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A short history of trying to regulate an irreverent, unruly and opinionated press



The British press and politicians are striving to implement the Leveson Report. This is the just the latest in repeated attempts to regulate the press – or encourage it to regulate itself.

This piece originally featured in B&GT’s Guide to Responsible Media 2012

The amusement and delight of the few

Ever since its invention in 1440 by German blacksmith and goldsmith Gutenburg, the printing press has been a powerful tool that both the state and individuals have wished to control. The ability for an identical message to be reproduced thousands, then millions of times, and distributed without relying on the tiny reach and vagaries of handwritten text, orators or messengers changed the way governments and interest groups communicated with the population.

The term ‘newspaper’ gained popularity in the 17th century after the earlier pamphlets, bulletins and gazettes. In this politically difficult time of civil war in England, publishers were often flogged down Fleet Street, the growing heart of publishing in London. Cheeks could be branded or ears cropped for being a seditious libeller (writing with intent to encourage insurrection against the established order).

Recognising the power of the press even then, parliament passed acts to license presses in 1643, which was attacked by John Milton in Areopagitica, and again in 1662. Frequent unlicensed publishers, such as the leveller John Lilburne, emerged during this time to demand free rights and freedom of expression.

Licensing was finally lifted in 1695 and the free British press was born. In a blatant attempt to price newspapers out of ordinary people’s reach and retain control of both the messenger and message, journalists and publishers found themselves encumbered by new taxes on paper and advertising, draconian seditious and blasphemous libel laws and political influence – if you can’t beat them, use them.

People have sense enough to make reflections for themselves

The first daily, the Daily Courant, was published in 1702 and its proprietor Edward Mallet inspired  Blue & Green Tomorrow with the following sentiment. He stated intent to publish only news and would not add any comments of his own, supposing other people to have “sense enough to make reflections for themselves.”

In 1712, the Stamp Act was introduced; newspapers subjected to tax and price increased. The stamp tax was a tax on each newspaper and thus hit cheaper papers and popular readership harder than wealthy consumers (because it formed a higher proportion of the purchase price). It was increased in 1797, reduced in 1836 and was finally ended in 1855, thus allowing a cheap press.

Despite these attempts to limit the press, it grew inexorably due the ease of creating and launching a title, which has parallels with digital media today. The total number of copies of newspapers sold yearly in 1753 was 7.4m and had risen to 11.3m in 1776.

The oldest existing national newspaper, The Times, was founded as the Daily Universal Register in 1785 changing its names in 1788. In 1814, The Times started using steam presses, which greatly increased in print capacity.

A turning point in the fight for British press freedom was reached in 1817 when William Hone, an English writer, satirist and bookseller, won a court battle against government censorship. The attempts by the then home secretary Lord Sidmouth to put an end to “seditious pamphleteers” had failed.

This really was the age of the train

Between 1838 and 1855, train passenger journeys rose from 5.5m to 111m, peaking at 1.5 billion before the first world war as the network and interest grew. At the same time, falling freight costs meant newspapers printed in London, Manchester and Edinburgh could easily be dispatched overnight to the breakfast tables of households around the UK. Circulations rose rapidly and the power of the press grew with it. The total number of copies of newspapers sold yearly in 1836 was 39m and had risen to 122m in 1854 in a country of just over 21m. By 1864, the press was largely free to do as it liked.

With rising literacy after the 1870 Education Act and the advent of male (1837, 1867, 1884) then universal suffrage (1918 and 1928), the growing desire to read what political, business and religious leaders were doing gave a continued boost to circulation. As did the desire to enjoy salacious scandals of the rich and powerful.

“Newspapers should have no friends” – Joseph Pulitzer

It is during this period of rapid growth that the first great media proprietors or press barons appear in the UK – Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) who launched the Daily Mail in 1896 and Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) who bought the 10-year old Daily Express in 1910.

Northcliffe, who also founded the Daily Mirror in 1903, was ennobled as baron in 1905 and elevated to Viscount in 1918, for his service as the head of the British war mission in the US (having two 1m or so circulation newspapers probably helped). He is the great, great uncle of the current proprietor of the Daily Mail, Jonathan Harmsworth (the fourth Lord Rothermere).

A brilliant businessman, during his lifetime, he exercised vast influence over British popular opinion. Megalomania contributed to a nervous breakdown shortly before his death in 1922 and he was succeeded by his brother Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, the current owner’s great grandfather. Alfred Harmsworth’s verdict after the first week of the Daily Mail’s publication was, “We’ve struck a gold mine!”

In his time Lord Beaverbrook was an MP (1910-1916), chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1918), minister of information (1918), minister of aircraft production (1940-41), minister of supply (1941-42), minister of war production (1942) and Lord Privy Seal (1943-45). He is reputed to have said in 1947 that he ran “the paper purely for the purpose of making propaganda, and with no other motive.”

It was in the 1920s that the rising divorce rate gave journalists ample opportunity to report these salacious sexual details revealed in the consequent flurry of court cases. After a long period when governments had largely given up trying to regulate the press, the hardline home secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks moved a law to ban such unpleasantness. BBC radio launched in 1922, as a private company, and began experimental television broadcasts in 1932, with regular broadcasts from Alexandra Palace commencing in 1936.

