A stiff few minutes on Page 3

No More Page 3 Michael WhiteMay I just take a few minutes of your time to erect an argument that I hope you find titillating? I first need to preface my argument with these few words: I adore boobs.

I believe that Page 3 should be removed from The Sun or alternatively, that The Sun is treated as a top-shelf magazine. The Sun is without question a newspaper of world-class journalism; I don’t question this. My issue is with Page 3.

Page 3 was born of a different generation and now a new generation has bravely started a campaign against the feature. @NoMorePage3 which was founded by Lucy-Anne Holmes, has been campaigning hard since 2012 and has collected over 195,000 signatories on change.org to date. In addition, a number of people and organisations have supported the cause including Girlguiding UK, Unison, The Scottish Parliament and Mumsnet.

To compete with The Sun in the 1970s The Mirror (among other red-tops) used to feature topless girls, before removing the feature in the 1980s because it was considered demeaning. In fact, it was only until 2003 that models in The Sun had to be at least 18 years old! Page 3 was born of a different generation, for the simple purpose of selling newspapers through shock tactics. When Page 3 first launched it gained impressive circulation levels by, oddly enough, being banned from public places.

In No More Page 3’s own words:

When we show a passive, naked available woman in a family newspaper, what are we teaching young boys about how to respect women? What are we teaching little girls about where their value lies?

As a business The Sun has the right to continue Page 3 and the models have already made their choice. However, with two million copies of The Sun being sold each day it’s of no surprise that this newspaper is found on-shelf or disregarded in public places, often in the presence of children. Just in the same way that pornography is restricted, I believe restrictions should exist for The Sun newspaper carrying Page 3. Soft porn is not news and to say that Page 3 is just boobs misses the point entirely. It is reinforcing the sexualisation of women in public, especially as the rest of the journalism in The Sun is seeking to (mostly) be of service to the public.

I believe a serious debate is needed about the role of Page 3 in today’s society. Questioning the purpose behind the feature and if The Sun should be classed as a soft porn publication for as long as the feature exists. It’s interesting to note that when The Sun gave away 22,000,000 free copies of the paper last week, Page 3 was excluded. Perhaps Sun Editor, David Dinsmore, understands Page 3 may have become slightly controversial over the last couple of years?

I appreciate that in the world there are bigger things to worry about and my belief on this subject is not popular with most industry peers, especially those who enjoy PR coverage in The Sun. I’m standing up for change though.

I love boobs. I enjoy reading The Sun. I do not enjoy or agree with Page 3.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toe the ethical line

Before entering the public relations profession the more philosophical of my confrères had doubts that my ethical persuasions would handle the reality of service delivery. It’s always been a possible grievance and in the past (before my present position) I’ve faced ethical dilemmas. How fortunate to be involved in a role where the job’s scope affords such self-masturbatory question of principles.

When it comes to social media I’ve made it very clear in the past of my outright support of individual liberty and the importance of sharing knowledge. So I’m absolutely delighted that the agency I work for, Keene Communications, has agreed to pledge ethical allegiance to Wikipedia. In my role as digital consultant I had the pleasure to announce the news, after board-level discussions.

It’s important that we, as Keene, serve the needs of our clients but also respect the process of Wikipedia. Our content will ultimately shape Wikipedia and people’s judgment of the free encyclopedia. We are always willing to have open and honest relationships with Editors, as well as challenge them on key topics of debates that are central to client campaigns.

Wikipedia launched 13 years ago and swiftly gained respect for accuracy and reliability. This feisty non-profit relies on donations and is an example in its own right of why internet access should be considered a fundamental human right.

With the  joint statement of ethics for communications firms on Wikipedia, PR agencies no longer have to worry in isolation about any Conflict of Interests (CoI) and know exactly how to interact with this valuable online resource. I personally look forward to publicly debating with editors over client issues and adding to Wikipedia for the greater good.

