Expect indications from the British Government in February on moves to prosecute social media bosses who fail to protect their users. The Times
deputy political editor, Steven Swinford, reports: 'Social media executives will face fines and the threat of criminal prosecution for failing to protect people who use their services under plans to regulate tech giants in Britain for the first time'. Swinford explains that the government will next month publish its response to a consultation on policing social media companies such as Facebook and Google after Britain leaves the European Union. Ministers want to place the companies under a statutory duty of care, to be enforced by Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog.
The Government is also expected to introduce a 'senior management liability' under which executives could be held personally responsible for breaches of standards. US tech giants would be required to appoint a British-based director – accountable for any breaches of the duty of care in the UK. Under the plans, points out Swinford: 'Ofcom will draw up legally enforceable codes of practice that spell out what tech companies need to do to protect users from harmful content. They will cover terrorism, child abuse, illegal drug or weapon sales, cyberbullying, self-harm, harassment, disinformation, and violence and pornography. Fines for those that breach the codes could be linked to annual turnover or the volume of illegal material online'.
Boris Johnson put forward plans for new duty-of-care laws in the Conservative manifesto before the recent General Election. The manifesto declared: 'We will legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online – protecting children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online'.
When the consultation, which attracted more than 2,000 submissions, was published there were concerns that it could lead to legislation of the press by the back door. However, the Tories then made a manifesto commitment to 'defending freedom of expression and, in particular, recognising and defending the invaluable role of the free press'. Former Tory MP, Nicky Morgan, who was reappointed as Culture Secretary after being given a peerage, has backed the principle of a duty of care and will support a regulatory regime like that imposed on the financial sector. The Government has acknowledged that regulating large companies based abroad will be challenging, saying: 'It is vital that the regulator takes an international approach'.
Media watchers have been seriously surprised that DC Thomson's (DCT) profits for the year ending 31 March 2019 dramatically fell by three-quarters to £21.1m (compared to £86.4m in 2018), although overall revenues grew to £221m (compared to £207.3m in 2018). However, that dramatic fall in profits did not appear to unduly faze top management at the Dundee-based publisher which is renowned for having deep pockets. Newspaper ad revenues were down 7.6% to £13.5m and magazine ad revenues fell by 5% to £23.6m. Circulation sales revenue for the company's newspapers, including the P&J
(Press and Journal
), The Courier
and Sunday Post
dropped 2.2% to £33.4m, although cover price increases had 'helped to reduce the effect of the continuing trend in volume declines'.
and The Courier
are now placed first and second in the list of the UK's top-selling regional daily newspapers. DCT subsidiary, Aberdeen Journals, which publishes the P&J
and Evening Express
, marginally boosted profits to £7.88m on a turnover of £24.3m. DC Thomson chairman, Andrew Thomson, optimistically explains: 'Our trading operations have been affected by challenges to revenues but the core publishing business continues to trade well in comparison to our peers. We believe in the longer-term future of the publishing business and are working on brand extensions and other initiatives to support it. There is a strong brand loyalty to our traditional titles and we look to replicate this in the new businesses that we have acquired. We are also seeking to develop, source and evaluate new and adjacent lines of business, potential investments and acquisitions'.
Last year, the company bought two radio stations and promoted head of advertising, Andy Williams, to the new role of chief revenue officer, and the company said 'identifying acquisition targets' would form a key part of Andy's role. It had been thought that DC Thomson would enter the bidding war for regional newspaper publisher JPIMedia but a report in The Times
claimed that the company had 'mainly ruled out bidding because it considers the likes of The Scotsman
to be overvalued'.
DCT magazine sales income grew by 8% to £46.1m – significantly helped by the acquisition of specialist publisher Aceville in 2018. And the company reported a ratio of 68% circulation revenue to 32% ad revenue in 2019, compared to 66% and 34% in 2018. This situation, it said, gave it 'more protection against advertising declines than many publishing businesses'. The improved ratio, it explained, was 'important in the context of the competition from businesses such as Facebook and Google'.
