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Privy council to discuss royal charter on press regulation

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A sub-committee of a pre-Norman institution will discuss a medieval legal instrument on Wednesday, in the hope of using it to regulate a modern newspaper industry. Following phone hacking, bribing public officials, general muck-spreading and the Leveson inquiry, a small group of privy councillors, mainly cabinet members, are to conclude the debate around the national newspaper’s own proposal for regulation.

The privy council is the Norman descendant of the Anglo-Saxon Witanagemont, literally “meeting of wise men”. Our modern cabinet grew out of this privy council, but the ancient institution remains. Its primary role is to advise the serving monarch and act as a court for dependencies, dominions and colonies.

Today it consists of 600 or so serving or retired politicians, clergy and judges. It represents another example of the UK’s uncodified, quasi-democratic constitution where the principles of elections, separation of branches of government, or church from state, commonplace in other democracies, is not the case here.

Royal charters are formal documents, “letters patent”, issued by the monarch granting a right or power to an individual or organisation. The Bank of England, the BBC, many professional organisations, universities and charities operate under a royal charter. It was this instrument rather than parliamentary oversight that was felt to be most appropriate for regulating the press.

Parliament has already approved a royal charter accepted by all three major parties, but in May agreed to consider an alternative proposal put forward by the newspapers themselves. This was to allow a “robust” examination of the self-policing model backed by some leading UK newspaper groups.

Click here to read the Guide to Responsible Media 2012

The main point of difference is that the newspaper charter still retains the principle of self-regulation with regulators approved by the newspapers whereas the parliament charter doesn’t. While the newspapers’ proposal would see some of the toughest regulation of the press in a democracy globally, it is likely to be rejected by the privy council as it still has the current system of self-regulation.

The newspaper version also removes from parliament its power to block or approve future changes and takes away the ban on former editors on sitting on the panel which would approve the regulator.

The sub-committee has not met once since the parliament’s charter was approved, in the time supposed to allow for consideration of the newspapers’ proposal. This is worrying and leaves any decision open to judicial review. One Whitehall lawyer told the Independent that the lack of any meeting “doesn’t look too smart, especially when it’s a matter affecting the press directly. Public perception is important here, and this has been ignored. A judicial review of the way this has been handled is now inevitable.”

On Monday evening, the BBC’s Newsnight reported that a decision had been made not to accept the newspaper proposal.

A free press or narrow press

A free press is vital to the workings of a democracy. National newspapers have relentlessly and fearlessly held governments and politicians to account, brought to our breakfast tables events from far flung places and delivered scoop after scoop on organisations and individuals, including themselves, from Conrad Black’s fall from grace to the closure of the News of the World. Even in the digital age, 22 million adults (43%) read the national newspapers on a daily basis. This rises to 42 million (81%) over a month. The fourth estate remains powerful.

Where the industry has gone wrong is rank hypocrisy (moralising while publishing soft porn), law breaking (phone hacking and bribing), interesting and concentrated ownership (non-domiciles), obsessing over celebrity trivia (ad nauseam), spreading misinformation about the poor (scroungers), young (out of control), foreigners (more scroungers or terrorists) and science (denial and panic) and then only recruiting its writers from a narrow strata of society.

Newspapers have long complained about their commercial decline, but this is hardly surprising when the expressed opinions of the newspapers themselves and the people who write them are so unrepresentative of the vast majority of the backgrounds and views of British people. Conflating opinion with news means they do not have their readers’ confidence, especially for the tabloid press, where many of those opinions are at odds with how ordinary British people see the world.

In 2006, the Sutton Trust profiled the background of leading professions. One of these was journalists. Despite only 7% of the population attending independent schools, of the top 100 journalists, 54% were independently educated, up from 49% in 1986. Forty-five per cent of the leading journalists in 2006 (or 56% of those who went to university) attended Oxbridge.

This is not to criticise the independent sector or our country’s leading universities, which are exceptional by international standards. But if those setting the news agenda have such narrow educational background, their worldview will not resonate with their readership.

A plague on both their houses

We fear press regulation dreamt up by politicians, as there is no guarantee that future parliaments will not act against the common good and silence critics as they are doing with the gagging bill, and tried to over their own expenses scandal. We equally fear a narrow press who only represent the views of a segment of the population and gravitate to one political, social and economic ideology – politically and socially conservative while economically liberal.

Private Eye’s Ian Hislop has eloquently argued that phone hacking, paying public officials and contempt of court contravene existing laws. Journalists and executives from News Corp have had their collars felt without the need of a royal charter. The issue is less that we have insufficient laws, but that they are not enforced. This is often out of fear of an over mighty and, at times, vindictive press.

Enforcing the laws we have while looking at the ownership of our national newspapers might be a better way of ensuring a more responsible but no less robust press. One man owning 34% of the national newspaper market, supported by other media interests, is unhealthy. The Daily Mail’s national and regional newspaper interests give it an equally powerful platform. Twenty-five per cent gives any player an unhealthy influence over the market. Putting in place domestic ownership laws and forcing a break up of groups that are too large would mean more competition and more outlets for a plurality of opinions to be disseminated.

Which finally leaves redress. Rich and powerful people can take on the press, as Miliband did with the Mail. Many innocent people have had their lives turned upside down by the newspapers and there is little right to reply. The press has proven itself incapable of addressing this fundamental issue in the character and ethics of the press.

The low cost mechanisms provided in the royal charter allow for ordinary people to have their case heard independently, then prominent apologies published and compensation paid if a newspaper is found at fault. This makes sense at first glance but may lead to vexatious claims by groups and individuals where the press bears the cost of any investigation however frivolous. This may stifle legitimate investigations as much as it drives out the illegitimate ones.

Anyone weighing the merits of either side will need the wisdom of Solomon to come up with the right decision and balance between press freedom and responsibility. A brief meeting one Wednesday afternoon with a foregone conclusion is not commensurate with the issue at hand.

Further reading:

Parties agreed on press regulation measures

Defenders of a free press are being dishonest

Freedom of speech is not the same as a freedom to mislead

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

The Guide to Responsible Media 2012

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.

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

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

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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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