Last week, Trinity College Dublin hosted an international symposium on Online Higher Education – Disrupting Higher Education to stimulate discussion about technology-enhanced learning, the opportunities and challenges associated with offering free online courses, and meeting the educational needs of online learners (hashtags #OpenHE #DHE #disruptinghighered on twitter; storified here and here). Pictured left are the Provost of TCD, Dr Patrick Prendergast, the Dean of Graduate Studies, TCD, Prof Veronica Campbell, and CEO of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland; and I blogged about their speeches here. The presentations will be soon podcast, and the slides will also be available, and the full text of the Provost’s speech is now available here. Meantime, here are some more of my thoughts from the day.
Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies in the London Knowledge Lab of the Institute of Education, University of London, spoke about “remodelling higher education to harness technology”. Her ultimate point is that the innovation here is by the teachers and lecturers using the technology. She began by pointing to the massively increasing global demand for higher education: the draft UNESCO goals for education after 2015 will see a great expansion of education to meet the increasing needs for knowledge and skills worldwide; this implies teacher training needs in higher education; and this in turn raises questions as to the purposes of higher education. She referred to the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, chaired by Sir Ron Dearing, which saw the ends of higher education as enabling individuals to develop their capabilities; developing knowledge and understanding; serving needs of economy; and playing a major role in society. And she argued that online higher education should serve these goals too, and should not be about mining students’ data or marketing courses or providing free professional developments (as massive open online courses (MOOCs) currently are).
Trinity College Dublin today hosted a symposium in the Science Gallery on Online Higher Education – Disrupting Higher Education – to stimulate discussion about technology-enhanced learning, the opportunities and challenges associated with offering free online courses, and meeting the educational needs of online learners (hashtags #OpenHE #DHE #disruptinghighered on twitter; storified here). Here are some of my thoughts on the day. The presentations will be podcast, and the slides will be available, so you can go right to the source in due course, but this summary can serve in the meantime.
Prof Veronica Campbell (Dean of Graduates Studies, TCD) welcomed us to the symposium. She was too modest to say so, but the symposium was her brainchild. She said that the symposium will allow us to learn from those at the vanguard of online higher education, not least massive open online courses (MOOCs). They raise fundamental questions about optimum business models, especially where universities aim to stimulate critical thinking rather than merely transfer information. She left us with the thoughts of David Puttnam, recently-minted Digital Champion for Ireland, who warns that the digital world has destroyed distance. So, the question for the day is, if distance is not longer an issue in higher education, where does it go from here?
During the examinership processs, it is anticipated that B&Q Ireland Ltd will continue to trade at all nine stores; all employees will be paid, and all pre-paid goods and services, including kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms and their installation, together with Gift Vouchers and Credit Notes will be honoured. Suppliers will be paid for goods and services supplied during the process. …
What about my credit note or gift voucher?
We are still honouring credit notes and gift vouchers throughout this process. We don’t want our customers to lose out.
Update (12 Feb 2013): the High Court has today confirmed the appointment; and it was confirmed to the court that all vouchers, credit notes and deposits will be honoured by the company throughout the examinership period.
This is a far more satisfactory approach than that taken in the context of HMV (see here, here and here). And the fact that B&Q can take this approach demonstrates that the Examinership process (or Administration, its UK equivalent) does not automatically preclude the company under the protection of the court from honouring vouchers. I hope we have heard that last of that particular canard, but I am not too sanguine that we have.
Bonus (including updates and amendments through 12 Feb): The UK arm of HMV continues to demonstrate how not to handle an Administration; the Guardian and the Independent reported that HMV workers (or at least one of them) took over the official Twitter feed to vent their fury over sackings – there’s an excellent assessment on Forbes. Meantime, the Administrators have made all of the members of the Board, including the CEO, redundant; and they are seeking to do deals with suppliers and landlords, close unviable stores (update (21 Feb 2013): in two waves), and sell off non-core businesses such as nightclubs and other venues.
