Monthly Archives: October 2013

Media Law Lecture: Defamation

My third media law lecture to the first year students at the University of Huddersfield was today. It was all about defamation, with a special section reflecting on the various strands of the Lord McAlpine case. It also took in the new defences included in the 2013 Defamation Act.

You can get the full presentation here.

Al Jazeera Listening Post On Media Ombudsmen

Listening Post, the media programme on Al Jazeera English, did a report on the role of media ombudsmen and readers’ editors earlier this month. And I feature briefly giving my views on the topic towards the end. You can watch the story in full at the Al Jazeera Listening Post website.

Spoiler alert: in general, I think they’re a good idea.

I recorded my bit on my iPad mini, which meant I didn’t even have to leave my living room to do it, although viewers may have been slightly perplexed by the boxes of my daughter’s toys in the background.

The Facebook Beheading Videos Row

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The university’s View from the North blog.

As the controversy about beheading videos on Facebook restarted this week, I wrote a post about it on the University of Huddersfield’s View from the North blog, on which academics write about assorted current events. I’ve reproduced the post below.

WATCHING VIDEOS of people being beheaded is not a pleasant experience.  I remember once mistakenly seeing unedited footage of a beheading in Iraq, as it came into the newsroom of a TV channel I was working for.  The main lesson I took from it was to do what I could to avoid seeing another one.

But if I really wanted to, I could now satisfy my curiosity by visiting Facebook.  The social network has quietly reversed its previous ban on the posting of beheading videos.  Quietly that is, until today, when the change attracted the full attention of the media.  David Cameron even used Twitter, Facebook’s bitter rival, to condemn the decision as “irresponsible”.

It’s not especially controversial to say that beheading videos are bad in general, and that watching them is probably bad for us too.  But the dilemma facing Facebook is more complicated than that.  It comes down to this: is Facebook a publisher, or a platform?  Or put another way: is it more like ITV, or a simple transmitter?

If ITV broadcast the beheading video currently being shared on Facebook, it would be subject to potential sanctions from its regulator, Ofcom.  But in Facebook’s case, there is no regulator.  Nobody can fine it or take away its licence, even though members of the public have accessed the video using Facebook as surely as a theoretical TV viewer might access it using a particular channel.

The argument made by social networks that they are merely platforms for others to post content is fine up to a point.  But where Facebook in particular gets on to crumbly ground is when it refuses to censor beheading videos on one hand, but steps in to enforce its own ‘Community Standards’ on the other.

It rules all sorts of things out of bounds, from fake accounts to pictures of self-harming. You can understand the reasons why. But Facebook knows the more it intervenes, the more it edges away from the transmitter towards the publisher.  That could mean extra responsibilities for proactively policing material across its one billion users, which would be extremely costly in time and money.  Facebook would much rather leave it to us.

 

Media Law Lecture: Crime and Courts

I delivered my second media law lecture to the first years at the University of Huddersfield today. It was on crime and courts, including Contempt of Court and looking at issues including the naming of suspects and cameras in courts.

You can see the full presentation here on Prezi.

Lecture: Introduction To Media Law

As part of my teaching commitments in my new job at the University of Huddersfield, I’m giving the media law lectures during the first year Journalism Principles and Practice module.

The first one was today, and it was a general introduction to the law and the English legal system plus a canter through the PCC and Ofcom regulations. In an attempt to make it more engaging to an audience of mostly teenagers, it included a gratuitous mention of Harry Styles from One Direction.

Here’s the full presentation on Prezi.

Talk About Local ’13

With it being the start of teaching, it’s taken me more than week to get around to blogging about this year’s Talk About Local get-together, which I went to in Middlesbrough at the end of last month.

This annual unconference for people interested in independent local media publishing and related issues has been running since 2009, and I’ve been at all but the first one. This year the event was notably smaller than 2012’s large one in Birmingham (probably a function of that city’s particularly developed hyperlocal sector), but the sessions were arguably more useful for having fewer people in them.

TAL’s Sarah Hartley has gathered together a list of other blogposts already written about the event here, so I’ll just add a couple of my own impressions.

It’s clear to me ‘hyperlocal’ is no longer the buzzword it was in, say, 2009, when I first had the idea to set up my own site in Saddleworth. This, and the fact the event was held in the relatively unusual location of Middlesbrough, probably accounted for the relative lack of presence from mainstream media companies at the event. Ed Walker of Trinity Mirror (and Blog Preston) was there, but nobody from TM’s local Middlesbrough Gazette turned up, despite having apparently been invited individually by TAL.

The view of Middlesbrough from the balcony of MIMA, where the event took place.

The view of Middlesbrough from the balcony of MIMA, where the event took place.

Perhaps some of the lessons of hyperlocal community reporting, as partly outlined in the book Ed recently co-authored, have now been absorbed by traditional media companies and therefore they’re no longer as interested in the sector. Whatever the reason, the mutual distrust between hyperlocal practitioners and newspaper executives, so much a feature of past events like this, was pleasingly almost absent this time.

Instead, the sessions I took part in were rather less about news, and much more about publishing other forms of community information. I was particularly taken with On The Wight’s oral history project, Voices, another string to the remarkable bow that Simon and Sally Perry have built up over the past eight years.

And perhaps it’s just because I’ve gone from mainstream journalist to hyperlocal journalist to academic, but I spotted that the university sector was notably well represented, not least because the Creative Citizens research project helped fund the day.

After the initial rush of interest in hyperlocal media, it seems the sector is now more reflective. But all the activity around the country, now being more thoroughly researched and analysed than ever before, demonstrates it’s not been a passing fad.