Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Media Censorship, or: You Can't Say That on Teh Interweb!!

Guess I was going to have to talk about this sometime. Thanks, Neal, for prompting. Before we begin, though:

  1. PLEASE TAKE THIS POST WITH THE USUAL GRAIN OF SALT.
  2. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN AND SHOULD NOT BE BELIEVED WITHOUT SEEKING FURTHER ADVICE.
  3. DISCUSSING THIS TOPIC DOESN'T MAKE ME GUILTY OF ANYTHING.
  4. DO NOT TAKE INTERNALLY. SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE IF INGESTED.

That ought to cover me from any legal mumbo-jumbo. Now, children, gather round, for there is a story to tell of mystery and intrigue. This is the tale, about as objective and straightforward as I can tell it.

Maybe four or five months ago, someone contacted me and asked me to call them about a story they were writing. I called them and it turned out this person was a journalist for a newspaper. I was at first excited to be talking about my blog, but during the course of the conversation things turned decidedly accusatory. The journalist was specifically interested in my eating out reviews and comments and opinions, particularly regarding market stalls and smaller outlets. This person asked whether or not I thought that comments like this or this were likely to actively discourage others from buying that product and therefore to drive away business, hurting small business-owners, in effect partaking in legal slander for which I could be sued.

I tried as much as possible to defend not only my position in writing honest reviews and giving opinions, but to defend WHAT EXACTLY I had written. In a nutshell:

  • Anyone can see that I am not a professional reviewer, paid to know what I am talking about. Therefore, a reasonable person would know that one opinion does not a fact make.
  • I have never written a totally negative review or comment. I take care to try to stay objective, or at least to qualify what I've said to make it clear that this is just my opinion.
  • If posting a blog is legally the same as any other sort of mainstream publishing, then surely restaurant guides, movie critics and so on must be similarly liable?
  • The internet is a wild and untamed place, screaming with sane and less-sane ramblings, spoutings and rants. I am just one chirping bird, a voice in the wilderness. I hardly get twenty hits a day. There must be plenty of websites disagreeing with me. Wouldn't that effectively prove that I don't know best?

And lastly:

  • If ever anyone wants to take me to task and to demonstrate that ACTUALLY, that wasn't packet mix (as I thought), or that ACTUALLY, this cafe has fantastic and fresh coffee (not stale, as I thought), then I will gladly and without delay, recant any original comments, apologise, post a new and glowing review.

For isn't that what the whole spirit of the net was originally about? The capacity for discussion, talk, communication of ideas, learning and growing? If it turns out I was wrong, fine. No problem there.

The comment after this post illustrates (sort of) what I mean. This person (nice work, "Anonymous", if that IS your real name) thinks I am full of it and doesn't hesitate to tell me so. But, they are allowed to say what they think, just as I did.

And there's always the old standby: no one's forcing anyone to read it. By all means, click away to another, less offensive site, if you so desire.

Anyway, the bottom line with this phone call and this journalist was that in their opinion, I was out of line in making the comments that I did and that I should be aware of the legal ramifications involved. I did a quick search and it seems that yes, bloggers can go to court for defamation or slander. Remember this?

I was obviously quite rattled by this and immediately took down any of the more out-there posts, until the heat was off. Some of them still aren't back up yet. I also added a disclaimer under my blog header... just for those types who need things spelled out for them.

What's the answer? Not sure. I still want to post reviews, but I'll always be hesitant in criticising and tread carefully when it comes to saying what I really think. Part of me feels that when this sort of thing happens, humanity loses a little part of themselves. We lose some civilization, we lose some of those higher ideals that maybe we strove for: honesty, the capacity to communicate without prejudice or bias.

Then again, that's...

...just my opinion.

3 comments:

Jude said...

How bizarre. Wonder if they were one and the same person? I've just posted a comment about stale cupcakes from Crabapple Bakery - maybe I'd better retract some of it if there are legal ramifications.

Pinky said...

No, I know the name of the journalist and so on, I just can't publish it. Maybe the journo and the cupcake seller are friends: who knows. Disturbing, ain't it?!?!

zoe said...

Reactions like that are always a bit disheartening esp. since the net/blogging is a great medium for putting out & sharing opinions in a less rigid environment. It's a litigious world out there! keep doing what your doing :)