Considering the amount of time and effort that the BBC are currently putting into whinging about bloggers over the whole Prescott/Anschutz business, you might think they’d be just a tad more careful about waving a red rag in the blogosphere’s face…
…but no, this morning finds Newsnight’s Paul Mason continuing in much the same vein as his BBC colleague Nick Robinson did yesterday…
Not since 7/7 has the UK blogosphere looked like functioning in the same way as its US counterpart – until now. Slipping and sliding around the libel laws, and the custom and practice of us media types refraining from telling the world who is sleeping with whom at Westminster, the British bloggers are at it, right now, on an almost hourly basis, pushing the Prescott story forward almost faster than the Mainstream Media (MSM).
And later on, Paul goes on to voice the now obligatory whine about how us bloggers don’t play fair by running scared of Britain’s notoriously pernicious and inequitable libel laws the way they do…
Now call me old fashioned, but either the libel laws apply to these blogs the same as they do to Newsnight, or they don’t. (Mr Justice Cocklecarrot: "What is a blog?" – Brief: "My lord I believe it is a website upon which an individual or individuals may express unsubstantiated allegations in cyberspace") As Guido points out, there have been no writs issued against him.
And, of course, there’s the now standard reminder that many bloggers have an agenda…
The Prescott issue is an ideal topic for a blog feeding frenzy because it is in the objective interest of the Tory bloggers and the anti-Blair Labour bloggers for Prescott to go. It was when this happened in the USA that blogging started to have a real impact on events.
To which one can only say:
a) Bloggers do what they do entirely at their own risk. If someone did issue a libel writ against a blogger in this country, then that blogger is on their own, would have to sort out their own defence – paid for out of their own pocket – and if they lost the case, would have to pick up the cost/damages tab all by themselves. For the most part our sole effective defence against such actions is that most of us are too poor to be worth suing.
b) If broadcast journalists and the hacks working for the dead tree press – who’ve run through these same arguments long before the Beeb got around to taking a swipe – had anything about them at all, they’d be campaigning long and hard for libel proceedings to put on more equitable footing and not one that, as is presently the case, is fundamentally biased in favour of the plaintiff; which is precisely why Britain has become the jurisdiction of choice for the aspiring US corporate litigants in recent years,
c) So what if bloggers have specific political views, ideas and agendas – none of us put up the pretence of impartiality anyway, not do we make any attempt to hide our views and opinions. That’s the whole point of blogging, its entirely open and transparent in terms of the kind of political opinions that bloggers hold. Blogger’s like Guido and Iain Dale are an entirely known quantities. What we haven’t seen in the UK, as yet, is any real sense that bloggers are being fed material by the political elite to further their ends, as has been alleged to have been the case in the US, nor would I suspect that is likely to happen, not least because any UK blogger who was found working as a puppet for the politicos in that way would see their credibility disappear down the pan quickly than you could say ‘Andrew Gilligan’, and
d) In the case of the vast majority of bloggers there is an immediate and largely unfettered right of reply on offer, via comments, to anyone who considers themselves to have been harshly treated — a feature that is quite often absent from blogs run by professional journalists… although in some cases (Melanie Phillips, for example) one can well understand why. Personally I see that as a far more open and honest way of going about matters than any amount of skulking round the Westminter lobbyists for a hack who’s amenable to droping a puff-piece and a smear or two in tomorrow’s first edition.
The last thing to be said on the bias/agenda issue is that if Paul, and those of his ilk, can manage to find the time to look a little more closely at many of the bloggers who are running with this story then what they’ll find is that there’s rather more to the issue of bloggers’ agendas than anything quite so crude as being ‘Tory’ or ‘Anti-Blair Labour’. One of the more interesting facets of the British blog scene is just how quickly, on certain issues, a cross-party consensus forms amongst bloggers from very different political backgrounds, one in which certain values such as democracy, personal liberty, human rights, due process in law, and plain old fairness, honesty and integrity, can be clearly seen to override party alliegences.
Many of us are long past the point at which outdated left-right labels can be easily applied to our stance on many issues – you really want to update your thinking here and take a look at stuff like Political Compass to get a better picture of what many bloggers are really all about.
Interestingly, having a good old whinge about bloggers doesn’t seem to prevent Paul linking to several of the notables who’re covering the Prescott story…
Although, as he makes an explicit reference to the conflict of interest question that I raised last night, it seems I don’t get a mention even through my post is heavily referenced and linked by DK.
