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    Thursday, 27 September 2007

    Trelford on the PCC and the D-A Notice

    In an interesting recent rumination, Donald Trelford - erstwhile editor of the Observer and currently columnist for the Independent - listed a number of "praiseworthy developments" at the PCC but highlighted its continuing susceptibility to calls for its demise. His prescription: embrace change don't fight it.

    Another interesting point made by Trelford in recent weeks concerns the D-notice system. Quoting from a piece in the Independent: "Many people, even on newspapers, are surprised that the D-notice system still exists, having assumed that it died with the collapse of Communism. Yet the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, consisting of editors and civil servants, functions much as it ever did. Now a history of the D-notice system, right back to its origins in 1912, is being written by its former Secretary, Admiral Nick Wilkinson. A prevalent myth about the system is that governments can "slap a D-notice" (now called a or D-A Notice) on a story and thereby censor it... In reality it's an advisory system, which editors can choose to ignore. I had to put some Americans straight on that one recently, when they consulted me about a feature film they were planning... I doubt if my words of warning will stop them. "

    Advertising salvation: Channel 4 carries first mainstream religious advert

    Lest it pass unnoted, earlier this month Channel 4 carried its first ever advertisement placed by a mainstream religious group (1,2). The advert promoted the Alpha course (it can be found on YouTube). Now, can the promulgation of religious viewpoints be considered 'political'...

    OFT to review the ITV CRR remedy

    ITV has persuaded the OFT to review the remedy that was imposed on the broadcaster in order to secure the merger of Carlton and Granada (1,2,3). The announcement of the review had been trailed for some time (1,2), and can have come as no surprise.

    For further comment on the review, see:

    - Brand Republic: Politics of the media: Will Michael Grade win his battle over CRR? - Stephen Foster
    - Media Week: What is the case for reform of CRR? - Emma Barnett
    - Daily Telegraph: Should ITV be unleashed from its advertising straitjacket? - Mathew Horsman

    Catch-up (August): PCC makes first internet video ruling

    In mid-August, the PCC proffered its first ruling on the use of a video on a newspaper's internet site (1,2). In a case echoing that of teacher Angela Mason (1,2), a child took mobile phone video footage of the behaviour of her peers which was subsequently released to a number of newspapers. The Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mirror ran the story with captures from the footage on which pupils' identities had been obscured, but the Hamilton Advertiser uploaded the uncensored footage to its website. The PTA complaint to the PCC alleged breach of privacy and damage to the school's reputation (without proper checks having been made by the newspaper); the newspaper contended a public interest justification.

    The PCC's decision was something of a curate's egg for the newspapers concerned. It accepted that there was a public interest dimension, but concluded that the Advertiser's failure to take steps to conceal pupils' identity or to obtain proper consent from those filmed outweighed this argument (see here). Separate claims against the other newspapers was rejected as identities had been concealed (here and here).

    The case was especially interesting as the first case involving online video content since the PCC's determination in February of this year that the regulation of such content should be left to it rather than placed in the hands of broadcast regulators as had been mooted by the EC Commission.

    Catch-up (August): BBC to sell off BBC Resources

    The BBC has decided to sell-off its resources subsidiary (1,2,3). Such a move had previously been forestalled after a strike-averting agreement with unions. This pact was to hold until January 2007, when, unsurprisingly, it was quickly announced that the sale was back on. It has now been set rolling. The relationship between the BBC and its commercial services has been one focus of concern for the BBC Trust.

    Catch-up (August): what a DRaMa!

    The Technology Guardian carried a couple of interesting notes re developments in the copyright technology and DRM world in mid-August. The first on copyright recognition software, and the second on questionable dealing by Google re DRM-protected video clips.

