Thursday 15 December 2011

Let's go fly a kite ... Lord Hunt asks Mrs Angry to behave herself, and to pay him for suggesting it

the Wild West frontier of the blogosphere
Broken Barnet, naked blogging, & flying the kite, in accordance with new PCC proposals

worried about outlaws: Lord Hunt. photo credit: PCC

Yes. Well. Mrs Angry was trying not to write any blogposts today, for various reasons, but she just cannot help herself, and this one, especially, just had to be written.

You may recall that recently fellow blogger Mr Mustard was rather startled to find out that , without his knowledge, he had been targeted by the London Borough of Broken Barnet earlier this year in one of its increasingly desperate attempts to end the relentless scrutiny of the borough's citizen journalists.

Barnet Council tried to convince the Information Commissioner that the naughty Barnet bloggers were unregistered data processors and therefore, of course, liable to criminal prosecution and potentially enormous fines for breach of the Data Protection Act.

The ICO, unsurprisingly, took a different view, and reminded Barnet in no uncertain terms of the need to observe the right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. The idiotic Tory cabinet and witless senior management team of the London Borough of Broken Barnet had apparently never heard of the concepts of freedom of speech, or indeed of human rights, and had to have these radical ideas patiently explained to them by the commissioner not once, but twice.

This story, it is true to say, caused utter disbelief in many quarters: academics, politicians, senior legal experts, and even members of the House of Lords (and we don't mean Barnet Libdem Councillor Lord Palmer) were horrified at what was generally seen not only as an assault on freedom of expression but clearly a totally disproportionate act by a local authority so obsessively fearful of the agenda of transparency and accountability that the coalition government states are the keystone of their localism policy for local government.

While this story was breaking Mrs Angry also wrote about an interview in the Guardian with, oh, another member of the House of Lords, Lord Hunt, the new Chair of the Press Complaints Commission:

David Hunt praised the professionalism of veteran journalists such as our friend, Mr David Hencke, and was quoted in this article as claiming that his primary concern in his new post was not going to be the regulation of the tabloid press. He stated:

..."I think the greater challenge is with the bloggers, whether it's Guido Fawkes or whoever."

This seemed to Mrs Angry to be an absolutely extraordinary thing to say, only three days after James Murdoch had had his second grilling by the House of Commons Select Committee investigating the widespread and utterly scurrilous practice of phone hacking by tabloid journalists over a period of many years.

Guido Fawkes reported the next day that Hunt had clarified his remarks and had intended to make the point that he wanted to protect freedom of speech, and to 'stave off statutory regulation' of the blogosphere.

Yesterday on the recently launched 'Exaronews' website, the revered Mr Hencke published an interview with Lord Hunt:

in which, yet again, the new PCC Chair expressed some rather regrettable views on the subject of the regulation of the blogosphere. He told Hencke:

" ... it is like the Wild West out there. We need to appoint a sheriff.”

The article reports that Hunt wants to scrap the PCC and replace it with a new body which will be an effective regulator of the press - and other areas too such as the blogosphere and the internet:

"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.

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."

Er: what?

Mrs Angry wonders if the new Chair of the PCC actually knows what a blog is?

Clearly he is familiar with the knavish right wing gossip columnist Guido Fawkes, but Guido is a law unto himself, and is hardly typical of the wider blogosphere. Does Hunt have any clear understanding of what the rest of us are up to?

The new Chair of the PCC has a political background, of course: he held various ministerial roles during the reign of terror of Margaret Thatcher, including, oh dear me, a stint as Coal Minister during the Miners' Strike of 1984: he then served in John Major's cabinet. He is not a journalist, and has no direct experience of Fleet Street, or the mainstream media, and one imagines he is hardly familiar with the rise of social media and its growing influence within the broader political debate.

Lord Hunt's remarks betray a patronising attitude towards the huge number of bloggers who now write about politics and 'current affairs', however you would define that in the context of regulation.

How dare he suggest that we are all in need of regulation, and that the idea of striving for a standard of accuracy is a concept that needs to be imposed upon us? Who is he to define what we may or may not write about, and to impose his standards of acceptability on everyone else? We are all entitled to express our varying opinions in whatever way we choose, whether by reporting news, or investigating an issue of public concern, or simply holding our elected representatives up to well deserved ridicule in the time honoured fashion of the British tradition of caricature and satire.

