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Monday, October 17, 2011

Point of convergence well telegraphed

Labour's communications spokesperson, Clare Curran, on the Red Alert blog has outlined their Communications and IT policy and the interesting point I take from what is a dry and uninteresting area for the most part is the acknowledgment that the lines between broadcasting and the internet are becoming more and more blurred. It makes sense to put them together as the delivery of entertainment - which traditional broadcasting is - has now substantially moved to platforms on the internet.

The realm of what was quite seperate telecommunications policy is now sitting with broadcasting and that is the way most parties will probably approach it. Labour have asked logical questions and answered them in typically leftist terms - increasing state expenditure and consolidating, empowering and spreading regulation and taxing whatever they can. A new Ministry being just one of their ideas that fits that template and the usual off the shelf answer to every issue regardless of circumstances. It is difficult to judge whether it is necessary for changing times, or just the stock response, but what they also propose is a little more controversial:

Review the functions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Press Council and the Advertising Standards Authority.

Note that the classification board is left out of that, but censorship is a large component of what these bodies do. Additionally note that the Press Council is not an agency of state but a private club of newspaper owners - so I'm not sure whether they can be "reviewed" as such. However with media converging and with advertising and content also converging (in a bad way) it is not a bad idea. The problem may arise as to what a potential Labour government's solution might be - as their statist control inclinations run up against the laissez faire, anarchist tendencies of the online masses. We saw with the last Labour government how they sold out to Hollywood and restricted parallel imports (and this National governement is little better and perhaps a bit worse given the disgraceful Hobbit law rammed through to suit Warner Bros.).

The danger here is that the element of freedom treasured by users of the internet will be under threat if the same rules of broadcasting are applied online.

For example if we now have come to view online and TV and radio as essentially the same medium (ie. the 'platform neutral' assumption) then it becomes logical to apply the same standards and censorship across all the modes of transmission. After all if the plan is (and it is Labour's strategy) to have every househod in the country getting broadband connections then what is the difference in reality to TV and the internet? And how can both things have two completely different sets of regulations and standards? Labour are posing some very heavy questions when they think aloud like this.

The temptation will be to impose the same regime as broadcasting on the internet (rather than the other way around). So that blogging certain adult content or putting on an unclassified but likely R-rated content on your website (for example) during daytime hours would be held to the same broadcast standards and incur the same penalties as if it were on a Freeview TV channel. These are the possibilities thrown up by rolling together the regulatory framework into single points of control.


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