    Wednesday, 26 September 2007

    Catch-up (August): JK Rowling no Princess Caroline

    In early August, Joanne Murray (aka JK Rowling) lost her case against a picture agency which had been aimed at protecting the privacy of her child. According to the Guardian, a picture showing Rowling, her husband, and their son appeared in the Sunday Express magazine to illustrate an article about her approach to motherhood and family life. While the newspaper settled the claim, the picture agency involved had contested it. Mr Justice Patten contended that a right to control the use of images taken in public places when not on 'public' business would amount to the accordance of a publicity right that was purportedly not recognised in English law. Of course, this is almost precisely what one might have thought has been bestowed by the Strasbourg jurisprudence. The case is to proceed to the Court of Appeal, where we might expect the next stage in the faltering development of the tort of misuse of private information - or at the very least a right good barney!!

    Catch-up (August): Darth Murdoch and the evil empire

    A topic on which I've strenously avoided comment here in protest at the outpourings of righteous self-regard among newspaper commentators is that of the ultimately successful purchase by News Corporation of Dow Jones (Wall Street Journal). A couple of snippets did tickle me however: first, the fact that one member of the Board established to vouchsafe editorial independence for the WSJ was deemed a News Corp accolyte on the strength of tenuous - but nonetheless terrible - links, and secondly, Murdoch's - justified - complaint that he had been subjected to lambast of degrees generally reserved for genocidal tyrants (and here). Its hard not to agree that commentators sometimes - or almost invariably in respect of Murdoch and his scions - get things just a tad out of proportion.

    Wednesday, 19 September 2007

    Catch-up (August): C4 criticised for providing a platform for extremism

    In early August, Channel 4 faced criticism for the decisions to allow extremist Islamists to air their views in Dispatches programmes broadcast in January and August (1,2,3). The Director of the latter programme defended the decision on the basis that "journalism has a duty to reflect and not condemn the views of [such] people" and that "in denying them a voice, it is contributing to the radicalisation of British Muslims". Complaints were made to the police, and an investigation as to whether any incitement to hatred had occurred (perpetrated by either the interviewees or the programme makers themselves) (1,2). It also emerged, perhaps strangely, that the police and Crown Prosecution Service were to make a complaint to Ofcom (1). Channel 4 was robust in its defence of the programmes and criticism of the police (1). It was supported by the Conservative Party among others (1,2).

    Later in August, Channel 4 was ordered by the court to hand over unbroadcast footage from the second programme to police in aid of an investigation into Abu Mohammed (the radical in question) (1).

    Catch-up (August): the residual damage of the Danish cartoons furore

    At the beginning of August, the Financial Times carried an interesting reflection on the aftermath of the Danish cartoons row borne out of a report of a meeting between nine leading cartoonists.

    Tuesday, 18 September 2007

    Catch-up (August): Lords committee critical of BBC Trust

    In early August, the House of Lords Communications Committee published its first report - that on the creation of the BBC Trust and specifically the manner in which the current Chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, was appointed (1). The Committee was disturbed that the appointment had not been subject to parliamentary oversight nor debated in Parliament (a democratic deficit that it hoped would be reduced by Government in the longer term); they were also conducting their review in the wake of Michael Grade's defection to ITV.

    Catch-up (August): defamation statistics confirm the trans-atlantic convoy

    Statistics on defamation actions in the year to the end of May 2007 released by Sweet & Maxwell indicated that 30% of cases were brought by 'celebrities' to defend their reputations, and that of these a significant number involved (predominantly US) forum-shoppers. The research also indicated that 13% of all defamation cases were related to allegations of links to terrorism. A further purported trend - the increase in online defamation - was mentioned, although apparently not borne out by the statistics on reported cases.

    Catch-up (August): mobile tv in the doldrums

    The query as to the future uptake of mobile tv- aired recently by Anthony Lilley - was filled out in an article published in the TechnologyGuardian. This highlighted research indicating a paucity of numbers of people accessing tv services over mobile platforms in the UK; it also cited sufficient counter-evidence, however, to leave the debate open for now. The article also noted the decision of the EC to encourage further uptake of the DVB-H technology.

