On Monday the three main British political parties came to an agreement to create a Royal Charter for press regulation based on the recommendations of Lord Leveson, which also hints at draconian powers over the internet which may extend across national borders. Inevitably, at the table in the small an hours of Sunday night was the shadowy lobby organisation Hacked Off, which had pretended to act as public watchdog at the Leveson Inquiry while representing powerful global interests , meanwhile including as an adviser the pharmaceutically aligned former Member of Parliament Dr Evan Harris, who collaborated with Brian Deer on his "MMR investigation" . The implication of the charter in its draft form is that it may even attempt to control what is said about British concerns by British citizens on foreign websites, with the threat of legal retribution. The key clause comes in Schedule 4 (1b) (Page 21) :
“relevant publisher” means a person (other than a broadcaster) who publishes in the United Kingdom:
- i. a newspaper or magazine containing news-related material, or
- ii. a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)”
If this happened powers could plausibly be used to limit informed comment on such things as the vaccine programme and the causes of the autism epidemic according to bureaucratic consensus, as we have already seen effectively happens in the British media for the most part without statutory controls, and as is also now being threatened in Australia.
At the inquiry Lord Leveson refused to allow evidence about the conduct of the Sunday Times MMR investigation but took care to hear evidence from the pharma funded PR guru Fiona Fox of Science Media Centre, and he later denounced Andrew Wakefield in his report, none of which was apparently in his original remit. Fox had chaired a Department of Business committee to determine the future of British scientific journalism which included Paul Nuki, who had hired Brian Deer to find “something big” on “MMR”, and Martin Moore the boss of Hacked Off. Leveson and lead counsel to the inquiry, Robert Jay, also failed to disclose that they themselves had had an historical role in denying British MMR litigants a hearing.
“The Royal Charter also states that it will cover 'news-related material' including current affairs news and information, opinion and 'gossip about celebrities, other public figures and other persons in the news'.
“Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship said: 'This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people's web use,' she said.
'Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place.'
Lawyers have said the wording is unclear and very wide-ranging.
Niri Shan, Head of Media Law at Taylor Wessing, said: 'The wording of the Royal Charter is unclear and if I was Facebook or Twitter or Google I would be concerned about the lack of clarity.
‘If they have a website and it includes news then it could capture them. I don't think the intention is to target bloggers, but currently it would.'
“Mr Shan, one of the UK's top libel lawyers, said that media organisations based abroad have rarely ignored British libel judgements as damages would only be secured against their assets in the UK, like an office.”
The greater threat however is probably to free discussion of issues of real public interest, and restrictions on tittle-tattle a distraction.