As regards to the need for regulation, this is anti-libertarian nonsense too: anyone who writes and publishes material is subject to the same laws and limits of acceptability as anyone else - no further legislation or regulation is needed. Are we no longer allowed to engage in free debate or express a personal opinion? Is Lord Hunt in need of a reminder of the European Convention on Human rights? Is he keen to set a new standard of acceptable conversation in pubs, or in the workplace, or in personal emails, or texts, or anywhere else where debate or the expression of opinion on politicial issues or current affairs might take place? No, one would hope not because that would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? As ridiculous as these new proposals.

It never fails to amuse Mrs Angry that Conservative politicians, so fiercely protective of their own right to freedom from regulation and bureaucracy, inevitably fail to see the need to protect the freedom of others to be different from themselves, and to hold and express opinions that diverge from their own.

Bloggers are labelled by him as amateurs, not as worthy as 'real' journalists, you know, the ones that used to work for the News of the World, or those that write page after page of drivel for the Daily Mail, yet they are now to be expected to observe professional standards as laid down in a code of practice by the new PCC. Furthermore, even though they are not paid for their work, they will be asked to pay for the privilege of carrying his new Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Mrs Angry can assure Lord Hunt that no one with any intelligence will want to read anything written by a blogger sporting one of these code of conduct kitemarks: it will be an indication to the blog reading public of a guarantee of tedium and lack of originality, and will be avoided like the plague in favour of the thousands of interesting, innovative and well written pieces by independently minded bloggers who do not want or need the permission or intervention of any regulatory body, thank you very much.

Mrs Angry would also suggest to his lordship that as a member of an undemocratically appointed chamber of legislation, and the lucky recipient of a post whose appointment process would appear to be something of an arcane mystery, he might be better off not telling everyone else what to do, think, or say with such authority.

And last of all, before he takes it upon himself to badmouth the British blogosphere, he might like to remember that despite the lack of regulation, no blogger has ever been accused of such gutless and appallingly distasteful behaviour as the hacking of the voicemails of a murdered teenage girl, or the families of the victims of terrorism, or the systematic intrusion into the lives of thousands of other individuals whose privacy has been assaulted by supposedly professional and self regulating journalists over the last couple of decades. If and when this open sore on the body of the British press has been healed, it might then be time to start debating the perceived irresponsibility of the blogosphere, but not yet.

The reason that blogging is a flourishing medium is in no small part due to the contraction of the traditional press, and the decline of proper investigative journalism. It is also directly as a result of the increasing sense of cynicism and frustration felt by our society for the political deadlock in which we now find ourselves, with three parties almost indistinguishable from each other, and all equally tainted with an image of self serving opportunism, as a legacy of the expenses scandal and the moral questions raised by the Blair years and the Iraq War.

Blogging offers a voice to people who have been silenced by their own lack of opportunity of expression: it is a spontaneous, naturally democratic phenomenon that will follow its own course, and all the signs are that newly appointed regulator Lord Hunt has completely failed to understand what it is, and where it is going.


There is an interesting debate here in the comments following an article on the Liberal Conspiracy website, including one by David Hencke.

Now excuse me: in the middle of a game of poker with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and them Clanton boys. (*just amended historical inaccuracy re Gunfight at the OK Corral, just in case Lord Hunt is calling in).


Mr Mustard said...

Blithering out of date old fool ( no the Lord, Mrs A ).

If Bloggers get out of line they get taken to Court. Simple.

Our self control far exceeds that of newspapers any day.

baarnett said...

Using "caricature and satire"? You, Mrs A?

Anyway, even now, Robert Rams is brown-nosing and trying to register his strange organ, with his Lordship, and wants a kite-mark, after admittedly having to find out what one meant.

In fact, we could ask the whole political leadership, one by one, to register for a kite mark, on, so we knew they were of "renowned integrity and quality".

Do we think Brian is of "renowned integrity and quality", for instance? Well, if he got a kite mark, we'd know for sure!

Mrs Angry said...

Indeed, Mr Mustard, self restraint and discretion are the qualities for which this blog is renowned.

And baaarnett, you are quite right: the use of caricature and satire is shameful, vulgar, and completely unnecessary, which is why Mrs Angry finds the deployment of such methods to be utterly abhorrant.

Mrs Angry does have her own patented system of appraisal of councillors, if you have been paying attention, baarnett. Brian Coleman has refused to pay the subscription to the Broken Barnet regulator and is therefore being ignored, a sanction with qualified success, as Lord Hunt will shortly find in relation to the outlaws of the Wild West blogosphere.

MickeyN said...

Lord Hunt? Once again, you clever cockneys are using rhyming slang, no?