In common, I dare say, with many other Bloggers, we are e-mailed from time to time by ‘journalism students’. Usually we are as friendly and as helpful as possible. I did lose my cool with the third year student who e-mailed me with what he claimed was a first person account of something quite newsworthy. He had been unable to get the main stream media interested and was desperate to get the tale ‘published’ in time for his dissertation.
It was a good story, but so appallingly badly written and woolly that I was not surprised he had been ignored. I tactfully made a few suggestions. I got the copy back by return, incorporating a cut and paste job of my main suggestions but otherwise the same. I asked for corroborating evidence. I got back a file of details that took a couple of hours to go through, and once more e-mailed him with suggestions as to how he could incorporate the salient details.
Back came the copy with my suggestions ‘cut and pasted’ once more – even to the words ‘I suggest’! If it hadn’t been a good story I would have left him to it, but I persevered…I explained how to use spell check..(this was a third year student, remember?) he did, the American version! Groan!
In for a penny, in for a pound – I ended up rewriting the story entirely for him over the next three days; I e-mailed the final copy back to him for his approval. It would be appearing under his by-line, not mine after all. Silence. In fact silence for two whole days.
Then he e-mailed me to tell me – ‘how delighted he was’, the rewritten version had been accepted by The Daily XXXX, in fact they had paid him £500 for it, he was now a published journalist, wasn’t that cool? He said if I wanted to take the copy off their site, he would give me permission to put it on my blog…too, too, good of you, you little shitbag.
Cue much gnashing of teeth this end, and a firm vow to roast the next ‘journalism’ student I came across.
Welcome to my parlour little journalism spider. This arrived last night. It is genuine, I have checked out the name and the University – I am withholding both out of a misplaced sense of fair play…
Thanks for taking time to read my email. I am xxxxxxx xx, a journalism student from University of xxxxxxxxxxxx. I am emailing you because I am currently working on an assignment about libel. I want to find out is the fear of libel on cyberspace the beginning of caution. So hopefully you would kindly spend few minutes to answer the questions below. As the interview is not for public use and will not be published, it will only be used as an interview record for my assignment. So hopefully you would provide some of your information in the interview, which would help me a lot. Thank you so much!
1. Would you please provide me your real name, pseudonym, and what you usually write on your blog/articles?
You have been able to e-mail me because you have been on my blog and onto my contact page. Therefore you already know my real name, my pseudonym, and ‘what I usually write on my blog’.
If I didn’t provide my real name and only wrote under a pseudonym, what makes you think I would want to reveal my real name to you, and for what purpose?
If you weren’t sufficiently interested to look and see for yourself ‘what I usually write’, what makes you think I would be interested in giving my time to help you with an assignment?
2. Have you or people you know who have faced any problems of being charged because you/they have made some libellous statement on your/their blog/articles? If yes, would you tell me some of the details of the case and how it ends up?
Now this, my little journalism spider, comes under the heading of research – if a blogger had been ‘charged’ (we are talking criminal libel here, or did you not know that there were different types of libel?) there would, for sure, be plenty of material for you to draw upon. Ah, I forgot, your assignment is due in 36 hours time, best try and get someone else to do the work for you eh?
3. What do you think about the law of libel on cyberspace? Will you think this law limits the freedom of speech or writing on the cyberspace which we have had for a long time? Why?
Glory be! We have had ‘libel’ as a legal tool since at least the time James I was on the throne – long, long before cyberspace was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. What on earth makes you think that cyberspace is a libel free zone? Libel is libel whether it is written on the Internet, scribbled on a postcard in the local sweetshop window, texted to your three bestest ever friends, or drawn on a scrap of paper and pinned to a tree in the local dog walking park. Freedom of speech has never included the freedom to make an untrue insinuation regarding another person to the detriment of their reputation.
4. Will you mind your word on the internet in order to avoid making any libellous statements? What will you choose between a juicy topic and abiding law? Why?
I ‘mind my word’ on the Internet, by Text, when putting an ad in the local shop window, in fact whenever I ‘broadcast’ a statement in any published from, I also ‘mind my word’ when speaking aloud – or had you never heard of slander either?
Why do you imagine there is a choice to be made between a ‘juicy topic’ and abiding by the law? There is no such thing as a topic that cannot be addressed without breaking the law. It is how you address the topic which dictates whether you are abiding by the law. Isn’t that what you are spending three years studying?
That is all for the questions. Hopefully you can answer all of them and email me back. I am waiting for your answers. If you have further questions about this assignment or interview please feel free to email me. I hope I can get your answer before the coming Tuesday morning. Thank you so much!
There you go, answers before your assignment is due on Tuesday morning! Good to see that ‘Journalism courses in Universities’ are still moulding journalists who believe that the Blogosphere is some sort of anarchic free for all where the laws of the land don’t apply. Someone should really tell you that bloggers don’t all have two heads and a tail, we are citizens just like everybody else, the law of the land applies to us – and some bloggers are journalists as well. I do hope you didn’t send this questionnaire to Charon QC or Jack of Kent…
Not only does the law of the land apply to us, and always has done, but we have to comply with it without the benefit of an army of sub-editors, legal beagles, and the bulging bank accountants of the main stream media – we are personally responsible for our blogs.
Anyone think this muppet is tailor made for a job with the BBC?
Edited to add: Whoops! Did no one notice? That should have been ‘bulging bank accounts’ – though no doubt the accountants are bulging as well!!!!!