MPs criticise Lord Leveson's 'strange' recipe for press regulation which offers no answers on how to control the internetInternet is 'ethical vacuum' where bloggers act with impunity, says report
Highlights growth of social media – but no detailed recommendations
Tory chairman of Commons culture committee says response is 'curious'
Embarrassing naked images of Prince Harry and Kate used as case studiesLeveson claimed parents 'could control' what their children see onlineMail Online was singled out for its 'phenomenal growth'
14:20 GMT, 30 November 2012
Lord Leveson was today criticised for his 'strange' plans to regulate the press which almost entirely ignore how millions of people get their news online.
The inquiry concluded it was almost impossible to regulate the Internet – but did not make any suggestions for how it could fit with his newspaper rules.
Today John Whittingdale, Tory chairman of the Commons culture committee, said it was 'curious' that the judge proposed tight controls on newspapers while doing very little to police new media.
Headache: The widespread publication of
embarrassing photos of the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry on the
Internet were used as examples of how difficult it is to regulate online
Lord Leveson highlighted the incredible growth
of news websites and of social media – and the fact that embarrassing
nude pictures of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge were first
But in a report of almost 2,000
pages, compiled over course of more than a year, he devoted just one
page to the internet and made no recommendations about how online
publications, Twitter and blogs, would fit into a new media regulatory
Mr Whittingdale said: ‘It is curious to bring in very strong controls to prevent newspapers breaking the code when it's so easy for online providers to do so.
‘At a time when more and more people are going online to obtain news and as a result circulation of newspapers is in steady decline, it seems strange to respond by designing a system which does very little to address new media.
Senior Tory MP John Whittingdale said it was 'strange' that Lord Leveson had failed to address the problem of regulating the internet
‘It's a system that is designed for the media of 20 years ago rather than today,' the Telegraph reported.
‘People take the internet more seriously than he [Leveson] gives it credit for. They think that if something looks professions online then it should be reliable. People have to learn how to filter out and recognise material which is properly sourced and reliable.’
Lord Leveson acknowledged that the web was a worldwide medium subject to no central authority and that British websites were competing against foreign news organisations, particularly in America, which were part of no regulatory system.
But he said newspapers should still face more regulation than the internet because parents can 'to some extent' control what their children see online, while they could not control what they see on a newsagent or supermarket shelf.
'It is clear that the enforcement of law and regulation online is problematic,’ said Lord Leveson at the end of his year-long inquiry into press ethics.
'The ability of the UK to exercise legal
jurisdiction over content on Internet services is extremely limited and
dependent on many things which are rarely aligned.'
The judge acknowledged that British
websites are competing against foreign media that are subject to
different rules, and which could make them less competitive – but did
not offer a solution.
The report then suggests there is a 'qualitative difference' between seeing, for example, pictures posted online versus on the front page of a national newspaper, noting 'people will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy'.
Lord Leveson said: 'Putting to one side publications
such as the Mail Online which bind themselves voluntarily to the
Editors’ Code of Practice (and which is legitimately proud of the
world-wide on line readership that it has built up), the internet does
not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less
Online issues, but no solutions: Lord Leveson today unveiled his report into the future regulation of the press but did not address the internet in significant detail
'Some have called it a “wild west” but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’.
He added: 'The problem, however, is not simply what is happening in this country: news and information comes from everywhere around the world.
'Although Mail Online boasts one of the largest online newspaper readerships, the UK has few world class players to rival great global
American information businesses and nothing like the economic muscle.
'All of this provides competition and, in particular, raises profound questions about the ability of any single jurisdiction to set standards which, in a free and open society, can be breached online with the click of a mouse.
'The upshot, therefore, is the need to recognise that burdensome or insensitive regulation would make it even harder for British newspaper groups to survive.'
The judge used the case of Prince Harry, who was photographed nude in August as he played strip pool in a Las Vegas hotel room, to show why the rules are different for newspapers.
The images of the prince were published on TMZ but only the Sun chose to publish them in Britain. The Sun argued at the Leveson inquiry that the images were so widely available online that it was justified to use them in newspapers and their websites too.
But Lord Leveson said: 'There may also be a large number of people who do not want to see the photographs or, even more likely, who do not want their children to see the photographs.
'To some extent, parents can control what their children can access on the internet: if they take their child into a newsagent, garage or supermarket – or past a news stall – the control that they must be entitled to exercise is lost.'
His position was criticised by academics and experts. David Banks, author of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists, said that by paying only cursory attention to the internet, Leveson risked missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
'We're putting a system of regulation in on print newspapers and their websites when the world's changed,” he said.
'The horse hasn't just bolted – there's a whole new horse. The media landscape has changed vastly in the last five years and will do so again in the next five. Leveson is referred to as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and by ignoring the internet, it's missing an opportunity.'
Banks acknowledged Leveson could face opposition if he had proposed regulating the internet, but said he should have at least addressed the issue for online-only publishers.
He told The Guardian: 'The report portrays a lack of understanding. Take using 'it' to refer to the internet: who could claim to speak for 'the internet'” he said.
