CS Lewis, in The Four Loves, commented that Friendship irritates Authority because every group of friends is a direct challenge to it. In the recent days two things have struck me. Firstly how the little groups of friends on Facebook and Twitter challenged and seriously weakened the Iranian regime, and secondly, how very much our own government, while lauding the brave souls who are risking their lives to log on, fear the internet, and more to the point, citizen journalism, to the extent that – with the sort of irony that writers everywhere dream about – the British courts rule that the name of the anonymous police blogger could be revealed.
The Times, that organ of the British establishment, yet part of the free press nonetheless, while simultaneously voicing support for the hundreds of anonymous blockers writing from a certain country this week, have won a court case tripping a citizen journalist, writing under the nom de plum of Night Jack, of the essential anonymity he needed to write; and his wordpress blog vanished as though it had never been. Last week the British Courts struck a blow against freedom of expression in the same week that hundreds of bloggers and netizens have been arrested and detained.
Britain has too many CCTV cameras, but now the cameras are turned on State Actors. Our police were filmed tazing a man while he was on the ground, at the G20 protests, mobile phone footage showed a police officer cut a bystander down. He later died of a heart attack. All over the world, Authority fears those little groups of friends recording an watching their actions. How it hates those little stubborn fragments of freedom, which turns Authority’s spying cameras on those who abuse their power with the words “I can’t wait to get this on YouTube”.
I am disappointed with the Times. Shall we ask them to reveal the name of the Junior Barrister who writes the “fictious” law blog Baby Barrista? Of course we won’t. The sort of political blogging that is most effective is effective because it comes from the inside – anonymity reveals the truth by protecting the identity of the correspondent, leaving him able to write more freely.
This is why the names of certain journalists from the established press present in countries in turmoil are not being named – to protect those journalists and their sources.
The Times, in blinkered short-sightedness failed to see the new forms of citizenship blogging as real journalism, providing insight into worlds which are shadowy and unexplored. Their successful suit to reveal the name of this officer hurts freedom of speech and expression. No organ of the free press should have any business being involved in such an action.
Leave that to Authority, which, keen as it is to erode the checks and balances which ensure our freedoms and liberties, would have to make its case before our courts.
Authority serves itself. And because it does so those who wield it must check themselves, and balance it against what we will loose if the current trends in this society are taken to the wire.