Update (12 Feb 2013): Meanwhile, the receiver of the Irish arm of HMV has been unable to find buyers for the 16 Irish stores. All of the stores were loss-making, due to online competition (cd and dvd retailers, as well as streaming and download services) and high levels of rent. The shops will not be reopening; the employees, who had been laid off temporarily, will be made redundant; and the chain will be liquidated. This is a sad day for the employees, and a sorry end to a great business.
Privacy from Birth to Death and Beyond: European and American Perspectives
The exciting line-up of speakers includes:
|José Maria Baño (José María Baño León Abogados, Madrid) “Case C-131/12 Google Spain, SL, and Google Inc v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos and The Right to be Forgotten”|
Prof Joshua Fairfield (Washington and Lee University School of Law) “Do-Not-Track as Default: Transaction Costs in US Consumer Privacy”
Damien McCallig (NUI Galway School of Law) “Privacy on and after death”
Dr Sharon McLaughlin (Letterkenny Institute of Technology) “Children & Privacy: Protection v Participation – A Tangled Web”
Paul Lambert (Merrion Legal Solicitors) “Privacy issues in practice: A Litigation Light on Norwich, Abuse, Cyberbullying, Defamation, Privacy and Data Protection Concerns”
Dr Ciara Hackett (Queens University Belfast) Rapporteur’s Report
The symposium is organised by the LLM in Public Law and the LLM in Law, Technology and Governance at the School of Law, National University of Ireland Galway. You can register online. CPD certificates (4 hours) can be provided.
The image is a thumbnail of an apology printed in yesterday’s Irish Mail on Sunday; click through for a full-size twitpic by David Cochrane. It is headed “Brian Cowen”, and it consists of four paragraph. The first paragraph (which consists of a single sentence) begins by referring to their story (update: which is no longer available at this link) of Cowen’s attendance at the Executive Education Programme at Stanford University which has been the subject of two earlier posts (here and here) on this blog, speculating as to the strength of Cowen’s possible complaint to the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman that article invaded his privacy. The Sunday Independent yesterday reported that Cowen’s complaint had indeed been submitted, that it had drawn a robust response from the Irish Mail on Sunday, and that it was being considered by the Press Ombudsman. Where appropriate, the Ombudsman seeks to mediate a resolution to a complaint, and, if the Sunday Independent is right that the matter was before the Ombudsman last week, then this apology may very well be the product of such a mediation process.
The second paragraph in the apology (which also consists of a single sentence) says that Cowen has made it clear that he paid for the course entirely out of his own resources. The original article had said that “Stanford had hosted 60 chief executives from Irish IT and life science companies under the Enterprise Ireland leadership for growth programme, all subsidised by the Irish taxpayer”. This, of course, led to speculation about whether EI were funding Cowen’s course, and although it was quickly made clear that he was funding the course himself, the implication must clearly have rankled with Cowen. However, any complaint about this aspect of the Mail’s article is one as to the accuracy of the piece, rather than as to whether it had invaded Cowen’s privacy.
The third paragraph in the apology consists of two sentences, one of which says that the report was illustrated with a photograph of Cowen at a lecture, and the other of which says that Cowen had attended the course in a private capacity. Unlike in the previous paragraph, the issues in this paragraph are indeed related to privacy, and formed the basis of the discussion between Jonathan McCully and myself. I was strongly of the view that Cowen is still a public figure, that this course built on his time as a public figure with a view to his possible return to public life, and that the public interest justified publication not only of the story but also of the accompanying photographs. Jonathan equally strongly took the other line, that Cowen no longer holds public office or follows a public career, that the photographs of Cowen on a private campus, at lunch, and in class, were essentially of a private nature, and that there was no public interest in publishing either the article or the photographs. Nevertheless, whilst I think it interesting that the apology only refers to one of the photographs, rather than to all of them, given that the Mail has published an apology, Jonathan’s analysis must have been closer to the mark.
The fourth paragraph, which also consists of a single sentence, provides
We apologise to Mr Cowen for this publication.
The apology does not seem to be available online, but the original story
(without any correction or apology) still is has been deleted. It seems that, despite the apology, I will always know what you did last Summer, Mr Cowen, but there are now question-marks over just how much of what I know invaded your privacy.
