A States working group wants only organisations with so-called 'accreditation' to be allowed to film, photograph or record States meetings. It will mean bloggers and people gathering information for social media won't be able to record or film. The final decision will be down to the States members... Senator Ben Shenton is the Chairmen of the working group looking at a media policy for States Meetings and he said they were following other jurisdictions. Senator Shenton said: "We looked at what happens in other jurisdictions and decided that accredited media, members of journalism - which are members of bodies of certain standards with a complaints procedure - should only be allowed to record at meetings." (1)
Provided they demonstrate themselves to be responsible, and are told that they must be, I can see no reason whatsoever for excluding bloggers from such occasions. Examples of irresponsible behaviour would be wrenching material out of context, editing it in such a way as to misrepresent what was said, and making fun with the material filmed. Of course, secret recordings, of the kind favoured by Senator Shenton himself, should also be avoided. If anything untoward happens, it is simple. A simple, common-sense code of conduct would be presented to the individuals - nothing too long. If an individual concerned lost trust be contravening it, they could expect to be excluded.
On the other hand, if Jersey is following best practice of other jurisdictions, as Senator Shenton says, and this argument is the basis for excluding bloggers, can we expect streamed and complete material available, as in the UK, and the televising of the States? Surely arguments about what goes on elsewhere must cut both ways?
Or is Jersey only using the "best practice" argument as a means of adopting the more restrictive practices of other jurisdictions, and not those which open up the government - as elsewhere - to a wider audience? I can see streamed, on demand, Select Committee hearings, House of Lords, House of Commons on my pc - I can't do that with Jersey. We haven't even managed to get the register of members interests online! So there's a long way to go before "best practice" becomes a wholly credible argument.
One individual has suggested that a reason for exclusion was as follows:
Those who have political opinions (I do) could use what they film or record and cut it so as to make it seem very different to what was actually meant to try to make a point. Accredited journalists have a duty to report correctly even if their media has its own views.
With the greatest respect, all I can say is that they have a very naive idea about television news reporting if they assume it is just plain reporting correctly. I'd advise them to read a few books on the subject. There is a fierce selection process to get around thirty seconds to a minute of airtime on Channel Television, for example, and studies have shown that the presenter is not free from bias when trying to choose what to show, and not what to show.
A politician may feel hardly done by, especially, as happened with one politician when, not entirely sober, he was door-stopped by a Channel TV film crew after an election, without being asked if he wanted to be filmed. Some politicians may receive more airtime than others, and the judgement of who may be significant and newsworthy may be dependent on the bias of the news organisation.
But the writer has a point - at the last bi-election, a full five minute slot was given to every one of the candidates standing who wanted to take it. Several of those who didn't had a film clip shown instead from the hustings, which was their speech, so more or less the same length. But then alongside one of these film clips - but not alongside those who had taken up the five minute offer - there was a whole series of criticisms of the candidates speech. I made the point on the blog in question that this was not really fair to that candidate. So I think there are lessons to be learnt.
Meanwhile some of the less worthy aspects of local blogs have been the target of the usual vitriolic attack by the Jersey Evening Post editor, who under the cloak of an unsigned article, gives an extremely irate and unbalanced opinion demonizing politicians who disagree with the Jersey Evening Posts line about Graham Power - "failure to control" and "arrogant" Lenny Harper. This is a "the toxic combination of malice and incompetence which now infects Jersey politics from within and without" says what is an extremely malicious and polemic comment. Perhaps the writer should look in a mirror?
When bloggers are attacked, it is notable that the text of the attack - whether by the editor or Rob Shipley - always seems to avoid the online version of the JEP, but this is the paragraph relevant to bloggers:
Meanwhile, the police chief-designate has also been subjected to the kind of infantile name-calling and malicious gossip that has undermined public life in Jersey on a daily basis since the advent of internet blogging. Such blogs should, of course, be treated with the contempt they deserve but that is easier said than done by those on the sustained receiving end of this modern version of the poison pen letter.
But those who attack blogs for being part of the reason why David Warcup resigned seem to want it both ways. On the one hand, they castigate the bloggers as a tiny vociferous minority whom the public doesn't notice, and then they say that it was a contributory factor in David Warcup's resignation. I wish they would make their minds up; but they seem to want to have their cake and eat it. And actually, for the editor's information, poison pen letters are anonymous, and most of the Jersey bloggers are not.
