Nick Jones


European-wide regulations to provide for the erasure of personal details stored online will not provide an absolute right to be forgotten.  This was the clear warning of speakers at a conference on policy priorities for social media.

Facebook’s European director of policy Richard Allan told the Westminster eForum (10.7.2013) that although Facebook users had the right to delete their own profile it was not possible to erase all associated material held about an individual by other data controllers.

Lawyers representing social media companies urged the European Union to be much clearer in how it was proposing to enforce “a right to be forgotten”. 

Hazel Grant, a commercial lawyer and partner in Bristows, said the European proposal for a right of erasure of data when consent was withdrawn could not provide an absolute right to be forgotten.  The data controller concerned would have an obligation to inform third parties and ask them to erase data unless the cost was disproportionate but there was no guarantee that could be done.

“If the European Union wants to introduce a right to be forgotten it needs to be much clearer...It cannot be delivered entirely because a complete right to be forgotten would destroy history...Business needs to know how this will work”.

WikiLeaks’ practice of releasing leaked American military and diplomatic data exclusively through selected media partners was roundly criticised at the annual conference of investigative journalists held by the Norwegian SKUP foundation. 

Any journalist who in the past might have experienced a buzz on receiving a leaked document sent through the post in a plain envelope can only marvel at the prospect of having access to the vast treasure trove of confidential information made available by the whistle blowing website WikiLeaks.  A leaker of yesteryear could hardly have assembled, let alone handed over, the great mass of documents which can now be compressed into a single compact disc and then disseminated online. 

Access by journalists to the Facebook profiles of people who have died and the republication of Tweets which were exchanged between friends are two of the issues currently being considered by the Press Complaints Commission.Facebook allows subscribers to delete content pages and even remove their whole account but the company has yet to decide what policy should be adopted over access to profiles on the death of a subscriber.

Having been a journalist for fifty years, I am in no doubt about my own position. I support and applaud principled individuals who are prepared to leak information which they believe should be in the public domain.  They invariably put their own jobs on the line and often face the threat of a criminal prosecution.  Yes, many in public life might think such principled leakers are misguided; that they are deliberately breaching their conditions of work; and letting their down their own colleagues, their employers and perhaps the state.  But although leakers have my support, I think journalists do have responsibilities when deciding whether to print or broadcast information and data which has obviously been gained by illicit means.  I have spent my career working within codes of practice and guidelines which were designed to ensure that I was accountable for what I wrote and said.  And that is my worry about WikiLeaks. Thanks to the revolution in information technology, it has become a publishing house for leaking on an industrial scale.  But it lacks the checks and balances under which most journalists have always had to operate.  

Unlike the USA, where the press is in dire straits, British national newspapers are hoping to reinvent themselves on line and derive a new income stream from their websites. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the press proprietors are determined to try to get readers into the habit of paying to view online. But this can only be achieved by forcing the BBC to curb the expansion of its online output.  Downsizing the BBC would create the space in which to develop potentially profitable pay-for-view sites – an option almost certain to be favoured by an incoming Conservative government. By buying up exclusive and often sensational videos the newspapers are already showing that they can beat the established broadcasters at their own game. Digital convergence will give the press to ability to join up the dots…to command the agenda not just in print and online but in radio and television as well.  

Journalists were given little encouragement during a debate on the Priorities for Digital Britain -- a forum held in the wake of the recent report by the outgoing communications minister Lord Carter. Google – which earns 15 per cent of its global income in the UK – insisted it was sharing some of its massive online advertising revenue with UK newspapers and television channels but this was of little reassurance to news providers attending an event organised by the Westminster Media Forum (9.7.2009).

Foreign Press Association debateApril 28, 2009The rapid moves by UK newspapers to develop their online output – complete with video and audio as well text and pictures -- is injecting a  new dynamism into British journalism.  Having been a BBC correspondent for thirty years, I find it painful having to admit this, but I have to say that it is newspapers rather than the mainstream television and radio services, which are at the cutting edge in offering exclusive videos and audio tapes, stretching to the limits what journalism should be achieving and more often than not dictating the news agenda into the bargain.  In the short space of a year or two, newspaper websites have become a powerful new platform -- an online showcase for what is arguably some of the best and perhaps what others might consider is some of the worst of British journalism. 


By Andrew Currah

Published by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford.

Andrew Currah deserves to be commended for providing an insight into the rapidly-evolving world of online journalism.  He fears the clickstream of consumption for news and information will be used increasingly to shape the content of websites to the detriment of editorial values and the wider public interest.  In the multi-media hubs of newspapers which are investing heavily in digital output, the most popular stories are indicated on visual display screens.  Real-time feedback is already beginning to determine the allocation of news room resources. 


Self-regulation “rules ok” was the general consensus when internet industry experts were invited by the Westminster Media Forum (11.2.2009) to consider whether online content regulation was the only practical solution to the task of “taming the wild web”. Media companies and internet service providers argued that the “huge reduction in child abuse images on UK sites” demonstrated the effectiveness of a co-operative approach between industry, government and consumers.