This image, by Corey Seeman on Flickr, is the Monument to your Future Collaborators, on the pavement outside the Knight Management Center in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where Brian Cowen attended the Executive Education Programme last Summer. Cowen probably walked past it, if not over it, several times. But he now says that his attendance at that course was a private matter, and it seems he intends to complain to the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman that newspaper articles about it invaded his privacy. In my earlier post, I know what you did last Summer, Mr Cowen (also here), I was not very sanguine about his chances. However, on his recently-started media law blog, MediaBelf, Jonathan McCully has taken me to task on this. In his post The Prime Minister who went to America to learn how to be a leader (also here) he makes a compelling case the other way.
One of his key points is that Cowen is no longer a public figure: “It is difficult to connect information relating to Mr. Cowen’s college activities, such as eating lunch and attending lectures, with the validity of what he had done in public office”. From that, it would follow that he is therefore entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy as he goes about his life after front-line politics, and that, whilst the public may be interested in Cowen’s college activities, there is little public interest in media coverage of his lunch and lectures. This invites two responses. The narrow one is that Cowen was pursuing a leadership course, which he himself accepted had the potential to lead to his return to the public eye, which would bring the matter squarely within the category of the public interest.
According to TheJournal.ie, HMV stores in the UK are to start accepting vouchers again. Meanwhile, a sit-in by staff at some of HMV’s Irish stores came to an end over the weekend, as the Receiver confirmed that they would receive pay due to them; and, in a separate development, the Receiver also confirmed that the proceeds of a charity single would be paid. However, for so long as the Irish operation remains in an increasingly complex receivership and the shops are closed, there is no practical means by which to redeem vouchers, gift cards, and the like. But the UK operation is merely in Administration (equivalent to Examinership), and Sky News is reporting that the Administrators have bowed to public pressure, and have announced that gift cards and vouchers can be redeemed in stores from today (Tuesday). Update: calls from the Taoiseach on HMV to give their Irish customers the same rights as those in Britain to redeem vouchers seem to have fallen on deaf ears (in much the same way as calls to him to change the law in this regard have equally fallen on deaf ears, though some legislative changes might be afoot in the UK).
These are the very same Administrators who tried to say last week that the process of Administration prevented them from honouring the vouchers and gift cards. If the law prevented it last week, then it prevents it today. If, on the other hand, the law allows them to honour vouchers today, then it allowed them to do so last week as well. As I argued here and here, it was clear to me that the law did not prevent them from honouring the vouchers last week, and that claiming otherwise was nothing more than disingenuous spin on the part of the Administrators (seeking to save a few bob: it was reported last week that the outstanding vouchers could have been worth £100m, but it is being reported today they are worth in the less eye-popping range of £6m to £7m). In fact, they must have known that they could honour vouchers in an Administration, as the same firm conducted the Administration of electrical retail chain Comet, in which they initially suspended vouchers and then subsequently honoured them (though the Administration was not successful and the shops were eventually closed).
At least this week’s story is more plausible; according to the BBC, the Administrators have said that they can honour the vouchers after assessing HMV’s financial position. Last week, for the Administrators, the sale came first, and the truth came second; this week, it’s all about the money, money, money. The Guardian reported that consumers greeted the news warmly on Twitter, though there was speculation as to whether many shoppers would already have thrown their vouchers away.
The moral of the story is very simple: if you are in Ireland, hold on to your vouchers, and wait and see; if you are in the UK, and if you have HMV vouchers and gift cards that you haven’t thrown away, don’t walk to the shops; run!
Update: The US restructuring specialist Hilco, which had bought out HMV’s Canadian operation in 2011, has purchased HMV’s debt from the group’s lenders, thereby taking effective control of HMV’s UK operations and giving the Administrators more time to attract further backers. The receivers of HMV’s Irish operation declined to comment on whether this would have any impact on the receivership.
There’s still some way to run in this story. HMV may well return in some shape to a street near you, but it will be a far different beast to the one who stood there for decades.
No doubt, but let’s hope that it will honour vouchers, gift-cards, and the like.
