It’s pretty safe to say that it isn’t too often that The European Convention on Human Rights, originally set out in 1950, isn’t something that gets cited too often in casual debates around freedom of expression. Yet two particular articles sit at the heart of many debates surrounding the press and, arguably, in many debates around our society in general.

Article 8 states:

“everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

A simple sentiment, but one which sits at the core of the spate of recent super injunction cases and which is frequently winning arguments in court. The sentiment is one which few would realistically argue with; we all have a right to privacy, an essential aspect of a truly free society.

Key to the discussion around super injunctions is the interpretation of this right to privacy as the right to a protection of reputation.

Reputations are legally perceived to have a monetary value and, as dictated by legal precedent in the UK courts, everyone starts with a good reputation – unless proven otherwise. This idea sits at the heart of defamation rulings, the idea that the unfair tarnishing of someone’s reputation can have a negative effect on their potential income.

And yet all too often this idea is emphatically contradicted by the opening line in Article 10 of the same convention:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression”.

 

Essentially, everyone has the right to say what they want, when they want to – and if that is damaging to someone else’s reputation, so be it.

With two such contradictory statements at the heart of super injunctions and defamation rulings, it’s easy to see why cases can last for years following the original comments and/or story.

Nevertheless Article 8 has dominated proceedings in recent years, and a key reason for this is Mr. Justice Eady. If you don’t know Mr. Justice Eady, he is a UK judge frequently appointed to high profile defamation cases.

Numerous publishers have bones to pick with him and it’s rumored that champagne corks were being popped around Fleet Street (metaphorically speaking, at least) when he announced that he was standing down, and it looks as though his replacement might be somewhat more liberal towards freedom of expression, meaning we could see some change in precedence over the coming years.

The phrase “in the public interest” is frequently bandied about in defamation cases. This is the happy compromise between the two articles; you can only impact on someone’s reputation if it’s in the public interest.

So while it might not be in the public interest to know that Princess Caroline of Monaco goes out to dinner with her kids, (unsurprisingly, she received compensation over photographs published of just this), but that it might be good for the public to know about the less-than-wholesome life Tommy Sheridan (then an MSP) was leading; a case which only gets more extraordinary the more you hear about it.

Reeling out 17 witnesses, Sheridan initially won damages from the News of the World over claims that he was visiting an illicit club; five years on and he’s serving jail time for perjury, though one suspects we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

However, the “public interest” argument is also a pretty flimsy and arbitrary compromise which represents the only middle ground between the two. It’s frequently sullied by the press stretching the definition of public interest to, say, knowing that a premier league footballer had relations with someone they shouldn’t have.

It’s also quickly worth mentioning the increasingly prominent trend for “Libel Tourism”, wherein cases can be brought about in territories which have no bearing on the original comments or participants. This, as you may have guessed, is because the internet is ubiquitous and as such as long as you can prove that a comment made in America has been seen in the UK, then proceedings can be pressed in UK Courts – as seen with King vs. Lewis in 2004. Article 8 makes it easier to win damages in defamation cases (and to win super injunctions) in the UK than it does in the US, meaning that this is a trend which isn’t going anywhere.

This has interesting implications for PRs and the use of social media, as it’s increasingly becoming vital to ensure that social media policies are rigid and right, and to ensure that you watch what you say on social networks – either by yourself or on behalf of a client.

Article 8 is currently winning over Article 10 in the UK, so while you’re free to express yourself, you basically can’t express yourself too much. Or something like that. Even if only one person sees a defamatory comment it could be prosecuted.

It’s also worth remembering that Clients taking legal action in order to protect their reputation isn’t always A Great Thing. In fact, it’s pretty much very rare to see any real benefit. See McLibel, which ultimately had a damaging effect on McDonald’s brand. Looking at the reasons that McDonalds originally took action it could be argued that the head honchos at Google would be within their rights to consider similar action against Facebook and BM, yet I believe they are intelligent and perceptive enough not to.

The interpretation of these two articles sits at the heart of one of the key debates around the media at the moment; it’s important that as PR practitioners we fully understand what they stand for.

