The PCC is not fit to regulate blogs

This discredited body would not act as an impartial regulator

On Monday the alarming news emerged that Baroness Buscombe, the new chair of the Press Complaints Commission, is considering extending the PCC's remit to cover the blogosphere.

"Some of the bloggers are now creating their own ecosystems which are quite sophisticated," she told the Independent's media editor, Ian Burrell. "Is the reader of those blogs assuming that it's news, and is [the blogosphere] the new newspapers? It's a very interesting area and quite challenging."

In response, the Liberal Conspiracy blogger "Unity" has drafted an open letter to the commission, warning against any intervention.

Here's the key passage:

While we are grateful for your interest in our activities we must regretfully decline your kind offer of future PCC regulation. Frankly, we do not feel that the further development of blogging as an interactive medium that facilitates the free exchange of ideas and opinions will benefit from regulation by a body representing an industry with, in the main, substantially lower ethical standards and practices than those already practised by the vast majority of established British bloggers.

The PCC's status as the self-regulatory body of the newspaper industry undermines any ambition it has to act as an impartial regulator of the blogosphere.

Many of the newspaper editors who sit on the PCC (including the Mail on Sunday's Peter Wright and the Sunday Telegraph's Ian MacGregor) have a vested interest in penalising those bloggers who highlight their papers' misdemeanours.

It is disingenuous to present bloggers as entirely unregulated. Those who wish to challenge claims made on blogs already have recourse to Britain's draconian libel laws (as many have learned to their cost).

If Baroness Buscombe wants to salvage the reputation of an increasingly discredited institution she would be wise not to make any more concrete proposals.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.