Man cannot live by social media tools alone

The current obsession in the communications industry with 3rd party tools is a determent and should be approached with caution. If the value of an agency is reliant on tool capabilities, then in time an agency’s role will become a grey area; a middleman in an already pricey services industry. We will not last.

There are a vast numbers of social media services specialising in content publishing and measurement; everyone knows the big players. Certainly, an agency’s offering shouldn’t be dictated purely by the capabilities of a 3rd party tool supplier. Trust me, this can be a difficult habit to break because 3rd party tools are fascinating, and very occasionally, revolutionary. With so many companies focusing on specific areas, such as social media measurement, it’s easy for PR agencies to let 3rd parties do all the hard work.

This is so wrong though, and here is why. PR agencies over the years have sold their service expertise thanks to wide insight into client sector areas; specialising in traditional media engagement and providing digital services, in the right spaces for clients. I believe this aspect will always remain a strong area for service specific agencies. What all agencies are currently facing in an ever-more competitive communications landscape is technological apathy.

Most PR agencies simply do not have the right skills to develop advanced tools and because of this, rightly rely on 3rd party providers. However, through giving technological reliance on suppliers we are handing away key parts of our business. Such as how social media should be measured. In turn, the splintering of the 3rd party supplier market has caused everyone to be developing their own approaches, with some players becoming bigger than others.

The situation leads to agencies struggling to become distinct from each other, because they are simply white-labelling the same background services. It also leads to misunderstanding about how key parts of programmes are being handled, delivered and measured. In time suppliers may consider branching out and becoming the PR agency; throwing the whole digital market for PR agencies into question. Our suppliers do the delivery now.

I accept that my ideas and worries expressed in this post may fizzle into nothing, and the answer is probably to ensure PR agencies work more closely with 3rd party providers. I personally hold some great relationships with 3rd parties but know deep down, that digital is a competitive space and can evolve unrecognisably in months. Can the PR industry honestly say we have secured the digital space? I’m not so sure.

 

We need new laws to protect our online privacy from the UK Government

On Sunday an article appeared in The Guardian that I should have written because it’s been on my mind for a long time. John Naughton explains why “Google can’t protect our privacy. What we need are new laws”. The article begins by explaining PGP encryption and concludes how even with this protection, the home secretary can still demand the keys thanks to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000). In a world where Edward Snowdon, either rightfully or wrongly, revealed the true scale of government surveillance, we need new laws to protect citizens.

open book
Your life is an open book.

I believe Naughton should have gone further in his article because, according to a number of government programmes, our privacy doesn’t exist anymore. Why do new laws matter? As these activities are currently happening:

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
Mentioned in Naughton’s article. This act provides at least 28 government departments the power to browse our private communications without warrant or subject’s knowledge. This data is retrieved by requesting it from an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and also includes ongoing monitoring.

Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP)
This would involve the logging of every telephone call, email and text message between inhabitants in the UK. When it was originally proposed in 2008 many thought it would involve installing a black boxes for recording in comms equipment across the country. In reality, information can be collected by carriers who then pass it to relevant agencies.

The EU’s Data Retention Directive
This means that telecommunication operators must retain data from our electronic communications (inc internet traffic) for at least 6 months but no longer than two years. Allowing EU member states to aquire data for government departments when necessary.

Amendments to be made to the Computer Misuse Act 1990
In the Queen’s Speech 2014 it was revealed that amendments would be made to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 to bring tougher sentences on cyber criminals. This would bring tough sentences for hacktivism groups (such as Anonymous) but so far is vague in how the amendments would look. The worry is that if the amendments are too vague, then certain lawful activities on the net could be potential targets for unjust sentences. In addition, it’s often difficult to understand the scale of cybercrime, which may make passing sentences difficult.

The PR Professional’s Handbook by Caroline Black [Book Review]

Michael White PR Professionals HandbookIf you’re starting out in public relations for the first time then be sure to get yourself a copy of The PR Professional’s Handbook by Caroline Black. This new CIPR stamped book covers key communications theories, provides practical advice around skills and uses case studies to highlight proof points.

