Good Lord: Who will judge the tweets?

Dear Lord Leveson (photo left), When I need advice from someone who has the title “Lord” in front of his name, then that will be in my next lifetime because in this lifetime I have had no need of such suggestions from upper-class Brits (I was going to say twits, but I don’t know you well enough) about Twitter or blogs.

In your speech to the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday night, reported in The Australian by Nick Leys yesterday (http://bit.ly/UDuVeY), you said in order to maintain journalistic standards as far as the law is concerned: “We will therefore have to think creatively about how we ensure that the law is capable of equal application, and is applied equally and fairly, against the mainstream media and bloggers, tweeters and other amateur online journalists.”

Your proposals are impossible to implement.

How in the world, Lord Justice Leveson, could you possibly monitor and pass judgment on the millions of tweets and blogs that are being published every day, including this one? I have to admit I have a fairly small following, and Australian regulators, if we get one, following the two inquiries still to be dealt with by Parliament, would not even deign to judge my comments – unless they went viral, which is highly unlikely (I live in hope). The Finkelstein Inquiry suggests a threshold of 15,000 unique visitors to a blog annually before regulation would occur. Jason Wilson has written about this on The Drum: http://bit.ly/1293Rf2

Who is going to read all those blogs and tweets and websites? It might give freelance journalists like me some pocket money – badly needed post-GFC – but who is going to pay them? And who is going to judge them? The courts are already clogged, and defamation and injunction cases take time and money.

Given what’s happened in the UK, with the phone-hacking inquiry headed by your good self, and a British tabloid press determined to search for the sensational angle in every story – witness the way they’ve mishandled the nurse suicide over the royal prank call – the media needs regulation. And perhaps bloggers, with a huge following, deserve to be monitored, but going after the boutique blogger and Tweeter seems a bit silly, my dear Lord.

It’s ironic that you are commenting on Twitter and blogs in relation to the law, when you refuse to answer questions about the prank call on the basis that you might have to judge the case. Isn’t it just possible you might have to comment on a blog post or a Tweet on the prank case, and you have already suggested criminal and civil law should be applied to them?

Okay, I will get off my hobby horse now, and make a suggestion to those who brought Lord Leveson to our shores. Wouldn’t it have been better to spend that money on programs to help journalists who’ve been made redundant and have now joined the legions of bloggers trying to make a quid before Christmas?

To be fair to both you, Lord Leveson, and the esteemed Centre for Advanced Journalism, who invited you to Australia, I have read the speech (see here for transcript and video http://bit.ly/SSg96B), and it is quite good, except for the last few paragraphs where you propose the criminal and civil law be applied equally to the mainstream media and tweeters and bloggers. I would argue it should only be applied to major bloggers and tweeters with myriad followers. Perhaps then it would work. Matthew Knott of Crikey.com.au is also critical of your speech, saying it had little to offer in practical solutions to the issues you identified (http://bit.ly/TXrfZk). He also quoted ABC journalist and founding editor of The Drum, Jonathan Green, who tweeted the speech was a “perfectly formed study in the numbingly self-evident.”

CINDERELLA AND THAT SLIPPER

I would also argue the Centre for Advanced Journalism should focus more on this part of their mission statement, rather than bringing Lords from London, no matter how distinguished: “To offer short courses for journalists and media executives that takes advantage of the University of Melbourne’s cutting edge expertise and knowledge resources across a wide range of areas.”  PS. I would also change “takes” to “take” so that the verb agrees with its subject “courses.”

It’s time, as Gough Whitlam would say, to get rid of cultural cringe forever.

And as a Christmas present to a friend who is a regular reader of this blog (God bless him), I will end with a brief fairy tale: How Cinderella lost her Slipper.

Well, it wasn’t really Cinderella who lost him this week, but the Coalition led by King Abbott, who was away fighting the war in Afghanistan, when a Federal Judge threw out James Ashby’s sexual harassment claims against the Slipper on the grounds of abuse of process.

As the writer of this fairy tale, I would like to report a happy ending for readers, but I fear the abuse of process against the Australian public will go on and on as the appeals proceed and claim and counter claim are made.

So I am predicting that King Abbott and Queen Julia will somehow come to their senses after polls in the new year show the public really is sick to death of the farce our political system has become, with both the PM and the Opposition Leader on single digit popularity figures.

They kiss and make up and promise to talk only about policy issues until the election in the second half of the year.

And we would all live happily ever after.

PS Late mail. I have just read a lovely piece in The Australian by Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, in which he calls for an end to personality politics and reminds us that Tony and Julia are nice people with families. It’s the perfect message for Christmas. Please read: http://bit.ly/12ojtdQ

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