back to article You have the right to be informed: Write to UK.gov, save El Reg

The government is about to commence a piece of legislation that will seriously affect The Register’s ability to Bite The Hand That Feeds IT. You have until 5pm today to tell the government it should be stopped. Most British readers will have seen news coverage about Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. This is a …

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    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Question

      Articles two weeks before, one week before, and the day before and pinning them near the top of the front page would have been better.

      As it is this was published on the last working day. It's a big ask.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Question

        Ian Hislop has been vocal about this issue for the last year. It also formed a large chunk of last week's Media Show on BBC Radio 4.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Question

          I am asking why El Reg hasnt done anything before now; did they not notice??

          I am well aware of the act, and Private Eye have been campaigning against it since the day it was announced, but PE circulation figures are down in the churn compared to major dead wood publications, so very few pay attention, even after all the major scandals and stories they break - mainly because the big press read PE then steal the story, claiming it as their own.

          1. Jonathan Richards 1

            Re: Question

            Hmm. The Guardian counts as major dead wood publication, I think, and they covered PRP recognition of Impress in October: Max Mosley-funded press regulator recognised as state-backed watchdog.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Question

              "Hmm. The Guardian counts as major dead wood publication, I think, and they covered PRP recognition of Impress in October: Max Mosley-funded press regulator recognised as state-backed watchdog."

              And considering his political leanings and family background, does this not smack of political control of the press, albeit by proxy? Add in the Snoopers charter and....

              UK justice used to be based on "everything is legal unless specifically prohibited by law". These days, we have so many laws, you need to consider your actions before hand, because they may not be legal. Judges, barristers and lawyers have to go look stuff up, its so long winded and complex and the Police rarely bother to enforce "minor" laws because they don't know what they are leading to more people breaking the law "because everyone else does".

              EDI|T. Sorry, got a bit stream of conciousness there. It 2am :-(

      2. Known Hero

        Re: Question

        @dann55

        Just think if they pinned this to the top of the page, how else would be able to read about Dev Ops !!!!

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Question

        "As it is this was published on the last working day. It's a big ask."

        And having been on the road all day, nearly 400 miles in total, I only just got around to reading this story many hours after the deadline.

    2. Flywheel

      Re: Question

      Hopefully this won't go the same way as the "consultation" on the Snoopers Charter. *sigh*

  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Freedom is not free

    I feel the blood of the mighty will soon run in the streets again (or was it of patriots? I don't know any longer over all the PC indoc)

    (Revolution just after I check my facebook page!)

    1. Hollerithevo

      Re: Freedom is not free

      Remind me when that happened. Are you suggesting that PC indoctrination stopped the overthrow of various Muslim oligarchies/dictatorships? Or are we going back to the revolutions in China and Russia? Or the French or American revolutions? Or possibly the Parliamentarians under Cromwell? Just which mighty had their blood running in the streets and how did PC ideas stop that?

      Last 'revolution' I saw in the West was the Occupy Wall Street movement, as a grass-roots uprising, such as it was. Everything else seems to be billionaire-led.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    but but but fake news and celebrity voice mail

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry but the UK press deserve this. It's an utter cesspool of filth. Sorry that you'll need to be sure what you write is accurate, I guess that's terrible for you.

    1. jaywin

      If only this was about accuracy. Put simply, you will be able to sue El Reg because you say it is incorrect, take them to court, get it thrown out because you've just made up your complaint, and El Reg still has to pay for the whole debacle. Even if El Reg was 100% correct in what they write, they still get lumbered with the bill.

      Robust press regulation to ensure accuracy is a good thing. Allowing anyone to create frivolous lawsuits which then cost the publisher is not the same thing.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "If only this was about accuracy."

        Indeed. In the interests of accuracy, go back to the article, follow the link to the relevant part of the Act and read 40.3(b).

        Anyone thinking the Act allows them to start a frivolous lawsuit for free could end up with a nasty and expensive shock. If the court feels the circumstances are appropriate that provision enables them to dump the defendant's costs on the plaintiff.

        1. Jonathan Richards 1

          Enables, but does not oblige

          > If the court feels the circumstances are appropriate that provision enables them to dump the defendant's costs on the plaintiff.

          Aye, there's the rub. Frivolous plaintiffs could end up with a shock. To make that happen you as defendant have got to engage a lawyer good enough to convince the judge that all the circumstances mean he or she can overturn the statutory award of damages. It's three levels down in the error-trapping code, and certainly not as good a protection as "Truth === no award of costs".