I know what you did last Summer, Mr Cowen, and in fact we all know what you did last Summer, Mr Cowen, because the the Irish Mail on Sunday reported on your enrollment in the Executive Education Programme at Stanford University in California. However, it is now clear that you would prefer that we didn’t know, that you consider that the Mail‘s coverage infringed your right to privacy, and that you intend to complain about this to the Press Council of Ireland and the Office of the Press Ombudsman. I’m glad you are looking to pursue this matter before the Ombudsman and Council and not in the courts, but I do not think that your complaint is likely to be upheld. I know what you did last Summer, Mr Cowen. Indeed, as you are a public figure, I am entitled to know what you did last Summer, Mr Cowen.
The Office of the Press Ombudsman ensures that members of the public have access to an independent, quick fair and free mechanism for complaints of breaches of the Code of Practice for Newspapers and Magazines. If Prof John Horgan, the Ombudsman, considers that a complaint is valid, he reeks to resolve the matter by conciliation. If this is not possible, then he will make a decision, which can be appealed to the Press Council of Ireland. Principle 5 of the Code of Practice provides that, on the one hand, the private and family life, home and correspondence of everyone must be respected (5.1), but that, on the other hand, the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or in the public interest (5.2); the principle acknowledges that public persons are entitled to privacy (5.4) but it empahsises that
… where a person holds public office, deals with public affairs, follows a public career, or has sought or obtained publicity for his activities, publication of relevant details of his private life and circumstances may be justifiable where the information revealed relates to the validity of the persons conduct, the credibility of his public statements, the value of his publicly expressed views or is otherwise in the public interest.
According to this morning’s Sunday Independent, former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen (pictured far right) is to make a complaint to the Office of the Press Ombudsman that his right to privacy was unjustifiably infringed by newspaper coverage of his time in Stanford last Summer. Of course, when the Sunday Independent sought a comment from Mr Cowen about this development, the traditional “source close to Mr Cowen” last week gave the even more traditional reply: “No comment”. Unsurprisingly, the Sunday Independent considers it “likely” that the Mail‘s publishers “will robustly defend any complaint taken by Mr Cowen on the grounds of public interest”. A decision by the Press Council on this matter is likely to clarify exactly how the Council understands the public interest in the context of politicians. Although Mr Cowen has at present stepped back from front line public life, as a former Taoiseach, he is still a public figure – indeed, he undertook the course in preparation for a possible return to the law or to political life. As a consequence, I would not be sanguine about the former Taoiseach’s chances of success.
Coverage last Summer included the publication of several photographs of a casually dressed Mr Cowen in Stanford (in class, at lunch, and strolling around campus). Principle 5 of the Code specifically covers photographs as follows:
5.5 Taking photographs of individuals in private places without their consent is not acceptable, unless justified by the public interest.
Since Stanford is a private university, it may seem that publication of those photographs is a breach of principle 5.5. But that would be too mechanical an interpretation of a private place. For example, Cowen was regularly photographed as Minister and Taoiseach attending sporting events. Strictly, the stadia in which such events occur are private property, but could not sensibly be described as private places. Similarly, although Stanford’s campus is private property, in my view it cannot sensibly be described as a private place. The same is probably true of the lunch restaurant, but photographs from the classroom are closer to the difficult borderline. But even if the classroom photographs are on the wrong side of the line and constitute an infringement of privacy, if publication of the story is justified as in the public interest, then publication of the classroom photographs would also very likely be justified by the public interest.
Finally, it may be that he intends to complain that some of the Mail‘s reporting was not so much an invasion of privacy as misleading in significant respects. If so, then this is a breach of Principle 1 of the Code, which requires that newspapers strive at all times for truth and accuracy in their reporting (1.1). Crucially, unlike principle 5, there is no public interest justification for a breach of principle 1.
The Ombudsman and Press Council were set up by the print media and recognised by the Minister for Justice under the Defamation Act, 2009 (also here) to provide a means of resolving disputes without recourse to the courts. I’m delighted to see such a prominent figure choosing to deal with the matter in this way, and I look forward to the outcome of the case.