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Islands of Regulation: the PCC and online vids

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Chris Vallance | 22:07 UK time, Wednesday, 15 August 2007

In a landmark ruling The Press Complaints Commission has found that a newspaper should have obscured the faces of children featured in an online video, shot by a pupil on a mobile phone, and posted on the newspaper's website.

" The PCC agreed that the story was a matter of public interest - but said the paper should have taken steps to obscure the pupils' identities."

The ruling against the Hamilton Advertiser is significant, because it is the first ruling affecting the use of online video by print publications; new territory for the PCC as Journalism.co.uk puts it:

The rise of media-rich websites and the heavy promotion of citizen-generated content in a bid to engage falling newspaper readerships has forced the PCC to respond, which it did with new guidelines issued in February that extended its remit include audiovisual material.

In the view of the BBC's media correspondent Torin Douglas this puts newspaper editors under tighter regulatory scrutiny than their broadcast counterparts

"Ironically, the extension of the PCC's remit means that in some ways videos on newspaper websites are more tightly controlled than those put online by the broadcasters. The media regulator Ofcom - which regulates TV and radio - doesn't have any control over their websites"

It leaves newspaper websites looking like islands of stringent regulation in a sea of content. But local newspaper websites are not the first place surfers go for audio video content. Mostly people turn to YouTube, which is not subject to the strictures of either the PCC or Ofcom, as indeed, the Hamilton Advertiser notes in its own reports of youngsters posting dangerous stunt videos online

While this particular video didn't come from YouTube there are meaningful questions to be asked about whether the current framework of media regulation really reflects the realities of media consumption. A UK based blogger who gets let's say for the sake of argument, 250,000 unique visitors a month, is now under less regulatory oversight than a weekly local newspaper with a circulation of less than a tenth of that, less scrutiny even than the Wortlethorp Observer should the inky fingered among the church mice decide to get into AV content

Oddly, for two very different videos, we find ourselves asking the same questions as those posed months ago by the discovery of graphic mobile phone footage of the execution of Saddam Hussein: mainstream broadcasters refused to show the grisly images, so people turned in their droves to other parts of the internet. As Heather Hopkins of Hitwise put it

Saddam Hussein's execution - aired around the world through blogs and on YouTube - made YouTube a primary news source for millions of consumers. Newspapers were once the domain for breaking news, but often the medium and time constraints prevent printed press from reacting quickly enough to break news.

Having said all this it may sound as though I'm against regulation - not so - but there are clearly issues here about how the new media environment is governed. I don't want to see grisly videos on my local paper's website, but at the same time I don't want it to go broke because all the advertising revenue has moved to GrislyvidsRus.co.uk But quite what the answers are, I'll leave to bigger brains (and salaries) than mine to figure out.

UPDATE: As per comments below Guy Fawkes reminds us that his blog isn't based in the UK..

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