The Anonymous blogger 2

Emily Bell, the Guardian‘s very wise director of digital content, considers the implications of last weeks decision by Justice Eady to overturn the injunction obtained by Richard Horton against the Times revealing him as the author of the NightJack blog

It was ironic that the ruling came in a week when Iranian protesters harnessed the power of the web and social media to spread their message and organise their demonstrations. How would the Times view anonymised Iranian bloggers? The unintended consequence of its action will be to restrict the free flow of information rather than to encourage it. A cynic might suggest that this is no surprise given that old publishing models benefit from restriction rather than spread of information.

If a citizen journalist, or a blogger, or a witness is only allowed to remain anonymous if published under the protection of an established news organisation, it suggests yet again that courts have some way to go before understanding the full impact of democratised media.

Why should the judiciary recognise this when one of our most august news organisations doesn’t seem able to either? The curious business of NightJack gives the strong impression that the Times views such publishing efforts as essentially competitive, when they have to be viewed as complementary. A further unintended consequence would be that if, as an anonymous police source, you felt the need to unburden yourself about some aspect of the force, turn into a whistleblower even, then where would you turn? How safe would you feel about your identity being protected if it were put in the hands of a publisher which apparently thinks it is in the public interest for anonymous writers, sources and citizens to be exposed?

One of the best points she makes is that the courts have “some way to go before understanding the full impact of democratised media”. I cannot for the life of me believe that there is any serious newspaper reader in this country who expects The Times to do anything other than protect its own narrow interests, and there is certainly nothing very surprising about its seeing independent bloggers as competition, or about its attempting to render them ineffective as information gatherers and discriminators. The fact that Justice Eady chose to take the argument that The Times was acting in the public interest by exposing NightJack on its fact value does show that courts not only do not understand what Bell calls “democratised media”  but are  still grappling with anonymous publishing and whistleblowing as concepts.

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