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UK Bloggers Could Face Libel Fines Unless Registered As Press 394

Posted by timothy
from the cult-of-permission dept.
Diamonddavej writes "The Guardian warns that Bloggers in the U.K. could face costly fines for libel with exemplary damages imposed if they do not sign up with a new press regulator under legislation (Clause 21A — Awards of exemplary damages) recommended by The Leveson Inquiry into press behavior and ethics. Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, said this a 'sad day' for British democracy. 'This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people's web use.' Exemplary damages, imposed by a court to penalize publishers who remain outside regulation, could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, easily enough to close down smaller publishers such as Private Eye and local newspapers. Harry Cole, who contributes to the Guido Fawkes blog says he does not want to join a regulator, he hopes his blog will remain as irreverent and rude as ever, and continue to hold public officials to account; its servers are located in the U.S. Members of Parliament voted on Clause 21A late last night, it passed 530 to 13."
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UK Bloggers Could Face Libel Fines Unless Registered As Press

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @12:50PM (#43214439)

    This is what happens when the government asks you to register before exercising rights. Most think "Ah, heh, there's no problem asking someone to register before getting a gun." And then wind forward a bit, and you find you are being asked to register before you deliver critical speech. It all happens an inch at a time. And make no mistake, it'll happen here too.

    Any hurdle the government puts in place for the second amendment (guns) can easily be put in place for the first amendment (speech). Look at the UK. They banned guns a while ago, and now they are requiring you to register before you write something on the internet?

    They get what they ask for.

    • As long as they guarantee the right within reasonable boundaries, what's the problem with registering...? Unless you believe that your government is already fascist, in which case it's too late to worry about it.
      • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:58PM (#43215347) Journal

        As long as they guarantee the right within reasonable boundaries, what's the problem with registering...?

        The people in power today may guarantee the right within reasonable boundaries. The (different) people in power tomorrow might redefine the boundaries, or refuse to uphold the guarantee.

      • by dbc (135354) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @02:06PM (#43215463)

        As long as they guarantee the right within reasonable boundaries, what's the problem with registering...?

        ... said all the gun owning Jews in Weimar Germany. Heck, said every gun owner in Weimar Germany. Which, when Hitler was properly elected according to the consitution, gave him a nice list of gun owners so that he could confiscate all civilian weapons.

        So, you want to start a blog, you say? Great, go to city hall and pick up your permit. Ever try to get a building permit for something? Anything? You need to define "reasonable boundaries", first off. Then, you need to get low-level functionaries in every bureau to apply the regulations even-handedly. And when they don't, you spend days and $$'s on the appeal process.

        You want to go through that for a blog?

        As to whether or not the US government is correctly observing our civil liberties (1st, 2nd, and 4th amendments, in particular).... an analogy to frogs in pots comes to mind.

      • The problem is that it's as unreasonable as asking people to register before getting the coffee in the morning.

        In the USSR you had to register copier machines, right? That's unreasonable for a government of the people.

    • You are a crazy person for conflating the right to bear arms (a uniquely American thing which the rest of the world sees with incomprehension and disgust) and the freedom of press which is enshrined in the international charter of Human rights (a fundamental right everyone thinks is really important unless they are Putin).

      Also, I don't see how there is any value in allowing any organisation to pass things which are demonstrably lies as true news, nor how the "freedom of the press" somehow trumps the right t

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @02:32PM (#43215795)

        I will go further. If you are a blogger, you are potentially a news organisation: you are publishing information for a very large public.

        See, now that's how they want you to think about it. So now you can just keep going down that same path and everyone who uses Twitter is now a news organization (after all, some people have millions of followers, while many bloggers only have a few), and needs to "register with the government". Same with everyone who makes their Facebook account public (or, why even bother with that? If you have enough friends, what's the difference?) Hell, we are all posting our opinions on a blog here for everyone to read. Why shouldn't anyone who ever wants to post something on the Internet have to "register"? ACs should be illegal!

        It's impossible to "register" with the government for a blog, Twitter account, or whatever and still *be* anonymous, so now there is no longer any ability to post anything contrary to the government without risking retribution.

