Tag Archives: White Paper

Plan for social media regulator will attack the symptom of ‘harmful content’ – not the cause

A Tory government plan to hold bosses of social media platforms responsible for their content will not stop the flow of “harmful” material onto the internet.

The “online harm” White Paper proposes a statutory duty of care, to be conferred on media companies including platforms such as Facebook and Google, online messaging services like WhatsApp and file hosting sites.

They would be required to comply with a code of practice, setting out the steps they must take to meet the duty of care. This may include designing products and platforms to make them safer, directing users who have suffered harm towards support, combating disinformation (for example by using fact-checking services), and improving the transparency of political advertising.

They would be expected to co-operate with police and other enforcement agencies on illegalities including incitement of violence and selling illegal weapons.

And they would have to compile annual “transparency reports” detailing the amount of harmful content found on their platforms and what they are doing to combat it.

The government would have powers to direct the regulator – initially Ofcom, with a dedicated regulator to follow in the future – on specific issues such as terrorist activity or child sexual exploitation.

A couple of thoughts occur.

Firstly, I wonder if the media organisations who use the internet, such as the BBC, other TV companies, radio channels and newspapers realise that they would also be responsible for “combating disinformation (for example by using fact-checking services)” – and that includes during elections or referendum periods? If they had actually bothered to check a few claims during the referendum campaign, the UK might be in a very different position today.

Secondly, regulating online media platforms will not stop people posting “harmful” content to them, if there is nothing to stop them from doing so. It is farcically easy to create anonymous accounts, from which to post objectionable and/or abusive content. Shut one down? That’s fine – the individual responsible can have another up and running in a matter of minutes, if they don’t have multiple aliases working already.

It has been argued that people must have a right to be able to post anonymously, because of personal circumstances that make it important – possibly for their personal safety.

Fine. A system can be devised in which people apply for anonymity and the number of people or organisations able to ascertain their real identity is strictly limited. That would allow these individuals to continue functioning in the online world. And it would prevent others from abusing social media platforms. Any posts from an unrecognised anonymous account would be easy to flag up and isolate.

Now, I admit that’s just an idea off the top of my head, but it is workable – and if I can think of it, I’m sure government advisors have thought of it too.

And they have decided to attack social media platforms instead.

So the real questions here are: Why these choices? And what is their real purpose?


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Javid is preparing to bring his plan to FAKE post-Brexit immigration figures to Parliament

Busted: Sajid Javid wants you to think he can cut immigration from the EU with the stroke of a pen; in fact he’ll just be hiding the number of EU citizens coming into the UK.

It seems Home Secretary Sajid Javid is about to go through with a plan to fake immigration statistics, as highlighted on This Site last month.

The Times has enthusiastically reported that “immigration from the European Union will be slashed by up to 80% under plans to seize control of Britain’s borders that will be outlined by Sajid Javid.” In fact, it seems he is only planning to seize control over the way immigration figures are recorded.

The paper states that Mr Javid’s plans are in the government’s immigration white paper and will see net migration from Europe “slashed by up to 80 per cent” “to as little as 10,000 a year”.

But I’ve already reported that the immigration white paper’s measures won’t change the actual number of people arriving in the UK – it will simply change whether they can be described as immigrants under the current legal definition.

I wrote on November 26: “It’s a simple premise, too – change 12-month visas for low-skilled foreign workers to 11-month visas. People on 12-month visas are included in immigration statistics; those on 11-month visas aren’t.”

The intention of this simple lie is to boost support among Eurosceptic MPs in the run-up to the “meaningful vote” on Brexit in Parliament – as explained in this Telegraph article.

Of course, the proof of the claim will be in the white paper – and it seems clear that the best way to find the facts will be to read it, and not to read The Times.

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Theresa May’s Brexit White Paper announces the terms of her surrender to the EU27

Dominic Raab: His position on the EU seems clear, so it is strange that he should be the frontman for a White Paper that capitulates to the EU27 on so many major points.

How nice to see Dominic Raab finally trying to do an honest day’s work!

And how unfortunate for him that his attempt to present the Brexit White Paper to Parliament was undermined by his incompetent failure to actually provide it to MPs before doing so – compounded by the fact that the press had already been given prior access to it!

The result was an ill-humoured suspension of proceedings while Commons Speaker John Bercow forced Mr Raab to accept that MPs should be given copies of the paper before he proceeded.

