This is a cross-post of a piece written by Roy Greenslade on the Guardian website, providing a summary – and feedback – on my recent thinkpiece for DemSoc about hyperlocal media and regulation. Hopefully nobody objects to the cross-post. You can see and read the original article here.
Why hyperlocal journalism should be free from regulation
Open internet philosophy: The web should be a predominantly unregulated space, provided that the law of the land is not being broken.
Historic rules of regulation do not apply: Broadcasting regulation is not a framework that logically transfers to the online space, which is virtually limitless.
The (im)practicalities of enforcement: Anyone can set up a hyperlocal website or channel for free, and just as easily dismantle it. It’s therefore impossible to monitor them effectively.
Concerned citizens and community journalism: Active citizens reporting on what matters to them – journalism as volunteerism – should be nurtured, not stifled. Regulation is likely to reduce transparency and accountability, not increase it.
Innovation: With the online hyperlocal sector still in its infancy there is a risk that innovation would be stymied by unnecessary regulation.
Radcliffe moves on to consider the case for regulation, noting that the three strongest arguments concern protection, credibility and parity for hyperlocal publishers.
He is unconvinced by them and deals with each in turn. But I’m going straight to his conclusion. He writes:
“In my experience most hyperlocal outlets take questions of balance and accuracy very seriously and where they have an editorial agenda it is usually pretty clear.
Just because you are unregulated, does not mean that your standards are any lower.
Nor will being regulated suddenly mean that the public will view your content differently, that relationships with traditional media will transform overnight, or that late night telephone calls from aggrieved press officers will cease.
Instead, we need to recognise that hyperlocal publishers are an increasingly important part of our media ecosystem. They can, and do, on occasion provide great content for other media outlets – acting as a local wire service.
Hyperlocal outlets can also be a great way for traditional media to find new voices and talent, whilst for audiences they can help plug gaps in content provision – or provide a new level of ultra-local reporting.
Nurturing and supporting the industry should be the aim of policy makers. And it does not need regulation to make this happen. Key challenges such as finding ways to develop partnerships, or unlocking legal training and support for hyperlocal publishers, can all happen without the need for regulatory intervention or frameworks.”
Though Radcliffe doesn’t tackle press regulation, this could be viewed as some kind of message to Lord Justice Leveson to keep his hands off hyperlocal outlets. Then again, I don’t believe LJL is thinking too hard of getting into such a contentious area.
For me, the key phrase occurs in Radcliffe’s opening point about allowing freedom to reign as long as hyperlocal sites obey the law.
The central reason for regulation is about preventing undesirable acts by big, mainstream media because that sector has the capability to set the national conversation and to trample over the reputations of individuals along the way.
Regulation is about curbing power. Hyperlocals, by their nature, lack that power. That’s why they deserve to be left alone.
Source: Meeja Law