    • by epine (68316)

      It all happens an inch at a time. And make no mistake, it'll happen here too.

      Before informing us with your trademark wisdom that rain arrives in droplets and not sheets, may I suggest you get yourself a username? If you're only AC because you're short on ideas, I doubt "putsch" is taken. The +1 funny mods will swell your karma, inch by inch, make no mistake.

  • Libel Fines (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whencanistop (1224156) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @12:52PM (#43214477) Homepage Journal
    Bloggers in the UK could face libel fines even if they are registered as Press. That's the whole point of the regulator - it is there to force a set of known penalties on a press organisation if they do anything libellous through a known set of processes. If you're outside the regulator the penalties are unknown and the process could be expensive. It's not really any different to the current situation if you are outside the regulator.

    Personally I think it is a great day for democracy. The people wanted this. They voted in a Government that did an independent enquiry and then actioned those recommendations. You can't get much more democratic than that.

    • Re:Libel Fines (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrLint (519792) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @12:56PM (#43214527) Journal

      Just because you have a democratically elected govt does not mean that their actions are in the spirit of or advance the cause of democracy.

      • I always use the "Beardo gets kicked in the nuts and everyone else gets $500" Act as an example.

        Sure, it would pass but that doesn't make it legal / constitutional.

      • I'd definitely agree with that, however I don't think that is the case here. You still have a freedom to "print" whatever you want as long as it can be seen that you have gone to some lengths to prove it is true and retracted when it isn't. Plus you have to be able to show that you got the information in a legal way (with Whistleblower rights).

        I'd argue that overly powerful media moguls pushing their political stance without regulation was less in the spirit of or advance the cause of democracy, wouldn'

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Personally I think it is a great day for democracy. The people wanted this.

      If the people wanted this then why did the government have to vote on this at 10:30 at night?

      • If the people wanted this then why did the government have to vote on this at 10:30 at night?

        Dancing with Stars was over?

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          If the people wanted this then why did the government have to vote on this at 10:30 at night?

          Dancing with Czars was over?

          Because that is when the people wanted it.

      • Because the debate was long and vigorous? What is it, the government must shut down when you go to sleep?

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      The people wanted this. They voted in a Government that did an independent enquiry and then actioned those recommendations.

      Uh, what?

      "The people" voted 'none of the above' in the last British election, but they got a government anyway.

      • How so? you mean the MPs in Westminster had no one voting for them? Or that government should only be allowed to form if magically everyone (including crazy Dan down the street) agrees on a unique perfect solution?

        The bunch of upper-class twits in power were elected by the people, largely I suspect because it had been too long and people had forgotten why you should not vote for the nasty party. But elected they were. And when asked whether the FPTP system ought to be amended (and it really, really should)

    • Re:Libel Fines (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jawnn (445279) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:06PM (#43214635)

      Personally I think it is a great day for democracy. The people wanted this. They voted in a Government that did an independent enquiry and then actioned those recommendations. You can't get much more democratic than that.

      You confuse democracy and civil rights; a common mistake. Asserting, however, that "the people wanted this" is patently absurd. Even setting aside the esoteric (for some) notion that civil rights can and should trump majority rule, I seriously doubt that most voters would have, if asked, been in favor of this monstrous affront to the freedom of expression.

      • A YouGov poll from the end of last year [yougov.co.uk] asked:

        Q. Which of the following statements comes closer to your view on how you think newspapers in Britain should be regulated?

        And 79% said that they would like "an independent body, established by law, which deals with complaints and decides what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct" (ie what we've got).

        Albeit this is a poll and not a democratic process, but the democratic process is there (people vote for a Government, the Government enacts runs independent reviews, the recommendations are enacted upon). The only way this process could have been

        • A YouGov poll from the end of last year [yougov.co.uk] asked:

          Q. Which of the following statements comes closer to your view on how you think newspapers in Britain should be regulated?

          And 79% said that they would like "an independent body, established by law, which deals with complaints and decides what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct" (ie what we've got).

