Why the BAI is not the body to regulate the internet

The Sunday Independent had an eyecatching report this weekend.

Headlined “First social media controls revealed: Irish watchdog to police content across EU” it sets out the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s proposals to Government as to how the the AV Services Directive should be transposed into Irish law. If it stopped at those sensible and straightforward proposals, there would be nothing objectionable in the sensible idea of the BAI becoming the local implementing body of EU requirements for common age classification on Netflix, or an increase in EU produced material to protect Europe’s cultural identity.

But, in response to a specific set of queries from the Minister the BAI went further than the implementation of the EU law. They suggested that their role be hugely expanded to become a general regulator of all content (in any form, rather than just video) on the internet. And not just public content. They suggest that they, acting in a new role as an Online Service Regulator (OSR), should have the power to block or censor private communications between individuals.

“The OSR should be able to issue HOC Notices to both “open” online services (e.g. social media platforms) and “encrypted” online services (e.g. private messaging services).”

Taken simply on its own, this demonstrates why making a Broadcasting Regulator a regulator of individuals’ private communications is a bad idea. Institutionally, the instincts of regulating Broadcast (with all its panoply of editorial controls, licencing arrangements etc) should not be applied to private messages between citizens. After that comes the question of how the BAI would propose to access encrypted private messages- and whether it has made that suggestion unaware of its impracticality.

In addition, the BAI outlines its approach to how it would go about implementing EU Law:

Extract from BAI Proposal

To that extent, the key question in determining whether essential functionality applies from a constructive perspective is not to ask if the Directive applies, but rather should the Directive apply such services having regard to the need for protections to be put in place for audiences and the European Institutions’ intentions.

 

This commitment to implementing what the law should say over what it says is, to my knowledge, a novel approach to implementing EU Law.

The proposal also addresses one of the more difficult issues in regulating completely unalike media- Broadcast and Internet.

It does this by simply asserting they can both be treated the same. Problem. Solved.

The BAI welcomes the greater degree of regulatory consistency between on-demand and linear broadcasting services which is reflective of changing consumption patterns amongst audiences… As a general regulatory principle, the BAI takes the view that it is desirable for “like” services to be obliged to follow “like” rules. Given the significant convergence of the market for audiovisual media over the past decade, the BAI endorses the more level playing field envisioned by the Directive between television broadcasting services and on-demand services….

To the extent that an area of regulation is harmonised by the Directive, however, the BAI feels that it is entirely appropriate that television broadcasting services and on-demand services should be obliged to follow similar rules ensuring similar standards of protection for audiences. Taking measures to ensure greater equivalency in these areas is both a legal obligation and desirable from an audience perspective.

The BAI is a creature of the Broadcasting Act 2009. I have written previously about the inappropriateness of that Act to a modern society in the past.

Section 39 (1) (d) of that act says;

Every broadcaster shall ensure that “anything which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence, or as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State, is not broadcast by the broadcaster,”

This section puts causing offence to be just as serious a breach as undermining the authority of the State. But no society can ever improve itself, can ever acknowledge what is wrong and address how to make things better, if we can only say things that cause nobody any offence.

By outlawing the giving of offence Section 39(1)(d) is a ban on open discussion on our airwaves, making the broadcasting complaints process a happy hunting ground for people who don’t want to be disturbed in their cosy beliefs.

If the BAI thinks that this is the appropriate standard to apply to online discussion- and they do say that they would seek to censor things which were not illegal- then that, by itself is a demonstration that it has all the wrong impulses to be left responsible for the most important communications and social medium in human history.

From PIAB To InjuriesBoard to PIAB again

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, or PIAB, was created by statute in 2003. It was set up as an institution to deal with injured people’s claims- back injuries, falling over on a banana skin in the supermarket, you name it. Only medical negligence was removed from its scope- those sorts of claims are particularly tricky and it wasn’t considered to be appropriate to roll them in with everything else.