As a former PR student I’ve spent the last few weeks diving into the book and refreshing my memory of theories I first learnt about in 2008. Including Grunig and Hunt’s four models of communication, the Patrick Jackson (and others) people change ladder theory and the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Of course all these theories have their weaknesses that are covered yearly in 2,500 word essays across the UK. Yet, the summarisation of these theories by Caroline is highly useful and will serve as a good reminder whilst studying on a communications course.

As a practicing PR I found the most useful section of the book to be the chapter on planning and evaluating campaigns. With the stresses and speed of the real world, it can be all too easy to occasionally forget steps of preparing and planning. In the words of Caroline, “If you don’t plan, you have no control…” True! This section includes aspects such as PESTLEE, SWOT and account management stages. PR students will even benefit from an affordability analysis table which lines research stages with different levels of cost. It’s a big chapter and worth the cost of the book itself.

Without a doubt the part of the book I take the most interest in is digital marketing and social media. As per the rest of the book, this section is brief and summarises key tactics and features. Describing what makes a successful website, a good social media campaign and understanding virtual communities. This section of the book is far from geeky, not dealing with code but discussing content and audience considerations. In this sense you can tell a thoroughbred PR professional has written it, but this isn’t intended to be demeaning. It is valuable and serves as a reminder for technologically astute geeks that in the end, everything comes down to a strong content strategy.

The Consultant Editor, Anne Gregory, sums up this book well in the foreword. It’s a selective book that covers ‘the ground’ of PR effectively, to remind us of the basics and favours those who are pursuing a career in the industry. However, I also believe it serves as a valuable reminder for those who also work in the industry. You can currently purchase this book via the CIPR using a 25% discount code or from Amazon (Kindle format also available).

Disclaimer: I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to have received a copy of this book by Kogan Page Marketing for the purpose of this review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the internet is open and free. Tomorrow could be very different.

In America net neutrality is at risk. Since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enacted the Open Internet Order in 2010 there has been regulation about how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should handle traffic from websites. This order was built upon three important pillars:

  • Transparency: ISPs should be open about how they handle traffic.
  • No blocking: As long as content is legal, an ISP is not allowed to block any site, service or device.
  • No unreasonable discrimination: ISPs are not allowed to favor some traffic over others.

At the start of this year the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favour of Verizon in a net neutrality case and disregarded portions of the Open Internet Order. Announcing that the FCC did not have authority to order any telecom to treat traffic equally. Therefore 2014 has become the year the internet has faced one of its biggest ever threats. Power hungry companies and individuals are now able to walk a path that will mean all websites could have different levels of access to the internet.

This wouldn’t just challenge the whole digital marketing industry but I believe is a fundamental threat to open democracy and the free market.

If ISPs have the ability to discriminate against different forms of traffic then website owners can expect their bills to go up as they choose between traffic priorities (do I want good video, stable VOIP, slow serving, fast serving, etc).

A mere blogger today could theoretically challenge the traffic levels of The Mail Online (if only!), but if The Mail Online could reserve higher internet speeds and I (being a poor blogger) couldn’t pay the way; expect my site to be inaccessible and newspapers to be winners. The same could be applied to business. Amazon Instant could stream HD quality videos without stutter, and video competitors without the necessary cash would not be able to purchase such speeds. Instantly the feisty start-up business has failed online.

Thankfully, I don’t live in America. On Thursday 3rd April 2014 the EU voted in favour of net neutrality. Meaning we only have to pay a single fee for the data we receive. Although the EU is still being heavily lobbied by companies who want to remove our democratic right to access information equally online. Make no mistake, what is happening in America is important and will have effect on the UK. The internet doesn’t easily see geographic boundaries. In all honesty though, I have no idea what will happen in the worst-case scenario…

What I do know is this: I believe in net neutrality, that all online traffic should be treated equally and that the pillars of the Open Internet Order are upheld.

Relief! We can link and share content without permission

Should it be illegal for me to link or copy an extract from an online newspaper article on this blog without the permission of the copyright holder? Of course not, but the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) thought it should be. If it were, then the very foundations of the internet (hyperlinking to content) would be thrown into question.

