Archive for October, 2008

The end of 'light touch' regulation on the net?

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OFCOM Chairman David Currie this week reiterated Andy Burnham’s comments that the time has come to extend content regulation on the net. The question is, what exactly does this mean?


When, during the Q&A at the RTS on 26th September, Burnham said he would like to “tighten up” regulation around online content, people weren’t sure if he was speaking off the cuff or letting slip a growing consensus within government. Following Currie’s comments it now looks like the latter.

This would be consistent not only with the prevalent mood for greater regulation, but with a series of parallel developments dating from pre 2008.

A couple of months back the government accepted ‘in full’ the recommendations of Tanya Byron’s review of children and the media – commissioned in 2007 and published last March (Safer Children in a Digital World). Indeed it was referred to by the DCSF, the DCMS and the Home Office as a ‘landmark report‘ and has led to the establishment of a UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCIS). This body will, amongst other things, develop new self-regulatory standards for online content (backed up by a statutory body).

Next year the wonderfully titled ‘European Audio Visual Media Services Directive’ or AVMS directive for short, will be integrated to British law. This successor to the much traduced Television Without Frontiers directive, will extend certain broadcast regulations to broadcast material on the net (including labelling and restricting access to content that “might be harmful to minors”).

And then there’s the Public Service Broadcasting review. Ostensibly this has little to do with the extension of regulation, but eventually it will have to, if only by default. If future public service broadcasting includes broadcasting on the net (which it will), then OFCOM will need to extend its remit to cover this material.

So regulation proceeds by many fronts – and given the global financial crisis one can assume the government will now be less shy about pushing forward with a regulatory agenda.

For anyone creating and publishing content on the net, watch out, here comes regulation.

Written by Martin Moore

October 16th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

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Does lack of reflection prevent news thinking about its future?

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This week the Independent dropped its media supplement. The paper still prints 7 pages on media, but now it’s within the body of the main paper. Though it may continue to do this, past history suggests this is a prelude to gradually integrating media coverage to the other sections (and almost certainly reducing media coverage as a consequence).

The FT did something similar in 2005. Having experimented with a media supplement on a Tuesday – ‘Creative Business’ – it then ditched this in favour of integrating the content to Tuesday’s paper. After which its media news steadily dwindled.
And only last month Press Gazette moved from a weekly to a monthly – hardly a great format for timely media news. And though supplemented by its website it is difficult to see how, with an audience of 100,000 unique users per month, this will be self-funding, or how it will maintain the depth of its print edition. More likely it will rely increasingly for revenue on spin-offs, and on the annual Press Awards.
So in terms of news about news where does this leave us? Only the Guardian prints a separate weekly media supplement – and has successfully translated the print model online at guardian.co.uk/media. Other papers rely on individual media correspondents (like Dan Sabbagh).
Outside the Guardian the space is partly filled with new news sources online. There are a bunch of good media blogs out there (including Roy Greenslade, Adrian Monck, Martin Belam, Martin Stabe, Charlie Beckett), plus journalism.co.uk and paidcontent.org. And some specialized blogs are doing a better job at scrutinizing media institutions than the press used to (like OfcomWatch).
But without more structured and edited media news and analysis, what are we missing?
- Campaigns? Not sure who will fight the Freedom of Information cause without a weekly Press Gazette
- Space for debate? The Media Guardian’s BBC special this week illustrated the value of gathering different people together on an issue – particularly those who don’t agree with one another
- Identification of media trends? i.e. stuff a little more nuanced than, say, ‘circulation is going down’
- Opportunity to distill and reflect? Making sense of the vast outpouring of material from OFCOM would be a good start
- Hold some of the media to account? Private Eye can only go so far
Perhaps most of all we’re missing the type of reflection that might help the news media work out what it is and where it’s going. The type of reflection, in other words, that might help it define its sustainable future.

Written by Martin Moore

October 7th, 2008 at 12:44 pm

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Why do so few people complain about the press?

