Tuesday, 19 March 2013

In defence of blogging and free speech

Its' not often I bother reading the free newspaper the Metro,  but this morning's headline did catch my attention. "Bloggers caught in newspaper crackdown" screamed out the front page. Undaunted I read further "Bloggers risk being hit with huge damages under a press clampdown which campaigners warned would have a chilling effect on the internet. Apparently "thousands of blogs and websites could fall into the "dreadfully broad" definition of who is a publisher.
The Metro continued by quoting "Freedom Campaigners" saying that it could stop bloggers from writing about issues such as local politics or football club corruption. Obviously the examples they gave are not exclusive and much more would potentially come under the rules that were supposed to "regulate" the Press. A website that attracts complaints and is not signed up to the "regulator" may be liable for "exemplary" damages.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport was quoted as saying "small outfits would not be covered - it would be unworkable". I'd guess that Howie's Corner counts as a "small outfit" in that there is err.. just me.
This is all the result of the Leevson Enquiry which was set up to  examine some of the "bad practices" (and there certainly have been some) by the National Press. Until now it hadn't occurred to me that "blogging" could possibly be under threat, but then not only is this a fairly new blog (just over three months old) I'm also new to the internet as I only got a home PC last December.
I have to say that I would never knowingly publish anything false. Blogging is about opinion, a bit of speculation and an analysis from one's own point of view. It doesn't mean the author (myself included) is always right and there is actually a facility on most blogs and websites that newspapers do not have. The comments box. If the reader does not agree then a response can be made and a discussion take place. The reader could ask for or suggest an amendment or retraction. The internet is instant.
Newspapers on the other hand, whilst having websites with comments facilities are primarily a print medium. At the earliest a retraction or clarification cannot take place until at least the following day and there is no guarantee of that either, which is why procedures exist to make a complaint or in very extreme circumstances take legal redress through the courts.
The use of the internet with all the different forums from websites and blogs to twitter and beyond has opened communication and mass media to everyone with a keyboard. This freedom is unprecedented and is seen by many regimes around the world as a threat to their monopoly of power. The electronic revolution is here to stay.
Such freedom as with all rights, including that of free speech comes with responsibility. There are those who abuse it. There are those called "trolls" who use the web as a forum for mischief and hate. They need to be dealt with as appropriate. The main point is to defend the right to hold an opinion even if someone else doesn't like it. That’s democracy.
Defend blogging, defend free speech. There are plenty out there who will try to suppress dissident and contrary opinions. Let's ensure the web stays free!

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