It set the tone for the day – because the White Paper itself is a series of concessions and capitulations to the EU27 that will be unpalatable to both Leavers, who want to be free of EU rules altogether, and Remainers, who will see no point in adhering to EU laws without any input into them.

A principle bone of contention is Theresa May’s “facilitated customs arrangement” (FCA), which would see all imported goods charged the UK tariff at the border, keeping Brexiteers happy, rather than the EU rate as in the “new customs partnership”. Goods would be tracked, and if they were sent on to the continent, they would be charged the EU tariff with money passed on to Brussels.

It means the UK can sign trade deals with other countries in which it promises to lower tariffs, but Britain would still promise not to deviate from EU standards, so we could not change regulations as part of any trade deal.

There is no guarantee that the EU27 would agree to such a deal – and in any case they will not accept the claim that the UK will not honour its £39 billion exit payment if it doesn’t get a good trade agreement; their argument is that the exit payment covers financial commitments already made by the UK, and is not a payment for a good trade deal.

But hard-Brexiters like Jacob Rees-Mogg have already made their opposition clear.

They are lodging “wrecking” amendments to the Trade Bill that would enshrine the policy into law, blocking the government from keeping one foot in the EU customs union for goods, and preventing a proposed ‘backstop’ solution for the Irish border from creating an internal trade boundary in the Irish Sea.

But their amendments will not have the support of enough Parliamentarians to make any difference – other than showing us the weakness of their position. If they get only around 30 supporters, they will have cemented their own position as nothing more than a sideshow.

Still, Mr Rees-Mogg’s own statement on the White Paper makes some very clear points:

“This paper sets out that the UK will be subject to EU laws while having no say in their creation. The common rulebook will not be common it will be EU law, interpreted by the EU Court with the UK subjected to EU fines for non-compliance.

“The UK has accepted it cannot diverge from ‘ongoing harmonisation’ without activating repercussions for Northern Ireland. In effect, parliament will have no say over future EU laws implemented in the UK.

“The UK has accepted that it will collect and hand over EU taxes. This is an unwarranted intrusion into the control of our border. The absence of reciprocity is concerning and the cost to the taxpayer unknown.”

And then there is end of free movement – for some, but not others.

Among those who will still be able to move freely between the EU27 and the UK, under the terms of the White Paper, are students. As Theresa May has consistently refused to remove foreign students – who are only temporarily UK residents – from immigration figures, this means the UK will continue to demonstrate high immigration after Brexit, despite the fact that one of the stated purposes of leaving the EU was reducing these statistics.

Also able to travel into the UK without visas under the terms of the White Paper would be EU tourists and temporary workers, and there should be “reciprocal arrangements” for businesses to move “their talented people” into and out of the EU.

Critics have said this means the EU27 would continue to have preferential access to the UK and it is hard to argue against that.

The White Paper received an almost-entirely sceptical or hostile reception from Conservative MPs. Along with opposition from Labour and the other parties in Parliament (other than, we imagine, the Tory-bribed DUP), it seems unlikely that any of its measures will survive Parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr Raab, speaking prior to today’s Parliamentary session, said critics of the White Paper should put up a credible alternative or shut up. An alternative – I’m not prepared to say it’s creditable – has already been published by former Brexit Secretary David Davis.

And Labour doesn’t have to do anything. Brexit is entirely owned by the Conservative Party and is for the Tories to mess up.

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Plebgate v NHS lies – why is one the lead on the news when the other was buried?

Why does the BBC want us to pay more attention to a squabble between this overprivileged cyclist and a policeman than to the wholesale privatisation of the National Health Service, for which we have all paid with our taxes?

Why does the BBC want us to pay more attention to a squabble between this overprivileged cyclist and a policeman than to the wholesale privatisation of the National Health Service, for which we have all paid with our taxes?

In the mid-1990s I interviewed for a reporter’s job at the then-fledgeling BBC News website. I didn’t get it.

Considering the BBC’s current output and apparent lack of news sense, I am now very glad that I did not succeed. I would be ashamed to have that as a line on my CV.

Unfortunately, the BBC accounts for 70 per cent of news consumption on British television – and 40 per cent of online news read by the public. It has a stranglehold on most people’s perception of the news – and it is clearly biased.

Take today’s story about PC Keith Wallis, who has admitted misconduct in the ‘Plebgate’ affair by falsely claiming to have overheard the conversation between Andrew Mitchell and another police officer. He admitted the falsehood at a court hearing in the Old Bailey.

