Politics

What Does “Digital” Mean?

The OED defines “digital” in five key ways, but the key definition that interests us here is as follows:

Digital technology; digital media, as digital television, digital audio, etc.

Basically, nearly everything these days is digital. Even if it ends up in analogue form like AM or FM radio, it almost certainly originates digitally.

Text is written on computers and stored digitally; audio is recorded into digital recorders and stored as a series of ones and zeroes; nearly all television and film is recorded using digital cameras.

So it’s curious that today the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has felt the need to rebrand itself as the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

We’re told:

“The department has taken on significant new responsibilities in recent years, so that half of its policy and delivery work now covers the digital sectors – telecommunications, data protection, internet safety, cyber skills and parts of media and the creative industries.”

So it has decided to add the word “Digital” to its logo. It has also decided that instead of becoming DDCMS, it will remain DCMS. So that makes life simpler then. Not that it saves on stationery reprinting costs as the logo is changing.

It’s clearly arrant nonsense that because things like telecommunications and data protection fall under its wing, that it needed to add the word “digital.”

Everything is already digital!

Other things that DCMS oversees include gambling, the National Lottery, architecture, tourism and charities. Are any of them reflected in the department’s name?

“Digital” is simply an adjective, and an often superfluous one, that describes how the world works. Using it as a noun is actually confusing, because depending on where you come from, digital means different things to different people.

  • Talk to radio people, and digital might mean DAB, or it might mean streaming.
  • Talk to TV people, and digital probably means streaming, but could mean a broadcast platform (all of which are digital), or perhaps it might be related to workflow.
  • Talk to advertising people, and it means advertising on websites and in apps. Unless you’re talking to outdoor advertising people in which case it means those big advertising screens, or cinema people who use it to describe their ad delivery mechanism, and so on.
  • Talk to publishing people and it probably means anything that is not printed on paper.
  • Talk to creative people and it’s largely meaningless because nearly everything they do is already digital.
  • Talk to telecommunications people and they’ll probably stare blankly at you and ask you to be a bit more specific.
  • Talk to architectural people and they’ll explain that they’ve been using CAD and 3D software amongst others for years now.
  • Talk to the public and they’ll want you to explain precisely what you mean.

What one organisation means by “digital” is very different to what another means by it.

Because nearly everything is digital, the word has become largely meaningless. And that means it can actually be more confusing to refer to it.

Think about how much of health or education is digital. When there’s a virulent virus or worm that can bring down hospitals’ computers, is that an issue for DCMS, or is it really a matter for the Home Office, Department of Health or the MoD? Or all of them?

Digital has morphed from being a word that made everyone think of the future and define broader changes in society, and become an almost meaningless word that requires some kind of qualifier to allow someone to understand the context of its use.

And all of this is before you get to the missing comma in their new logo…

Vote Tellers

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If you’re British and live in the UK, you will hopefully be voting today. Indeed you may have already done so!

My constituency is considered marginal – it could go one of two ways. And marginals are key to any election win, so parties target them.

As I went into my Polling Station this morning, a man approached me authoritatively outside the polling station itself. He was wearing a blue rosette without any other clear identification and asked me for my polling number. This is printed on the card that you get sent through confirming your eligibility to vote.

Now you don’t need to bring your polling card with you when you vote. Lots of people know that, but not everyone.

But if you do, the tellers would quite like to right down your number. And if there are tellers from multiple parties, they’re likely to share the numbers between them. The reason is that back at the local party base, members have big electoral lists where they’ve marked down voters according to likely preferences and likely voting proclivities, based largely (but perhaps not solely), on doorstep interviews and so on.

Later on in the day, they’ll start ringing up or knocking on the doors of homes of people they expected to vote for them, but haven’t so far.

Tellers don’t actually know which way you voted.

However the key point here is that just because a party might like to know whether or not you’ve voted, you absolutely don’t have to tell them.

And I genuinely don’t think a lot of people know the rules, and more to the point that you can completely ignore tellers.

As I was leaving the polling station this morning a lady entering in behind me was asked for her voter number. She looked a little surprised and slightly apologetic: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I needed to bring my card with me.”

The teller told that, no, she didn’t. And because she didn’t know, he left her on her way.

