An Organised Hypocrisy

Every so often, bloggers exhibit a penchant for either coining new words/phrases, like bansturbation, or suggesting apt and usually amusing redefinitions of the exists words/phrases, and I’m no less prone to this than anyone else hence:

National Press (n): 1. An organised hypocrisy

The blogging story of the week (so far) has to be the abrupt and comprehensive disappearance of the Civil Serf blog, which has several newspapers talking a little breathlessly about Whitehall witchhunts:

A mole hunt is on for an Internet diarist who shocked Westminster by exposing the “pointless and doomed” world of the Civil Service. Daily Mail-evolence

Ministers have been accused of “gagging” civil servants after a junior official was threatened with punishment over her internet blog about Whitehall. – Torygraph

Hunt is on for the “Civil Serf” demon blogger of Whitehall: Civil Serf’s revelations cast light on chaos behind government machine – The Times

Coverage of the story in the right-wing press is as predictable as it is faintly tawdry.

Being an anonymous as (allegedly) female blogger is seemingly enough for the press to draw ridiculous comparisons with the likes of Belle du Jour and La Petite Anglaise – the MSM haven’t yet figured out that gender ‘shifting’ is a pretty obvious trick to pull when trying to throw an employer of the scent – as much, one suspects, because these are only two female authored blogs that some journos have heard of, as for any legitimate similarities. And, of course, as a public sector ‘work’ blogger with some fairly strong and uncomplimentary views about life in the public sector, there are already the inevitable hints that what we have on our hands in something of ‘Robin Hood’ figure for all that the blog has yet to be fully ‘validated’ and that many of the comments reported in the press amount to little more than you’d find on plenty of non civil service blogs – I mean FFS, the claim that Alistair Darling will go for a cheap headline in tomorrow’s budget and will major on child poverty and incapacity benefit is hardly the stuff of inside knowledge, the last two have been official government for ages.

A quick scan past some of the comment on this issue shows the press to be up to their usual tricks. Tom Watson, now the minister at the Cabinet Office with responsibility for the government’s own web presence, took the opportunity to use his personal blog to canvass a bit of opinion about what might usefully go into a civil service code of conduct on blogging:

I’m thinking about what you’d have to include in a code for civil service bloggers. In the last half an hour I’ve come up with a list of 12 points, though this isn’t exhaustive. Any ideas?

1. Write as yourself
2. Own your own content
3. Be nice
4. Keep secrets
5. No anonymous comments
6. Remember the civil service code
7. Got a problem? Talk to your boss
8. Stop it if we say so
9. Be the authority in your specialist field – provide worthwhile information
10. Think about consequences
11. Media interest? Tell your boss
12. Correct your own mistakes

Only for this to reappear shortly afterwards, via the Press Association, as:

Civil servants who write blogs must “be nice” or face being silenced, a Government minister warned today.

Cabinet Office Minister Tom Watson also insisted that writing an online diary anonymously was not acceptable.

I can well appreciate Tom’s frustration on this:

UPDATE: A clunky old blog is not the place for ministerial edicts. It is place to start discussions and seek views. So you stick up a post to stimulate a discussion about what a civil service blogging code should look like – on a blog – and it gets translated by the Press Association into “Civil servants who write blogs must be nice or face being silenced”. Oh dear. This is classic new vs. old territory.

Thus far, the first news site to run the PA’s misrepresentation of Tom’s comments turns out to be 24Dash which, amongst it promotional banners, sports this dubious testimonial:

This is just what we’ve been waiting for- the new 24Dash website provides us with the perfect solution to getting out news directly to the people who matter to us… Ben Levinson, Marketing Officer, Groundwork London.

So, not actual news then, more marketing and ‘advertorial’ copy, what Nick Davis, the author of Flat Earth News, refers to as ‘churnalism’.

Of course, of all the newspapers commenting on this story it’s the Daily Mail-evolence that has least cause and justification for trying to play the witch hunt angle, being no stranger to conducting a witch hunt of its own against a blogging civil servant, Owen Barder. Of course, the big difference on that occasion was that pretty much everything that Simon Walters wrote about Owen and his blog turned out to be a series of (deliberate?) misrepresentations, misinterpretations and and outright falsehoods, and its likely that its only because Owen holds down a pretty senior position in the DfID and decided that his job was worth more to him that a public fight with the Mail that Walter’s didn’t get his sorry ass hauled before the Press Complaints Commission, if not into a libel court. However, one thing that is instructive here, when it comes to parts of the MSM and their attitude to blogging is that that while their article on ‘Civil Serf’ sports 25 comments, their hatchet job on Owen has only two, not that that article lacked for comment at the time as any number bloggers attempted to respond openly to the Mail’s article and point out its blatant falsehoods only for non of them to make it through moderation.

With Nick Davis’s book in mind, it’ll be interesting to see just how many media outlets might be dumb enough tocarry the PA’s ridiculous ‘ministerial edict’ story over the next couple of days – I’ve got a ‘google alert’ set up to monitor thing, if only as a guide to the extent to which unthinking churnalism has become the order of the day.

  • I can;t deny that when I first saw number 8 I thought “Tom how on earth did you get into a Government that is supposd to be so media savvy” though. I just decided to not blog it and instead point out that he seems to have become a Cameroon with his Government 2.0 speech instead.

  • I don’t have much sympathy for Tom Watson. It’s perhaps irrelevant but IMHO deserves repeating whenever his name comes up: he promised never to take a ministerial position again on a public forum, and then he took one. He deserves to be pilloried – though not, perhaps, for this.