Dangerous Blogs Act

The UK Government are currently in a tremendous rush to legislate (and create a Royal Charter) before the political consensus around “implementing Leveson” evaporates. Their proposals catch not just the print media, but also online publications. That’s only proper — a newspaper should meet the same integrity standards for their journalism whether it appears in ink and paper, or on their website.

However, the Governments approach has not been to describe the activity that they wish to regulate, but to describe the various media involved and then try to write exceptions to avoid regulating the whole Internet. Those exceptions are poorly thought out and will have all sorts of unintended consequences. They might even include this blog!

The proposed rules doubtless seemed simple to their drafters, but it’s far from simple to apply them to the real world.

The proposals relate to “news-related material”, which means:

  • (a) news or information about current affairs,
  • (b) opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs, or
  • (c) gossip about celebrities, other public figures or other persons in the news

We certainly do (a) and (b) here from time to time, albeit category (c) is usually restricted to awkwardly posed portraits of the winners of prizes.

You’re covered if your blog is “in the course of a business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit)”. LBT isn’t a business as such, but posting here is an important part of what we do, helping to ensure that the world learns about what we are doing… and what if reversed our policy and started to carry adverts to make money from our readership ?

You’re covered if your blog “is written by different authors” — clearly the case;

…and you’re covered if the blog is “to any extent subject to editorial control”. That’s not generally the case here, albeit from time to time there are discussions as to what might be appropriate to publish, and from time to time people are specifically encouraged to write something up. Note that the comments, and their moderation (such as it is), does not count as “editorial control”.

There is an exception for “scientific journals” that “only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the scientific or academic content” — and perhaps we escape that way, albeit this is a meaning of “journal” that few academic promotions boards would recognise.

The reason it matters whether LBT is covered is that if it is then it would either be necessary to join (£££) the regulatory process or to face certain (rather than not quite certain) financial ruin should someone commence a legal process about any of the content of the blog — and since our group’s academic work is occasionally contentious, that’s not just a theoretical risk.

It’s clearly most unsatisfactory that legislation this important is so unclear, and that the Government are determined to rush it through Parliament within days rather than thinking the complexities through… the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is usually cited as the poster child for knee-jerk legislation that is much the worse for the rush to put it on the statute books. We seem to be heading the same way here.

If you’d like to let relevant politicians learn your own opinions then The Open Rights Group has an online mechanism to make it easy — sadly you’ll need to rush to have any effect.

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