But people widely think that they have to pass on their details.

We’re British. We’re polite. “Of course you can see my card.”

There are rules on what tellers can and can’t do. They can wear rosettes (although not all do), but they shouldn’t be spreading any particular message.

However they’re unofficial, and you can politely say, “No thanks,” as I did when asked for my number this morning.

In a world where political targeting is getting more sophisticated, I’m not inclined to pass on any information to the parties. I’m not a member of a party, and perhaps if I was, I might feel different.

This election, for the first time, I’ve been targeted on a massive scale online. No longer do I see posters beyond those put up by people inside or outside of their homes. I’ve not seen any newspaper ads. But I have seen a lot of advertising across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And it’s all for one party. They know I live in a marginal, and they’d like me to vote for them. (The advertising is all negative, incidentally. It has all been about why I shouldn’t vote for the other lot. Well, if you can’t stand on your own policies, then I’m definitely not voting for you. Simple as that. You can take your US election tactics and keep them.)

There’s a lot of talk about how “big data” is being used to tightly target voters. and indeed put off some people from voting at all. While I’m not inclined to believe that these database-driven campaigns are as powerful as they’re sometimes portrayed in media reports, I’ve certainly come to the view that I’m not contributing to these databases.

A Few Thoughts on the Ransomware Attacks

I’ve found a certain amount of the coverage surrounding the WannaCrypt ransomware attack really quite annoying, and the responses in many cases quite pathetic. So here are a few thoughts of my own:

  • The NSA, and other governmental bodies, have an awful lot to answer for. Governments love to collect operating system ‘exploits’ to use themselves. They have teams of people either trying to find ways to crack commercially available operating systems, or they go onto the black market and buy them from hackers. These shortcomings aren’t reported to the software producers like Microsoft. But if I spot a vulnerability and say nothing about it (because I may attack my enemy with it later), then so might you also find it. And you may be more nefarious than me. In this instance, the leaky sieve that is the NSA, actually let this and other exploits be stolen from them earlier this year. It was as a direct result of this theft from the NSA, that this attack took place. Although Microsoft had patched this hole in March, we know hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of users don’t keep their systems up to date. Nonetheless, if the NSA had alerted Microsoft much to the vulnerability rather than sit on it for their own means, then more people would have avoided being infected. There is a real issue of responsibility here, as Microsoft itself points out very firmly in a blog published over the weekend.
  • It’s frankly criminal that important infrastructure is still running on a deprecated operating system like Windows XP. This is an OS that launched in 2001 and for which extended support ended in 2014. Microsoft gave seven whole years notice that support was ending. Yes, it’s understandable that in parts of the developing world, people are still using these elderly systems. But first world hospitals? It’s no excuse to say that some bespoke piece of software requires this now legacy OS. With that amount of notice, that equipment should have been upgraded if necessary.
  • The Government must take some responsibility for this. After Microsoft stopped support of XP, the Government Digital Service chose to pay £5.5m to Microsoft for extended support. But in May 2015 this was not extended despite thousands of Government computers still, somehow, running XP. This Guardian report from the time made clear that this was a massive security vulnerability. While some individual departments may have paid for extended coverage, many clearly did not. At that point they were massively vulnerable. In the absolute worst case, you’d have expected a rapid transition to newer OS’s within months. Instead, here we are, two years later.
  • In particular, the National Audit Office published a report in 2016 into the NHS’s sustainability. The report included these paragraphs:

    “In February 2016 the Department transferred £950 million of its £4.6 billion budget for capital projects, such as building works and IT, to revenue budgets to fund the day-to-day activities of NHS bodies. Of this, £331 million was exchanged for revenue support for 93 trusts, to fund healthcare services. The Department did not assess the long-term effects of transferring this funding to cover day-to-day spending. This means it does not know what risks trusts may face in future as a result of addressing immediate funding needs.

    “This was the second year that the Department has used money originally intended for capital projects to cover a shortfall in the revenue budget. In 2014-15, the Department transferred £640 million to help mitigate the trusts’ deficit. In the coming years, the Department plans to continue transferring capital funding into day-to-day spending under 2015 Spending Review agreements.”