          Is it "what we've got?" I think this legislation will do almost all of the above. It's the "independent" part that is an open question.

        • Democratic does not necessary equal right, or just, or fair.

          'When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world â" "No, you move."'

    • by BenJury (977929) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:18PM (#43214763)

      Its precisely these sorts of misleading headlines that need to be taken out of the industry. From the actual sodding article entitled "Press regulation deal sparks fears of high libel fines for bloggers":

      publisher would have to meet the three tests of whether the publication is publishing news-related material in the course of a business, whether their material is written by a range of authors – this would exclude a one-man band or a single blogger – and whether that material is subject to editorial control.

    • by starless (60879)

      Perhaps a great day for democracy, but not liberal democracy.
      (USAians may need to look up the definition of that.)

    • by gman003 (1693318)

      Personally I think it is a great day for democracy. The people wanted this. They voted in a Government that did an independent enquiry and then actioned those recommendations. You can't get much more democratic than that.

      Sure you can.

      Get rid of those pesky representatives. Have people vote directly on issues. It's rather harder to bribe 50 million people than 500. And we have this technology called "The Internet" - perhaps you've heard of it? - which could make such voting possible.

      Sure, we've seen what happens with mob rule and demagoguery (shall I preemptively Godwin my own debate?), but honestly, I'd rather a government take pages from Mad Max and Idiocracy than 1984 and Atlas Shrugged.

      • It is surprisingly easy to bribe 50 million people. It's called advertising. Also the British press is largely dominated by News Corps, which means that direct democracy would quickly to either people learning very fast to think about their decisions, or to some fascist state.

        Direct democracy can work, but it depends on the political culture. And the political culture is largely the result of the way news are written. If outrageous claims and posturing works, you get that :(

      • It's rather harder to bribe 50 million people than 500. One word. Welfare. That said, I *do* get your point.

  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @12:56PM (#43214515) Journal

    > Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, said this a 'sad day' for British democracy.

    and

    > Members of Parliament voted on Clause 21A late last night, it passed 530 to 13 .

    This is a sad day for freedom, but a wonderful day for democracy.

    Rarely do we see the difference, which few acknowledge exists, so starkly highlighted.

    • by MitchDev (2526834)

      Not really a victory for Democracy unless you have the actual citizens voting.

      Bought and paid for representatives aren't a measure of true democracy...

  • I'm not sure I understand the issue... If you are convicted of libel you have to pay fines, etc. Just make sure that what you write in public is the truth and is backed up by facts. What is so hard about that?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      IANAL.

      It is my understanding that the UK even if something is true if you say it with the intent of damaging someone it is still actionable.

      Read that again. Saying something true and damaging is actionable if you intend it to hurt their reputation.

      It's pure bullshit designed only to shut down speech by anyone without a staff shyster.

      • You understanding is faulty. Justification (truth) is a complete defence in English law.
      • You're incorrect. Truth is an absolute defense against libel in UK.

        The real problem with their libel laws is that you, the defendant, will have to prove that your claims are true. If you cannot do so, they are assumed to be false.

    • You might write some true facts that someone else does not like -- eg you expose them (or cast doubt) as selling goods/services that do not do what they claim [[think chiropedist]]. They then sue you, under the current libel laws you have to prove (a very high standard) that you are correct. This sort of tactic has been used to stop legitimate comments.

      I heard a discussion on the radio where it was said that the publisher had to bear the complainant's legal costs. This is OK if an individual is complaining

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:04PM (#43214599)

    From last night's debate over the very clause this story references:

    "Three interlocking tests will apply ... They ask whether the publication is publishing news-related material in the course of a business, whether its material is written by a range of authors and whether that material is subject to editorial control. This provision aims to protect small-scale bloggers and the like."

    http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2013-03-18a.697.2#g703.4

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      And you believe them?

      Besides, once this law is entrenched, removing any such limitations will be trivial.

      Oh dear, I made a 'slippery slope' argument and that's apparently a logical fallacy so it could never, ever happen. How silly I am.

