OK – This has nothing to do with Ukraine – yet – but legal precedents have a habit of seeping across international borders if they suit the establishment in other nations that have similar issues and can see similar solutions.
For many, many months I have been following the Leveson Inquiry via the website and the live podcast supplied by the Guardian On-line here in Ukraine. It is an inquiry set up by the British Prime Minister in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking issue but has a broader remit to look at all matters journalistic, from ethics (or the lack of them), paparazzi, invasion of privacy (and thus hits the difficult issue of Article 8 verses Article 10 of the European Human Rights Act), press regulation etc.
It has, to be fair, been extremely interesting and has brought about statements from people such as Lord Puttnam that “Leveson has uncovered a Banana Republic. Corrupt press, corrupt police, corrupt politicians.” It all sounds very Ukrainian, despite the fact he is talking about the UK.
Amongst the issues that could affect each and every one of us, aside from the clashes between a right to a private life and the right of freedom of speech within the European Human Rights Act, another major issue which affects us all, has been the Internet.
Within the Internet issue the subject of bloggers has been raised several times. Now some journalists blog (or tweet or both). However many bloggers are not journalists. Many have no journalistic training, are only vaguely aware of what may or may not be libelous or defamation, have no concept of where the line between “public interest” and “interesting to the public” falls, and may be completely oblivious to any national or international laws relating to electronic communications etc.
In short, most bloggers are the writers, editors and moderators over any comments they allow to be published under any entry they write. They are entirely responsible for anything that is publicly available on their websites but without any real accountability as long as they remain within the rules of the hosting server – which could be anywhere on the planet.
Under whose laws does a blog fall if the author is of nation A, the entry is written in nation B, but the website in hosted in nation C and yet the reader is in nation D? (Which is the case with most of my websites and international readers.)
As more and more people turn off from the main stream media and get their news from blogs, twitter, Facebook, VK, Futubra etc., is there a greater responsibility for the more popular blogs and bloggers? Why should they have more responsibility than unpopular blogs or the same responsibilities as journalists?
Is there a responsibility for the international blog directories? At the moment, if you look at Technocrati, one of the biggest international blog directories in existence, you will find my very own Odessatalk is categorised as a world leading blogging authority on Ukrainian politics. Very humbling, however in making that claim as a directory, do they have any responsibility to their users for directing them to me?
Fortunately I am very careful about libel and defamation. I am very considered in what comments, and their content, I allow to be shown that are made by my readers. If I am told something interesting by somebody important who would prefer to remain anonymous, then I invoke the Chatham House Rule (as I would being a Chatham House Member) to protect their identity but allow for their comments to enter debate and discussion on the blog.
As I rank so highly amongst the millions of blogs at blog directories such as Technocrati, I have a moral and ethical duty to those who will find me via such a directory and read my site when trying to discover matters Ukrainian, to do so in language free from academic jargon, management speak and associated gobbledygook whilst trying to impart my thoughts on any issue Ukrainian (or regional) I may decide to write about. Above all however, I think I must be honest and remain impartial unless I otherwise state a certain position.
For somebody who’s interest lays with policy rather than political party or political personality, it is fairly easy to remain impartial, as a good, bad, or indifferent policy can come from any source.
That is not true of all blogs or bloggers and rightly so. Some blogs are written to convey a certain party or social line quite deliberately. Some of those bloggers who write these blogs are well connected within certain parties or social groups and are paid by them to promote a certain slant on issues to meet their paymasters bias. Some NGOs and many think-tanks are no different, so why should blogging be exempt?
Many of these blogs are extremely popular because of the access they have to influential people and thus become a quasi official PR/media outlet for the paymasters. Again quite rightly for that is what they were set up to do. The issue then becomes just how close to journalism is this type of blogging?
This is the issue now being wrestled with by Lord Justice Leveson over in the UK, for it is he that must make recommendations on the future of the media to parliament and it is the media representatives and witnesses that are continually highlighting the fact that a great many extremely popular websites and blogs are not so very far removed from (if at all) traditional journalism.
The UK media is attempting to smudge the line between traditional media and copy with certain areas of the blogosphere and state any regulations recommended for the media will have to be made for bloggers as well given that some blogs are just as influential as any printed newspaper.
Just where and how Lord Justice Leveson can or will draw the line on this remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen just what will seep across national borders when it comes to other nations following the UK lead when conclusions are eventually reached.
Do I consider myself a journalist? – No.
Do I consider myself an authoritative commentator? That depends upon what specifically I am writing about on any particular day.
Do enough people read what I write for me to take some care over legal issues? – Yes (and thank you all for reading).
Am I a dedicated blogger? Hmmm – I write daily about Ukraine but I am not paid to do so, it was simply a new hobby that became a habit some years ago.
Should I be subjected to any decision reached by Lord Justice Leveson or a Ukrainian counterpart in the years to come? – I don’t think so.