However, it was only after the second world war that there was a new series of attempts not to regulate the press by law, but to find a way to avoid that – by fostering self-regulation. Newspapers were limited from September 1939, at first to 60% of their pre-war consumption of newsprint. By 1945 newspapers were limited to 25% of their pre-war consumption.

By 1947, total annual national newspaper circulation stood at 6 billion, with the golden era being between this year and 1956.  The combined daily circulation had risen to 16.6m and Sundays at 30.5m, Sundays, in a country with a population of 51.2m or 6.8bn per year.

The Sunday newspapers, Empire News (merged with NotW 1960), Sunday Dispatch (merged with Sunday Express) and Sunday Graphic  (closed 1960) are now gone, but represented 26% of newspaper sold in that year.

Unsurprisingly, this peak before the long decline sits at the inception of the Television Act 1952, which opened the airwaves to commercial television from 1954. Five years later in 1961 total annual circulation had fallen by over 9%.

“Who guards the guardians?”

The post-war period saw no less than three royal commissions on the press. This led to the setting up of the Press Council in 1953. In the 1947-49 report it said, “A newspaper is one of the most remarkable products of modern society. To gather news from five continents; to print and distribute it so fast that what happens at dawn in India may be read before breakfast in England; to perform the feat afresh every 24 hours; and to sell the product for less than the price of a box of matches–this, were it not so familiar, would be recognised as an astonishing achievement.”

The 1961-62 commission studied the economic and financial factors that affecting the press and ordered improvements to the Press Council.

In was in 1968 that a certain Rupert Murdoch appeared on the scene to acquire The News of the World, The Sun in 1969 and The Times and Sunday Times in 1981.

Following hot after the launch of commercial radio in 1973 the 1974–1977 commission proposed the development of a written Code of Practice for newspapers – only for these to be followed by widespread objections in the 1980s that the press was still out of control.

In 1986, News International titles (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun, The News of the World) move to Wapping from Fleet Street, followed in the next few years by The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Evening Standard, Financial Times and Express Newspapers. This move is part of the process of transforming the production of newspapers using new technology.

Between 1983 and 1990 over 800,000 homes were fitted with broadband cable. In 1986, British Satellite Broadcasting launched, followed by Sky in 1989 (prop. R Murdoch). They merged in 1990 to become British Sky Broadcasting.

Instances like the publication of a rape victim’s photograph and some of the reporting of the Hillsborough disaster, along with political objections to the invasion of privacy, were followed by yet another Inquiry, led by Sir David Calcutt, in 1990.

In 1990, the government announced that the press was being given one final chance to make self-regulation work – or legal controls would follow.

But those legal controls never happened. The Calcutt Report did lead to the establishment of the Press Complaints Commission, but was then shelved – a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Lord Justice Leveson.

In the background to all this, a British engineer, computer scientist and employee of CERN, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal in March 1989 for what would eventually become the World Wide Web on August 6 1991.

Today the national press has a total annual national newspaper circulation of 3.2 billion, down nearly 40% from its height, and is owned by eight companies.

And so after the long-running phone-hacking scandal, the closure of The News of the World, evidence of bribing the police and lying to parliament, the Leveson inquiry was launched. This judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, who was appointed in July 2011 and reported in November 2012.

In his speech releasing the report he said, “I know how vital the press is – all of it – as guardian to the interests of the public, as a critical witness to events, as a standard bearer for those who have no one else to speak up for them. Nothing I have heard or read has changed that view. The press, operating freely and in the public interest, is one of the true safeguards of our democracy. As a result it holds a privileged and powerful place in our society. This power and influence carries with it responsibilities to the public interest in whose name it exercises these privileges.”

The British press remains the only unregulated part of our mass media. All broadcast media, radio and television, must “ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.” The BBC, ITV, ITN or Sky conduct hard-hitting investigative journalism under the law.

The Press Complaints Commission publishes an editors’ code of practice, which includes clauses on such things as accuracy, the opportunity to reply, privacy, harassment, intrusion into grief or shock, children, hospitals, reporting of crime, clandestine devices and subterfuge, victims of sexual assault, discrimination, financial journalism, confidential sources, witness payments in criminal trials and payment to criminals.

In June 2004, the provisions were expanded to prevent the interception of ‘private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails which, considering recent history, gives you a sense of how toothless the PCC is.

While internet publishers enjoy similar freedom of expression as the mainstream press no single news website, blogger, facebooker, tweeter comes closes to the daily reach of the regulated broadcasters (BBC is #1) or unregulated press (Daily Mail is #1). Nor have many been engaged in bribing police, blackmailing politicians or hacking phones in the way the press has. As Leveson said, “What the press do and say is no ordinary exercise of free speech. It operates very differently from blogs, on the internet and other social media such as Twitter. Its impact is uniquely powerful.”

Digital media has many parallels with the early days of the newspaper era. New technology has enabled entrepreneurs to create and launch a huge variety of publications. Politicians and the powerful around the world are constantly exploring ways to control or curb this new medium. But the sheer volume of sites, blogs and individuals means the concentration of power if considerably lower.

Combining the online and offline presence of the eight mass media publishers they reach 82% of the adult population of our country every month. This excludes the regional divisions of some national groups and other media holdings.

Leveson said that “guaranteed independence, long-term stability, and genuine benefits to the industry cannot be realised without legislation.”

He concluded that “the answer to the question, ‘Who guards the guardians?’ should not be ‘no one’.'”

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool



eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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