Sky News and anti-social media

The channel's decision to ban retweets by its journalists is a great leap backwards.

Sky News's bizarre new social media policy hasn't been well received by anyone, not least its own journalists. The channel has banned its staff from retweeting information from other journalists and Twitter users and from tweeting on stories other than their own.

An email to staff said:

So, to reiterate, don't tweet when it is not a story to which you have been assigned or a beat which you work.

Where a story has been Tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff.

Do not retweet information posted by other journalists or people on Twitter. Such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process.

The stated reason for the policy is "to ensure that our journalism is joined up across platforms, there is sufficient editorial control of stories reported by Sky News journalists and that the news desks remain the central hub for information going out on all our stories." But its hard to see a blanket ban as anything but a retrograde step that runs counter to the entire ethos of social media. A no-retweet policy violates the golden rule of the web: link and be linked. Far better to trust your journalists and to quietly discipline them on those occasions that they do slip up.

Even one Rupert Murdoch, who has posted links to New York Times articles in the past, has distanced himself from the move.

Sky's decision also again raises the question of who owns a Twitter account: the journalist or the organisation? The channel's digital news editor Neal Mann, a prolific tweeter, already appears to have violated the ban by retweeting a Press Gazette story on the Nightjack case.

But to its loss, the channel seems unlikely to think again. Sky, an organisation with a deserved reputation for digital innovation, has taken a great leap backwards.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, straight couples don't face marriage discrimination

The couple are right in law, but their complaint is ill-judged and tone-deaf. 

The Court of Appeal has struck down the case of a heterosexual couple - Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan seeking to have a civil partnership. The couple in question say they are the victims of discrimination. Are they right?

The legal question is more complex than the headlines. The government’s position is that they are waiting and seeing what the introduction of equal marriage means for the future of civil partnerships. Either civil partnerships will cease to be an option for same-sex couples or they will be extended to everyone. Judges were divided as to whether or not they should leave it for the government to decide that, or if civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexual couples. They opted to leave it to parliament, albeit by a narrow margin.

Legally, the judges agree, that the state of affairs creates a system where the law treats heterosexual and homosexual couples differently, and that this should be ended. And as far as the law is concerned, I agree. But emotionally and morally, the case of Steinfeld and Keidan stick in my craw.
Let’s remember why civil partnerships were created: to allow same-sex couples to access some of the legal protections extended to heterosexual couples in a way that could pass through the Houses of Parliament without being bogged down in too many battles with religious conservatives.

The rights that are not extended to civil partners include: a prohibition on religious readings, music or symbols. They cannot take place in religious venues, regardless of the beliefs of the owners’ rights. And people in a civil partnership cannot describe themselves as “married” on legal documents. There is no provision for separation as a result of adultery.

The rights not enjoyed by married couples in civil partnerships are: the ability to have private ceremonies without witnesses present. The reason why heterosexual marriages include provision for witnesses is the existence of forced heterosexual marriages in the United Kingdom, a rare example of a legal distinction based upon the sexuality of a couple that is grounded in fact, not prejudice or mumbo-jumbo. There is still no recognition for adultery in same-sex relationships in English law, whether you are married or in a civil partnership.  Equal marriage still has yet to be extended to Northern Ireland.

But if you are a heterosexual couple and you want to have a civil union that eschews religious messages, or patriarchal tropes, from being walked down the aisle by your father to the presence of a white wedding dress, you can. If you dislike the phrase “husband” or the word “wife”, you can use whatever word you like, in a social and a legal context. Don’t forget, too, that the courts have ruled recently in favour of couples in longstanding partnerships outside of marriage being able to access pension and other survivor benefits.

So while there is discrimination as a matter of law, it is hard to see how there is discrimination as a matter of fact for heterosexual couples. There is, however, a continuing discrimination towards homosexual couples in the divorce courts and in Northern Ireland.

It seems particularly ill-judged to claim discrimination while using the courts to gain access to an institution created as a pathway to the rights you already enjoy and can freely access, crowdfunding £35,000 along the way, particularly while there is still genuine marriage inequality between heterosexual and homosexual couples. 

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