'If you look at the biggest players on the internet, they comply with the law. In the most part, the media organisations dominating the internet are now accountable – it's not the wild west.'
'Jeff Jarvis, a professor of journalism at New York City University said from America: 'Our first amendment bars legislation over the press. Leveson creates precisely that. No matter how well-meaning the law and venal its objects, this is a sad day for speech. I still worry about where the lines are drawn: who is the press Aren't we all'
Despite highlighting the difficulty of unregulated blogs, Twitter and social networking sites, Leveson noted the dramatic growth of the internet and in particular the tremendous
success of Mail Online, saying that ‘picture would be
incomplete without some reference to its phenomenal growth’.
Topless images: Closer magazine published images of the Duchess of Cambridge, which first appeared online. The case was cited by the Leveson Report as an example of why the internet and newspapers face different rules
His report praised the site’s daily viewing audience of 5.6million people
worldwide and the fact that it is the most popular UK newspaper website,
and most visited newspaper site in the world.
said: ‘The growth of the MailOnline, now the most popular newspaper
website in the world, is also testament to the enduring appeal of the
breadth of content, and in particular, celebrity news, offered by the
Mail newspapers. Viscount Rothermere has described the MailOnline as
having made a “global footprint”.’
But he does not address how news websites that are not linked to a newspaper should fit within his framework for a watchdog underpinned by legislation.
He also fails to address how websites are affected by the laws of contempt, which put restrictions on the reporting of trials and people under arrest.
Blogger Guido Fawkes wrote: ‘On regulating the internet Leveson outlines the difficulties, offers no feasible plan. Good.’
Another major case study was the controversial publication of
embarrassing pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge.
Leveson used the example of the topless photos taken of Kate to show why newspapers are subject to different rules to the internet. He said the fact that images had been 'widespread' online was not sufficient to trump any other claim, because then the Royals – Kate included – would have no protection at all.
The Duchess of Cambridge was photographed sunbathing in a private villa and the images were printed by Closer magazine in France. They circulated widely online but were not printed by any national newspapers or their websites in Britain.
No coverage: The British Press were forced to
refrain from publishing the pictures of a naked Harry – until The Sun
printed the pictures
'The Royal Family are, of course, in the public eye and its members will be held to account for what they do,' the report said.
'But if society wants them also to mix with the public and in the real world, they have to be given the space to do so and their right to have a degree of privacy (less than that available to ordinary members of the public but more than at a level that is vanishingly small) must also be recognised.
'This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional.
'The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity.'
The report into media standards highlighted the difference between websites linked to newspapers, which are regulated by the current Press Complaints Commission, and user-generated content on social networking sites. He said this, together with the global nature of the Internet and the instantaneous publication of material, contributed to a 'complex picture'.
News website The Huffington Post
had voluntarily signed up to the existing Press Complaints Commission code, which he receommdends overhauling, but he said the rules do
not fully work for online.
He said there were problems caused by 'the location of the service provider; the location of the servers on which material is held; and international agreements and treaties.'
His report quoted Colin Crowell, Head of Global Public Policy at Twitter, as saying it is both technologically and physically impossible for Twitter to pre-moderate the user-generated content it hosts – a markedly similar position to that of Google and Microsoft.
The report noted that for Twitter to remove a defamatory message that was re-tweeted, a court order would be needed 'in relation to every relevant tweet by every individual unique user who repeated that defamatory content'.
Similarly, the report said, any material removed from a UK Google search might still be found through Google.com if it was not in breach of American law.
In order to have material removed from searches in multiple jurisdictions, a legal application would have to be made in each location.
‘Much as Twitter requires a court order in respect of each individual user, Google require such an order in relation to individual URLs,’ it said.
It acknowledged that UK legislation from UK court is sometimes ignored because it is ‘unenforceable’.
It went on: ‘Some content providers headquartered in the United States will also strenuously defend rights to free speech under American law and indeed may themselves be at risk of prosecution if they remove allegedly defamatory or potentially illegal content ahead of a court decision.’
He wrote: 'Certainly, the very nature of the internet does not lend itself to regulation. It is a global network made up of a very large number of interconnected, largely autonomous networks, operating from many different legal jurisdictions without any obvious central governing body.'
But he insisted there was scope for websites to cooperate with UK law enforcement in 'cases of obvious criminality'.
He wrote: 'During the rioting in the summer of 2011, both RIM Blackberry and Twitter worked closely with police and other enforcement agencies to identify those using social media and communications networks to perpetrate or help commit criminal acts.
'In 2011, Lancashire County Council also worked with Twitter to identify and bring prosecutions against individuals suspected of tax avoidance.'
Despite drawing distinctions drawn between the press and the internet, Leveson suggests that large publishers – even if they are online-only – should be covered by his regulations if they provide 'press-like services'.
The report states: 'It is more difficult to be clear about what types of online service clearly should be inside or outside of a regulatory system. However, it would clearly be appropriate that websites providing news coverage aimed substantially at a UK audience, with a substantial stable audience should be covered by any new regulatory system.' But he does not give any further suggestions.