Now I wonder what that’s all about – did I, perhaps, upset someone in the Newsnight posse with my criticism of last night’s report, where I questioned why it was that the Beeb failed to make anything of the glaringly obvious conflict of interest that exists in the government’s dealing with AEG over the former Millennium Dome and AEG’s bid for the single super casino licence currently on offer?
Or does Paul perhaps think that DK’s typicaly robust style of commentary is more in keeping with the Beeb’s current sniffyness about bloggers and that his take on this story is, therefore, much more in keeping with his view of us:
If you want to dip into this world of ranching and raunching…click on any of these links and you will soon get as far as we poor professional journalists have got: to a bunch of infidelity allegations that have not been substantiated but are, as of Today’s 8.10 interview with Prezza, the subject of a non-denial; and to the documents at the centre of an argument over whether his decision to go and study the intricacies of farming courtesy of Phil Anschutz amount to a conflict of interest…
Or perhaps he was too lazy to click the link to my article over DK – who knows,?
And even more interestingly, nowhere at all does Paul make any reference whatsoever to the central issue that I was exploring, and which DK featured heavily in his post, which is the little matter of the pecuniary interest that the government has in AEG’s bid for a casino licence, which arises out of the terms of the deal under which AEG leased the former Millennium Dome…
…which I find completely remarkable as that aspect of this story does not rely in any material way on either speculation about Prescott’s extra-marital activities, or even necessarily on Prescott’s string of tete-a-tetes with Phillip Anshutz.
The government’s potential pecuniary interest in the awarding a casino licence to AEG exists irrespective of any other part of this story and its existence can easily be verified by reference to documents already in the public domain.
Whether the government has taken any undue actions on this interest is another matter entirely and one that, in the circumstances, merits both consideration and further investigation – it is, after all, an interest that could be successfully managed out this situation , if the applications for this one super casino licence can be shown to have been considered in an entirely open, independent and transparent fashion and without undue influence from government ministers and, particularly, from within the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where this interest is most directly vested.
Newsnight clearly had, as of last night, all the information necessary to report this aspect of the story without fear of litigation and yet it remains the elephant in the corner of the room whose existence the BBC somehow cannot, or will not, acknowledge…
Personally, the lack of a hat tip to this blog is no big deal – I’m not exactly short of visitors today from various links around the blogosphere and the general consensus on this is that if I’ve not hit the nail exactly on the head then I’m at least in the right ballpark when to comes to trying to understand the back story to Prescott’s dealings with Phillip Anschutz.
So why, exactly, is the BBC still not explicitly covering this aspect of the story?
On the bright side, at least one of my questions from last night’s post has been noted and answered by the Beeb’s Open Secrets FOIA blog, from which it seems that the documents cited in Newsnight’s report were already out in the public domain on the DCMS website.
But, of course, one can also point out that:
a) We might well not have discovered this had I not asked the question anyway – so we can score one for bloggers, there, and one for the Beeb for responding so quickly to the question…
b) From a post at the Yorkshire Ranter, it would appear that the Evening Standard were on to at least some of the basics of this story more than a month ago, even if, like Newsnight, they look to have missed the key point – although Alex came damn close on this in lacking only the point about the financial arrangements in AEG deal for the Dome, and
c) It has still come down to bloggers to smoke out large segments of this story and push the issue to the top of the media agenda.
That being said I’m not so churlish as to decline to thank Martin Rosenbaum for responding so quickly, nor am I unwilling or unhappy to accept that my speculations on this particular subject were wide of the mark, not least because this has no bearing either on the validity of the arguments put forward in relation to pecuniary interests in the casino deal or my contention that Newsnight dropped the ball by failing to explore that aspect of the story.
As a final thought, I wonder if anyone at the Beeb has yet come to realise that when it comes to all the whining about bloggers and libel, the presumed superiority of journalistic ‘standards’, bias, alleged agendas, etc.they are actually saying nothing new at all. We’ve long since both seen, debated and worked through all these issues and more with the dead tree press to little or no effect on bloggers – in fact the dead trees have moved on so far from these arguments that they’ve now got on to complaining about some of us being a bit less than gentle in our responses to some of the profession’s more obviously sanctimonious op-ed writers.
I wonder, therefore, if all this current moaning is just a phase that all media organisations eventually have to through in coming to terms with the new frontier that is the ‘blogosphere’ – in which case this will all blow over in a few weeks and we’ll get back to business as usual.