    In other words, a shortage of NHS cash meant cancelling major IT projects amongst others, and instead using the money to maintain a day to day service. IT upgrades aren’t always just “nice to have’s.” They’re often essential as this attack has shown.

Yes – of course the evil hackers are the most responsible people here. And anyone tasked with maintaining IT systems should be ensuring that critical security software patches are applied as soon as they’re released.

But a combination of state-sponsored one-upmanship in cyber warfare, and a willingness to allow legacy IT to be used for critical services is frankly criminal.

When your actions are leading to hospitals being closed down, the repercussions could easily mean life or death. I trust that a lot of people are taking a long hard look at some of their decisions.

EU Referendum: Immediate Post Mortem Thoughts

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-1

  • Cameron has to take a massive amount of blame for all of this. He probably didn’t think he was going to win the last General Election, and therefore including something in his manifesto to keep UKIP at bay was probably just a sop to them. But he won unexpectedly and so felt he had to carry through to prevent party divisions. This despite knowing it was a dangerous ploy, despite knowing that this is a complicated argument to make to the electorate, and despite nearly losing the Scottish referendum previously. He didn’t make the case strongly enough, and he’s now fallen on his sword, possibly to be remembered as the prime minister who ended our membership of the EU, saw the end of the Union, and possibly worse.
  • Osborne must be a dead duck. His Project Fear didn’t work. The “emergency budget” he talked about was just too extreme to be taken seriously. I don’t doubt that there will need to be remedial action, and we’ll find out in the days and weeks what that’ll be. But he over-egged the pudding, and voters saw through it. He was planning to be the next PM, but now his career must be in tatters.
  • Remain did not remotely make their case. It’s hard to prove a negative, and easier to say we should do something rather than continue as we are: “Something must be done!” But there’s no doubt that the Remain campaign was abysmal. It’s now pretty clear that while they reached the educated population, who understands why the economy is important. To many less educated, that’s just a nebulous thing. As the exchange rate tanks this morning, to many people that only really matters to them when it comes to changing some holiday money. They don’t think it affects them. The importance of the EU on jobs and trade wasn’t made clear in a way that reached the politically illiterate. There are a lot of people I’d class in that group. They will get out and vote, even if they don’t truly understand what they’re voting for. That’s not the whole story of course, but for some it truly is as you heard people giving the most awful reasons for leaving during the campaign.
  • Jeremy Corbyn was useless. I’m sorry — I’m sure he was a lovely guy — but he didn’t lead from the front. In the early part of the campaign there was silence from Labour, because the whole thing seemed to be about in-fighting Tories. They woke up a bit latterly, but there’s a suspicion that he’s actually a bit of a Eurosceptic. His call for invoking Article 50 immediately seems misplaced. But mostly, it was about not campaigning hard enough or loud enough. You need more charisma than he seems to exude. While I’m sure he’s a compelling speaker in a hall somewhere, most voters only see or hear candidates on television. I can’t think he really thought a Leave win would so damage the Tories, that Labour would be able to win through the middle. He must be wondering if Labour are going to replace him in time for any general election that might follow the Conservatives choosing a new Prime Minister, because I can’t see him prospering in the next election.
  • Immigration. The dirty word that Leave bandied around the whole time, but that Remain did little to really counter. When it comes down to it, this is the issue. Whether people really think they’re losing their jobs, or there’s just a little bit of racism, I’m not sure. I suspect some of both. But this was the key issue.
  • No facts. Electors were being asked to make a decision about something they didn’t really understand. This goes back to Cameron calling a referendum in the first place. But with a biased printed press, and a broadcast media forced to play a straight bat and counter any claim with a counter claim, it left people with little real understanding and no way to tell truth from lies.

In the meantime, the nearest A&E to me has closed down, and is currently being redeveloped as housing. And the only other hospital in my borough with an A&E department is now described as “unsafe” and “unsupported.” So I’m looking forward to learning in which week we’re going to get a shiny new hospital as promised by Leave. We’ll ignore the nitty gritty about not being in power, and there not being any staff to support such a new facility – at least not without lots of immigration.

boris

John Oliver on Brexit

On Sunday night, HBO in the US aired a new episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The second half of the show was a long explanation/opinion piece from Oliver about what Brexit is (this is a show aimed at Americans after all), and was essentially a 15 minute piece imploring Britain to Vote Remain. It’s very good and hits the nail on the head.

