Hyperlocals and the question of accesss

The continuing debate over press regulation in the UK has raised a question over what constitutes “news”, “news-related material”, and even a “blog”.

No one’s quite been able to nail down these terms (though Lord McNally did offer the notion that you know a blog “when you see it” during a parliamentary debate earlier this week).

Caught up in this conundrum are the so-called “hyperlocals” – neighbourhood websites providing a mix of news and comment for particular locales.

My own er, local hyperlocal, the Kentish Towner, is a great example of the genre, providing a mix of lifestyle, lists and occasional news. South of the Thames, the slightly more newsy Brixton Blog does a similar job (interestingly, both have launched print editions).

It is not just status under regulation that is of interest here: there is also the question of whether hyperlocals get to enjoy the same access to local politics and administration that newspapers do.

This issue was brought to light recently in the case of blogger Jacqui Thompson. The libel case itself was interesting, but more interesting was the question raised, after Thompson was removed from the chamber by police for refusing to stop filming, as to whether she had the right to film in the council chamber.

This was not the first instance of this controversy. In 2009, Jersey politicians proposed that “members of the public will not be permitted to take any form of footage”, adding that “Only those people working professionally for a recognised commercial media organisation who can identify themselves as such will be permitted to take footage of proceedings held in public”. The proposal was eventually dropped.

These moves seem to be counter to recent trends such as the increasing permission to allow live tweeting from court proceedings both by members of the press and the public.

Is there an easy solution? Livestreaming of all local government proceedings might seem to be the way forward, but some might argue that this would hand over control over footage to the authorities.

As traditional media models collapse, and more and more people feel the right, even the necessity, to record every detail of public and even private life, this is a question that will reappear again and again.

Padraig Reidy is Senior Writer at Index on Censorship. @mePadraigReidy