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Cheers - AE

Monday, 27 September 2010

MSM vs Blogosphere - UPDATED

Big news in The Australian today, although apparently of no interest to anyone else in the media apart from the ABC, is the outing of Australian political blogger Grog's Gamut as a federal civil servant by a certain national newspaper whose two word title consists of the definite article and an adjective meaning 'relating to Australia'.* Cue arguments and a Twitterstorm, which I can't follow because I don't twat, about why was it done, whether The Australian and it's journo should have done it, and whether there's a right to anonymity. For what it's worth my I feel the answers are who cares, probably not and unfortunately not.

Firstly, the matter of why. There seems to be some suggestion that Grog's Gamut was critical of the MSM during the election and this was a revenge outing, though if so it's anyone's guess why it was left so long when the journalist, James Massola, has apparently known the identity for months. Massola sort of gave his reasons for the outing in his piece and Grog's Gamut argued why he thought it was bollocks in his blog, and frankly his reasoning seems more convincing to me. That leads on to the second point which is whether Massola should have written it and whether The Aussie should have published it, and while they may be feeling all satisfied and self-righteous about it I can't see what purpose it served. I now know the name of someone whose blog I was aware of but didn't read much, big whoop! From his blog it's not hard to guess that politically he leans towards Labor but does the fact that he's a public servant blogging bother me? Not remotely. He may have kept his identity to himself but he didn't hide the fact he's a public servant, and that's good enough disclosure for me. I can't see any wider public interest or any purpose at all in outing the guy except shit stirring with the expectation that he'll at least be made to feel uncomfortable, could get into trouble at work and might even have to stop blogging (remember NightJack's outing by The Times, perhaps coincidentally a Murdoch publication like The Aussie). At the very least they can expect that people he comes into contact with at work will now know he blogs and will be careful to watch what they say around him, limiting any potential he has to whistleblow something of great public interests he might have learned in the future since everyone in Canberra is now on notice: be very careful what you say around that guy, he's Grog's Gamut. If anything I'd have said there's a wider public interest in not exposing the names of political bloggers in his position, and a more narrow self interest for the MSM. Sure, if he ever did get anything really juicy he'd have blogged it first and told you lot later, if at all, but you would still have got something to print out of it. Now it's highly unlikely he ever will if a minister was snorting coke in his office off the top of his secretary's naked arse while being pleasured under the desk by a Russian dwarf in a koala outfit any chance of him learning and blogging that is gone, and for all we know nobody else will ever find out. Yes, of course Grog's Gamut may never have broken anything big, but for the sake of a very minor news story now, and who knows, maybe revenge for Grog's Gamut bagging the MSM during the election, Massola and The Ocker have virtually made sure of it. So, no, probably not a good idea in the long term and I feel it's not a good look for a national publication owned by an international corporation to bully a solitary anonymous blogger and take away the thing that made him comfortable and confident blogging. You may have every right, fellas, but it's pretty unedifying behaviour.

And that leads me on to the third part: whether there's any right to anonymity. As an anonymous no-one blogging under a pseudonym myself (though lacking sources or contacts all I ever do is slip in the occasional original thought among my editorialising and bitching about things) I'd like there to be even though I really have little to lose but face. The Angry Exile is a much lairier swearier version of me that doesn't get let out in real life since it can't be trusted in polite company and I'd be a bit red faced if he somehow escaped the confines of the interwebs, but the uncomfortable facts are that there isn't and can't be any guaranteed right to privacy. There may be some whose blog content has a wider public interest than their identity and who might deserve protection if they'd be silenced otherwise, but generally ff a blogger has the right to dig around and blow whistles then others must also have the right to do the same to them. If your pseudonym is just a bit of fun and you actually publish your name anyway then you're pretty fireproof, and if you've gone to great lengths to protect your identity or if outing you is even less newsworthy than it was Grog's Gamut then you may be pretty confident too. But there really can't be legal protection that doesn't restrict someone else's free speech, and as I've said several times before, free speech is an absolute and any restriction at all means it's simply not free. You'd think that if we want to remain anonymous the best bet is probably to be too valuable to unmask or conversely not worth unmasking, but NightJack and Grog's Gamut are probably in the first category but were outed anyway.

The lesson is that those of us who blog anonymously and want to carry one doing so probably ought to be careful what we say and to whom, both on line and off, and whether it's worth taking further steps to keep identities secret. But there's one further thing that can be done, and that's to punish those sections of the MSM that out a blogger for no good reason by voting with your wallet. Don't buy their print editions without them putting a gun in your face, don't pay a cent to see any content they put behind a paywall (yes, Times and outer of NightJack, I do mean you fuckers) and use RSS to get at their content rather than browsing through their site and giving the bastards the satisfaction of knowing that you've at least looked at the ads. I do prefer The Australian and News Corp rags to the Fairfax papers like The Age, even though both sets have agendas and political alignments that in different ways aren't my own (is there such a thing anywhere as a libertarian newspaper?), and I do actually buy it from time to time. But if they're going to out bloggers for no obvious newsworthy reason then fuck 'em, that's stopping as of today.

UPDATE - elsewhere other bloggers are simply leant on by the powers that be. The game, folks, seems to be that of cat and mouse - the cat has the right to try to find the mouse, the mouse has the right - and the need - to try as hard as they can to evade the cat. With that in mind if anyone asks you I'm Angus Exfile.

* I see no need to name him too - both the link to The Aussie and ABC as well as his own blog, at least the most recent post, have his name.
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