Saturday, March 27, 2010

Just in case you didn't know ...

You may have thought that the annual move to British summertime was a quaint little local tradition, but in fact the country has no choice over the matter ... it's the result of an EC directive.

The 9th EC Directive on Summer Time, to be precise.

Here's the press release that I received yesterday from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
Summertime begins

Summer time will start on Sunday 28 March at 1.00am GMT throughout European Union Member States. The clocks go forward an hour. This means that at 1.00am (GMT) the UK will move to 2.00am British Summer Time (BST).

Notes to Editors

1. The 9th EC Directive on summer time harmonised, for an indefinite period, the dates on which summer time begins and ends across member states as the last Sundays in March and October respectively. Under the Directive, summer time begins and ends at 1.00am GMT in each Member State. Amendments to the Summer Time Act to implement the Directive came into force on 11 March 2002.

2. Time zones are the responsibility of individual Member States and vary across the EU. The UK is not planning to move to Central European Time.
So now you know ...

Why on earth would council want to ban Twitter?

The Mercury has long campaigned for openness in council affairs and, in recent months, has had a number of very public spats with the city council in an effort to make its decisions more transparent. The Bowstring Bridge example springs to mind.

As such, I welcome the early comments of the new council leader, Coun Veejay Patel, who has vowed to make the authority less secretive.

Coun Patel has been in power for less than 48 hours and it is clearly going to take time to change a culture which is based on years of belief that the public only has a right to know that which the council wants it to know.

We wish Coun Patel well in his campaign.

The size of the task facing him is highlighted by our article in today's Mercury which details plans by Labour’s chief whip, Coun Barbara Potter, to ban the use of social media sites, Twitter in particular, during council meetings.

Twitter allows people to post short messages onto the internet almost instantaneously and is being used by councillors, journalists and members of the public to give an almost live feed of what is going on in council meetings.

It’s not clear how the council could legally ban its use, but more importantly, it is difficult to see why it would want to.

Live video streaming of Thursday night’s council meeting was watched by far more people than ever turn up to the council chamber and this was almost entirely due to the chatter on Twitter about the meeting.

More than 40 people clicked on the link I put on Twitter that evening and I know that many of them stayed to watch at least part of the meeting because I could see the discussion on Twitter. Even last night, people were still talking about the live stream.

One councillor told me that he thought there were about 15 people in the public gallery on the night and that that was more than usual.

So, why on earth would Coun Potter want to ban the use of something which increases public interest in council meetings? It doesn't make any noise or interupt the meeting. People will probably, wrongly, assume she has something to hide!

*This post is based on the opinion I wrote for today's Mercury.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PCC rules against Leicester Mercury

The Press Complaints Commission has ruled that the Leicester Mercury breached the code of conduct by publishing a picture of children without the permission of their parents.

It is the first time in 16 years of editing newspapers and websites that I have been found guilty of breaking the code. The ruling concerns a photograph of children being comforted in the street by a kneeling policeman after a bus crash in Leicester. We ran it on the front page under a headline which said: The tender arm of the law.

To be clear, the decision to run the picture was one that I took personally after discussing it with senior staff and considering the code of conduct carefully . The relevant clause of the code is aimed at protecting the welfare of children and I felt that the fact that the children concerned did not come from Leicester and would not be recognised by anybody meant that its publication would not adversely affect their welfare.

However, the Commission did not agree and I accept its ruling. We are running the adjudication in tomorrow's paper and I have apologised to the girl, her family and our readers for my error of judgement.

Here's the wording of the Commission's finding:
A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined “Tender arm of the law”, published in the Leicester Mercury on 12 December 2009, contained a photograph of her daughter which was published without consent in breach of Clause 6 (Children) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article reported that a bus full of primary school children on a day trip had crashed into a low railway bridge. The complainant objected to the inclusion in the coverage of a photograph of her daughter, together with numerous other children, being comforted by a policeman at the scene of the accident. Her daughter had been pictured in a clear state of distress and the complainant had not been asked for her consent for the photograph to appear. The child had been further upset by the publication of the image.