The case is important because he had been lying in order to support the allegation that Mr Mitchell had shouting a torrent of profanities at the other police officer, Toby Rowland, after being stopped from cycling through Downing Street’s main gates. PC Rowland had alleged that one of the words used had been the derogatory word “pleb”, and the resulting scandal had forced Mitchell to resign as Tory Chief Whip.

It casts doubt on the integrity of Metropolitan police officers – a further four are facing charges of gross misconduct.

However, the officer at the centre of the case – PC Rowlands – is not among them. He remains adamant that his version of events is correct and is suing Mitchell for libel over comments he made about the incident which the officer claims were defamatory.

This is the story the BBC decided to make the lead on all its news bulletins, all day. It contains no evidence contradicting PC Rowland’s allegations against Mitchell; the worst that can be said is that the admission of guilt casts a shadow over the entire Metropolitan police service – and in fairness, that is a serious matter.

But the fact is that people will use this to discredit PC Rowland and rehabilitate the reputation of an MP who was a leading member of the Coalition government until the incident took place – and that is wrong. It is an inaccurate interpretation of the information, but the BBC is supporting it by giving the story the prominence it has received.

In contrast, let’s look at the way it handled revelations about the Coalition government’s plans to change the National Health Service, back when the Health and Social Care Act was on its way through Parliament.

You will be aware that Andrew Lansley worked on the then-Bill for many years prior to the 2010 election, but was forbidden from mentioning this to anybody ahead of polling day (see Never Again? The story of the Health and Social Care Act 2012). Meanwhile all election material promised no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS. Former cabinet minister Michael Portillo, speaking about it on the BBC’s This Week, said: “[The Tories] didn’t believe they could win an election if they told you what they were going to do.” Considering the immensity of the changes – NHS boss David Nicholson said they were “visible from space” – this lie should have sparked a major BBC investigation. What did we get?

Nothing.

After Lansley released his unpopular White Paper on health, David Cameron tried to distance himself from the backlash by claiming “surprise” at how far they went. This was an early example of the comedy Prime Minister’s ability to lie (so many have issued from his lips since then that we should have a contest to choose the Nation’s favourite), as he helped write the Green Papers that preceded this document (see Never Again). If it was possible for the authors of Never Again to dig out this information, it should certainly have been possible for the BBC. What did we get?

Not a word.

In contrast to Cameron, Lansley, and any other Tory’s claims that there would be no privatisation of the NHS, KPMG head of health Mark Britnell (look him up – he’s an interesting character in his own right) said the service would be shown “no mercy” and would become a “state insurance provider, not a state deliverer”. This important revelation that the Tories had been lying received coverage in less popular outlets like The Guardian, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail but the BBC only mentioned it in passing – four days after the story broke – to explain a comment by Nick Clegg.

One of the key elements used to get members of the medical profession on-side with the Lansley Act was the claim that GPs would commission services. This was a lie. It was well-known when the plans were being drafted that general practitioners simply would not have time for such work and it was expected that they would outsource the work to private management companies – many of whom would also have a hand in service delivery. There is a clear conflict of interest in this. East London GP Jonathan Tomlinson told Channel 4 that the scale of private involvement would be so large as to include “absolutely everything that commissioning involves”. This was a clear betrayal of the promise to GPs. The BBC never mentioned it.

Another phrase trotted out by the Tories was that the changes would increase “patient choice” – by which we were all intended to believe patients would have more opportunity to choose the treatment they received and who provided it. This is a lie. The new Clinical Commissioning Groups created by the Act – and run, not by doctors, but by private healthcare companies on their own behalf – have a duty to put services out to tender unless they are sure that only one provider is able to offer a service. In reality, this means all services must be opened up to the private sector as no CCG could withstand a legal challenge from a snubbed private provider. But this makes a mockery of Andrew Lansley’s promise that CCGs could choose when and with whom to commission.

In turn, this means private firms will be able to ‘cherry-pick’ the easiest and cheapest services to provide, and regulations also mean they can choose to provide those services only for those patients they believe will cost the least money. Anyone with complicated, difficult, or long-term conditions will be thrown to the wolves. In other words, far from patients having increased choice, the Health and Social Care Act means private companies will be able to choose the patients they treat.

We are still waiting for the BBC to report this.

Add it all up and you will see that the largest news-gathering organisation in the UK – and possibly the world – sees more news value in a slanging match between an MP and a policeman than it does in the wholesale betrayal of every single citizen of the country.

Why do we allow this to continue?

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