Not quite the Wild West

For the last week or so, the rather tiresome old versus new media has resurfaced.  It all kicked off with the proposed public broadcast charge and the with Alan Crosbie’s speech which devolved into luddite complaining about new media destroying civil society.  It continued with on-message articles in two of the Sundays.

First off, we have a column in today’s Irish Mail on Sunday where John Waters rants and raves about the lack of accountability on the internet.

Waters seems to be under a misapprehension that the internet is not covered by the current Defamation Act. Both he and the Independent seem to think that Minister Pat Rabitte’s recent speech on media diversity is looking to change the law to do this. What he actually is proposing is to bring parts of the Irish online media under the Press Council of Ireland which could actually afford a small amount of protection against vexatious litigation.

His annoyance with the internet seems to be around his Wikipedia page and a charge of hypocrisy (it also could be over a joke about his losing Eurovision entry).  He doesn’t go into detail what advice he exactly got but I’ll let David Cochrane of Politics.ie address his conclusion about dealing with being libeled on the internet:

What’s more likely is that he was told he’d have to sue Wikipedia in the U.S. and he’d just be wasting his money.  If the existing law didn’t cover the internet, then Broadsheet.ie wouldn’t have gotten double digit worth of legal threats in the last 18 months, MCD wouldn’t have tried to sue Boards.ie, and a €100K judgement wouldn’t have been made against a blogger.

He then goes on to talk about the shutdown of www.rate-your-solicitor.com. Fergal Crehan sums it up beautifully:

It is possibly the fact that it was an Irish owned site than meant the site owners could be brought before an Irish court but that’s far too obvious for Waters to see.

Then there is an opinion piece in the Sunday Independent by Eamon Delaney.  He covers much of the same ground as Water’s column – both mention Alan Crosbie and his speech, Pat Rabitte’s speech, Ruairi Quinn calling the internet “a playground for anonymous backstabbers” and those on Politics.ie as typical examples of internet commentators.

It concludes with the same assertion that the internet is not covered by the current laws governing libel.  Where this misapprehension stems from is not clear – either a lack of understanding of the law or a willful misinterpretation would be my guesses.

It’s all very tiresome to see the same ill-informed calls for regulation by people who obviously have little understanding of the internet, its mechanics and how it is currently regulated.

Where the law does need to be changed is to differentiate between content a site might create and that generated by users.  At the moment, a site is responsible for any comments left by a user rather than the user themselves.  While a site should respond to legitimate complaints about this user content, it should not be ultimately held responsible.

Still John Waters has to be given credit for the phrase ‘underpants commentariat’.

Edit:

Oh god my eyes:

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