      2. Jonathan Richards 1

        At the mercy of the court

        +1

        > Even if El Reg was 100% correct in what they write, they still get lumbered with the bill.

        There's a bit of nuance to this, as other people have mentioned in these comments.

        Section 40

        (3) If the defendant was not a member of an approved regulator ... the court must award costs against the defendant unless satisfied that—

        ...

        (b) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs. [omissions for clarity]

        That's quite a high bar to cross, though; to convince the judge, in the face of inevitable opposition from the plaintiff's lawyers, to vary the statutory award because it's "just and equitable in all the circumstances" [emphasis added].

        This is where the law isn't like a program. There's very little IF ... THEN ... ELIF ... ENDIF.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: At the mercy of the court

          I'd have thought that it would help your case to show a judge that you'd done some serious work on joining/not joining an approved regulator. After not finding one you'd liked, you'd looked at setting another one up (obviously with others like Private Eye, the Guardian, FT, Economist etc). And that you'd put in place some systems to allow low-cost arbitration before court action as an option to any complainant. That at least shows that you've not simply ignored the problem for the last 4 years, in the hope it would go away. And that you've taken the issue seriously.

    2. cbars Silver badge

      Bzzzt

      Doesnt matter if it's accurate, the point is that at the moment you can tell people to piss off and if they sue you you're indemnified against the costs if what you write is true. This way, it'll be easier to just take a story down than risk paying to drag a case through the courts - you think news outlets make enough money to put up money to stand up for principles? Dream on

      The UK has some of the most aggressive libel legislative powers on the planet already, which is why the american's always bitch and moan through our courts, they've got that pesky right to free speech over the pond which makes shutting people up rather hard.

    3. LHGFLICOD

      Accuracy will be no defense.

      The way the Law is worded all costs are paid by the newspaper/website regardless of the outcome/merit of the case. Given that UK Libel law is already so bad many countries refuse to help enforce any penalties awarded this is not a good thing.

      So say a newspaper uncovers something the size of the expenses scandal and attempts to publish it, then they could be sued by hundreds of members or parliament and regardless of outcome be on the hook for the lawyers fees. Under those circumstances I suspect no one would be using a cheap lawyer to sue either.

    4. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Facepalm

      The point being that they can be sued even though they've been entirely accurate.

      That has always been the case and the court just rules "It's accurate, so bugger off. Loser pays for all the lawyers". That way the financial burden is on the party that is in the wrong (either the publication lied and they pay, or the subject sued under false pretences and they pay).

      This legislation changes that so that the publication pays regardless.

      Write a derogatory article about me (even though I'm the scum of the earth) and I'll sue you using the most expensive lawyers available. You have to pay for them whatever, so no risk to me. Kerrrrr ching.

      1. Mark 110

        As I understand the law the following is actually what happens:

        1. Both parties in a dispute should go to arbitration/mediation in the first instance rather than the courts

        2. If one party refuses to go to arbitration/mediation then that party must bear all the court costs, win or lose

        3. If one party refuses to accept the results of arbitration/mediation and it ends up in the courts then that party bears the costs

        Its not quite as simple as the publication always bears the costs. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I picked that up of a senior lawyer on Radio 4.

    5. Craig McGill 1

      Missing the point a bit

      Speaking as someone who has been a journalist and on the other side, I can point out that you are utterly wrong here. This isn't about accuracy - people/organisations will use this as a threat to stop something being published even if it is true. As others have pointed out, the big issue is this will be used as a threat ("Are you 100% sure about that? Will your anonymous quotes stand up in court?") - that's something many firms won't take a chance on, even if the story is true.

      There are times journalism needs to be on the vague side of the law - many a crook has been exposed because journalism did stuff the law couldn't - but all of the recent activity has mostly been about the rich and famous attacking the media that has, at times, been a pain in the backside for them and embarassed them.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Missing the point a bit

        Indeed. This Autumn saw the child abusing bent cop Gordon Anglesea sentenced to twelve years for his crimes. In 1994, he successfully sued several news outlets, including Private Eye, for libel.

        This is far from the only case. Private Eye doesn't harass the victims of crimes as the News of the World did, its targets are the rich, powerful and corrupt, with some gentle ribbing for the merely stupid.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Missing the point a bit

          "In 1994, he successfully sued several news outlets, including Private Eye, for libel"

          I do wonder if Private Eye and co can now recover those awards, plus interest?

    6. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >Sorry but the UK press deserve this. It's an utter cesspool of filth. Sorry that you'll need to be sure what you write is accurate, I guess that's terrible for you.

      Part of the British press have behaved abysmally for decades, it is true. However, this law would affect long established news organs that expose the bullshit of our British press, politicians and others.

      http://www.private-eye.co.uk/

      1. John G Imrie

        +1

        for mentioning Lord Nome's mighty organ.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The only thing right here is that action needs to be taken. However, there are two winners in this proposal: the lawyers, who as we all know are very much part of the establishment which has a grip on this country and will do so even more now that the morons voted last year for them to get their way, and of course those people who are up to no good and don't want people to find out as it will be an inconvenience to them. Of course, they tend also to be entrenched within the same crony network.

        What actually needed to be done was to properly regulate the press. Not in a way to stop them actually publishing stories but to ensure that if they do engage in improper activities they will be held to account and will be punished for them. After the Milly Dowler scandal, a few low level staff were held to account (rightly) and were punished. Their superiors who benefited from the activities were given gardening leave and funnily enough are back doing what they always were. The News of the World was simply rebranded and continues to spout its evil crap.

        And of course we had a very expensive enquiry which oversaw this injustice and many legal cases, all paid for by the general public to make lawyers and all their chums richer than they already were.

        A big song and dance was made last year about who influences and controls this country and where the so-called sovereignty actually lies. The truth is there is a disease endemic to Whitehall and Lincoln's Inn. This is just another symptom.

    7. Wiltshire

      RE << Sorry but the UK press deserve this.>>

      Sorry, complete and utter logic failure there.

      Like, some Muslims are terrorists, therefore all Muslims deserve to be treated like terrorists.

  4. frank ly

    re. Quadsys

    I fully agree with your arguments and opinions but I'm confused by your use of the Quadsys situation as an example.

    If people are charged with an offence and appear in court then this is a public event, in principle and in practice. Provided you report the facts, as stated in court papers and announcments or by repetition of court journalist's published articles then how can anyone use a legal procedure to prevent you from reporting it?

    1. Filippo Silver badge

      Re: re. Quadsys

      Under the rules described in the article, it's easy. They just need to file a lawsuit.

      They cannot win, because, as you notice, the journalist is just repeating public documents. But they don't need to win. With the new rules, the journalists will pay the legal fees even if the suit is obviously frivolous. So, they just need to rack up enough legal fees to cripple the journalists.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: re. Quadsys

        "With the new rules, the journalists will pay the legal fees even if the suit is obviously frivolous."

        Except they don't. Go and read what the legislation actually says; the article actually provides a link. If the circumstances are appropriate the court can make different awards or no awards at all. I can see nothing at all in there to stop the court awarding the defendant's costs against the plaintiff.

      2. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: re. Quadsys

        Under the rules described in the article, it's easy. They just need to file a lawsuit.

        Except they're not allowed to do that. First they have to take it to arbitration with the regulator (who will tell them to fuck off, because there's no case to answer), and then they can take it to court, where most judges will be unimpressed with genuinely vexatious cases and tell them to go to hell.

        Of course El Reg does not wish to join Impress for reasons that are quite understandable. It seems to me they should have formed up with Lord Nome and other publications 18 months ago and formed an association of respectable press (i.e. the sort of people that didn't get sued by Chris Jeffries or held in contempt of court by the Attorney General) that excludes the Daily Heil and The Scum, sought approval as a regulator and gone from there. Leaving it till the deadline is a bit late.

        Did your parents never teach you not to leave your homework till the night before?

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: re. Quadsys

          Except they're not allowed to do that. First they have to take it to arbitration with the regulator

          1. You missed "approved" in the definition of the regulator

          2. 90%+ of the Internet press does not want to be anywhere near the currently approved regulators and cannot agree on founding a new one and carrying it through to approval. This includes el-reg too as it is not a member of an approved regulator if memory serves me right.

          This is the rub here - that this is a restriction on the freedom of expression (article 10 of ECHR) through a roundabout way. The regulator can enforce specific limits on what the press says without any judicial oversight and it is given a court statute without any basic rule of law in its rulings. The government giggles in the background as it has achieved its objective to control the press based on the demands of its paymasters without being seen to do so in the open.

          In addition to that, this creates a registration regime for the press and ensures that only the privileged few are free to speak. This was somewhat the case courtesy of UK libel law, it is now made even more discriminatory. Freedom of speech? Article 10? Yeah. Bollocks - it is only for the privileged ones who are members of an "approved" club (so the law says). Everybody else is not entitled.

          This is exactly why this should be taken with the ECHR Court - it is a clear violation of article 10 (if the UK libel law gets nuked as a collateral, well, only more to celebrate). This also needs to be done before May pulls UK out of that to join Belarus in the club of countries where only approved can speak freely only on approved matters expressing only approved opinions.

      3. Neil Charles

        Re: re. Quadsys

        "They just need to file a lawsuit."

        No they don't, they file a complaint, which goes to the regulator.

        It only goes to court if either The Register isn't a member of a regulator, or if the complainants or The Register want to take it to court.

        The important part (at least as reported on R4 Today) is that *whoever chooses to go to court pays all costs*. The costs don't automatically get applied to the newspaper, they get applied to whichever party rejected independent regulation and insisted on going to court.

        A lot of the reporting on this is wilfully misleading IMO. Not liking the Max Mosely funded regulator is fair enough, but costs are not automatically applied to the publication. Proper independent regulation that would allow the average person meaningful redress against the likes of The Daily Mail is badly needed.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are two sides to this argument

    The mass media in general (not pointing at El Reg here) have in the past shown themselves to be prepared to publish inaccurate, vexatious and harmful articles about individuals, safe in the knowledge that only corporations and very wealthy individuals had the resources to bring a defamation action. It's this behaviour that fuelled the demand for regulation.

    Naturally publishers have a deep-seated antipathy to anything that smacks of government regulation of the press, along the lines of Ofcom for broadcasters. That's why they were offered the alternative of self-regulation through "independent" industry-led bodies. If publishers aren't prepared to sign up to any form of regulation, even the carrot of fairly toothless industry-led ones, then they can hardly be surprised that a stick is being put in place as a backstop.

    If you have a better idea of how to constrain the likes of Murdoch and Dacre from treating individuals like crap then I'd love to hear it before rushing off to sign a "leave things as they are" petition.

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: There are two sides to this argument

      How about Ofcom for Publishers? By that, I mean a publically funded Body with the ability to apply fines and determine acceptability of content.

      Rather than a privately funded (either by anti-media or pro media groups) Body which cant be trusted to act impartially (by definition) and which no matter what happens will be accused by one group or the other as being partisan.

      It's not that hard to come up with this simple idea, but because it would leave an impartial arbiter which cant be influenced by either side, of course neither would want it...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: There are two sides to this argument

        What should we call it? The Press Council? The Press Complaints Commission?

        As Smooth Newt says, it's been tried and we're at the present situation because of the way that turned out.

        1. lglethal Silver badge

          Re: There are two sides to this argument

          Both the Press Council and the Press Complaints Commision were voluntary bodies with no actual legal Framework to work in. In other words, these were voluntary commisions which the papers could pretty much ignore if they wanted.

          What I have suggested is a public Body with an actual legal Framework and a bit of teeth to it. Ofcom is the public Body for television and if you want to broadcast in the UK you have to play by its rules, and take the fines it gives you or you get prevented from broadcasting. A similar Thing for the Paper Business should have been the first step after the News of the World scandals. Why it didnt happen, I can only imagine (the words vested interest come to mind)...

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: There are two sides to this argument

            Iglethal,

            The press are refusing to accept that the body they set up themselves can be audited and approved at arms length by a semi-independent of government body, whose members are also appointed independently, set up by royal charter to avoid it being beholden to Parliament. With the safeguard that this system requires a two-thirds vote of Parliament to change - so that governments can't have at it willy-nilly.

            How much fuss would they have made if they'd been put under Ofcom? Which is far less independent of government, but I'm struggling to think of even accusations of goverrnment intereference in their TV news regulation - let alone proven cases.

            This is a difficult situation, with good arguments on both sides. But the press have shown themselves unwilling to take the matter seriously for over 50 years now - over which time they've promised to do self-regulation better. And failed. Repeatedly. Eventually something was going to give. If there'd been a bit more of a spirit of cooperation, this would all have been sorted out years ago. But the press refused to have anyone marking their homework - despite chucking abuse at everyone else who's self-regulated when they screw up.

            Nobody wants to see the government controlling the press, but equally the press can't be trusted to do it themselves. This was an attempt at a work-around. I'm losing patience with the press argument that it's unworkable - which all looks rather self-serving. Though I've a lot of sympathy for El Reg, stuck in the middle.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge
    Devil

    Mosley and Meritocracy

    Mutually exclusive I'd have thought.