Many congratulations to Scottish television presenter and filmmaker, Gordon Buchanan, made an MBE in the New Year Honours list for his services to conservation and wildlife filmmaking. Fortuitously, in respect of the timing of the announcement of his honour, Gordon was featured on BBC Two last week with a spellbinding hour-long two-part series, Snow Cats and Me
, in which he joined biologist Dr Victor Lukarevskly in Russia in an attempt to rehabilitate two pairs of lynx held captive for years. Surprisingly, considering lynx can only mate in a three-day period each year, two kittens were born to considerably add to the appeal of already riveting television programming which ended on a very happy note for all concerned. And, during last week, Gordon also showed his talents in another two programmes on BBC TV – Equator from the Air
and Life in the Snow
– to complete a splendid showcase for the filmmaking skills which have earned him an MBE insignia.
Gordon, 48, was born in Alexandria but grew up on the Isle of Mull. In 2013, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, Stirling University, and also became a patron of Trees for Life – a conservation charity working to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands. He has pursued a solo career since 1985 and in his programmes he frequently refers to the long, enforced spells of absence from his family back home in Glasgow. To compensate him for missing his family so much, while filming in all corners of the globe, in his The Bear Family & Me
programme there is a touching segment in which his wife Wendy and children Lola and Harris visit him on location.
Congratulations also to Gabby Logan, made an MBE for services to sports broadcasting and promoting women in sport, under her full name of Gabrielle Nicole Logan. Further media folk to appear in the Honours list included Sharon White, the former head of Ofcom, who becomes a Dame; BBC News managing editor Sarah Ward-Lilley, who was made an MBE; and OBEs to television presenter Jane Sarpong, who regularly appears on Sky TV's The Pledge
programme and last year was appointed director of creative diversity at the BBC, and wine writer and broadcaster Oz Clarke. Television chefs Nadiya Hussain and Ainsley Harriott were both made MBEs for services to broadcasting and the culinary art, while chef and author Nigel Slater collected an OBE for services to cookery and literature.
Please allow me latitude for mentioning, just for old times' sake, and in memory of my bygone days of writing the pop music column for Aberdeen's Evening Express
, that Michael John Prendergast has been made an MBE for services to music. Who? Well, he is better known as Mike Pender, and in the 1960s was the founder and lead singer of chart-topping pop group, The Searchers, whose string of hits included Needles and Pins
and Walk in the Room
. And, incredibly, at the ripe old age of 78, he is still regularly touring worldwide as Mike Pender's Searchers.
And an honourable mention for Gary Lightbody, the lead singer of Snow Patrol, who has been given an OBE for services to music, and to charity in Northern Ireland. It was Gary who wrote the haunting worldwide smash hit Chasing Cars
, which has been the most played song of the 21st century on UK radio, and has sold more than four million copies in the US alone. Gary is a former student of Dundee University, and, at one time, had a job at the Nice n Sleazy's bar, in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. An enthusiastic devotee of Scotland, Gary still owns a property in Glasgow.
On Boxing Day, a very engaging and impressive piece of prose, was written with bags of feeling, by regular columnist John MacLeod in the Scottish Daily Mail
. Son of the manse MacLeod kicked off: 'It is soothing, timeless and universal, it was founded by good King Wenceslas – or, perhaps in fairness, "Yonder peasant" – and more British people go out for a stroll on this day than any other. In Ireland, it's St Stephen's Day, but to us it is Boxing Day – and specifically, the Boxing Day walk'.
Later on, he enthuses: 'Boxing Day walks are not about achievement or compensation. We do them for the best reason there can be for doing anything; for that desire – like a quiet note in the middle of being – so often muffled by the nonsense and noise of modernity. We walk for simple and innocent pleasure… and, of course, the walk. There really have to be woods. Ideally, there would be snow, or at least a good riming of frost, cold enough for grass and fallen leaves to crunch beneath your feet and for your breath to smoke in the air'.