Leveson's sheriffs will have no jurisdiction in the web's Wild West

Media Studies: Many blogs exist in the shadows of anonymity, where political agendas can easily be disguised

It remains to be seen whether Lord Justice Leveson will ever publicly express a view on the press regulator that eventually emerges from the sorry saga of political showboating and interminable negotiations that have followed his report.

But there's one thing we can be sure of: the new watchdog will be out of date before it even starts. We are in a digital news world now and have been for years. It makes no more sense to restrict press regulation to the established newspaper brands than it would to tell the broadcast regulator Ofcom to focus only on the old terrestrial channels and ignore the hundreds of other networks that now reside on the electronic programme guide.

So when we hear press reform groups like Hacked Off express fear that the resistance of newspaper publishers to proposed new sanctions could mean that we will be back here again in 20 years, they are partly right. Not because the tabloid press will make a cyclical return to the notorious Last Chance Saloon identified by David Mellor in 1991 – but because even greater swathes of the news and information media will be operating in a digital Wild West where the saloons are everywhere and the regulating sheriffs have no jurisdiction.

While we do not yet have the blogging culture that exists in America we can nonetheless boast a wide spectrum of political analysts, style gurus, sporting commentators, musical taste-makers and parenting experts operating outside traditional news media.

In a speech in Melbourne, made after the publication of his report, Lord Leveson did talk of the impact of the blogosphere. "In order to steal a march on bloggers and tweeters, [professional journalists] might be tempted to cut corners, to break or at least bend the law to obtain information for stories or to infringe privacy improperly to the same end."

Not only was this an admission by Leveson that there was a rather important omission in his report – namely the Internet – it was also missing the point about the impact of these "bloggers and tweeters".

That point is not that they encourage dirty tricks in the race to a scoop. It is that many of them operate in the shadows of anonymity, where commercial and even political agendas can easily be disguised.

I was reminded of this recently when blogger Josh Trevino admitted he had spent years writing pieces to suit the agenda of the Malaysian government, which paid him more than £250,000 for his vitriolic attacks on its opponents. Six months ago, I wrote here how Trevino had been hired by The Guardian as a right-wing American voice for its website – but was then dropped when it learned he had not declared his Malaysian business interests or that he ran a website called Malaysia Matters.

Now he has made a US Justice Department declaration that he was in the pay of Malaysia while writing pieces for such well-known outlets as the Huffington Post and National Review.

Trevino has also declared his interest with the controversial London-based television/PR company FBC Media, which is at the centre of a scandal that has been under investigation by Ofcom for 18 months.

FBC, which did PR work for many governments including that of former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, made programmes for the BBC and other broadcasters about Malaysia. The BBC broadcast a global apology for its actions. FBC boasted in its literature of providing "special blogging that should provide a blanket of positive messaging".

So in a media world where the lines between editorial and advertising have never been harder to detect, how many more bloggers out there are working for a hidden paymaster?

It has recently been brought to my attention how easy it is for public relations firms to round up whole battalions of lifestyle bloggers with no apparent experience in professional journalism and feed them video clips, which appear like harmless fun, but have a deeper political significance. The amateur bloggers are encouraged to share the material with other like-minded blogs and offered free "press trips", unaware that their presence may have a political purpose.

Fashion blogs are offered giveaways for readers in return for using agreed copy. Numerous websites encourage bloggers to make money by composing (presumably favourable) product reviews.

In essence, such writers become an adjunct to the corporate marketing department. For young PRs, who increasingly do not read newspapers, such bloggers are crucial allies in spreading brand messages across social media.

This is not to say that there are no bloggers operating with the highest editorial integrity or that there are no traditional news organisations that receive daily deliveries of free music and clothing and gadgets that journalists are encouraged to write about. It's just that traditional news organisations have built their reputations over decades, sometimes centuries, of publishing history. In the new world they will find themselves liable to £1m fines while some bloggers masquerade as objective commentators, just inside the law but outside of regulation.

Some old regional news brands are today staffed by one or two writers, equivalent to a blog site. And in the new world they could find themselves liable to crippling financial penalties and debilitating complaints from pressure groups, things which the blogger need not be concerned about. All of which suggests that, as the news media continues to splinter, the subject of press regulation must soon be visited again.

Channel 4 hoping Grand National bet pays off

Next month's Grand National is a big moment for Channel 4 as it seeks to establish itself as the new television home of horse racing. The challenge is almost as daunting as Becher's Brook itself after the BBC signed off last year with a peak audience of 10.89 million, the largest for many years. Industry sources tell me Channel 4 would be happy to reach 7 million for a broadcast led by Clare Balding.

Just as it did with the Paralympics, Channel 4 is putting everything behind the event, with a £1.5m marketing budget and plans for cross-promotion throughout its schedules. Expect an Aintree-themed Come Dine With Me and some horse riding stunts from the chat show host Alan Carr. The broadcaster's in-house team, 4Creative, have produced a spectacular trailer, which premieres this Thursday, showing 10 horses and riders racing through the streets of Liverpool and jumping garden fences.

But perhaps the most sensitive issue for a broadcaster like Channel 4 is the prospect of horse fatalities – two runners were killed at last year's National. Conscious of its strong track record in current affairs, the network is promising to properly inform viewers while using discretion in the images shown.

Another triumph for Norfolk

Lord Ahmed's comments on Pakistani television – in which he allegedly claimed that owners of newspapers and television stations formed part of a Jewish conspiracy – was another triumph for Andrew Norfolk, the chief investigative reporter on The Times.

Many thought Norfolk deserved to win at the British Press Awards, which took place earlier this month, for his dogged pursuit of groups of men who have systematically groomed and sexually exploited teenage girls in the north of England.

He began looking at the subject in 2003 and, having fought off accusations that he had an agenda because the majority of the men were British Pakistanis, has forced the authorities to recognise the problem and take action. At least Norfolk's work was recognised with the Paul Foot Award for investigative and campaigning journalism last month.

The alleged claims of the Labour peer – who had been jailed for dangerous driving – seem to be a depressingly familiar attempt to explain personal wrongdoing by denigrating the media, and perhaps also serve as a timely reminder of why politicians and those in power remain fearful of the press.

Twitter: @iburrell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Media & Advertising Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national business publishi...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Bathroom Showroom Manager / Bathroom Sales Designer

£22 - £25k basic + Commission=OTE £35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Bathroom Sh...

Guru Careers: Account Executive / Account Manager

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive / Account Manager is ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones