Nick Booth left a Press Recognition Panel consultation under the impression that non profit hyperlocals were going to be exposed by the new regulation system. Then legal experts suggested he’d got it wrong. So which is it? In a special post cross-published from Podnosh, Nick tries to tease out a complex law and ask: ‘when someone sues now, who pays?’.
Last week I spent a couple of hours at a consultation in Birmingham run by the Press Recognition Panel, which is the regulator set up to oversee the creation of (a?) new press regulator(s) following the Leveson Inquiry and the Royal Charter. (I know this has already got a bit “what?”, but stick with me.)
I was there because I’m interested in what it means for hyperlocal websites (which we have helped people set up over a number of years). Especially the implications for those run for the love of their community, sites like B31voices or WV11 – not run for the money. Talk About Local has already questioned whether hyperlocals fall within Leveson and I wanted to be clear one way or the other…
So this is how my thinking has evolved…. if you find an asterix next to an assertion I’m not 100% sure this is right.
This is a disaster!
This is what I picked up from the Press Recognition Panel:
- Under the new law a publisher is someone who publishes either online or in print on a site which has two or more authors. So according to this a publisher would include a number of no-pay hyperlocals.
- In the autumn the law of how a libel action is brought will change for publishers.
- If you are part of a recognised Royal Charter-approved press complaints body complaints against you will come through that and will be resolved through mediation. If someone does sue you they will be required to pay both their’s and your legal fees*.
- If you are not part of a recognised complaints body people can sue you and you will be required to pay both yours and their legal fees.
This leaves two-or-more-author hyperlocals that are not in it for the money very exposed.
The conversation, involving myself, Dave Harte and others, at this consultation included various thoughts that I took down in note form…
The mere threat of bankruptcy can stop people publishing, Does this mean we need a hyperlocal regulator to provide this protection to hyperlocals? Who pays for it, do the hyperlocals need to pay for it? How to create one as cheaply as possible? Could there be a cooperative? Are hyperlocals aware of their potential exposure?
This also seemed to have implications for student journalism and perhaps even for sites like Birmingham Newsroom – blogs published by public services. Two or more people writing them? Then they are publishers.
The two people from the Press Recognition Panel were very clear that hyperlocals fall within the change of law.
Oh hang on. Phew, I think…
That was last Wednesday evening. I left worried about the future of hyperlocals…
David was talking about other changes in libel law and I shared what I thought I had learnt from the night before – and my concerns about it.
Someone else in the session looked a bit more closely at this. Kelly Quigley-Hicks dug out the legislation and (I think) established that the understanding I (and others) had gleaned from the consultation was wrong.
The hyperlocals I’m concerned about are exempt… this is what she writes:
“What is the definition of a ‘publisher’? If you have more than two people publishing news-related content, you may be defined as a publisher and be sued for libel as outlined in the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
“Exceptions include public bodies and charities publishing “news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its functions.” and multi-author blogs that come under “microbusiness” definitions.”
Checking her working I find the law says “exclusions from the definition of relevant publishers” include:
Public bodies and charities
6 (1) A public body or charity that publishes news-related material in connection with the carrying out of its functions.
(2) “Public body” means a person or body whose functions are of a public nature.
Company news publications etc
7 A person who publishes a newsletter, circular or other document which—
(a) relates to a business carried on by the person, and
(b) only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the person’s business.
8 (1) A person who, in carrying on a micro-business, publishes news-related material where either condition A or condition B is met.
(2) Condition A is that the news-related material is contained in a multi-author blog.
(3) Condition B is that the news-related material is published on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main activities of the business.
(4) “Micro-business” means a business which—
(a) has fewer than 10 employees, and
(b) has an annual turnover not exceeding £2,000,000.
(5) The number of employees is to be calculated as follows—
(a) find the total number of hours per week for which all the employees of the business are contracted to work;
(b) divide that number by 37.5.
(6) “Employee” has the same meaning as in the Employment Rights Act 1996 (see section 230 of that Act).
(7) “Multi-author blog” means a blog that contains contributions from different authors.
So this appears to mean that most hyperlocals are not included.
So questions to resolve….
- Is this right, are most hyperlocals excluded? And therefore don’t need to join a press complaints body?
- If this is right what is the libel law that now applies to hyperlocals (who pays the legal bills)?
- Does this exemption apply to student publishing online as part of their course? After all universities are not micro-businesses.
Kelly found this November 2014 report from English PEN, which suggest others think there is confusion…