    Wednesday, 12 September 2007

    Catch-up (August): more on trust and deception in broadcasting

    Early August witnessed the lingering aftermath of the the melee of developments on the trust in broadcasting. The primary matter was that concerning the Paul Watson documentary on the demise of an Alzheimer's sufferer (Malcom and Barbara: Love's Farewell), and the 'misrepresentation' concerning the final moments of the piece (1,2). ITV was heavily criticised for its role amid mutual recriminations between the broadcaster and film-maker, while it transpired that the truth as to what the final scenes depicted emerged on a Times weblog.

    The really big noise in this respect in August came at the Edinburgh television festival, at which Jeremy Paxman - in the 2007 McTaggart Lecture (see here for clips and here for the transcript) - offered an indictment of the events and practices that had drawn broadcasting into the mire over the summer months. He considered that, "...there is a problem. Potentially, it is a very big problem. It has the capacity to change utterly what we do, and in the process to betray the people we ought to be serving. Once people start believing we’re playing fast and loose with them routinely, we’ve had it", and then went to offer what he labelled "a manifesto, a statement of belief" (for more, see the speech itself.

    Of course, there's also been much commentary on what Paxman had to say:
    - After the trust has gone - executives reflect on a turbulent year for TV - Chris Tryhorn
    - The BBC has squandered trust. But we will win it back - Mark Thompson
    - 'We need some proportionality: Ramsay is not the first person to lie about a fish' - Jana Bennett
    - Tough lessons for a BBC going through tough times - Observer leader
    - Will Paxman's speech change anything? - Steve Hewlett
    - We can trust the BBC - if only they'd stop talking about it - Peter Preston
    - Trust with the BBC is betrayed - David Elstein
    - Froth away, Paxo - but it’s viewers who will put TV in order - Rod Liddle
    - Give us some roughage in our TV diet - Paul Hoggart
    - Television's Faustian pact - Georgina Born
    - Agenda Benders - John Cole

    ... and finally, Paxman in conversation with John Humphries on Today.

    Wednesday, 5 September 2007

    Catch-up (July): trust and deception in broadcasting

    The key issue in the media policy context to have arisen over the summer months has been the impact of revealed deceptions / misrepresentations / falsehoods in programming - exacerbated by the premium rate calls scandals - on public faith and trust in broadcasting and broadcasters. Others have written much important comment on this theme and the following consists largely of links to such consideration (Adrian Monck has been typically incisive, and I understand that he is soon to publish a monograph on the topic, while Polis will be hosting a debate towards the end of this month).

    Before listing useful links to developments on this theme drawn from July, its worth noting that there is a sense of typically ritualistic self-flagellation in some broadcasters' commentary. At least as regards the BBC, it is no doubt important that misdeeds are publically acknowledged, contrition demonstrated, and new leafs obviously turned. However, by being so loudly self-critical, such apologia open the door to outside criticism that is perhaps self-interested and/or over-strenuous. I can't help but call to mind the long-standing relative statistics on public trust in different media and how the traditional distinction between different forms must stick in the craw of print journalists.

    In one of our last posts before our prolonged sojourn, we noted briefly the emerging story of the Queen, the photographer, and the non-existent royal tantrum. This event kicked off the whole shebang; for some basic elucidation, see here, here, here and here. Subsequently, it emerged that RDF had shown the correct footage to the palace, while providing the doctored version to everyone else, including foreign customers. Both the BBC and ITV froze future commissioning from RDF (1,2), with predictable consequences for the company's share price (1,2). Stephen Lambert of RDF admitted personal responsibility (1,2) after initial mootings indicated either that the footage was not for airing or comment (when it palpably was) or laid the blame on the much-erring 'junior researcher'.

    The fiasco prompted the BBC to launch a more general review of the extent of deception in its programming (1,2) and an ethics training programme - Safegarding Trust - for staff (1), amid fears that there existed a systemic, perhaps necessary culture of trickery and misrepresentation (1,2,3). The BBC Trust issued a statement in which it criticised the editorial failings at the BBC and indicated that on receipt of the Director-General's final report in the autumn it would consider if any additional and separate measures are necessary. For his part the Director-General, Mark Thompson, sent an email to all staff lambasting breaches (several staff were suspended on this account) and also published a statement announcing the creation of an editorial standards board. For some commentators, the series of events raised important 'boundary' issues for regulators (1).

