Friday, 19 December 2008

Mmmm mm Mmm Mmmm Mmmmmmmm mm Mmmmm

Shhh. Come in and somebody watch the door. So you got my title that "This is Not What Blogging is About" then and came in to find out more. Well according to Mike Smithson at Political Betting Labour are seeking to tighten up the control over bloggers and their comments.

This is a worrying state of affairs. We all saw what happened to Damian Green. He had information that was embarrassing to the Government and they sent in the anti-terror squad to search his offices, computer etc. So is it now not going to enough to allow debate to flow on ones blogs.

Regular readers will know that apart for a brief period leading up the to the Livingston by election I have never post moderated comments on this blog. Not everything that get posted is flattering, some is down right rude and occasionally it points to things of dubious legality. In all such occasions I will post something distancing myself from such sentiments and if there is any sense amongst the detritus I will actually attempt a civilised response.

You see unlike this NuLabour* Government I am NOT afraid of debate, criticism or argument. If they can't stand the heat then there is clearly something (I would argue many things) that they are doing wrong. They know they have lost the narrative and have seen from the Barack Obama campaign that electioneering and elections is moving away from the MSM. However, rather that embracing that, giving their supporters something to do and say they seem adamant to gag us.

The gag on protests too close to the Houses of Parliament is no longer enough for them. They want to gag us all and put the fear of litigation into the small bloggers who occasionally have a scoop, something gleaned from where they are that could be published and embarrass NuLabour. Whether that originates from the blogger themselves who generally will take the best measures they can to verify such a source or from someone who posts a comment on a blog.

They have over the last 11 years attempted as best they can to stifle debate on the floor of the House and now they want to stifle debate elsewhere. Simple because unlike the MSM they cannot control the news cycle as much for every single blogger that may have something to say or every poster of comments that says something.

The Internet is the Speakers Corner for the 21st Century. If NuLabour can't understand and can't abide by that they are as small minded and as civilly illiberal as some of us have argued they have been for some time.

As Irfan Ahmed suggests may I urge every reader of this blog to lobby against this proposed green paper to their MPs up and down the country. I will be writing to Michael Connarty myself forthwith.

Update: I'd like to thank MatGB for his comments below. So did a little look around to see who else was blogging about it Iain Dale (Version TrueBlue 1.0) seems seems to reckon this stemmed out a Common's debate this week and the words that came Justice Minister Bridget Prentice's lips. Plus if you don't already know the story of Alex Hilton who took every conceivable action to appease someone regarding a comment that was posted, only to face the wrong sort of annoyed person it may well led to the end of free flowing debate until we can get online in 'coffee breaks'.

Indeed the email I have sent off to Michael Connarty does recognise that libel is libel no matter who writes it. My major concern is about the ability to maintain open and real time discussions on blog posts. If any new legislation makes it easier to sue the host of a blog for anything in their comments threads a large part of the blogosphere will be lost. The interaction with the readership is what distinguishes us from the MSM, or at least did back in the day, lose that and the government once again has gained control of the news cycle.

*This time I will use the Zimbabwe based form of that title.


  1. Smithson is, unusually, talking arse. We're already liable for defamation that we type, making it a small claims issue wouldn't change whether something is defamatory or not.

    It's part of an overall review of defamation law, which is also likely to tighten up who exactly can be sued for what, and clarify who is responsible for content.

    Smithson thinking that a pre-moderation system would be protection is completely wrong. If it's free comment, all you have to do is take down something when informed of it. If you screen everything first, then you're liable if you let something through as well.

    In addition, the comments box would count as a discussion forum, and thus it'd be slander, not libel. Way to cry censorship on what is actually a fairly sensible discussion document.

  2. I think you're right, MatGB, and that the proposals are more about cumbersome procedure rather than the substantive law.

    If the Govt was really that bothered about what was being said on the net then they'd be suing people all over the place (and probably winning as well), but clearly they're not.

    I'm all for free speech, but there's too much poisonous rubbish on the net that the little man can't really do much about, so if there was a small claims procedure then it could help redress the balance.

    There's a difference between curtailing free speech and spreading malicious lies, and if freeing up the legal process forced people to post with a bit more thought and moderators to be a bit more pro-active then that's a good thing IMO.

    (Not so sure about your libel/slander distinction though - AFAIK slander is spoken, libel is everything else. Even stage, TV and radio broadcasts count as libel, I think, so basically unless it's something said face to face then it's libel.

  3. Lord Justice Eady recenty ruled that slander is a 'discussion', and that a bulletin board discussion would be slander. There's a good article on on it but I don't have the link saved on this machine.

  4. Thanks MatGB, very interesting. I had a quick glance of the article last night and there seems to be some debate and confusion over what precisely the judge was referring to, ie chat-rooms, message boards, blogs, blog comment sections are all different in nature. I can see the point regarding chat-rooms, but perhaps not blogs, perhaps?

    And it's also not clear whether the point was necessary for deciding the case, and thus whether it actually set a precedent.

    One for the lawyers!