Panorama: Separating Fact from Fiction

The Pirate Party UK has come out as highly critical of the BBC's recent Panorama programme for its disappointing coverage of the Digital Economy Bill.

Although Panorama attempted to give a fair hearing to both sides of the controversy surrounding the bill, it was ultimately considered inadequate. In particular, the BBC was criticised for its failure to get informed commentary from organisations opposed to the bill, such as the Open Rights Group, Coadec and the Pirate Party, meaning that the arguments both for and against the Digital Economy Bill were incomplete, largely misrepresented and often factually inaccurate.

Even the title of the episode was misleading. This bill does not create any "Net Police" but is a private law, allowing companies to take action without being held to standards anywhere near as high as the police. The punishments the bill proposes are to be made without a trial and the protections the British justice system offers. It applies to the Internet and copyright the same "survival of the richest" (or those with the best lawyers) mentality that surrounds the UK's libel system.

The programme quickly demonstrated an element of laziness by directly quoting a figure from the BPI as to the losses they claim the industry feels due to online copyright infringement - a figure the presenter failed to challenge. At no time has any evidence been published to support any claims of 'loss'. Such claims are often derived from estimates extrapolated from assumptions made about guesses and are wildly divergent depending on who is making the claim, even if they purportedly represent the same loss.

Similarly the presenter never challenged the often repeated misunderstanding that the record industry - a middleman group that profits from the creative efforts of others - is essential to the greater music industry. Music existed for millennia before the recording industry existed, and will continue to exist long after the current blight business have been reduced to an unpleasant stain on the history of art and music.

Those interviewed seemed only too happy to blame piracy for all their troubles - never questioning whether the closure of small record shops, or the decline in signing of new artists might be at least partly due to other causes, such as the convenience of online shopping (as seen in many other industries) or the unwillingness of the large record companies to invest in anything new or innovative.

The government representative (Stephen Timms, MP) compared Internet use to electricity (noting that one should use both for legal purposes only) but failed to take the comparison further; electricity is not cut off at the mere allegation of unlawful conduct, nor do we expect electricity companies to spy on our usage. Electricity is seen as a vital utility and now most British people think the Internet is as well.

While the programme studied the effect that technical measures targeted at one IP address on a family (noting correctly that the IP address could not even identify an offending subscriber) it failed to consider what effect this might have on other communal Internet services such as those in libraries, universities or even the open wireless projects being run by many businesses and even cities.

Finally, it was suggested that there is an overall decline in music sales, something that even the BPI's own facts disagree with and that this was the "last roll of the dice" for the music industry when, as it was earlier pointed out, it is the record industry, if anything, that is suffering as more and more musicians and other artists realise the potential of the greatest technological, social and cultural development of the last 50 years.

These are only the greatest of the mistakes Pirate Party representatives noted. Without an appropriate balance, it was impossible for these errors to be exposed, and misstatements were not met by corrections from those of the opposing view or the presenter. Allowing each side to respond to each other is a vital component of true journalism and debate. The lack of opposing views in the Panorama programme meant that it came frighteningly close to becoming a propaganda piece for the content distribution industry.

Pirate Party leader Andrew Robinson said

The BBC have let the public down by failing to present both sides of the argument. The Digital Economy Bill threatens many core principles of law; the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, the right not to be subjected to collective punishments, and the right to free speech. I looked to Panorama to warn the public of the dangers of a law quite literally written by the BPI, instead I saw a programme that was more akin to a press release on the behalf of the handful of major record labels that are pushing the bill through parliament.

The Pirate Party stands firm, however, in it's defence of freedoms and honesty, and will be happy to provide evidence and factual statistics to the BBC, should it desire to publish corrections, or any other media representative that wishes to report on the facts, rather than half-baked hyperbole and scaremongering.

Tuesday, 16 March, 2010 - 03:15
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