    Through the BBC review, and by other means, a number of other instances of deception across British TV quickly came to light, augmenting the general sense that broadcasting in toto was more about manipulation than representation, more art than science. Notable among the other instances were the allegation that survivalist Bear Grylls stayed in hotels (1,2) and faked a grizzly encounter (1) during the making of his Ch4 series; 'f*****g action man', Gordon Ramsay, misrepresented a fish used in his Ch4 cooking programme as having been speared by himself when they had been caught by a guide (1,2), and 'live' footage from Ch5 series Killer Shark Live was found to have been pre-recorded (1).

    It is difficult not to agree that such instances are hardly worth writing home about. Where there may be more of an issue, of course, is in cases where either the monarchy (?) or news and politics - serious issues - are involved. One such instance of manipulation in these areas was uncovered in July when the Treasury complained that a Newsnight piece on attempts to secure an interview with Gordon Brown had mis-sequenced footage (1,2) to imply that a press office official had sought deliberately and disproportionately to frustrate efforts (although the BBC maintained that only the chronology and not the meaning of the piece was distorted, an apology was subsequently offered). Another instance which was just emerging as the month drew to a close concerned the 'dying moments' of a man suffering from Alzheimer's depicted in a documentary by Paul Watson (1,2,3).

    Of course, the existence of such a culture of deception was contested, both as regards the BBC specifically and with respect to TV more generally. For some, any such fraud as had occurred was 'a long way from Conrad Black', while for others it resulted from 'a mixture of hubris and hysteria among young television programme makers'. Most commentators preferred a severely critical take (Rod Liddle, Michael Grade, Ray Snoddy).

    Two general strands of commentary also resulted from the deception rows. First, the impact of the disclosures on trust in broadcasters, and the BBC in particular, and secondly, discussion of the future for the BBC. As regards levels of trust in and credibility of broadcasting, a survey conducted by ICM for the Guardian indicated, unsurprisingly, that trust in the BBC had diminished. This point was emphasised by many commentators (1). BBC executives were reportedly given one year to rectify matters (1).

    On the latter theme, there was much reiteration of the importance of the BBC (Simon Jenkins,Greg Dyke et al), albeit with some desire for it to return to its 'core mission' (Alice Thomson). Howard Davies (incidentally, Director of the LSE) considered that the trust problems highlighted weaknesses in the governance arrangements created for the BBC. This view was subject to predictable criticism (1,2).

    And the most important lesson of the whole piece?... lemmings, according to Marina Hyde, don't commit mass copy-cat suicides (!!) - the impression that they do was created in 1958 by a Disney documentary called White Wilderness, after filmmakers herded them off a precipice to enliven what was panning out as a rather dull study. Other lowpoints in the recent history of fakery were also pointed out in the Guardian.

    Tuesday, 4 September 2007

    Catch-up (July): EC 'selects' champion mobile tv technology

    On July 18, Vivianne Reding - the EC Commissioner for the Information Society and Media - announced that the Commission would promote a specific technology for use in mobile tv, and published a Communication on Strengthening the Internal Market for Mobile TV (see here for FAQs). The Commission considers that a common technical standard will allow for the attainment of critical mass in cases for business development. In the face of the risk of fragmentation, it highlighted the DVB-H technology as the strongest contender for future terrestrial Mobile TV deployment in Europe. The Commission also recognised the need for appropriate radio spectrum resources, and asserted that a coordinated approach to the attribution of spectrum at European level is essential to reap the benefits of switchover and to allow for new, innovative services to be deployed across the Union.