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Siobhain Butterworth points to a bizarre anomaly in her Open Door column today:


“in the 18 months since I’ve been readers’ editor [at The Guardian], there have been more than 31,000 emails, faxes and telephone calls to the readers’ editor’s office – 22,500 of them in the past 12 months. To put this figure in perspective the Press Complaints Commission, which deals with complaints about virtually all UK magazines and newspapers, says on its website that in 2007 it dealt with approximately 10,000 inquiries”

Why do so few people complain to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) compared to The Guardian?

The Guardian has a daily circulation of less than 350,000. The rest of the national dailies have a combined circulation of just under 11 million (10.9 based on August 2008 ABC figures). Based purely on circulation, if the PCC were receiving the same proportion of inquiries per reader as The Guardian, this would equate to about 735,638 inquiries each year (22,500 multiplied by 32 times more readers). And this does not even include the regional press or magazines, which make up the bulk of the PCC’s work. Yet the regulator recieves only about 10,000 inquiries. Why is this?

It could be that The Guardian makes people angrier than the rest of the press put together, but that seems unlikely. It could be because people would rather go directly to the newspaper concerned than to an external body like the PCC. This almost certainly accounts for many of the inquiries, but not all.

It could also be because most people don’t know about the PCC. They could be forgiven for this given how little self-promotion the self-regulator does. How much did the PCC spend on advertising in 2007? Nothing (based on the – admittedly very rudimentary – accounts in its annual report). It relied instead on news organisations occasionally placing an ad for the PCC in their papers or on their websites pro bono – something most newspapers are reluctant to do regularly or prominently.

This contrasts with the other media self-regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which spent £500,000 on advertising in 2007 (from its Annual Report). Perhaps not surprisingly the ASA received rather alot more complaints as a result (24,192 complaints in 2007 vs. 4,340 for the PCC. The ASA does not record the number of inquiries received).

The PCC did spend a little on public relations (a proportion of the £141,807 spent on ‘travel, entertainment and public relations’), though based on the annual report, in terms of public engagement this only seems to have amounted to two Open Days.

In 2007 the Press Complaints Commission received 31% complaints more than it had the previous year. This figure was up 70% on ten years previously. But given The Guardian’s figures, it can still rise another thirty times or so before it is more representative of public concerns. 

Written by Martin Moore

October 6th, 2008 at 9:17 am

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Journalisted passes 100,000

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I’m pleased to report that Journalisted.com – the Media Standards Trust website that makes it easier for the public to find out more about journalists and what they write about – last month passed 100,000 unique users for the first time.


105,854 people visited the site in September and, even more gratifyingly, 69.4% of people who visited added the site to their ‘favourites’. This is up from just over 5,000 back in February, shortly after launch.

This puts us on a par with the online readership of Press Gazette (who in August announced that “at more than 100,000 visitors a month our website is already performing better than many other professional sites“, in ‘New Era for your Monthly Press Gazette‘).

It’s reached the point where, if you type a British journalist’s name into Google (whose work is published in the national press), chances are one of the first few results will be that journalist’s page in Journalisted.

How is it being used? Well…

Some journalists are using it as an online CV; some people are using it to track down a story or follow up with a journalist; some people are using it to discuss the merits – or de-merits – of a particular journalist (especially in football forums like the BBC’s 606 – as in, “look at this journalist’s unhealthy obsession with Newcastle FC”); some are using it to check a journalist’s experience and credentials.

Oh, and lots of people have built their own newsroom of favourite journalists whose articles get emailed to them at 7am every morning. The current most popular RSS feed is for Jerome Starkey – a freelance journalist writing from Afghanistan for The Independent, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Sunday Times and the Scotsman (not just for The Sun, as the paper claimed in August).

We’re in the process of adding more information – links to journalists official web pages, links to their blogs, more comments from around the web – and if you have any thoughts about what else would be useful please let me know.

And we’ve got a few exciting spin-offs in the pipeline too… but more of that anon.

Written by Martin Moore

October 1st, 2008 at 12:33 pm

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