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Europe

Should our press be free – or not? Review my thoughts…

No more restrictions on our Press thanks....

This week I was asked to fill in a survey about press freedom and the phone-hacking scandal.

It’s part of a study by a university which is questioning journalists across Europe about their views on the issue of regulation of the Press.

Those of us who work in television a lot, often try to talk about the Press as though somehow we are a separate entity. I’ve never believed this. Coming into the industry through newspapers and still writing today – I believe we are all one industry and we should defend, support and, when necessary, chastise each other when things go wrong.

This phone-hacking issue, the Levenson inquiry, centres largely around the national newspapers. Our national newspapers are more powerful than most people realise. Not because us ordinary Joes care about it – but because our law-makers do.

Having worked alongside politicians for many years, I can promise you that those who are ambitious, want to climb the political ladder, really, really care about what the newspapers say. I have even heard politicians make judgements based upon ‘what the Daily Mail would say about it’.

As a regional journalist for most of my career, I’ve always been astonished by this.

 

And many celebrities care too. The amount of times I’ve heard people turn down interviews with the local media, because ‘it’s not national’, ‘it’s a waste of time’ – an argument that has never had much validity and even less now with the internet. When a parish magazine advertising local jumble sales can be found on the internet, the notion of local press almost becomes obsolete…

However, I will absolutely defend the rights of the Press as a whole – it’s a mark of our democracy that our Press is free.

I could not support any further legislation restricting Press freedom. This does not mean I condone phone-hacking – I don’t. I’ve never done it, never been asked to do it, never asked anybody else to do it for me. It’s illegal and the law is already in place to deal with it. That law should be used.

There’s another reason I defend the Press. The written media has to obey the law of the land but the broadcast media also has to obey the Ofcom code which is very strict. Television has to obey much tighter guidelines than newspapers. I well remember coming into television and being amazed about the hoops that had to be jumped through.

One example is secretly recording a telephone call – note, not phone-hacking. In television, you have to seek legal permission to actually record a call. And it can’t be because you ‘think’ something will be revealed. Oh no, you have to be very,very sure you will get something out of it. If you get permission, then you have to then get further permission to use that material. A lawyer has to be satisfied that the material ‘adds further value or something new’ to a programme which could not have been obtained in any other way. So recording a telephone conversation is no guarantee that it will be used at all.

It also is worth remembering that most journalists are not into underhand means to get information. We’re not interested in people’s private lives unless they are hypocrites or it somehow impacts on a public role. We don’t offer sums of  money to people for information (although people often ask for money) and we don’t hack into people’s phones. Yet we still find things out, reveal things, hold things up for scrutiny, regardless of whether or not that makes us popular.

Let’s keep our free Press, we’ll regret it if we don’t….

 

Do you have a website? Save your cookies? You MUST take action!

How many times have you seen the word ‘cookie’ in relation to computers, websites and the internet and just don’t have a clue what it means – in fact, don’t even care?

It’s just one of those terms which us technophobes skim over and ignore, accepting that it’s something technical and we don’t need to think about.

COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES! From January 1 2012, if you’ve got a website, for business or personal use, and it uses cookies for gathering data – YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS.

Cookies are not only lovely biscuits which are often horribly addictive – they are also pieces of code which attach themselves to your computer when you click on certain websites. I think that’s a good way to describe it. Please feel free to comment and provide a better description.

These cookies can gather data about you, how you navigate a website, where your interests lie – all of which is useful data for a company which is trying to effectively market to consumers or where a company or individual wants to know great detail about the amount of traffic coming to their site.

A new EU law comes into force on January 1 which means all  websites using cookies in this way in Europe MUST give a warning about their use PRIOR TO THE WEBSITE LOADING. If you don’t have this facility, you will be breaking the law and you risk a fine.

Think of it this way. When you use your mobile to ring an 08000 number or a similar number, you often get that message which says ‘if you continue with this call, it will cost 7p a minute so hang up if you don’t want to pay’ etc. I always hang up and switch to a landline.

This is a similar warning – which must be visually  displayed before cookies are downloaded, which happens very quickly once you’ve clicked on a website of interest. The aim is to provide further safeguards around privacy on the web.

Personally I don’t mind that some sites use cookies to find out general things about me – maybe I’m naive. But I guess there are many people out there who do mind and don’t’ want websites to know who you are the next time you visit etc. Oh and by the way, WordPress blogs like this do use cookies – so we here at Mellow Media need to take note alongside everyone else.

This law actually came into force in other European countries in May but the UK government delayed it here because it felt that it had not been widely publicised. I think the Government was right in that assumption. For most of us, we’ve never even heard of this EU cookie law and potentially we’re all walking into a trap.

But we can offer a solution which will not cost loadsa money. Is this a bit of shameless marketing? Yes, it is – let’s be upfront. One of our clients, Sarah Arrow, founder of Birds On The Blog, has designed a legal WordPress plug-in to do the job for you.

The key issue is that the message MUST BE DISPLAYED before a website loads – so be aware of products which give a warning too late – apparently that’s the difficult bit for technical designers to get right.

Does your website use cookies? You will probably be needing to read this blog then!.....

We don’t often recommend something unless it’s something we truly think is useful. This new EU law (which the UK government could in the fullness of time and when it’s got its head round more pressing matters, find a way around), has the potential to cost small business people a lot of money.

Sarah has a cheaper solution which gets around this problem, and we are more than happy to help her publicise it . A WordPress plug-in  – for details visit the pithily titled website (!) www.eucookielawwpplugin.co.uk

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