Sunday, 2 December 2012

To regulate or not to regulate (Leveson mix)

The objections to implementing the recommendations of the Leveson report seen in the press over the last few days seem mainly to fall into the following categories.

1. Conflating the issue of freedom of press with freedom of speech, and then arguing the sacredness of the freedom of speech, quoting something like the Pussy Riot trial, or Mugabe, or claiming that the UK is a shining beacon for the freedom of speech in the rest of the world, and that government control of the press will undermine that.
2. Saying that what is being proposed is statutory regulation of the press whereas what is actually being proposed is statutory regulation of a body that guarantees the independence of regulation of the press.
3. Saying that David Cameron (or the government) would have a direct say in the regulation of the press, whereas what is actually being proposed is regulation that entirely excludes the government from the regulation of the press.

4.  Saying that Shami Chakrabarti (director of liberty) objects to Ofcom control of a press regulator and therefore the whole of Leveson is an attack on human rightsl;

Let's have a look at what Leveson says.  This is taken from the executive summary of Leveson Volume 1, which can be found here.

  • 70. These incentives form an integral part of the recommendation, as without them it is difficult, given past practic and statements that have been made as recently as this summer, to see what would lead some in the industry to be willing to become part of what would be genuinely independent regulation.  It also leads to what some will describe as the most controversial part of my recommendations.  In order to give effect to the incentives that I have outlined, it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes.

  • 71. It is worth being clear what this legislation would not do.  The legislation wuld not establish a body to regulate the press: it would be up to the press to come forward with their own body that meets the criteria laid down.  The legislation would not give any rights to Parliament, to the Government, or to any regulatory (or other) body to prevent newspapers from publishing any manterial whatsoever.  Nor would it give any rights to these entitites to require newspapers to publish any material except insofar as it would require the recognised self-regulatory body to have the power to direct the placement and prominence of corrections and apologies in respect of information found, by that body, to require them.

  • 72. What would the legislation achieve?  Three things.  First, it would enshrine, for the first time, a legal duty on the Governmemt to protect the freedom of the press.  Second, it would provide an independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body and reassure the public that the basic requirements of independence and effectiveness were met and continue to be met; in the Report, I recommend that this is done by Ofcom.  Third, by recognising the new body, it would validate its standards code and the arbitral system sufficient to justify the the beneifits in law that would flow to those who subscribed; these could relate to data protection and the approach of the court to various issues concerning accceptable practice, in addition to costs consequences if appropriate alternative disupute resolution is available.

  • 73. Despite what will be said about these recommendations by those who oppose them, this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press.  What is proposed here is independent regulation of the press organised by the press, with a statutory verification process to ensure that the required levels of independence and effectiveness are met by the system in order for publishers to take advantage of the benefits arising as a result of membership.

  • 74. In the light of all that has been said, I must recognise the possibility that the industry could fail to rise to this challenge and be unable or unwilling to establish a system of independent self-regulation that meets the criteria.  I have made it clear that I firmly believe it to be in the best interest of the public and the industry that it should indeed accept the challenge.  What is more, given the public entitlement to some accountability of the press, I do not think that either the victims or the public would accept the outcome if the industry did not grasp this opportunity.  Neither do I think the public would find it acceptable if I were to overlook the consequences of the industry doing so.

  • 75. For the sake of completeness I have therefore set out in the Report the options that I believe would be open to the Government to pursue, and some views on the potential way forward, in that regrettable event:  these include requiring Ofcom to act as a backstop regulator for those not prepared to join such a scheme.  I have made no recommendation in relation to this situation, nor do any of the options in this pragraph amount to an outcome that I want to see.
(Emboldening done by me).

This, I think, effectively deals with objections 2 and 3 above - if anyone says that Leveson's recommendations are for the regulation of the press or that they would imply government control of the press, they're lying.  Please feel free to point them at the Leveson report itself.

Objection 1 - that what is proposed is the same as taking away freedom of speech - is risible.  You are not free to shout fire in a crowded theatre.  It is already illegal to freely publish lies about people (libel laws).

Objection 4 is a misrepresention of what Shami Chakrabarti has actually said.  In paragraph 72, Leveson clearly says that the independent recognition of the work of the independent press regulator could be done by Ofcom, but he does not state that it must be done by Ofcom.  Chakrabarti has said that "she supported an independent regulator but believed it would be possible for a judge, rather than Ofcom, to determine whether the new regulator was fulfilling its goal".  In other words, she believes that Liberty would be content with Leveson's proposal for a statutory underpinning of an independent press regulator, but believes that the judiciary would be sufficient to determine whether or not such a regulator was meeting its goals.   What she does object to is Ofcom directly regulating those members of the press who refuse to join an independent regulatory body - the fallback position that Leveson moots in paragraph 74 and 75 above. 

So there you go.  If you cut and paste from the parts of this article quoted from the Leveson report, please refer back to the URL presenting the report:

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Food banks and food rights

I think this is a consumer rights issue.  It's certainly a human rights issue.

