The hypocritical actions of The Times this week, in publishing the identity of ‘Nightjack’ the police blogger, contrasts harshly with both the victory of Suzanne Breen in obtaining a court ruling that she need not reveal the identity of her sources, and the use that all the main stream media is making of the anonymous Iranian bloggers and twitterers who are filling their column inches for them with tales of the Iranian uprising that their own journalists cannot cover.
Whilst Suzanne Breen no doubt revealed her source to her editor as per normal journalistic practice, but not to the public, the MSM appear to be saying that only the Editor’s judgement is required to decide whether a source can be relied upon. It is not necessary for the general public to have an informed opinion.
If this is so, then it would have been sufficient for the Editor of any paper to have been aware of the ‘Nightjack’s ‘ identity, if, and only if, it was required to verify something that they wished to quote, and not for his identity to be revealed to his employers and the general public.
In the case of the Iranian bloggers, both the BBC and the rest of the MSM have happily repeated and reported anything which has fallen into their lap from that source without troubling themselves as to the veracity or identity of the source.
What the law appears to be saying now is that established media sources can conceal the identity of a source if they wish, but that if the source goes directly to the public, via a blog, not a media Editor, then they have no protection.
Media Editors already have far too much power in terms of distilling the events that are laid before us, Mr Justice Eady’s decision would appear to have granted them ‘mini-judiciary’ roles, in deciding who can whistle blow anonymously and who can’t.
The main stream media are certainly threatened by the inexorable rise of independent bloggers, and repeatedly trot out the line that they are bound by the laws of libel – despite the fact that all bloggers are bound by the laws of libel, and on a personal level too, not the comfortable corporate level afforded to the denizens of Canary Wharf.
It is oft repeated truism that we live in the ‘information age’ – but what other age has there ever been? Mankind has constantly evolved as ‘information’ – which used to be known by the quaint moniker of ‘wisdom’ – was passed from generation to generation, each improving and adding to the well of knowledge.
One of the things that man quickly learnt was that if you direct the flow of information you have a measure of control over those who are not party to the information.
The believed flow of deitific information to the ancient kings consolidated their power. The knowledge was ‘theirs’ to bestow. As they chose. No question of the serf’s right to receive. The industrial age invented the power to replicate; without due care the precious information could be scattered so widely there would be no power left. So, the replicaters had to be controlled. And they were. In return they were granted the right to extract money for the information. Nay, they were given a monopoly to do so. Information became a species of wealth, a mortgageable and traded commodity; a property, an intellectual property, whose intangible metaphysical dimensions were to be controlled by the law. The infant copyright was born, and his elder sibling, patent; both children of incalculable value who have been the subject of incessant writs for wardship.
We have moved on from the protection of the precise words imparting wisdom, to a potential renewed protection of the right to publish words of any variety. In the Common Era, knowledge and literacy equated to power, and thus were jealously guarded. The majority of people were illiterate; the copying of a manuscript was a painstakingly slow process done by monks; only privileged members of society had access to these manuscripts.
Copyright was literally a legal right to copy. We are moving into a new era of ‘publishing rights’. Mr Justice Eady has just established the first of those rights.
Internet blogging has made publishing ‘free’, and this is jeopardizing those ancient rights of ‘wardship’ belonging to the mighty publishing empires. They have tried this week to frighten us by threatening our livelihoods if we step out of line. That will not work with everyone, some of us are retired, some of independent means, those will not be silenced.
I have little doubt that the Whitehall ‘dirty tricks’ department will be putting their minds to the problem as we speak.
We have had a crescendo of ‘protect the kiddies’ stories describing attempts to censor the Internet by stopping access to certain sites on the grounds that they contain child pornography.
I confidently expect the most prominent blogging sites will find that they have been hacked one dark night, and pornography ‘concealed about their person’ in time honoured fashion. If not pornography, then perhaps their words will have mysteriously been transformed into illegal and libellous statements that justify their blog being closed.
One of the ‘home-spun’ ways in which copyright has been protected by individuals, is to register a letter to oneself or ones lawyers, containing the original words written and which remains unopened until needed in a court of law.
Bloggers should be thinking of setting up a computing cloud, whereby a back-up version of their output can be automatically stored and certified as an authentic version of that originally published, not for copyright reasons, but to protect ourselves against attempts to silence us.
Bloggers are an anarchic crowd, guarding their independence fiercely, but the dark forces we are up against will use that anarchy to pick us off one by one, this is one issue where there will be safety in numbers.