The case concerning the Meltwater / PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) VS NLA has been lurking in the background for the last  five years and was specifically around this issue. Concerned by whether Meltwater should have permission to automatically scrape content and link to newspaper websites. A critical media monitoring service that PR professionals rely upon daily, so no surprise of the PRCA’s involvement.

As Simon Clark of Berwin Leighton Paisner said in 2012:

“You may have read some recent discussion regarding the effects of the NLA’s litigation with Meltwater and the PRCA on “linking” and “browsing”. In particular, it has been suggested that the effect of the Court of Appeal’s decision has been to make all browsing on the internet illegal. The issue was even discussed in the House of Commons, when an MP unsuccessfully sought to amend UK copyright law in order to make “linking” and “browsing” immune from copyright infringement.”

So today I was delighted to see that the PRCA has just published a media release, announcing the following:

The PRCA today won a landmark ruling against the Newspaper Licensing Agency at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), handing Internet users the right to browse online freely without the threat of infringing copyright law.

The CJEU accepted all of the arguments of the PRCA and Meltwater against the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), that browsing and viewing articles online does not require authorisation from the copyright holder, following a battle through the UK courts that began in 2010. The judgment means that Internet users are now protected by the temporary copy exception of EU copyright law when they read or browse content online.

In April 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone should be free to visit and read or browse a newspaper website without fear of infringing copyright law. In his judgment, Lord Jonathan Sumption explained it was desirable that any decision on the point of accessing such content be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Thank goodness for common sense! Apparently we now all have permission to view and share articles without permission from a copyright holder. Now that this would have mattered anyway…

Tough luck NLA.

Google: With great power, comes great responsibility

The world I see each day is probably very different to yours. It’s hidden, mostly. Only accessible through smartphones, tablets, laptops – anything with a screen, but it is more than that. It is the unknown. Entire cities bound together by hundreds of data connections, scattered across a dozen different servers, full of anonymous personas. This was my childhood and it’s not a scary as it sounds – it was the epitomy of liberty.

The internet was:

1)    Anonymous communication

2)    No accountability for content uploaded

3)    Everything indexed for quick search

These could widely be accepted as the values of the internet in the 1990s. It’s only with the rise of personalisation and commercial social networks in the noughties that these values began to be challenged. Challenged by big corporations whose business models couldn’t keep up with the evolution of online communications. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was one of the biggest threats to liberty and freedom of expression we have; supported by a plethora of entertainment companies. Today we must save net neutrality.

Content is being published freely online every second, mostly devoid of any ethical obligation of copyright and certainly not uploaded with knowledge of the consequences. Just look at One Second on the Internet.

Over the last week mainstream media has been focusing on a critical ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in favour of a Spanish citizen who argued that Google should delete links relating to his house being auctioned because he failed to pay taxes. After Spanish courts upheld the complaint, it was referred to the ECJ as Google refused to remove the content, arguing it was not responsible for deleting information published legally elsewhere.

Google Search

In this case Google presented itself as not just a content host, but as a controller. Acting as a publisher to keep and delete information, the ECJ concluded that Google is “… obliged to remove links to web pages” in certain circumstances.

We are now in a situation where freedom of speech campaigners are head-to-head with privacy supporters. As an article in last Friday’s Evening Standard mentioned (paraphrased), “The ruling by the ECJ will allow a host of reputation management agencies to bury the online details of their shady clients.” Personal, sensitive or damaging information relating to an individual is an incredibly grey area, rife to be exploited by those who want to remove information about them that is instead the breadcrumbs from a shady past.

The internet today is very different to the one I grew up with. It’s become more serious, where information we upload is linked to an overall personal profile. All the content that we have uploaded over the years, or has been published about us, is cleverly delivered and recommended. The tech companies have grown astronomically and this ruling by the ECJ reminds us of this: With great power, comes great responsibility.

Thankfully though, the internet is much bigger than even Google.