Bloggers in a flutter over press charter
If there is any clear message at all to emerge from the baffling miasma surrounding the fiendishly complex new system of press regulation it is this: Let the blogger beware.
One of the most contentious conditions under the proposed regime is that publishers who do not sign up to it will be hit with exemplary damages if found in court to have committed libel.
But while the Leveson inquiry which sparked the Royal Charter was specifically aimed at the print press, the charter itself also embraces areas of online publishing.
The result - widespread uncertainty, and warnings from social media campaigners that the new rules could be open to interpretation.
Is it fair, goes the question, that "amateur” bloggers and tweeters should be expected to play by the same punitive rules as the press professionals at whom the regulations are really aimed?
After all, goes the thinking, there is plainly a huge difference between a libel in a mass circulation tabloid and one appearing in a blog or Twitter feed.
Well…not really. What the blogger or tweeter needs to bear in mind is that a libel is a libel is a libel whether it is read by millions or just two people, just as a slander is as much a slander if it is communicated to two people or shouted from the rooftops.
It does not matter that there can be a gulf of difference between the power wielded by bloggers and forum contributors and that wielded by journalists working for big titles.
To the offended party the hatred, ridicule and contempt caused by a libel can be as devastating whether he or she has been traduced electronically or in print - and don’t let us forget that, at any rate, many blog sites have thousands of readers, just as twitter feeds can have multitudes of followers.
A further alert for online writers is that, while they may have got away with overstepping the defamatory mark in the past because of the cost and aggravation of bringing them to court, that will no longer necessarily be the case.
Under what is called an arbitral arm complainants can have their grievances heard free of charge at hearings that will have the power to dish out hefty fines and costs, which means offenders can more readily be brought to account.
But really, none of this should matter. In the end bloggers and tweeters will have nothing to fear if they impose their own rules on themselves - that is, always practise self-censorship and restraint, and always remember that electronic words are just as subject to the demand to be fair and accurate as are printed ones.
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