Further to yesterday's post about the way that the UK's new press regulation will affect bloggers, tweeters, tumblrers, facebookers, et al., Lisa O'Carroll at the Guardian points out that anyone who doesn't sign up for the "voluntary" system of press regulation will be liable to punitive "exemplary" damages for libel, as well as being on the hook for their accusers' legal fees, even if no fault is found.
The exemplary damages clause was recommended in the Leveson report but has been opposed by newspapers, including the Guardian, which have been given legal advice that it could be contrary to the European convention on human rights, which enshrines the principle of free speech.
Lord Lester, the campaigner for libel reform, warned during the Leveson debate in the House of Lords earlier this year that publications such as Private Eye and local newspapers could face closure as a result of the imposition of exemplary damages.
On Monday night, the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger said he welcomed cross-party agreement on press regulation, but said: "We retain grave reservations about the proposed legislation on exemplary damages."
Under sustained questioning on Monday night during the Commons debate about the courts bill, which includes the Leveson regulations, the culture secretary, Maria Miller, said the "publisher would have to meet the three tests of whether the publication is publishing news-related material in the course of a business, whether their material is written by a range of authors – this would exclude a one-man band or a single blogger – and whether that material is subject to editorial control".
But if you and three friends edit a joint Twitter account or blog or Facebook group, you fit the bill. To those who say that a Twitter account isn't a website, I think they're erroneously assuming consensus about what is and isn't a webpage. If www.wordpress.com/doctorow is a website, then why isn't www.twitter.com/doctorow?
Bloggers may face libel fines under press regulation deal