      • by Epeeist (2682)

        Besides, once this law is entrenched, removing any such limitations will be trivial.

        Except if you read the legislation it will take a 2/3 majority in both houses of parliament to change the law.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Except if you read the legislation it will take a 2/3 majority in both houses of parliament to change the law.

          Yeah, that'll work.

          If the government could restrict future changes to laws, it would add 'this law can never be changed' to the end of every law it passed.

        • So they add a clause changing the law into some "fluff" bill that is guaranteed to pass without fanfare, like a "Flags and Puppies For War Orphans" bill or a "Congratulations to the X School Football Team for its Victory over Y School in Such-and-such Tournament" bill. The fluff bill gets approved unanimously, and the tacked on piece makes anyone who writes more than ten words on a subject into a member of the "press" and subject to this law.

  • they need another Revolution, this time on home turf...

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:05PM (#43214615)

    The problem is not that blogs operating like newspapers are treated as such. Online journalism shouldn't be in a different category just because it's on the internet. The problem is that journalism in its entirety is being limited.

  • Nice! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nospam007 (722110) * on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:12PM (#43214687)

    1. Create a blog. (should take 4 minutes)
    2. Register
    3. Get a Press Card
    4. Go to plays and concerts for free.*

    *That's the profit part.

  • I am no expert on media or British libel law, but something tells me that if Rupert Murdoch and his toadies are fighting so rabidly and foaming at the mouth so much at this royal charter, then it must be a good thing.

    All this legislation means, is that a lot of rightwing douchebags who previously think they're invincible and can destroy peoples' lives at whim, are finally brought to heel. No more threats to destroy politicians, no more special pleading, no more backroom deals with the Prime Minister and cab

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I am no expert on media or British libel law, but something tells me that if Rupert Murdoch and his toadies are fighting so rabidly and foaming at the mouth so much at this royal charter, then it must be a good thing.

      All this legislation means, is that a lot of rightwing douchebags who previously think they're invincible and can destroy peoples' lives at whim, are finally brought to heel. No more threats to destroy politicians, no more special pleading, no more backroom deals with the Prime Minister and cabinet in Number 10, and no more special treatment for Establishment-connected bloggers and Tweeters.

      Rupert Murdoch is addicted to wielding and abusing his considerable power. He's afraid of losing control, which is why his propaganda machine has gone into overdrive.

      Really, the rightwing is the group you are accusing of using the press to destroy people? There may be some of the right that do sink to such levels but it does not even come close to what the left does to people they don't agree with.

      Google Santorum sometime and read what you get there, just don't do it from a work computer....

      I am so sick of the left accusing the right of doing what the left does daily.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by benjfowler (239527)

        The Left *does't* have the blood of a million people on its hands.

        The Left *didn't* access the voicemail of a raped/murdered schoolgirl, tricking her family and investigators into thinking she was still alive.

        The owners of the left-wing media *hasn't* scored private meetings with the Prime Minister in Number 10 to lobby for war on brown people.

        The Left *certainly* hasn't driven people to their deaths through intrusion and harrasment for profit.

        Rick Santorum got a little mockery on the Internet. But accordin

    • Even if this fixes every issue you mentioned it is not worth giving up your freedom of speech for.

  • Looking for my tinfoil hat... not in that drawer... not in the bookcase... THERE it is behind the monitor. A little wrinkled, one moment. (rustle) There.

    Wow, it's as if, had the recent media scandals not existed, it would have been necessary to invent them.

  • We are not even pretending to be a free, open, and democratic society anymore?

    • by Skapare (16644)

      Wasn't back in 1776 or so, either. But at least Britain does not pretend to be free and open.

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @01:42PM (#43215135)

    UK Bloggers Could Face Libel Fines Unless Registered As Press

    Even publishers who have registered could face exemplary fines; it is just a little higher standard. Look at the legislation [theyworkforyou.com];

    (2) Exemplary damages may not be awarded against the defendant in respect of the claim if the defendant was a member of an approved regulator at the material time.

