Archive for the ‘regulation’ tag

When is a newspaper not a newspaper?

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There is a battle brewing for 2010 around regulation of audio-visual news (also known sometimes as on demand programme services, or TV-on-demand, or video, but more about that later). At the heart of the issue is how the different media regulatory bodies judge when audio visual material is television-like and when it’s not. Only then can they decide who has responsibility for regulating it. Or not. Tricky? You haven’t heard the half of it.

The battle comes to a head next year because:

  • The government is accepting bids for Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) that will step in when ITV steps out of producing regional news (see report on Media Guardian)
  • News groups – including newspapers – are already putting together bids to run IFNCs (e.g. Trinity Mirror, PA and Ten Alps in the North East). Meaning that newspapers will be involved in the production of audio visual material for broadcast on TV and on the web
  • The Audio Visual Media Services Directive comes into force on 19th December 2009, meaning that all audio visual material on the web that is television like will be regulated by ATVOD (the Association for Television on Demand)
  • The PCC’s remit already extends to audio visual material on newspaper websites, such as that produced and broadcast on Trinity Mirror sites (e.g. on Birmingham Mail)
  • Broadcast television news (i.e. the stuff you see on your telly in the living room) will continue to be regulated by Ofcom including, presumably, the regional news produced by the IFNCs on ITV between, for example, 6-6.30pm

These things, you have probably noticed, are not mutually compatible. They add up, at the very least, to a regulatory soup and potentially a regional news car crash (please excuse the multiple mixed metaphors).

Even in the most straightforward future scenario in which: the Conservatives win the next election and maintain commitment to IFNCs (already in doubt), Ofcom accepts a number of bids, and there is a relatively smooth transfer of services at the end of 2010 (alot of ‘ifs’ there) – it is still far from clear how these services would be regulated and by who.

Which is presumably why Baroness Buscombe, the chair of the PCC, has launched a broadside against Ofcom, warning this week that “extension of Ofcom’s powers beyond television could damage freedom of expression” (see ‘Buscombe: Ofcom expansion has risks for free speech‘).

The PCC is presumably concerned that if, say, Trinity Mirror-PA-Ten Alps wins the NE England franchise for IFNC, then the audio visual news it produces will no longer be regulated by the PCC but by Ofcom and, by extension, all video content broadcast on Trinity Mirror newspaper websites will have to adhere to broadcast regulations on impartiality.

This is highly unlikely. For one thing, the AVMS directive, which will apply to the new television-like services online, will not be regulated by Ofcom but by ATVOD, and does not include guidelines about impartiality (though ATVOD does accept Ofcom as a backstop regulator). Moreover, the IFNC is not the same as Trinity Mirror newspapers, and will be distinguishable from them (not least because it will be making programmes for television broadcast).

However, she is right to start to raise questions about audio visual news regulation. From the perspective of the public, who regulates what as regards audio visual material online is already confusing. After the 19th December (when AVMS comes into force) it will be even more so. By the end of next year it will only be lawyers and regulatory nerds who will have a clue as to who is responsible to whom for what. This is not a great situation to end up in.

These issues desperately need a proper public airing in the first half of 2010. Unfortunately, given the forthcoming election, they are liable to get lost in politics until the summer, by which time things will be even more of a muddle than they are now.

Written by Martin Moore

December 4th, 2009 at 4:44 pm

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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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The sprat to catch the mackerel

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It seems like a strange, back door way of dealing with intrusion by journalists.

Nick Mathiason reported in the Observer yesterday that the government plans to regulate private investigators. The catalyst for this, Mathiason suggested, was the inability of police to prosecute two private invesigators who had been collecting personal information – much of it gathered illegally – on behalf of journalists (305 in all), see previous blog.

At the time Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, called for stronger penalties for journalists (up to two years imprisonment).

Unwilling to sanction such draconian measures the government has instead decided bring in laws that enable it to suspend/withdraw licenses from private investigators who break the rules (with consequent constraints on their freedom).

Surely it would make more sense to make self-regulation of news organisations more effective? If the Press Complaints Commission had conducted a proper investigation of the 305 journalists – including disciplining some of them, and had instituted policies designed to prevent them acting in the same way in the future, then we wouldn’t need more laws to police the detectives. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Written by Martin Moore

January 14th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Regulation moves online?

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Ed Richards’ little reported speech last week to the Voice of the Listener and Viewer seems more intriguing in the light of the furore over the screening of Seung Hui Cho’s video.
In the old world, the chief exec of OFCOM said, newspapers could only print still photographs “with little power to shock”. On television, video was shown “in part”, “in context” and “in an OFCOM-regulated environment”. Now you can see video in its entirety, without context, in the unregulated environment of the net.
Though Richards used the example of the footage of Saddam Hussein’s execution he might as well have been talking about the Cho video.
“So we will need to establish” Richards concluded, “some core principles to underpin a new model of content regulation for the longer term”.
Is OFCOM re-thinking it’s ‘hands-off’ approach to the internet?

Written by Martin Moore

April 23rd, 2007 at 5:25 pm

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