Of course, Blogs are already regulated: Bloggers are subject to the general law.
In particular, as self-publishers, Bloggers are subject to the general law of defamation and copyright. Bloggers are also subject to criminal law, for example in respect of contempt of court and, where applicable, unfair commercial practices.
Most Bloggers are also subject to contractual obligations to the Blogging service providers (such as www.blogger.com in my case) or to their server. (Some Bloggers escape these further obligations by controlling their own servers.)
So those who say that Blogging should not be regulated are perhaps missing the point that it already is.
It is against this background that one should consider a possible move by the PCC to regulate Blogs. The source for this possibility is (of all things) a Blogpost by Ian Burrell.
It is clear that such thinking is at a very preliminary stage; in fact, even saying that is perhaps putting it too highly.
Nonetheless, it is important for Bloggers and their readers to think about this possibility now and, in my view, signal their informed opposition.
Regulation means restriction. To be regulated means that there are things one cannot do which one otherwise would do. Accordingly, if one can do such things anyway, one is not really being regulated.
Regulation also means being subject to another person's enforcement of that regulation, the regulator. This enforcement can be at the regulator's own motion, or at the application of a third party, the complainant.
Even schemes of so-called self-regulation seek to separate out the roles of the regulated and the regulator: the PCC is supposedly independent of the newspaper industry; even the Reader's Editor at The Guardian is distinct from the editorial team.
So, in the case of Blogging, to accept PCC regulation would mean to accept further restrictions than are there already under the general law and (for many) the contractual relations with Blog service providers and servers. It would also introduce a new dynamic, with possible complainants and a regulator to whom a Blogger will be accountable for their Blogging.
And this in turn will open up a new avenue for strategic complainants. A strategic complaint is one where there is an ulterior objective of generally silencing a person on a particular issue.
It may well be that the PCC is ineffective and unimpressive, but it still will mean that a second party (the regulator) and a third party (the complainant), over which of course the Blogger has no control, can place the Blogger seemingly in breach of a regulatory obligation. Moreover, the strategic complainant can cause the Blogger to have to spend time and effort in dealing with a complaint or series of complaints.
(In the context of Bad Science Blogging, one should recall that PCC complaints were the weapons of choice of chiropractors before they discovered the libel shotgun.)
Notwithstanding these general objections to additional regulation, and to the opening up of the possibility of strategic complaints, there are obvious concerns as to the basic competence of the PCC.
Here Unity at Liberal Conspiracy has done a fine job in setting out the repeated failures by the PCC to even regulate the newspaper industry properly.
There is no reason whatsoever to believe that PCC regulation would improve the general standard of Blogging, no greater public benefit to offset the additional regulatory burdens.
And this brings me to a further reason to object to the possibility of PCC regulation: I do not wish to provide the PCC with any credibility or legitimacy. Yesterday Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, resigned from the PCC Code committee following the PCC's whitewash report into the phonetapping scandal.
The PCC is, in my view, a figleaf over the nastiness and bad practices of the tabloid press. No credible Blogger should really want to buy into that regime.
There are some Bloggers - clearly Quangocrats in the making - who see PCC regulation as an opportunity for Bloggers to sit on committees seeking to hold the mainstream media to account and guarding against the tabloid excesses.
I see this earnest and well-meaning stance as hopelessly naive; if anything, the participation of such worthy Bloggers in the ineffective PCC would probably be seen as further legitimising the current bad practices.
The possible regulation of Blogs by the PCC will probably come to nothing. I hope so. However, thinking about why such regulation would be misconceived (or indeed whether it is misconceived) is not time wasted.
In my opinion, the high standard of Blogging - such as in the comprehensive destruction of the "plethora" described by Ben Goldacre here - is because of the freedom of people to be Bloggers, subject only to the general law and any obligations to service providers and servers.
Once there are additional restrictions - voluntary or not - and new ways for other people to influence what is Blogged, then Blogging will become less free and more formalised.
Which is exactly what the mainstream media (MSM) want.
I have seen MSM hatchet jobs on Bloggers as diverse as Guido, Belle de Jour, and Night Jack.
But the greatest risk to Blogging is to extinguish the sheer freedom to Blog.
To be subject to a code (over which one has no control) and to deal with a regulator and complainants (over which one also has no control) will tend to undermine this freedom.
And once such regulation is in place, there will of course be regulation creep.
I support the freedom to Blog under the general law.
If you agree, please go over to Liberal Conspiracy and read their draft letter. I hope you agree with it and sign it.