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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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