On Monday morning the HBO had posted the full 15 minutes on YouTube.

In fact some of the videos from Last Week Tonight put on YouTube are blocked in the UK by the uploader – i.e. HBO. But this one wasn’t. The reason is almost certainly because Sky Atlantic has the rights to the show in the UK, and Sky prefers to limit access to clips from the show to its own subscribers.

But in this instance, UK viewers could watch — almost certainly because Oliver and his producers knew that the piece wouldn’t be broadcastable in the UK until the Brexit referendum had finished.

I noticed quite early on Monday that the piece was unbroadcastable under UK election guidelines, and later on Monday, Sky Atlantic pulled its planned broadcast from Monday night when new episodes of the show usually air. Sky Atlantic will instead broadcast the show on Thursday after polls close.

Now if you were to believe a certain section of the “Twittersphere” this is because Sky is owned by Rupert Murdoch, and his papers in particular are rampantly “Leave.”

But the truth is that Sky Atlantic couldn’t have shown the programme whether or not they had wanted to (Murdoch doesn’t fully own Sky either, although he certainly exercises a lot of control).

In the UK we have strict rules about impartiality in the run-up to an election or referendum. The UK regulator Ofcom, publishes a Broadcast Code which all UK commercial broadcasters have to adhere to (The BBC also adheres to some parts of the code).

Section Six of the code deals with Elections and Referendums, and is based on UK law:

Relevant legislation includes, in particular, sections 319(2)(c) and 320 of the Communications Act 2003, and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Broadcasters should also have regard to relevant sections of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (as amended) (“RPA”) – see in particular sections 66A, 92 and 93 (which is amended by section 144 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000).

Ofcom told broadcasters earlier this year that the “referendum period” would run from 15 April 2016 until 10pm 23 June 2016.

Rule 6.3 is critical during this time:

Due weight must be given to designated organisations in coverage during the referendum period. Broadcasters must also consider giving appropriate coverage to other permitted participants with significant views and perspectives.

It’s pretty clear that Sky Atlantic wouldn’t have been able to balance John Oliver’s piece appropriately, and so, they postponed the episode until after the election.

Topical comedy programmes are always tricky during election periods, and it’s notable that the current run of Have I Got News For You has been interrupted until after the referendum now. You can broadcast topical comedy, but you have to have “balance” in your comedy too.

What if Sky had broadcast the programme anyway? What could have happened?

Well Ofcom regularly finds broadcasters in breach of it’s code. Only this week the Discovery owned Quest (and Quest+1) channel was found to have breached several rules when they broadcast a post-watershed programme, complete with multiple swearwords, in an early-morning pre-watershed slot.

In this instance, the finding was simply a rap on the knuckles (Discovery was extremely apologetic, and put in place new compliance procedures to ensure that the mistake was not repeated), but no further sanction. Broadcasters who repeatedly breach rules can face fines or in extreme cases, have their broadcast licences revoked. In essence they can be shut down. This is rare, and for the most part has only happened to adult channels who have repeatedly breached rules. But a multi-billion pound broadcaster like Sky, reporting to shareholders, cannot possibly risk the loss of its licence.

You can be certain that Ofcom and potentially the Crown Prosecution Service would take greater exception to rules surrounding elections and referendums being broken by a large broadcaster. The Representation of the People Act would potentially leave senior people at an infringing broadcaster personally responsible for illegal actions, and subject to being prosecuted under the law.

Indeed, here’s what Ofcom published with respect to a much smaller local election recently:

Ofcom will consider any breach arising from election-related programming to be potentially serious, and will consider taking regulatory action, as appropriate, in such cases, including considering the imposition of a statutory sanction. (i.e. the removal of a broadcast licence.)

Furthermore, the fine that Ofcom can choose to impose can be informed by that company’s turnover. Sky’s 2015 turnover was around £11.3bn.

Since broadcasting the Oliver piece without “balance” would be deemed quite deliberate by Sky, the cumulative fine, risk to broadcast licence and the potential for personal prosecution means that there was no way Sky was ever going to broadcast it.

