Monday, April 12, 2010

Life is very strange lately..

.. Pangloss, still detoxing from a week on Twtter, is somewhat flattered to find herself the actual centre of an op piece!! Even one by notorious troll Andrew Orlowski!

Orlowski reports that the BBC has received a complant about the impartiality of a (4 minute, on the hoof, non pre recorded) interview I gave on Radio 2 to Richard Madeley of Judy fame (this has made my mother very happy :-) the day that the Digital Economy Bill cleared House of Commons.

Having looked at his story I'm fairly amazed that any editor let this pass; not because it has scandalous revelations but because absolutely nothng said there is remotely controversial let alone false or deceptive. I'll reproduce in full so we don't up his hit count:)

"The BBC tells us it is to investigate how Richard Madeley told the nation that the Government was going to whisk away his computer last week.

The segment on Monday's Simon Mayo drive time heard Madeley, who is filling in for Mayo, say: "What a pain! I only got computer literate three years ago, just as I get wised up to it, they take it away."

We don't yet know how many car accidents were caused by the news of mass confiscations.

Madeley was following a segment of the show about the Digital Economy Bill (now Act). The sole 'expert' was Professor Lilian Edwards. Edwards was simply billed as "a Professor of Law" at Sheffield University.

Edwards made some curious statements about "disconnections" (not mentioned in the Act) and how libraries might have to put passwords on their PCs. Libraries already operate a pretty strict lock-down regime: requiring password authentication, firewalls, and prohibiting the installation of Third Party software. But she insisted: "Even if you do password protect it, policing it may get very expensive."

The impartial Lilian Edwards

Even this didn't raise any suspicions amongst the show's presenters. But then, why would it - Edwards was an unbiased expert.

Asked why some Twitterers were upset about the Bill, Edwards replied: "I've been thinking about this. It's a hard thing to say on a music station, but the House of Commons thinks most important thing here is the music industry - which is of course important - but these people think the most important thing is the future of the internet, and I tend to agree with them."

The problem for Radio 2 is that the show breached the Corporations' editorial guidelines. Edwards is a member of the Open Rights Group's Advisory Council, and she relentlessly blogs about the coming armageddon - not always accurately - here. As an ORG advisor her duties include to "Fundraise and/or make fundraising introductions" and "Be available for media contact if required".

By failing to declare Edwards' partisan affiliations, the show fell foul of the guideline, which states:

...we should not automatically assume that academics and journalists from other organisations are impartial and make it clear to our audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint

"We are aware of the issues you have raised with us and are currently looking into the matter," a spokesperson told us on Friday.

It's amazing what the title 'Professor' can do. If you can find the right production staff, you can get away with anything. ®"

A few points for legal reasons (if already bored you are quite welcome to stop reading now)

(1) Orlowski has elided the fact that the discussion about the impact on wi fi of the DEB had included small businesses, especally cafes offering free public wi fi, as well as libraries. In all cases, however, I had said , correctly as far as I know, the language of the bill clearly ascribed liability to those who "allow" their Internet connection to be used for infringing acts; then said that of course there were options to minimise risk such as password protection. Then I tried to summarise (in a very short intervew) what is well known: namely that password protection does not remove liability, merely excludes those not allocated passwords and allows tracking of those truely culpable - but this latter would stll requre detailed marrying up of log ins and time stamps wth reports of infringing downloading ("Copyright Infringement Reports in the language of the DEB) from rightsholders.

This is a technical process many small businesses would not be equipped to perform, so they might (as big companies like MacDonalds etc regularly do) feel required to bring in help, from companies like The Cloud who provide wi f hotspots. Unfortunately that would be prohibitively expensive for many cafes etc. leading to a general reduction in the amount of free public wi fi available (password protected or otherwise).

(2) I had nothing to do wth Madeley's comments about them coming to take away hs computer - was already off air by then (or I mght have corrected him!). the fact I've heard nothng about this "BBC investigation" until this piece, makes me suspect (if it even exists - ref please Mr Orlowski) that it is restricted to what Madeley said, not what I did.

(3) I am a bit perplexed at what the inverted comments round "a Professor of Law" and "expert" indicate. I do hold that post. For what it is worth, I prevously held that title at Southampton. These are and were both respected Russell Group Universities; Soton was a 5* law department. Although I do not so self style, yes, within academe I think I am regarded as an expert on the Digital Economy Bll. I also (and this is hardly a surprise or a secret) am on the ORG Advisory Councl (as are several other academics). This fact is on an open web site available via Google (and often mentioned on this blog). They do not pay me or employ me (if only! :-) It would be dfficult to find an academic who was an expert on any subject and of any standng who did not advise external bodies or sit on Advisory Boards - this is part the job of being a senior academic.

(4) Though not really my fight, I note the BBC guidelines and quote the following back :
"we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented."

Since the BPI's views on the DEB were widely reported in the press and media at the time, while opposing views were largely only reported in the IT trade press and the Guardian tech section at the time, it seems to me the Rado 2 show was gallantly doing its bit to redress the balance as per BBC rules. In any case nothing said above is anything other than a reasonable interpretaton of the legal rules along with a final personal sentiment - which I absolutely stand by.

(5) I suspect the final line may in its implications well be libellous. I was asked to speak on the show and have absolutely no idea who the producers were nor did I have any prior relatonship with them. I have no intention of gettng involved in libel suits under current dreadful UK libel law, but would warn Mr Orlowski (and his publishers) to be careful when messing with someone who is not only an expert on the Digital Economy Bll but started off as an early expert in Internet libel law :-)

(6) Finally is all this alleging of bias one way only? Are we entitled to know if Orlowski is beng paid off by the BPI or other rightsholder groups for his relentlessly dull would-be-scare-stories about ORG? I wonder what the Press Complaints Commission thinks. Ah, reciprocity, doncha love it :->


Andres Guadamuz said...

You're just joining a long line of people who have been trolled by Rat-Toothed Freddy. You're in good company :)

pangloss said...

test comment!

Anonymous said...

I find Andrew 'Autistic' Orlowski's venemous obsession with knocking ORG both funny & perplexing. He never seems to come up with much of substance in the way of coherent critical analysis. Its most just along the lines of 'Freetards nya nya. You smell you cant organise a decent demo and you dont let people vote". He really is a journotard. Oh, see? Another neoligism.

If I were a gambling man I'd suggest Autistic had had a failed romantic encounter with an ORGette and jjust can't let it go.

Michael Bromby said...

Obviously you need a clearer title... maybe you should ask ORG to cough-up and endow an Chair to make the ORG Professor in Law!?!?