The newspaper said that this was a serious accident in which there was a legitimate public interest. The children depicted in the photograph had not been injured and were all safe from further harm. The decision to publish the photograph had not been taken lightly: its main concern was the possible impact any use of the picture would have had on the children. The photograph had been taken on the street and had been unaccompanied by any private details of the children involved. It would also not have had an impact on the welfare of the children as it had appeared only in Leicester, outside their local area. It said that they would not have been embarrassed or distressed by the coverage.


Newspapers are entitled to publish stories and pictures of serious road accidents, which take place in public and often have wide-reaching consequences. In this case, it was not in doubt that the bus crash – which involved more than fifty schoolchildren – was a serious incident which raised important questions in regard to public health and safety. The Commission did not wish to interfere unnecessarily with the newspaper’s right to report the matter, which it generally had done in a sensitive manner.

However, it was clear that the complainant had not given her consent for the newspaper to either take or publish the photograph which showed her daughter in a state of distress. The subject matter of the close-up photograph certainly related to her welfare.

There may be occasions where the scale and gravity of the circumstances can mean that pictures of children can be published in the public interest without consent. In the specific circumstances of this case, the Commission did not consider that there was a sufficient public interest to justify the publication of the image. It accepted that the newspaper had thought carefully about whether to use the photograph, but the Commission considered that it was just the wrong side of the line on this occasion. The complaint was therefore upheld.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Changes to Mercury website comments system

We have finally got round to changing the way we allow comments to be added to our main website,

It is something which I have previously proposed both on thisisleicestershire and here on my blog, but have backed away from for various reasons. Until now, we have allowed anybody to comment on stories without asking them to register or give us any details. To help us keep an eye on what people said, we have restricted the times at which comments could be left to normal office hours.

Now, however, we have introduced a system that forces people to register with the site before they can leave a comment. We hope that forcing people to register will encourage them to join in constructive conversation rather than the abusive slanging matches which so often seem to dominate the 'discussion.' In return, we will leave the commenting functionality enabled 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Following the advice given by our lawyers, Foot Anstey, we will no longer moderate the comments in any way, but have introduced an easy way for readers to report abuse which we will then check and act on if appropriate.

Unsurprisingly, the change was not met with universal approval and a number of users immediately set about proving that it was still possible to cheat the system by, for example, registering multiple accounts or changing their displayed user name to impersonate someone else. We know the system is not perfect, but I believe that the changes will help. We'll see.

At the same time as we introduced the changes, we highlighted our terms and conditions and the way in which we expected people to use the site.

One user, Daniel, wasn't happy.
Just looking at the house rules:-

You must not make or encourage comments which are:
  • defamatory, false or misleading;
  • insulting, threatening or abusive;
  • obscene or of a sexual nature;
  • offensive, racist, sexist, homophobic or discriminatory against any religions or other groups
If you enforced this then no-one would have an opinion on anything! and if they did it wouldnt stay on the comments page.

Freedom of speech!, i'm not so sure. It seems you can only post something if its politically correct but what if you dont actually believe in the ridiculous P.C world we live in are you less of a human who shouldn't be allowed to have your say. The L.M is clearly stating 'have an opinion as long as no one else disagrees with it, or happens to find it offensive' well I am sorry but so what if someone happens to find a post offensive thats their business, isn't the whole point of having your opinion known is that its YOUR opinion.
That seems a bit of an odd objection to me: if you look at the rules in reverse, how would people feel if we said it was ok to make comments that were any of the things listed - it's ok to be racist, defamatory or obscene, for example?

Of course, somebody always complains about a restriction of their freedom of speech whenever you have rules that prevent them writing whatever they want. I believe strongly in freedom of speech and would not seek to prevent you saying whatever you want ... but that doesn't mean that I think you should be allowed to do that on our website. We provide our website for the information and enjoyment of our readers, but it is our website and I think it is reasonable for us to set the rules.