I would say that it is pretty uncontestible that it is not always a good thing when bloggers spread unsubstantiated and damaging rumours about public figures? Agreed so far? Someone who doesn't really understand how the blogosphere works has raised this. Justin has responded in the tone of a sulky consumer of politics (that is how I believe Justin positions himself here).
Having been looking at ChickYog for some time now, I'd say that it aims to be a fairly progressive blog. My argument is that, no matter how progressive someone thinks they are, if they adopt a world-weary and cynical apporach to public life, they will always prove to be the objective allies of reactionaries. A certain Old Man would agree, I'm glad to say (see the comments here).
Being world-weary about public affairs is, for some reason, perversely attractive in some quarters. Using a blog to be rude to public figures is, of course, deeply satisfying. And there are no shortage of blogs that do both of these things.
However, there is also no shortage of similar voices in the MSM either. This herd of independent minds are, I would argue, turning up the volume on the dialogue of the deaf between active citizenry and the political establishment. And this is not a good thing.
I would also argue that - cynics aside, the blogosphere is unwittingly offering an antidote to this negativism. A quick reading of this article on The Long Tail would be appropriate here - the argument that big media (and even uber-bloggers) will not continue to dominate, and that they are already being replaced by a more diverse dialogue. This should tell any politician that the blogosphere is a bit different - and in many ways potentially better - than the MSM.
Guido, The Monkey and Iain may get plenty of traffic from political obsessives, but more people spend more time than ever before reading the more relevant, nuanced and diverse range of opinions that make up most online page-impressions. This negativity and pessimism can / is only leading us towards nihilism and disengagement. No wonder most people think that politics is boring and irrelevant. It is because it is boring and irrelevant.
But, thankfully, the negativists are not representative of the whole - or even, possibly, the majority - of the blogosphere. Blogs are actually helping the public route around the tedious newspapers and professional cynics in some ways.
What elected representatives need to do is to understand that this is an opportunity - not a threat. The more self-promoting bloggers are the ones you hear about. Cynicism and negativism get noticed. But every politician knows that elections aren't decided by local loudmouths. The public are more sophisticated than the audience on Question Time. The same is probably true of the blogosphere.
Returning to the question of the 'code of conduct'. anyone who has worked in politics will tell you that rumour and innuendo can prove hugely damaging - indeed, a willingness to lie about political rivals is an important part of the armoury of every successful politician. Deniable lying in private, of course. Lying 'off the record'.
But, at least in the public domain, this isn't as simple as it seems. Most of the comment has worked on the assumption that the blogger is the little man, and The Man is... well .... The Man.
This hippy simplification won't stand much scrutiny though. Devil's Kitchen, for example, offers a convoluted argument saying that there is already a code of conduct called libel law - and that it is one that already provides the powerful with all of the advantage they need over bloggers anyway. I'm not sure whether he thinks that the libel law is flawed-but-adequate, or that people don't need any protection from malicious gossip.
Either way, the libel laws are largely irrelevant here anyway. Newspapers may have massive resources to defend actions, but the powerful would be less likely to sue a blogger than a newspaper because bloggers are mostly 'shoeless'. Libel action would accelerate the distribution of the libel anyway.
And libel action usually comes too late in the day anyway. A rumour can be published and rapidly withdrawn by a blogger. It gets more of an audience this way than the perennial nasty gossip that is always circulating in Westminster.
So rumour-mongering bloggers have the remarkable achievement under their belts. They have actually managed to make court politics even more poisonous than it was. Yay! Go team!
There are other constraints on politicians. They have various codes of conduct that they have to sign. There is the poxy Commissioner for Standards in Public Life.
Councillors, in particular, are gagged in about nine ways. And they have the odious Standards Board to contend with as well.
David Milliband may have dug into the public purse to pay for his blog, but the constipators are out in force there, stopping him from saying anything very interesting. Indeed, the constipators are everywhere these days, it seems.
So instead of this narcissistic spitting, perhaps we bloggers could ask ourselves a few questions:
- Does our ability to spread malicious gossip make the world a poorer place? Probably.
- Do we need a code of conduct? Probably not. There are other ways to skin this particular cat.
- Would it work anyway? Definitely not.
- Could we be contributing to the quality of public life more than we are? Yes. Certainly.
- How? Ah! Now there's a question. Why didn't you ask that one instead of all of this bollocks about a code of conduct?
That's my code of conduct.