    (3) But the court may disregard subsection (2) if—

    (a) the approved regulator imposed a penalty on the defendant in respect of the defendant’s conduct or decided not to do so,

    (b) the court considers, in light of the information available to the approved regulator when imposing the penalty or deciding not to impose one, that the regulator was manifestly irrational in imposing the penalty or deciding not to impose one, and

    (c) the court is satisfied that, but for subsection (2), it would have made an award of exemplary damages under this section against the defendant.

    Subsection 3 basically negates most "protection" from exemplary damages by registered publishers. Subsection 2 states exemplary damages can not be awarded against a registered publisher but subsection 3 shows how the court can disregard Subsection 2. Yes it is harder to impose exemplary damages but it still can happen. The other thing that is missing from this whole discussion is that the regulator can impose damages too that could be as much as the exemplary damages.

    Basically what subsection 2 and 3 state is that publishers should be fined by their regulators and not the court unless the court believed the regulator was "manifestly irrational". This protects publishers who register with a regulator from being fined twice except under extraordinary circumstances.

    The other thing they ignore is Clause 29 [theyworkforyou.com] which defines what a "relevant publisher" is.

    (1) In sections [Awards of exemplary damages] to [Awards of costs], “relevant publisher” means a person who, in the course of a business (whether or not carried on with a view to profit), publishes news-related material—
    (a) which is written by different authors, and
    (b) which is to any extent subject to editorial control.

    A blogger is usually a single person and there is no editorial control so most bloggers would not be a relevant publisher. By the way there is a clause that protects web sites as well.

    (3) A person who is the operator of a website is not to be taken as having editorial or equivalent responsibility for the decision to publish any material on the site, or for content of the material, if the person did not post the material on the site.
    (4) The fact that the operator of the website may moderate statements posted on it by others does not matter for the purposes of subsection (3).

    That clause also stipulates a list of exempt publishers under Schedule 5 [theyworkforyou.com].

    Special interest titles

    4 A person who publishes a title that—

    (a) relates to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession, and
    (b) only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main content of the title.

    I bet most bloggers would fall in this category.

    What clause 21A sets forth are the circumstances under which a relevant publisher can be charges exemplary damages by the courts. Under Clause 29 and Schedule 5 it would be very difficult to categorizes a blogger as a relevant publisher. This is yet another tempest in a teapot brought on by reporting that only shows the salacious part of a story.

  • Are you aware of what has gone on to result in this regulation? Look it up.

    "The Press" in the UK has systematically abused it's position. It has acted as if it were beyond the law and society as a whole. Having been skating on thin ice for more than a decade, hacking of phones of both the weak and the powerful was the final straw.

    Alas, this law is the unfortunate consequence of their own actions. I would gladly solicit better suggestions to tackle this issue. How do you reign in a press drunk with power
    • by AdmV0rl0n (98366)

      Listen,

      I'm kinda sick of this horseshit. If someone breaks the law, or if a corp or company breaks the law - then_you_already_have_legal_premise. And thus far I see lots of people have been investigated, and have been dealt with.
      Nowhere is this a basis for turning round and eliminating, or wiping out a free press. Why would anyone be unhinged enough to not understand that MP's and 'famous' people have decided to have their pound of flesh and gain revenge. Only this is a revenge on everyone. Its detrimental

    • by Hatta (162192)

      "The Press" in the UK has systematically abused it's position.

      We're not talking about the press. We're talking about individuals like you and me expressing our opinions online, and getting hit with libel charges.

      Having been skating on thin ice for more than a decade, hacking of phones of both the weak and the powerful was the final straw.

      Phone hacking was already illegal. There's no need for a new law.

  • by kawabago (551139) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @02:08PM (#43215483)
    This is a tool a government can now use to remove critical commentary on it's actions. This is like using a stick of dynamite to pop a pimple on your arm, you lose your arm.
  • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @03:03PM (#43216163)
    The news papers who disgraced them selves on so many ways over the last 50 years have finally had that last drink - this is a campaign by the less salubrious elements that work for GMG to try and undermine the results of the levenson inquiry.

    Guido is a stalking horse for Rupert Murdoch

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