will give the keynote speech on the implementation of Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative and its implications for Scottish media law and policy.

Speakers at the workshop will include:

The workshop will address media regulation in Belgium and Spain where there are similarly live issues of devolution and independence; the role of the media in supporting language and cultural identity; and regulatory coherence in the media field in the UK.

The workshop will take place in the Lorimer Room, Old College, South Bridge, EH8 9YL from 11.30-5 pm. Lunch will be provided.

The event is open to the public and we invite students, academics, journalists, civil servants, representatives from civil society organisations, the legal profession and the general public to join us in engaging with these topical issues. Places are, limited so please confirm attendance with the administrator for the conference, Ms. Yolande Stolte at: yolande.stolte@ed.ac.uk, by Thursday 3 January. For further information call: 0131 650 2094.


Early thoughts on Leveson 4 of 4 – Devolution and Jurisdiction

This is one of a series of responses to the publication of the report of the Leveson Inquiry.  For an introduction, and links to other posts, see here.

Interest in the implications of the Leveson recommendations in Scotland in particular was highlighted by statements from the Scottish National Party this week reminding all and sundry that the Scottish Parliament might take a different approach, particularly if the response of the UK Government was too timid or too intrusive.  I (and I’m sure others) therefore made a beeline for the discussion of the report and devolution (p 49).  It is clear that there is an awareness that while some of the issues are currently within the exclusive competence of the UK government in respect of all territories, other issues are the subject either of specific devolution or (in the case of Scotland) not being reserved to the UK.  (Compare for example media pluralism with the law of privacy).  It’s noted that it would fall to the relevant administrations to implement the report, but that it should be possible for that to happen.  “I have not been made aware of any technical reason why my recommendations should not be able to be accommodated, with appropriate adjustment, in all parts of the UK, but I have not sought detailed advice on the matter.

Possible it may be, but I think that there are three issues to watch for here.

1. Policy divergence.  This is the issue hinted at by the Scottish statement of this week.  Let’s imagine that the UK government declines to implement a particular recommendation, but there is support for it in Scotland, and it’s in an area where there is legislative competence for Holyrood to take action.  Will it do so?  Would other administrations follow?

2. The role of Ofcom.  This is not an issue dealt with in the report, but is worth thinking about.  The vast majority of Ofcom’s work falls within clearly reserved / non-devolved areas.  Telecoms, television, etc.  Ofcom is conscious of issues in ‘the nations’ including in its committee structure, its work on Welsh, Gaelic and Irish, etc.  But if Ofcom were to be responsible for oversight of the press regulatory system, that would open up an interesting type of relationship between Ofcom and the administrations.  This could be ‘solved’ by ensuring no government or legislative role in the process – which some favour and the report seems open to – but would the legislative change be done through UK legislation (applying the Sewel convention for the consent of devolved legislatures to UK legislation in devolved fields) or through the separate legislatures conferring power on Ofcom?  Would Scotland want to beef up its oversight (policy, administration and finance) of Ofcom if Ofcom has oversight on a matter in which the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence?

3. Independence.  Because by the time all of this gets up and running, it might have happened.  The Scottish Government has already taken the approach of being gently critical of Ofcom issuing long-term licences in other fields given the upcoming referendum….

4. If regulation depends in part on being linked with legal remedies (i.e. relying on subscription to a regulatory body as a defence), many of those defences will relate to devolved areas – note in particular that the matters in the current Defamation Bill is not the subject of active consideration in the (separate) defamation law of Scotland.

5. Data protection is reserved, privacy is (generally speaking) devolved in respect of Scotland and (more tentatively) Northern Ireland.  Ponder the future of the Information Commissioner in the context of devolution, particularly if it is to become an Information Commission.  (Already, the ICO does not deal with FOI for Scotland).

Of course, the bit of Scottish interest that will get more of the headlines will be the role of the First Minister in relation to Sky (see pp. 1407ff, pp. 1418ff), on which I’m not sure I have anything interesting to say right now.

Putting Viewers Somewhere: Part 2

Part 1: (Thursday) General
Part 2 (Friday): Regional/local broadcasting
Part 3 (Monday): Looking forward to Digital Britain

Ofcom has approved some changes to ITV’s news commitments, varying from region to region but all in the downward direction. Worth reading both the relevant sections of the report and the short-term document (and responses are sought so get writing!). Here’s a few quick thoughts.

In the report, the comments on regional and local broadcasting are, in the first instance, depressing. We see from the intervention of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Culture, Arts & Leisure committee that Ofcom tells them (wait for it) that the reduced obligations for regional programmes is ‘a floor, not a ceiling’. I don’t know how anyone kept a straight face through that – given the persistent requests from ITV licencees for reducing the obligations, can we really expect that when Ofcom grants them their wish, they’ll turn around and deliver more than the bare minimum? On the other hand, there’s a very open-minded analysis of the possibilities of a network of (very) local programming in section 10, though the conclusion is limited to further research being required.

There is some astonishing focus group work that I really hope Ofcom didn’t rely upon, where groups of about 25 people in a given region were asked to vote on whether they approved of reducing regional news quotas and changing sub-regional obligations. Now I’m prepared to accept that leaving Parliament in charge of broadcast micro-management has its problems, and that independent regulation provides important democratic safeguards, but seriously – if the independence comes through giving 25 people (whether random or oh-so-carefully chosen) a hearing on how much local news should be on TV, I’d rather go back to a committee of 25 MPs and take my chances with that. Not to mention that, to take the area I live in as an example, they picked 25 people in Bedford (and only Bedford) and asked them whether merging the sub-region that Bedford is in (Anglia West) with Anglia East (Norfolk, Suffolk & Essex) was a good idea – at least if we got the MPs from the region there’d at least be some balance! I don’t have a direct interest in this matter, being merely a blow-in, but it’s hard to see how any conclusions can be drawn from the study. Whatever about the quality of the research, this is no way to form public policy.

And one thing for the future: Ofcom responds to (but without reaching firm conclusions on) the outcome of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, in section 10 of its (Ofcom’s) report. The excellent SBC report has been overlooked somewhat in the media summaries so it’s good to see Ofcom dealing with it. The idea of a Scottish digital network/channel is certainly worth exploring. At some stage, I do hope to post in more detail about another quiet Scottish development, the launch of the BBC ALBA channel last year.

It’s hard to summarise Ofcom’s approach to these issues, and perhaps that’s the point – there’s no single, pithy answer, but a package of answers that perhaps contradict each other. I don’t agree with all parts of the solutions they are proposing (or not proposing) but it’s good to see the matter being given some attention, and also encouraging to see how many individuals and small organisations have taken the time to argue in favour of good quality local, regional and (devolved-) national broadcasting.