It’s not a conspiracy — just the law.

Note: I’m not a lawyer, and these are just my interpretation of the rules as I understand them.

The EU Referendum

Clearly these are my personal views. Now read on…

We’re now just under two weeks out from probably the most important vote I’ve had in my lifetime – far more important than any single General Election. We can change a Government after five years (or sooner). The effects of this vote last a lifetime.

But frankly, this whole campaign is a mess.

While I’m 100% certain of the way I’ll be voting – I’m voting REMAIN – this is despite rather than because of what’s going on around this dreadful campaign from all sides.

Media Coverage

You can divide media coverage into two – the regulated and unregulated.

Television and radio have strict impartiality rules, and that means that both sides of any argument need to be aired. And their reach is still the most important. No – it’s not the internet, even though you personally use Facebook and Twitter a lot.

Unfortunately, what “impartiality” means is that there’ll be a story on, say, the Treasury releasing a report suggesting that GDP or house prices will fall if Britain leaves the EU. This news has to be instantly countered by Vote Leave who say they won’t.

Who should you believe? You’ve just heard one campaign say one thing will happen, and the other campaign say, no it won’t. I need someone to tell me which is true – or at least which is likelier.

We’ve seen this behaviour happen repeatedly during this campaign, and the net result is a completely disengaged population who see the whole thing as some kind of political point-scoring rather than something that will directly effect their lives.

Meanwhile the printed press has essentially made up its mind… almost. The left-leaning papers are all Vote Remain while the right leaning ones (the majority) seem to all be Vote Leave. I say that with the small proviso that while these right-leaning papers seem to have adopted a Leave modus operandi, they may just change their mind on the eve of the vote. We’ll see.

There’s social media and the internet of course. But that’s not much better. There’s mostly a lot of singing to the choir, as people just visit sites that are friendly to their point of view – if they’ve managed to acquire one!

So we’re left largely uninformed. This is despite the fact that there isn’t a division of opinion on some of these subjects any more than there is on climate change. Pretending that there are two viewpoints is absurd.

For example, in higher education research, there’s a fairly unanimous view that the EU is a good thing – it invests lots of money that we wouldn’t otherwise have. But in the fishing industry, the view is pretty unanimously against the EU because of quotas and rights. Trying to balance everything is a nonsense.

Scaremongering

While in some regards this is legitimate tactic, it feels like even the simplest things have been massively over-egged. Reports are published showing dire financial consequences if we don’t remain. Other reports are published showing that most of the population of Turkey is apparently moving here within weeks, regardless of whether Turkey could ever become a full EU member.

This scares people off voting. Neither views are remotely realistic. If people would just come out and speak a bit more honestly without the exaggeration, that might actually work better.

Political Point-scoring and Conservative Infighting

Look, I realise that for political reporters, this referendum is all their Christmases at once, with people calling one another out-and-out liars, and bizarre alliances between people like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. But can we get beyond all of this and look at the actual implications of leaving or remaining?

I have no idea about how the Conservative Party will pull together once we come out the other side of this referendum but right now, I don’t care. “Blue on blue” attacks are not important! What is important is everything prior to June 23, not afterwards.

We’ve seen political infighting before – cf Labour – and we’ll see it again. But park all that for now. Concentrate on what leaving or remaining actually means for the public at large.

Irrelevance

Last weekend a boatload of Albanian migrants had to be rescued in the English Channel when the boat that they were being smuggled across in began taking on water. Cue lot of discussion about Brexit. But it’s all a bit pointless. Albania isn’t in the EU, and isn’t likely to be anytime soon. The people charged with smuggling the migrants are actually British, and similar things are likely to continue regardless of our membership within the EU.

That raises other issues, but let’s not pretend the two are related. Let’s stay on point.

An Ignorant Public

All of this boils down to an utterly ill-informed public. It’s scary when you hear that someone will be voting to leave because they think that it’ll be quicker for them at customs when they come back from holiday (no big “EU” queue, although it rather ignores the super-slow non-EU citizens queue they’ll face on the way out), or because they’re annoyed that we haven’t won Eurovision recently (nor have we entered a decent song, but hey…).

