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Archive for June, 2009

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Some quick thoughts on Nightjack

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the last few days and wanted to write them down and debate them.

Nightjack was the police blogger who’s anonymity was broken by The Times – for a quick summary of the story, here’s a link to The Guardian

There are two issues – 1, was The Times right to publish and 2, Should the courts (Justice Eady in this case) have protected the blogger’s identity.

I’m not going to spend much time on issue number 1 – i’m not sure there’s a strong case for publication at all, however the view that Nightjack was simply providing a public service doesn’t quite hold for me. If the rumours were true that there were book deals on the table then that goes beyond purely putting important information into the public domain for the public good.

On the whole i don’t think The Times story was a good story.

For the rights and wrongs of it, here is Danny Finkelstein’s argument as to why he thinks they were right to publish.

However – Number 2 is far more important, and the real point of my debate. I really do not think the court should protect bloggers anonymity, and I think that a comparison to a journalist protecting his sources is wrong.

Anonymity can help people do good and provide a safe haven to put in the public domain information that is in the public interest. However it can also do much harm, for if it isn’t true it can be incredibly hard to defend yourself against an anonymous source.

When a publisher or a newspaper uses and anonymous source, they are taking the risk and the accountability – they are verifying to you that the source is credible, and put their assets at risk if it isn’t. ¬†You can sue a newspaper or a publisher for defamation.

Somebody public and accountable needs to take responsibility and vouch for the quality of the anonymous information – otherwise it is impossible to assess whether it is true, and to defend yourself against.

I’m not saying that anonymous blogging should be outlawed or that ISPs should be forced to give out confidential information, but just as it’s your right not to tell me who you are, it’s my right to try and find out who you are.

I hope that in future The Times will think carefully before revealing someones true identity, Zoe Margolis should never have been outed (although it was clear that the more publicity she was going to get the more the press would try to find out who she was). But injunctions are not the solution to this.