Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mind your language
I've been back home for a few days over Easter and away from the internet. Came back to find several great media stories blooming.
First this http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,2053278,00.html
As the Guardian says this has provoked a storm from bloggers saying that any attempt to restrict comments would impinge on freedom of speech. But this is becoming more of an issue thanks to the Kathy Sierra case - in which she cancelled her ETech speech because of death threats that had been made on her blog.
http://headrush.typepad.com/creating_passionate_users/2007/03/as_i_type_this_.html
What do I think about this? As a journalist I've been on the receiving end of bitter and abusive anonymous comments which I've accepted as part of the territory. I've never had death threats although I've sometimes kept letters that seemed to be more than usually abusive in case anything escalated.
As someone who's worked in old media where libel laws and the need to avoid affecting public outrage and decency, I'm used to having the kind of language I use monitored and restricted every day. So perhaps I am conditioned to having my words restricted. Plus having been on the receiving end of abuse...I don't like it.
But I certainly also have sympathy with Dan Gillmor's point, as quoted in the Guardian

To define unacceptable behaviour is to create a monster, he says, as "Who'd be the judge of it? The government? Libel lawyers? Uh, oh."

(PS Paula Scher in the New York Times op-ed pages points out the life-cycle of a blog: http://blog.pentagram.com/)

Then there's also another big freedom of speech issue being discussed...that of Faye Turney et al selling their "kidnap and tell" (thanks to Geoff White for that turn of phrase) stories for up to £100,000 - from taking the Queen's shilling to the Murdoch pound. This, most people agree has turned out to be a complete mess. No one comes out of it well: the MoD for agreeing and then doing a U-turn; the sailors who took the cash, the papers who offered it.
The Guardian in its editorial points out that the world has changed thanks to mobiles and the internet; as it says there is no way the slaughter of the First World War could have happened if "our great grandfathers were blogging every night from Picardy". And it asks the question: should we condemn the navy personnel when Sir Christopher Meyer and Alastair Campbell have been able to do similar things. It calls for a thorough review over selling stories to the media that goes wider than just the military

But Allan Mallinson in the Telegraph also raises a pertinent point, making a comparison with Pte Johnson Beharry's memoirs:

There is nothing wrong, or against regulations, in writing about one's military experience. The rules simply require the manuscript to be scrutinised by the MOD to ensure there is no breach of operational security. Had the captives' story been one of true heroism rather than "victimhood", there would surely have been only public admiration.

Was part of our disquiet that this was not a glorious tale to tell?



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