Bugger, an MP has just given me some homework

Ah, the perils of blogging. A little while back I blogged about the Government’s failure to use its existing legal powers to clarify how imprint rules for election leaflets apply to online campaigning, such as emails or YouTube videos. Got a bit of traffic, a few comments and an MP (Lynne Featherstone) decided to put in a written question in Parliament. And that was that.

But then… an eagled-eyed BBC reporter spotted my post and decided there was a story in it. Cue two stories today on the BBC website:

With a general election on the horizon, there are concerns that the laws are ill-equipped for the new digital battlefields that the campaign will be fought on …

Current laws give ministers the power, subject to Parliamentary approval, to draw up specific rules for non-printed material but, nine years on, they have yet to do so.

In its most recent guidance, the Electoral Commission said candidates should as “a matter of good practice” include imprint details on their campaign websites.

But candidates are not required to do so and the watchdog advised ministers in 2003 to look at the issue, arguing candidates need to be equally accountable in all different mediums.

You can read the full piece here, including some additional comments from myself and there is also a further BBC report:

The Electoral Commission has said it will not be able to police the expected explosion in spoof internet videos at the next general election.

Some experts believe unattributed videos on YouTube and e-mails could be used to spread false information.

And now, bugger, I’ve been landed with some homework courtesy of Tom Watson MP:

I’m going to write to Jack Straw to ask him to sort it out. It strikes me that between us, we could knock up a set of guidelines quite quickly. I nominate Mark to get the ball rolling with a draft. Anyone else got ideas?

3 responses to “Bugger, an MP has just given me some homework”

  1. I assume you will be posting something when you get this started, so I’m half putting a comment here so that I will find it again, half hoping that you may reply when you do start (there has to be an easier way of tracking posts on blogs…).

    As to the issue at hand, I’m generally a pessimist that any sort of sensible solution can be found that is both workable and not somehow draconian (although the whole subject does shed light upon more authoritarian countries shutting down access to sites before election…). In any case I replied somewhat more fully to Tom Watsons blog post (its the comment by ajehals…), it will be interesting to see what sort of solutions or advice you manage to come up with…

  2. Surely this is a bit of a fuss about nothing. Leaflets without imprints can be produced and have been. OK spoof for malicious websites are easy to produce and you don’t need to pound the streets to distribute, but I do worry about this whole “we need to police the internet” panic.

    It’s simple. If the imprint on the website matches the imprint on leaflets, it’s probably OK … but it might be a good idea to check that the domain name is registered to a known name and address e.g. matches something on the imprint.

    If the website doesn’t conform to this it’s probably a spoof and should be treated as such.

    What are we going to have – and official registration process for election websites? http://www..elec.uk?

  3. ajehals: Yup. If I’ve got time, I’ll write it up for a piece I’ve got to do on Monday on the Wardman Wire blog.

    Debra: I think it’s possible to come up some fairly simple rules which wouldn’t be a heavy touch, internet-paranoia sort of thing, but would mean that in most cases it’s either fairly easy to get hold of someone or you know that they are dodging the rules and, as with anonymous leaflets, that immediately reduces the impact of what they say.

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