So, I went to Tesco today.  I do it automatically on a Saturday but, as I am now restocking the restock piles, and am shortly to start restocking the restocking of the restockng piles, I do wonder why I do it.  I probably go because I can handwrite shopping lists on my new Android smart phone, and then rub the items out by hand as I find them, and this rocks and makes me feel as if I have joined the twenty first century; handwriting shopping lists!  They'll be inventing somethign that doesn't use batteries next, and calling it, oh, I don't know, paper.

Anyway, when I got to Tesco, a sad faced man in his mid-fifties stopped in front of me as I was going through the doorway.  I mean, really intrusively.  I couldn't go forward without talking to him.  He was in the way. I couldn't shake my head and carry on because social convention says that you are not supposed to use your shopping trolley to run someone over.  He was using social convention to hijack my time.

"Are you going to buy any of these items today?" he asked, handing me a list. 

I checked out his bib, the heading of the leaflet, etc., without taking the leaflet.  It was a food bank.  This made me angry (see below).

"I can't read the list," I said. 

"I can read it out to you," he said. 

"I just want to go shopping," I said.  "I don't want to listen to the list.  You are in my way." 

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry," he said, and stepped aside.  I went into the shop, fuming, and feeling guilty.

So, I shopped. Two bottles of bleach, one for the stockpile upstairs and one for the stockpile downstairs, tick.  Two bottles of Olive Oil, not on the shopping list (I see that they are on sale half price, and so two bottles will go into the stock pile even though the stock pile of Olive Oil does not need restocking.  I am thrifty, see), tick.  Dead-food cabinet: two slabs of rump steak sold at half price, to join the other dozen in the freezer,  tick.  Etc.  When I found the shelves from which I could select cane sugar (tick), I relented and bought a bag of caster sugar, and then, thinking they were nutritious, and sourced locally, I bought a sack of potatoes and a bag of parsnips for the food bank people.

I stood by the cashier, trying to figure out what was making me so angry now that my guilt was assuaged.  As I went out, I handed another food-bank ambusher, also a man in his fifties, my bag of goods.

"Oh, we can't take those," he said.  "They're not dried goods.  We only want dried goods.  We can't take the parsnips.  They'll go off."

"Then give them away tonight," I said. 

"Oh, I'll see what we can do," he said, after some wibbling, and took me over to the stall where a gentle old lady was collecting dried goods and giving people stickers.  She tried to ambush me with a sticker.

"I don't want a sticker," I said.  They looked at me with concern.  I must have been sounding a little mad.  After all, who wouldn't want a sticker to show that they'd spent a little of their weekly shopping budget buying something appropriate to give to the deserving poor? 

"Can I just ask you," I said, "who you voted for in the last election?"

The ambusher opened his mouth.  He knew exactly where I was coming from.

"Because," I said, "if you voted Liberal or Tory, then you caused* this.  You caused people to have to need food banks."

The man interrupted.  "It's nothing to do with the government," he said, and then, contradictorily, he said "and anyway, don't all governments do this?"

Oh, I wish I could think faster.  I was shaking with, with ... something.  Anger that people have to go to food banks in Cambridge in the second decade of the 21st century, anger that this tosser, who probably went to church and voted Tory in the name of liberalism and freedom of choice, felt that it was appropriate that middle class people could get their kicks by handing out food to people who can't afford food because of government policy.

"It's everything to do with government," I said. "The Tories have cut benefits.  They've taken money away from disabled people.  And then there's the rent.  They've cut rent allowances and child benefit allowances and taken money away from people.  It's a basic human right, to be able to eat, and have housing, and it shouldn't depend on the good will of the patronising classes.  The Tories have removed human rights.  That there has to be a food bank in Cambridge makes me very angry."

He started on.  I am FED UP with men talking over me, always talking, assuming that if they are talking I will stop talking and listen, although they never stop talking and listen when I am talking. I am FED UP with healthy, pink and shiny middle class TOSSERS showing their teeth and their assumption of privilege when faced with anything outside their shiny little bubbles of assumed privilege and assumed reasonableness. He spoke to me in a tone of reasonableness. I continued in a tone of mounting hysteria.  The little old lady who was collecting the food looked very upset.

I continued for a couple of minutes.  The eejit man also continued.  To end, I said. "And that's why, if you really want people to have enough to eat, you need to vote for a properly socialist government!"   And then I stormed off.

Because this is political and we don't need to have food banks; what we need is a goverment that behaves responsibly to all of its citizens, not just the people who have bankrolled it into power.

I am sorry for scaring the little old lady, though.  She was just doing what her generation have always done, which is get on with caring for people at the behest of curly-haired patronising middle class men.

later edit: Please read this excellent article from the Guardian on the growth of food banks within the UK

*with apologies to anyone who did, actually, vote specifically for Julian Huppert, because he is one of the few MPs in government who have actually been sort-of fighting this sort of thing.