Today Media Reform is releasing the results of our consultation on press regulation for bloggers. [UPDATE: these results now incorporate responses up until April 21st. The survey is now closed.]
Over a period of two and a half weeks we asked bloggers and small publishers to comment on various options for amending the Crime and Courts Bill – which will support the Royal Charter with statutory carrots and sticks.
As Parliament returns from its Easter recess and prepares to finalise the Bill, our survey indicates strong support for the extension of its cost benefits to anyone who joins a regulator – even if they aren’t a “relevant publisher” – and points the way towards a workable exemption for the small press.
The first part of the consultation, completed by 102 people, dealt with the definition of a “relevant publisher” for the purposes of exemplary damages and court costs penalties. The second part, completed by 89, asked about access to the benefits of an independent regulator.
The survey went out with a briefing document which explained the current status of the Bill and the problems it poses. Chief among our concerns was ensuring small publishers are exempted from any duty to sign up to regulation.
When asked to comment on different kinds of exemptions, respondents favoured exemption of non-profit organisations (66% in favour versus 22% against) and exemption of anyone beneath the VAT registration threshold of £77,000/y turnover (65% for and 23% against).
But a large majority of 79% (excluding ‘don’t knows’) agreed that anyone who chooses to join a recognised regulator should have access to the costs benefits it provides – even if they are not a “relevant publisher.”
Under current drafts of the bill, publishers falling outside this class would be excluded from such benefits whether or not they wished to join up.
Respondents also said they would be “somewhat” or “much more” likely to join a regulator if cost protections were available (62%). 61% said they would be more likely to join a regulator if it was designed specifically for small news organisations.
A majority of respondents (67%) identified themselves as individual bloggers, while 20% were from group blogs, representing a mix of hyperlocal news sites and political news or campaigning outlets.
It must be stressed that the respondents should not be seen as representative of all bloggers or small publishers. Our sample size is small and the survey was largely promoted through individuals and organisations who already support or interact with us.
Nevertheless, we also sent emails to a number of blogs outside our networks and across the political spectrum, and the personal details provided paint a picture of broad participation. In a debate where many crucial issues have been distorted or underplayed, this is worth taking into account.
We think this survey is an important contribution to the debate about the C&C Bill amendments. The government should take steps to ensure that the protections of the new regulatory scheme are made available to anyone who wants them.