    In terms of tangible action, the Commission promised to promote consensus around DVB-H as a common open standard; to include DVB-H in the official list of standards of the EU; to monitor the implementation by the Member States, possibly making DVB-H mandatory; to identify best practices for national authorisation regimes, and to develop an EU digital dividend strategy.

    While some commentators have expressed little surprise at this move (certainly it has been trailed), others have considered it strange (1). A general preference has been expressed, at least in the UK, for market as opposed to political determination of successful technologies. Moreover, writing in the Guardian, Anthony Lilley concludes that an apparent lack of consumer interest in mobile tv (as opposed to mobile video) may soon leave the debate seeming redundant and quaint.

    Catch-up (July): illegal downloads of copyrighted music

    An annual survey conducted by Entertainment Media Research suggested that the illegal downloading of music from the Internet is currently at an all-time high. This factoid must make all the more painful for artists the Government's reported refusal to adopt a more vigorous negotiating position on their behalf at the EC in order to extend the period of protection (and hence royalties) from 50 years.

    Catch-up (July): developments regarding court reporting

    July also saw a number of important events in the area of court reporting. First, and not surprisingly, the Court of Appeal quashed the permanent injunction imposed earlier this year on the reporting of details of documentation of White House meetings passed to an MP. The two men involved in leaking the information were jailed for breach of the Official Secrets Act in May. The challenge to the injunction had been brought by a group of newspapers - see here for the judgment itself (Times Newspapers Ltd & Others v R [2007] EWCA Crim 1925).

    Secondly, in an article in the Guardian, John Battle - head of compliance at ITN - commented on how the 21/7 terrorism trials evidenced an important shift in the televising of prosecutions and related evidence attendant on the agreement of the 2005 protocol on cooperation between the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the media (the aim of which is to see greater openness in the reporting of criminal proceedings through effective mutual cooperation). Appropriately, the footnote cites Battle's own role in establishing this protocol. The article highlighted the fact that video evidence seen by the jurors was also made available for broadcast on news programmes in a way that would not formerly have been the case. The new approach reflects the fact that members of the public sitting in the public gallery would have access to the footage, and that therefore in the standard case there could be no objection in principle to the conveying of this evidence to a wider public by the media. Of course, particular aspects of evidence may be required to be treated with greater sensitivity, while some footage - as in this case - may be released earlier to the media where to do so may assist the investigation. Battle also extrapolates from this movement in the direction of open justice to moot the benefits of televising the courts more generally...

    Finally, as witnessed in previous high profile trials, there was an observable contrast between UK and US approaches to commentary by jurors in the aftermath of the trial of Conrad Black, former owner of the Telegraph. A number of jurors explained that there had been prolonged debate over the sufficiency of evidence on a number of counts, with the result that deliberations became interminable and boring. Black was found guilty on four counts (comprising allegations of fraud and obstructing justice); he is due to be sentenced in November.

    Monday, 3 September 2007

    Catch-up (July): the regulation of the journalistic process

    July saw a number of instances of 'regulation' of the process of (investigative) journalism. First, it emerged that a senior BBC editor was to be questioned by police with regard to the forging of GPs' letters to an IVF fertility clinic. This move can have come as no surprise as both criminal and tortious action has been mooted for some time (1,2). The BBC still seems to consider, however, that the public interest in its journalism should outweigh the harm alleged in both contexts.

    Secondly, two journalists on the Daily Mirror were arrested by police on account of their having attempted to place a faked bomb (or 'tracking device', depending on which account one reads) on a Channel Tunnel train (1). Their action comprised a purported attempt - characteristic of the Mirror and its competitors - to 'assist' authorities in identifying limitations of security regimes, while meantime gaining 'win-win' copy. The Mirror lambasted the heavy-handed use of terrorism powers to arrest the pair given that they were engaged on "a legitimate and justified journalistic exercise" and fretted about the future of investigative journalism (1,2), but ultimately professed itself "happy to see that the security procedures have now improved". Greenslade has posted - somewhat scathingly- on this theme, and elicited plenty of interesting comment from others.

