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Online publications face regulation under Hunt proposals

Online publications and blogs are to be regulated under radical proposals by the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission.

Lord Hunt, PCC chairman since October, told Exaro: “At the moment, it is like the Wild West out there. We need to appoint a sheriff.”

Many online publications are bound to see his plans as restricting the freedom offered by the web compared with traditional forms of publishing.

Hunt also revealed that he wants to scrap the Press Complaints Commission and replace it with a new regulator – more independent of newspapers. He was speaking, ahead of a meeting with editors tomorrow morning (Thursday), in an interview with Exaro.

His initial plan for online media is to invite bloggers who write on current affairs to volunteer to be regulated by the replacement body for the PCC.

Our site will simply say, ‘We strive for the truth’ 

Paul Staines, who runs the Guido Fawkes blog

They would be able to carry a ‘Kitemark’, showing that they abide by the new body’s code of practice. They would lose the ‘Kitemark’ if complaints against them were repeatedly upheld. But this regulatory oversight would mean bloggers having to pay a fee to the new body, which would be funded by the publications that it regulates.

Hunt said: “I want accuracy to be the new gold standard for blogs. Once they have agreed to be accurate, everything would follow from that. I would like to see a ‘Kitemark’ on the best blogs so the public can trust what they read in them.”

He made it clear that, unlike newspapers and magazines, he wanted “light-touch regulation” of the blogosphere, which he hoped would be acceptable to leading bloggers.

Paul Staines, who runs the Guido Fawkes blog, told Exaro that he would not be taking part in the proposed scheme. He said: “Our site will simply say, ‘We strive for the truth.’”

As an online publication, Exaro does not come within the PCC’s remit. But it is unusual in online publications in including in contracts with its journalists an obligation that they must follow the PCC’s code of practice.

Hunt will present his proposals to overhaul the regulator when he gives evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry next year.

The PCC, which describes itself as an “independent self-regulatory body”, considers complaints about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines, together with their websites. It enforces a code of practice agreed by the industry, and deals with accuracy, privacy in reporting, and how journalists behave while news gathering.

Bloggers, who are often accused of not being professional journalists, may be amused by one aside made by Hunt during his interview. He recounted how he discovered that one “reputable and responsible editor” was not capable of writing any shorthand.

“This came up at a meeting [about training], and I could not believe it!” Hunt declined to name the editor.

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