Nevertheless, I think there are aspects of blogging which could be improved - even though they do a sterling service in putting primary documents in the public domain, and conducting interviews which allow airtime to people who would otherwise be excluded from putting serious comments across, and longer interviews than are normally the case with the short time allowed to the accredited media for news reporting. And remember too - one case of housing hardship was taken up when a politician saw it online.
Here then, are what I would like to see - a blogging etiquette for local blogs.
1) No name-calling outside of the "satire" box.
There is a lot of rather juvenile name calling which has its place, but that's as a satire or spoof. I don't think it does any credit to bloggers to call David Warcup - "Weirdcop", or for that matter Ian La Marquand "Skippy" all the time. If you are going to engage in serious debate, then do so. Otherwise the serious points you are making get lost in the name-calling, and you are giving hostages to the JEP and anyone who criticised bloggers. I've heard people say that politeness gets you no where as an excuse for being rude. I would ask them: has being rude really got you that much further? I don't think so.
2) A Proper Place for Spoofs and Satire
Private Eye, defending a spoof article, noted that "The law of libel recognises that statements made in jest are not actionable. Furthermore, in deciding what meaning is to be given to the words in question, it is well established that the hypothetical reader is taken to be representative of those who would read the publication in question." They make it very clear that the second half of their magazine is full of spoof articles, and no reader would take them literally:
Would any reader studying the 'Disillusion Honours List' on page 22 believe that John Prescott had been ennobled for 'services to his secretary', or Michael Howard for 'services to the Transylvanian Community and the Involuntary Blood Transfusion Authority'?
So there is a place to lampoon Senator Le Marquand as "Skippy" and go to town on kangaroo courts, silly pictures, all kind of jokes about kangaroos (does he keep Assistant Minister Jacqui Hilton in his pouch?) etc, just as Private Eye does spoofs, I do "News from Nowhere" and Al Thomas does his cartoons in the JEP. But please try to keep it as a separate item, a joke, and not the news.
There is a place for jokes at politicians, but I know it is on "Have I Got News for You" or "Spitting Image", and not Panorama or News at Ten. Consider your blog like a rolling magazine - it has both, but needs to keep them separate.
3) Fairness in Video
If you are going to interview someone, or record something, for a fuller version, let it stand as it is, and also tell the person concerned that will be the case. Don't add comments as part of the same entry, or if you do, make sure it is headed comment, but preferably let it stand and let the public make up their own mind. "I disagree with what he says, but I will defend to the death his right to say it" should be the guiding motto. The example of the election - where at least one of the candidates had all kinds of critical comments added on in the text after the video clip, but other candidates were just left with what they had said - just isn't fair.
If you want searching questions, and it is an interview, let them be in the interview, not as comments afterwards. Or provide a transcript of the interview, or even a note of the questions you asked to "hook" the viewer into watching. And let it be said, there are some very good interviews on the "voice" sites, and Neil's technique, in particular, is becoming very polished with practice.
4) Permission in Email
If you are going to use an email reply that is not in the public domain, ask for permission before posting it on the blog. A busy politician may have taken time and trouble to write back to you, and the least you can do is show a little courtesy. Just for the sake of good form, tell your audience that you have permission as well - so they know you are respectful of other people's rights. And don't fire off another email back - the politician in question may well have had to do some checking and spend a fair bit of time before replying - you don't have a monopoly on his time.
5) Don't always have the last word
When posting an interview or an email, they may not give the answers you want to hear. But as part of the news reporting process, and in fairness to the person who has given his or her time and permission, don't always have the last word. You are giving the public information they didn't have before - you've asked questions, and had them answered. The answers may be evasive, but give your readers the intelligence to see that. Or reserve that to later opinion piece, when you may then quote from the email.
I think some Jersey blogs are perhaps a little rough around the edges, but they are doing a very good job. I'd just like to see them do even better - I think they have the opportunity to be the some of the best in the world for news reporting, informed opinions, gauging public opinion, video interviews, satires and spoofs.
And I'd like to see Neil do some interviews with politicians and members of the public on more general subjects - The Town Masterplan, The £950 a day Civil Servant, Slum Rental Accommodation, Immigration, The Market Post Office, The Odeon etc. But that's just my personal preference!
Then the editor of the JEP will have to think up some other excuses to attack bloggers. I'm sure he'll manage somehow!
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