A simple exercise in honesty

Today, I’m going to give you a simple demonstration of the difference between a journalist and blogger.

For the purposes of this demonstration, I will be using an article in today’s Daily Telegraph which runs under the headline “Half of web users support bloggers’ code of conduct” – here’s the article as it appears on the Telegraph’s website:

A voluntary code of conduct for bloggers and internet commentators is supported by almost half of all internet users, a survey has claimed.

The researchers said 46 per cent of web users believe bloggers should agree to a set of guidelines which reflected the laws on defamation, intellectual property rights and incitement.

Four per cent strongly opposed the suggestion and 15 per cent had no opinion.

Just one in three of the web users questioned said they had ever read the legal terms and conditions of the sites they use, despite 14 per cent having had material removed for breaching the terms.

The report also indicated that three quarters of internet users who comment on blogs are unaware that could be breaking libel laws.

Under the laws, it is the person commenting rather than the site hosting the comment who is liable for any offence.

The survey was conducted by legal firm DLA Piper.

Duncan Calow, of DLA Piper, said: “The combination of confusion and complacency about the relationship between the law and user-generated content puts users at risk as they come under increasing scrutiny online.

“It is clear that many internet users would benefit from some clearer guidance about posting comment online.”

This article is no more than a simple piece of poorly constructed churnalism but it does have one virtue, it identified the source of the report and this makes it easy to locate the original press release on the site of DLA Piper:

Only 5% of internet users are clear on their legal rights and responsibilities when posting comment online, according to new research from global legal services organisation, DLA Piper. Even those who have posted a comment on the internet are unsure about their legal liabilities with over three quarters (77%) of bloggers uncertain or unaware of where the law stands.

The research, conducted by YouGov, revealed a widespread lack of clarity and consensus amongst internet users about the role of the law in relation to blogging and user generated content (UGC). Only a third (33%) of regular internet users have read the legal terms and conditions, disclaimers and guidelines for posting comment on the internet forums they use. This is despite the fact that one in seven (14%) of users have had their comments removed or taken down in the past, rising to more than one in four (28%) amongst those who blog.

Not only are users unaware of their actual legal risks online, they remain to be convinced that they even should be liable for the comments they make. Less than half (42%) of all internet users think bloggers should be held to the same legal standards as journalists when publishing opinions, but of those who actually blog themselves only a quarter (27%) believe they should be subjected to the same rules. Internet users are equally ambivalent on a potential voluntary code of conduct for bloggers and online commentators. Nearly half (46%) agree that a code should be established, 15% are unsure and only 4% are firmly opposed. Opinion is even divided amongst bloggers themselves, with over a third (34%) directly opposed to a code of conduct, but about the same number (32%) in support of it.

Duncan Calow, a digital media law specialist and partner within DLA Piper’s Technology, Media and Commercial practice commented: “The combination of confusion and complacency about the relationship between the law and UGC puts users at risk as they come under increasing scrutiny online. Blogs and online forums may differ from traditional media in their style and purpose, but their content is still publicly consumed and they have the equivalent potential to cause damage and offence and infringe others’ rights. Far from being immune from the law, UGC is in particular danger of falling foul of it.”

“Many people are aware of the need for care when using the internet at work – as well as issues surrounding online piracy. It is clear, however, that many internet users would also benefit from, if not welcome, some clearer guidance about posting comment online. There is a big difference between censorship and protection – some have called for a code of conduct to provide guidance for bloggers and other users. That won’t change the law and many bloggers may still say they’ll “publish and be damned” – but they ought to be damned sure what the law says before they do.”

The research also revealed the overall volume of people commenting online is rising – over half (54%) of respondents had posted some form of comment online, whether on a blog, message board or social networking site. 18-24 year olds are particularly active with the vast majority (84%) participating in some form of UGC.

The importance of individual responsibility in posting messages online was raised further last month following the conviction of a blogger in Flintshire, Wales, who posted offensive messages about a police officer’s new-born baby and wrote about his perceived mistreatment at the hands of the police and Crown Prosecution Service. He was prosecuted under the Telecommunications Act, relating to the sending of an electronic message.

You’ll notice that I’ve highlighted one passage in particular, the one from which the Telegraph abstracts its claim that half of all internet users support a bloggers’ code of conduct but which also shows that opposition to any such code amongst bloggers runs at 37%, a fact the Telegraph chose to omit from its report.

Me?

I’m just a humble blogger and bandwidth is cheap, so I’m giving you the full article to consider.

It’s worth picking up on a couple of points for the purposes of clarity.

The full article states, for example, that “less than half (42%) of all internet users think bloggers should be held to the same legal standards as journalists when publishing opinions, but of those who actually blog themselves only a quarter (27%) believe they should be subjected to the same rules.”

This is very likely to be true, but what this statement fails to reflect is the fact that one of main reasons why bloggers consider that they should not be held to the same legal standards as journalist is that we consider that in many instances, libel being one, that the laws as they stand in the UK are a complete ass and an unjustified and pernicious assault on legitimate freedom of expression.

The second reason why we take the view that we should not be held to the same standards as journalist is because, in certain respects, our standards are considerably higher than those of the press, particularly when it comes to matters such as openness, transparency, the making of corrections and the right of reply.

For example, and entirely unlike the Daily Telegraph, I don’t censor comments here, even those that are critical – the only thing that ever disappears from this blog is spam.

By way of a complete contrast, the Telegraph is one of several newspapers who moderate the comments section and refuse to allow through remarks that are openly critical of their output, especially those that point out errors of material fact in their reporting.

Similarly, on those occasions where I do make a mistake, not only are my readers free to point that out without restriction, but if its the kind of mistake that requires a correction to the original article rather than something that can be safely left to the comments under it, then a correction will be made and duly noted in the original article.

Unlike the Telegraph, I don’t have a page 27 on which I can bury corrections and grudging admissions of error by posting them in 7pt text and I don’t resort to stealth edits which attempt to convey the false impression that I’d got it right all along and that any errors were a figment of my readers imagination.

I may not have a written code of conduct but I do have a reputation to protect and a personal code of ethics that i consider far superior to anything practised by the press in this country with, perhaps, the honourable exception of the Guardian’s adoption of a Reader’s Editor and the open and uniform system with which it deals with corrections.

Read through this blog, or pick one or two from the blogroll, and it won’t be long before to run across a post detailing how a newspaper misreported a particular event or promoted a particular opinion using dishonest and misleading methods, few of which you will ever find corrected but for on those occasions where the newspaper’s poor reporting has resulted in a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

So tell me, Andy Bloxham (this being the name on Telegraph article) why exactly would I need to sign up to a voluntary code of conduct when my own personal standards are so much higher than your own?

(hat-tip: Longrider)

  • McGazz

    Surely the problem with any bloggers’ Code of Conduct, whether it matches the Press’ standards or sets its bar considerably higher, is that the kind of people who’d sign up to it are the kind of people who’re already upholding those standards? Meanwhile, the troublemakers and shit-stirrers will refuse to sign up. Arguably that’s the problem with all voluntary agreements.

  • Good piece. One small piece of pedantry – you’ve got a typo (greengrocer’s apostrophe) in the link to the Telegraph.