In the end, I worry that turnout will be disappointingly low. Seemingly a lot of people have registered to vote in the last few days. And it’s not too late as I type. You have until tomorrow!

I’ll reiterate. This is the most important vote in my life with profound implications on vast amounts of what we do and how we live, were we to leave the EU.

But last night on the news, I heard a political reporter say: “I think people may well just decide they can’t believe what’s being said, so they’ll make up their own mind – and maybe that’s not all bad because in the end, that’s what everyone will have to do.”

I’m sorry – but that’s useless. If one side or another is lying then why do we have journalists, if not to dig out the truth and tell us?

In many respects we are being asked to decide on something with which we simply haven’t been furnished with the facts. They are there, but it takes a ridiculous amount of digging to get to them. That doesn’t make the choice easy for anyone.

Predicting Every Fixture at Euro 2016

In a frankly bizarre move, the Vote Leave campaign has offered a £50m prize to anyone who can predict the result of every fixture at the upcoming Euro 2016 tournament.

Now, I’m not quite sure what the purpose of this is in terms of politics, although the referendum takes place during the tournament.

I’m told it’s all for fun, but the absurdity of this “competition” is astonishing.

Seemingly the Vote Leave camp has had two donors provide the backing for the competition, and the prize is insured by Lloyds underwriters.

But let’s do some maths to show how mad this all is.

First of all, you don’t have to get the score right – just the result. So for every fixture that will be either a win for Team A, a win for Team B or a draw. There are three outcomes per fixture then.

The tournament has 51 fixtures in total (I’m glad to see that there is no pointless 3rd/4th place playoff).

Calculating the precise odds will be hard, although a bookie should manage it. But let’s simplify things enormously and assume every fixture is equally likely to go one of the three possible ways. In other words you have a 33.3% chance of getting the result right.

This is effectively a 51 fixture accumulator, so we need to know one third to the power of 51 (ie 0.33351) to get the probability of picking the right answer. [See update below]

This is a small number.

0.00000000000000000000005%

Put another way, it’s a 2,153,693,963,075,670,000,000,000 to 1 shot.

Or 2.2 septillion to one!*

Simply speaking, this won’t happen. Indeed, if everyone on the planet entered the competition, it still wouldn’t happen.

In fact, every person on the planet would have to make 302 trillion guesses each, with everyone’s guesses different from everyone else’s, for there to be a winner.

Let’s put it another way. The odds of winning the jackpot on the UK national lottery are 45m to one. That’s why you haven’t won yet. The odds of winning the jackpot three times in a row in three consecutive draws is only 93 sextillion to one – still lower than these odds.

I imagine the underwriter at Lloyds only really had to charge for their time in drawing up a contract. The only cost to Vote Leave is building a website.

I know that companies have run prediction based competitions in the past. For example, in 2010 Toshiba ran a promotion in which you were refunded the cost of a new TV if England won the World Cup. That’s a calculated risk. Again it’s insured, but the premiums will have been more substantial and probably came from a marketing budget. But in a 32 team tournament, so there is a chance that your team will win. Perhaps the insurance might have cost £5m based on £100m of TV set sales.

Look this particular competition is a stupid thing for a slow news day. But I don’t understand the point of a competition that isn’t just unlikely (Leicester City winning the Premier League), but is categorically NOT going to happen.

And I wonder what it says about a populace’s understanding of probability that anyone even came up with such a scheme.

[Update: I later realised that after the group stages, there are of course, only two outcomes for the 15 knockout stage matches. So in fact, the number should be 0.33336 x 0.515 = 0.00000000000000000002033%, or a 1 in 4.9 sextillion chance. Much more likely, I’m sure you’ll agree!]

* A septillion is a thousand times a sextillion, which is a thousand times a quintillian, which is a thousand times a quadrillion, which is a thousand times a trillion, which is a thousand times a billion, which is a thousand times a million… You get the idea. It’s a big number.

Satire, Parliament and Dennis Skinner

Commons

Last week Labour stalwart Dennis Skinner was ejected from the House of Commons for the rest of the Parliamentary day for calling the Prime Minister “Dodgy Dave” during his statement on his father’s off-shore affairs to Parliament. The Speaker, John Bercow, didn’t like it, and Skinner was forced to leave.

