Wednesday, 6 May 2009

My Welsh Blogosphere - Marcus Warner

When I was asked to write ‘my welsh blogosphere’ for this website, I initially refused. Why? Because of late, I have seen many things that make me wonder whether the blogosphere is good for my health. Thankfully, this website has hosted many of the bloggers I admire immensely, it is these guys that make me want to blog. My post I hope is a post to promote a way to harmonise our efforts and lead to more open and transparent blogosphere.

It is important to understand the word promote in this context, because it is vastly different to enforcing standards. So far we have seen posts on this website by people, actual names who can at least be identifiable and crucially accountable for those views. Personally, I see no real massive problem with the content of most of the welsh political blogs; in light of that, I see no reason for accountability not to be promoted.

To elaborate somewhat, I am not seeking a witch hunt, based on party tribalism. What I think we should all do on the political blogosphere is promote those who offer the following;

· Clear identifiable authorship – including an email address should there be any complaints

· Comment moderation – to avoid illegal/offensive comments being made public before it goes live

· Declaration of interest – tax payer funded political staff, or party political staff should declare so

The authorship point is not to have some unmasking frenzy, but because if we truly want the Welsh blogs to be part of the new Welsh democracy that is growing – we need to know who is actually saying what. Recently, the Welsh Ramblings blog was quoted by the Western Mail for bringing to light what I thought was a pretty weak story regarding a job advert for Cheryl Gillan MP (which actually was pretty standard job description fodder), but what is the actual status of that blog? Are, as Peter Black posted previously, supposedly organic anonymous blogs being used by parties to do its dirty work ‘semi-officially’?

The key thing to note is that it is the declaration of interest point that is the crucial addition to my first point. If a blog merely pointed out it was ‘written by Party X staff’, readers and the media would then be aware of its nature and ultimately there is a recourse for accountability purposes. The issue isn’t that there should be a desire to know every single writer of each post, but that those views, particularly if tax payer funded or party staff, should have a public face to be accountable for the views posted on that website.

Firstly, I want to know whether tax payer funded staff are blogging, not to deny them the opportunity to blog, but to at least be aware that as a tax payer I am reading the work of a staff member who should be careful with public resources. It is of great displeasure to myself when I see tax payer funded staff continue to post lies and allows comments accusing me of things that aren’t true without any recourse for myself to at least plead for some correction. This would be unacceptable if it was another type of public servant, why should it be tolerated because they are able to hide anonymously on a blog?

Secondly, I am very keen to know whether these political attack blogs from all parties are with the implicit knowledge of the party leadership. If we are seeing a co-ordinated blog written by a number of key party HQ staff, then if it is not an official party blog, it should be made clear that these views are the views of the individual staff members. I mean, the displeasure that Rhodri Morgan felt over the Aneurin Glyndwr website, after the public launch of it by Peter Hain at the very least showed there was a public accountability connected to it. Equally, Peter Black can clearly be made accountable for the freedom central blog, and we read that blog in the knowledge that it is written by both staff and volunteers.

This call is not because any of the views on those blogs are particularly offensive outside of political attacks, but because there remains massive questions as to whether party machines are using blogs as a form of attack that wouldn’t be acceptable if made by a politician or accountable party spokesperson. My understanding of political campaign material is that it must be declared as such, like a party political broadcast – why should a blog, written by party HQ staff, not also be clearly marked as such?

Lastly, I am not demanding anything of other bloggers; the silly, petty name calling I have be subjected to has actually hardened my resolve. What I am asking for is the promotion and the kudos given to those seeking to enter an open and transparent debate via the medium of blogging. That is a positive thing to do, to stand up and say, I believe that we as bloggers should commit to open and honest debate with other humans I can identify, who can be accountable to their views and their interests can be declared. There is no coincidence that bloggers willing to blog under their own name are the ones most respected; the ones who are willing to offer their views with their party allegiances on their sleeve, warts and all.

All of the contributors so far have already committed to such practices without any hectoring, they do so because (I hope) they believe it is the best process to have while blogging. Lets promote that!

(Written by Marcus Warner, Welsh blogger, creator and author of Sweet & Tender Hooligan)

This is the fourth in a series of posts giving a chance for Welsh bloggers to have their say on the state of the blogosphere and where it's going. If you're interested in contributing place feel free to contact me at welshbloggers@gmail.com

2 Responses to “My Welsh Blogosphere - Marcus Warner”

Al Iguana said...

I don't think this piece needs debating at all - can't argue with a bit of truth and honesty, can you?

Where there IS room for manoeuvre is whereby someone (party or not) blogs but can't reveal their identity to protect their family/job etc. For example, if Ramblings is in that position, then all they need to do is state it: "I am a party worker but cannot reveal my identity". All we need is declaration, not name/address/DNA.

Question isn't for us, as the electorate, more for the parties: if you find a contraversial blog, that states it is written by a paid member of your party, would you ignore it, comment on it, or witch-hunt it? I would hope that it would be tolerated, due to the fact that even though people work for your party, what they do in their spare time is their business. As long as they're not revealing state secrets.

Al,

I hope that in my post you saw the ‘declaration’ point come through, merely saying, that this blog is written by taxpayer funded/party staff seems appropriate as per any other political campaign material. I know the names of the people who write these blogs, I just want declaration of their interest.

You know I used to help write election leaflets, but it wasn’t my name on the leaflet if you get me – there was clear indication it was a labour party leaflet.

The problem I find is that I sense there is collusion between the ‘white hat’ party machine, and the ‘black hat’ anon bloggers. There must be as they are filled with exactly the same people. Plaid have made their own bed by spinning the ‘open and honest online debate’ line to all and sundry.

To make absolutely clear – I want staffers to blog, I lost my job for merely keeping a blog about my interest in politics, I believe it should be right (within professional boundaries) that staff can blog. The problem is that some of the tax paying blogs are devoting hours a day to blogging, and some are making political attacks on people that would indicate that those blogs are being used to do the party machine dirty work.

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