@tmbrntt

 

In the early days of RSS I spent some little time scouring the web and a little less time trialling a series of different RSS readers. Few have come as close to ‘home’ for me as SharpReader. clip_image001Simplicity itself SharpReader’s display is crystal clear; the updates arrive at regular, definable intervals; it is devoid of the advertising noise typically associated with RSS aggregators and the application size is low so it doesn’t hit your PC performance unlike leaving a web-based aggregator open throughout the day.

Subscribing and unsubscribing to feeds is a simple right and left click. By supporting OMPL (Outline Processor Markup Language) SharpReader makes your reading easily transferrable between aggregators or devices for those with a wandering eye or work location.

Some of my favourite features:
• Drag and drop feed subscription enabling you to consume the output of simple syndication or complex Boolean search algorithms for the Jonny’s of the world
• Grouping – to easily follow similar resources or discussions
• Manageable pop ups
• Sits in the system tray so I can grab it when I snack on news
• Images appear quickly within the same interface

@mattwarder

There’s a fascinating piece on TechCrunch, live notes from a Google event where CEO Eric Schmidt gave CIOs a look at some new cloud technologies and then took questions from the floor.   

For me, the Q&A threw up two areas of real interest. Number one is the open admission that Google is becoming a competitor to many of its partner companies. How do you manage that sort of relationship? Schmidt talks about the upcoming Chrome operating system and how it will realise the vision of cloud-based computing, removing the need for expensive hardware and bringing down the cost of device ownership. How do you square that vision with the device manufacturers that Google is working with? They’re locked in a constant battle of technical one-upmanship on specs yet Google is talking about a future where less is more. Surely there’s trouble ahead?

Secondly, this piece clearly shows that Google is on a collision course with Apple. We know the relationship has already soured with Schmidt quitting his place on the Apple board, but with him describing Google as an “information company” and talking upfront about the importance of applications, Google seems to have moved on from the world of search and is now on a mission to bring portable, connected, affordable and engaging computing to everyone and anyone that wants it – and that is surely where Apple wants to be as well. There’s a good piece on the ensuing ‘war’ between the two giants on Electricpig.

All told, I find it hard not to like Schmidt and the vision he paints for Google. There’s a simplicity about the company that stretches from the single search box at Google.com right the way through the products and services and into Schmidt’s vision for a more simplified way of connecting and communicating. The question is, do Google’s current crop of partners feel the same?

@paulwooding1973

So, after months of deliberating and speculation, Murdoch has today come out and announced that access to The Times and Sunday Times’ online content will be charged as of June – with daily access for £1 and weekly for £2.

New websites will be launched in May for each title – replacing the existing timesonline portal – and it sounds like there’ll be limited free access to entice readers once the paid content sites launch.

That a major publication has come out with a paywall is hardly a surprise, but it is certainly high risk. The reception has been mixed – certainly if you simply consider the newspaper content on its own, it seems slightly extravagant to charge for what is currently free; that idea’s not going to get very far in the Dragon’s Den

However, the Times has quietly upped the ante with its acquisition of digital partners and content providers and it could be these added ’membership’ style benefits which could tip the balance between simply paying for news content, and being part of an entertainment hub – the Times is certainly already associated with quality culture and cultural insight.

The major issue this development throws up however is that Murdoch, despite being something of a publishing leviathan, doesn’t own everything online, and if other newspaper publishers go down the same route, the market will become incredibly siloed headlessand surely disenfranchise the customer. (We’ll not mention the problems having multiple access / subs to every newspaper would throw up for a PR Agency).

If key sites have to be individually paid for, it’s going to get very expensive very quickly for a consumer – and micro-payments will only work if there’s a unified platform to base the content on, (rather like a pre-paid Oyster card network for news), which of course doesn’t exist.

We’ve seen the problems similar approaches have encountered in the mobile space with the walled garden approach – surely content owners will have learnt its lessons here?

The internet has democratised information and made knowledge ‘free’ to an extent – does it really need to be boxed back up again?

@wonky_donky