Skinner regularly entertains with his witty and acerbic comments, so this wasn’t out of character. In this instance, Skinner had a particular interest in the subject and had confronted Cameron on it previously.

What’s interesting is how the news was later reported beyond the day’s news reports.

On Friday, Have I Got News For You covered it, pointing out that Parliamentary rules prevented them from showing clips on a satirical TV programme. They instead used an “artist’s impression” as shown above.

Now I’ve written about this issue before – here in 2009, and again in 2011.

As the licences to use material from Parliamentary coverage make clear:

no extracts of Parliamentary proceedings may be used in any light entertainment programme or in a programme of political satire;

This is despite some changes in copyright legislation which, to my non lawyer’s eyes, would seem to be at odds with them.

So it was slightly surprising to sit down and watch Monday night’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sky Atlantic, originally transmitted by HBO on Sunday evening, and see footage of Commons, lifted from the BBC’s website, and used by Oliver for, well, satirical purposes!

skinner

Of course in the US, they have separate copyright rules and restrictions, and they don’t have to adhere to UK rules. Fair Use probably applies, and so the footage was used. And programmes like this, The Daily Show and many others, regularly use C-SPAN coverage of US government business to illustrate their stories. Only the Supreme Court remains off limits to cameras (Oliver has notably used a “court” of dogs to illustrate exchanges, alongside audio recordings which are allowed).

I was slightly surprised to see that Sky Atlantic didn’t edit that segment before UK broadcast however, since it does seem that they’re in violation of Parliamentary rules. I wouldn’t be surprised if a trimmed down version is used for any rebroadcasts, although at time of writing the full unexpurgated episode is available on Sky Go.

It’s a ridiculous rule of course, and the point is that the footage is widely available.

Last month Rupa Huq MP, sister-in-law to Charlie Brooker, requested that it was lifted, but her request was denied by Chris Grayling MP, leader of the House of Commons.

As Brooker is quoted is the Telegraph as saying, “”Have I Got News For You can’t use clips from the House of Commons, whereas This Week can – with funny music dubbed on top.”

And of course, you can very easily view the footage, including Skinner calling Cameron “Dodgy Dave” on at least two occasions before he was required to leave the Commons by the Speaker for “Disorderly Conduct.” Here it is on the BBC website for example.

I can even go ahead and make an animated GIF of it!

giphy

But for goodness sake, don’t let the footage end up on a satirical television programme in the UK. Whatever would happen then?

Responding to Consultations

If there’s one thing the internet has made easier, it’s responding to consultations. Previously the domain of just the time rich, today it can be much easier. Indeed, only a small amount harder than signing some internet petition.

This week I’ve responded to two consultations on wildly differing topics, and I thought I’d repost what I sent here. Both consultations close tomorrow, so you still have time to send yours in!

Independent Commission on Freedom of Information Call for Evidence

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you as a citizen who is concerned that the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information might see more restrictions placed on what can

I am especially alarmed when Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, is quoted as saying that the Freedom of Information Acts was being used as a “research tool” to “generate stories” for the media.

Absolutely it is.

These are important stories that should be reported. The list of 103 stories published by the FoI Directory website is an excellent list that proves the point.

To at this point go back on what citizens believe should be in the public domain would be absurd and a travesty. The relatively low cost (in overall budget terms) easily justifies the importance of citizens’ rights to know about our supposedly open government.

I therefore strongly oppose any measures that would see a weakening of the Act, or a reduction in bodies included under it.

Review of Consumer Protection Measures relating to Online Secondary Ticketing Platforms

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you in my personal capacity as a consumer who buys tickets to concerts and events.

While I don’t work in the industry, I have worked in commercial radio, where relationships with promoters to sell concert tickets are a significant part of the business.

Event ticketing is not a simple supply and demand model. Quite often demand vastly exceeds supply and an artist or event can’t simply add additional dates to meet that demand. And it’s important to understand that artists and promoters don’t actually always set ticket prices at levels that simply maximise revenues. But setting those initial prices is something that is up to the promoter/artist. If they want to look like they’re gouging fans, that’s their decision. On the other hand, not all concert/events costs are equal.

