Blogland,  Defamation,  Freedom of Expression,  Libel

Net Loss

The present internet era, characterised by the relative freedom to post material without state supervision, may be drawing to a close the UK Government has decided.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham says:

 “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.

There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

Much will obviously depend on how ‘harm’ is defined, and I’m not sure everyone’s going to agree on that.

The Daily Telegraph comments:

His plans to rein in the internet, and censor some websites, are likely to trigger a major row with online advocates who ferociously guard the freedom of the world wide web.

You can say that again.

It’s not just the UK that might be affected:

Mr Burnham also believes that the inauguration of Barack Obama, the President-Elect, presents an opportunity to implement the major changes necessary for the web.

“The change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause,” he says. “The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.”

Burnham has confirmed that he would like the power to ‘rate’ websites, presumably on how ‘harmful’ they are:

Giving film-style ratings to individual websites is one of the options being considered, he confirms. When asked directly whether age ratings could be introduced, Mr Burnham replies: “Yes, that would be an option. This is an area that is really now coming into full focus.”

In relation to policing the internet exactly how far is it permissible for any Government to go before free speech becomes merely an empty phrase?

More flippantly what ‘harm’ rating would readers give to the websites they visit regularly?