    Thirdly, in a story carried by the BBC-baiting Mail on Sunday, BBC News was accused of 'entrapping' a Bulgarian man who had allegedly offered to traffick children to the UK in return for payment (1). BBC News at Ten had carried a story in which it purported to expose the child trafficker and the existence of a wider network (see here). Responding to the story on the BBC Online Editors' Blog, Head of TV News Peter Horrocks lambasted the police chief quoted for seeking to downplay the significance of the story and for issuing a series of falsehoods in order to achieve this. He emphasised that the investigation had been carried out in strict adherence to the BBC editorial guidelines. The excoriation of the newspaper's failure to stand up its story was all the more effective for its silent execution.

    Fourthly, a former employee of the Met police who pleaded guilty to a charge of wilful misconduct in a judicial or public office having leaked a report on terrorism to a Sunday Times journalist, was sentenced to an eight-month term in prison.

    Finally, the House of Lords refused to hear an appeal from the recent decision of the Court of Appeal in respect of the long-lived Ashcroft protection of sources case (1,2).

    Catch-up (July): PCC critiqued as a mediator not a regulator

    Giving evidence to the Lords Committee on Communications, Alan Rusbridger (editor of the Guardian) criticised the Press Complaints Commission on account of its acting more as a mediator than a regulator. The criticism is an interesting one as it highlights simultaneously the key advantage and limitation of the system of self-regulation. Unfortunately, the detail of his comment has not yet been posted on the Committee's webpage, but latterly he has been heard nonetheless to call for the continuation of disparate schemes of regulation of press and broadcasting.

    Catch-up (July): impartiality and the BBC

    The matter of impartiality at the BBC received further airing in July (distinct from the furore regarding trust and deception) in the guise, first of a reflective piece by John Lloyd in the Financial Times, and secondly with the news that a complaint against the alleged pro-EU bias of the Today programme was to be considered by the BBC Trust. This question received an important response earlier this year with the publication of the Bridcut report which had been commissioned by the BBC Trust.

    Catch-up (July): advertising to kids

    The issue of advertising impact on children's perceptions /aspirations has been simmering quietly since the introduction of Ofcom's seminal ban (emulated by the Committee on Advertising Practice for non-broadcast advertising) on the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, as evidenced by the continuing drip feed of comment in the papers. For instance, on 17 July the Wall Street Journal Europe carried a story highlighting how food advertisements prompt children to overeat, bringing to mind a similar report on research in the Scotsman in April.

    Also in July, advertising group Isba moved to encourage its members to adopt a voluntary code of practice in respect of promotions on their own websites (which wouldn't normally be considered to be advertising under ASA rules). This concern was flagged by Chris Smith on his accession to the Chair of the ASA at the beginning of the month. Meanwhile, the National Consumer Council was highly critical of a movie tie-in promotion run by Burger King, which spoke to children as young as three, notwithstanding the fact that the film in question - Transformers - was rated 12 by the BBFC.

    The impact of the ban on television companies, and consequently on the fall in production of quality children's programming has also been noted and government action called for. [Incidentally, the various uploads of the Save Kids TV online campaign video - mentioned on here previously - have now been watched on almost 500 occasions - not great given the number of views for which I alone am responsible!].

    Catch up (July): FoI campaign forces disclosure of Blair-Murdoch dialogue

    On 19 July, the MediaGuardian carried details of the number and timings of formal communications between Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch over an 18 month period in 2003 and 2004. The disclosure of this data had been forced by an FoI campaign waged by Liberal-Democrat peer, Lord Avebury. The Cabinet Office had sought to appeal a ruling by the Information Commissioner in July 2006 that the detail should be disclosed, but ultimately capitulated. Interestingly, of six noted conversations, three took place in the nine days leading up to the onset of the Iraq war. Notwithstanding the absence of information regarding the content of these conversations, Lord Avebury concluded that "Rupert Murdoch has exerted his influence behind the scenes on a range of policies on which he is known to have strong views including the regulation of broadcasting and the Iraq war".

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