In general and simple terms, I’m very much against so-called “secondary ticketing” since it simply breaks the overall model.

In my view, secondary ticketing is simply a legal form of ticket touting.

Many events and concerts have terms and conditions that explicitly don’t allow tickets to be resold, and yet only in very specific circumstances is the law adjusted to reflect this. For some reason, football and the Olympics have ticket reselling banned, but pretty much everything else is legal. Frankly that’s arbitrary and absurd.

As mentioned artists and promoters tend to find a balance between pricing their ticket to allow access to their fans, yet at the same time there is also a view from some in the industry that they’re simply missing out on profits made by touts, groups, and individuals that use secondary ticketing.

Promoter Harvey Goldsmith recently appeared on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row (16 November 2015), and explained that for a recent event he had promoted, he’s made it a condition of sale that the purchaser was limited to the number of tickets purchased, and that photographic ID was used to enter the venue. But this isn’t a sustainable option for many venues. While events regularly claim that they may need proof of purchase, it’s rare that it’s actually carried out. The London 2012 Olympics was a key case in point – with none of the dozen or so events I attended requiring any proof that I was the ticket purchaser. Indeed despite severe warnings to the contrary, I’ve never had to provide such proof, beyond using a credit card to collect tickets at a box office.

I would also be wary of claims made by secondary ticketing firms that a high proportion of their ticket inventories are sold at face value or less. That’s because many events – perhaps most – do not sell out, and promoters are able to use these sites to offload unsold inventory as an event’s date draws closer.

I would want to see a very close analysis of who is selling what tickets to what kinds of events at what prices to draw an accurate picture of what’s going on. Broad overall brush strokes do not help. It would be informative to learn the distribution of customers who carry out repeat transactions. If I sell a pair of tickets once in a year, then I might be a genuine fan offloading my tickets. But larger volumes suggests touting – quite probably on an industrial scale. This review should call in detailed sales data from the major sites.

A Solution

The number of individuals who truly need to resell their tickets is actually marginal. While it’s true that some events sell out months or even a year or more in advance, the proportion of attendees who cannot subsequently attend is a very small proportion of the audience.

The notion that secondary ticketing is for “fan to fan” exchanges is quite simply disingenuous. Simply the fact that tickets are instantly being sold on secondary ticketing sites from the minute that their first on sale is proof of this. Essentially anyone with a credit card and an internet connection can become a tout.

I would propose a system where tickets are resold by the agency that sold them initially, with perhaps a 10% margin for managing the secondary selling.

In the past, if you ended up with theatre tickets you no longer required you simply left them at the box office, and once the house’s own tickets had sold out, the box office would sell the “returns” at a either a small mark-up, or at a small cost to the original purchaser. There was a simple reliable point of purchase for those looking for access to an event at the last minute, and a safe and reliable way for someone to attempt to recover the cost of tickets they could no longer use.

With the advent of the internet, ticketing apps, and print-at-home tickets, this process becomes ever easier to manage, and keeps costs low (whatever the various booking costs charged by these sites to consumers are).

The online agency that initially sold the tickets would handle the reselling, and they would recover additional administration costs and a small profit from the 10% margin.

Ticketing Concerns

I also believe it to be the case that a number of tickets for major promotions go directly to secondary ticket agencies in the first instance. I would hope that this investigation will shed some light on this practice.

This means that those tickets were never marketed at any kind of “face value” even if they appear in the same blocks as other tickets that were available for purchase.

There is very little light being shone on this practice, and it bears investigation, because it shows that not all those tickets that “instantly” show up on secondary sites when

Other Pricing Models

I know that some promoters and venues are using “airline” style pricing with flexible prices dependent upon demand. That’s a choice they can make, and they should be free to do so. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to buy tickets on that model, so good luck to those producers with them. But at least they can manage inventory and maximise profits based on demand if they choose to do so.

The market will in the end dictate whether that’s a sustainable business model.

Summary

Put an end to legalised touting through secondary ticketing sites.

If promoters and artists want to earn more money from their events, they should be up front in their pricing mechanisms. And it simply can’t be fair that football has one rule, but every other sport and event has another.

Institute best practices, and allow the resale of tickets only at a modest increased cost over face value via the agency that sold the ticket.