For years, the PIAB called itself PIAB. The logo was as workmanlike as you could hope for. We are talking about the original does-what it says on the tin sort of approach. Let’s just write out the name, and that’s the logo.

PIAB logo

All change

Then, suddenly one day, it seems like it was gripped by a sudden and profound wish to be less acronymatic. PIAB was out, Out, OUT- and the fresh new branding of InjuriesBoard.ie was in, In, IN. We were all-in on using the URL as the brand.

It even had one of those spectacular ‘dot and swirls’ celtic tiger era state logos. It even came with just the hint of an abstraction of an injured person, crocked and humpbacked. I mean, most back injury claims probably involve people with limbs or a face still, but you get the idea.

Injuries Board logo

And then, suddenly, a few months ago, it was all change. InjuriesBoard.ie was out,Out, OUT and the venerable PIAB.ie was back,Back, BACK!

New PIAB Logo

The new PIAB logo was all swirls, no dots. Who knows what mysterious forces lead a monopoly state body to expend so much consideration on their branding? After all, InjuriesBoard.ie or PIAB, they’re the only place you can go if you want your injury claim assessment dealt with.

But as always, for the niche-interest community of state logo afficianados the one certain thing is that this will not be the last time we get to witness one of these evolutions.

Blue Peter: England’s dream of childhood

It is the 60th anniversary of Blue Peter. Described airily as a “magazine show” to those unfamiliar with its sui generis format, Blue Peter has sat in the BBC schedule as unwaveringly as the 9 O’Clock News for a televisual eon.

The reason, I suspect with an outsider’s perspective, is that Blue Peter is the collective dream of English childhood given form and that the culture could no more abandon that dream then it could abandon the idea of adulthood embodied in the News.

I say an English dream of childhood, rather than a British one, because whether they knew it or not, Blue Peter has never been about how children in Scotland, or Wales (and certainly not Northern Ireland) lived and played and imagined. They may well have all had the same dreams and been excited by the same Blyton-esque mix of pluck, exploration, make and do and dogs.

Being Irish, I don’t know. But it was clear to me when I watched it (not often, not with any enthusiasm) that the programme didn’t know either- and didn’t care.

These were English pals (and the capacity to cast really likeable sorts for Blue Peter remains one of its spectacular skills) mucking in, or mucking about. Digging in the Blue Peter garden, exploring the British landscape (though always through the eyes of the English visitor), having adventures, making biscuits or honest terrible Christmas decorations and so on and so on.

But in fact, the producers (well, really the founding master and commander of Blue Peter, Biddy Baxter) understood their ostensibly factual programme was playing in the imagination as much as any Doctor Who or Wombles.

Blue Peter has pets, because there are many children who would like to have a pet, but can’t. And Biddy Baxter gave those children dogs and cats to live with- animals who would grow up and then old with them.

She imagined living in one of the newly built, post-war estates of high rise flats. So the Blue Peter Garden was created, so those children would have a garden- a patch of nature to tend along with the presenters.

Biddy Baxter understood that the reality of many children’s lives was not Blyton, but Kes. But her programme chose to offer them an escape, not a mirror. Even the famous Blue Peter badge- a talisman which allowed the bearer to access museums, galleries and the rest of the cultural world at discount or for free- was an unacknowledged effort to spread that access to children who might never manage it any other way.

None of this was ever acknowledged on screen, but was a quiet river of radicalism buried under the conventional enthusiasms of the middle classes.

Even the famous fund raising feats of the Blue Peter Appeal- where tens of thousands of children sent in bottle-tops or other tokens of value to help a charity- were more than their apparent Good Works at the Village Fête. What they really tried to demonstrate to children was the potential of collective action to make change.

A 60 year anniversary in television is an achievement difficult to imagine being repeated by any programme starting now.

Blue Peter’s continuing power comes from having offered more than imagined friends, pets or gardens.

It offered an imagined England that was always consciously and deliberately better than the real thing- because children deserved better.

Just there, in that studio, twice a week, England’s dreaming.

And just for once, we should be glad of it

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