    What are his qualifications apart from snorting [redacted] off of a [redacted] [redacted]?

    Censored because the media is probably liable for comments too.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Mosley and Meritocracy

      He's not supposed to be running Impress, he just helped to pay for it. Admittedly perhaps not from the purest of motives. But it can't be totally bollocks, as it managed to get its process approved - and a bunch of local papers to sign up - which means they're in for binding arbitration on those rules whether they like it or not.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    This slow motion train crash that has been years in coming.

    There has to be regulation of the press outside of law courts, because otherwise a publication can say anything they like about anybody who doesn't hundreds of thousands of pounds to risk in a court case. So whilst We Have The Right To Be Informed (always provided it doesn't antagonize advertisers), we also have the right not to have scurrilous stories written about us.

    The Press Complaints Commission, and the Press Council before it, were useless, toothless watchdogs which worked more like customer services departments than regulators, and didn't even investigate most complaints. As making up stories was pretty much the business model of several very profitable publications, scandal piled on scandal. Successive governments dragged their feet for decades because the last thing they want is to antagonize the media that they rely upon to tell the public how to vote.

    Finally, and inevitably, there was such a big scandal, over phone hacking, and which affected enough rich and powerful people, that the government had to actually do something meaningful.

    The media proposed the usual toothless watchdog that had served the gutter press so well, and everyone else so badly, for 60 years. So not surprisingly, the only one which got approved was the one that all those pissed off rich and famous people set up. Whilst the system is indeed a train crash, the UK media industry were driving one of those trains by allowing self-regulation to so signally fail in the first place, and then when it did not propose an acceptable alternative to Impress.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am I misreading this?

    I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know if I'm misreading this, but:

    1) I thought that section 40 only applied if the publisher was eligible to join a press regulator with an arbitration scheme and chose not to do so.

    2) The exclusions (at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/22/schedule/15/enacted) include:

    Special interest titles

    4A person who publishes a title that—

    (a)relates to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession, and

    (b)only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main content of the title.

    I would have thought that that implies El Reg is off the hook along with all other "specialist" publications (fnar fnar).

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Am I misreading this?

      >Special interest titles

      >4A person who publishes a title that—

      >(a)relates to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession, and

      >(b)only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main content of the title.

      The Reg publishes stories about every sector and business that uses IT (that's effectively everything, then), and more general stories, articles and opinion pieces about the wider effect of IT on society, economics and politics. Nice try, but I can't see the Reg qualifying as 'Special Interest'.

      1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: Am I misreading this?

        Beat me to it.

        This is worded so as to exclude house journals of trade associations from news media regulation. Think of things like the IMechE mag Professional Engineering, which is mainly full of in-depth features which may or may not relate to up-to-the-minute news topics.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. SVV

    Unprecedented?

    Is this the first law that requires the party being sued to pay up, win or lose? I would presume so, but would love to hear from a legal expert to find out. Surely if this is really so, news would instantly become extinct in this country as anybvody who got written about for any reasoh could sue for libel using expensive lawyers, cripppling the legal system and ending a free press.

    So, presumably this bit of the law is to "persuade" publishers to "voluntarily" sign up to this new regulator, who hardly anyone knows anything about. Once that is done, everyone will probably carry on just as before unless there's something dramatic I don't know.

    I somehow doubt that a tory goverrnment would really cripple The Sun and the Daily Mail. Howevver we no longer seem to be living in what we previously regarded as normality,

    1. Youngdog

      Re: Unprecedented?

      "persuade" publishers to "voluntarily" sign up to this new regulator

      'Coercion' was the word I used in my submission to gov.uk

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Unprecedented?

      "Is this the first law that requires the party being sued to pay up, win or lose?"

      No, because it doesn't. There's wriggle room to allow the court to make up its mind, even to the extent of making the plaintiff pay the defendant's costs if the circumstances justify that.

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Unprecedented?

      It was designed as coercion. To make it look too scary for the press to refuse to set up a Leveson-compliant regulator themselves.

      The press decided to take that risk, in the hope the government wouldn't dare use section 40. And also in the hope that nobody else would set up a Leveson-compliant regulator - so it couldn't come into force.

      Somebody did, and got a bunch of local papers to join.

      The main culprits copied and pasted their old self-regulator they've controlled before and hoped for the best.

      A bunch of people in the middle decided not to join either of those, or to set up their own.

      Now everyone's complaining as if this was a surprise.

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