How dare you tell me what to do?!

This entry was posted on
Wednesday, April 16th, 2008
5:48 pm and is filed
under Rupert ‘The Evil One’ Murdoch, The Political Weblog Movement, The War on Stupid, UK Libel Law, Updates.

1. National Service is going ahead, but I can’t sit around forever waiting for the money situation to get better, so, with Clive’s help, I’ve built a little cash machine to help things along. That’ll be with you shortly.

2. As you’re probably aware, the more ridiculous aspects of SOCPA are soon to be binned.

3. Blair’s coining it in while playing The Great Statesman, but he hasn’t killed anyone lately, so I’m happy to leave him to it. Even if he does manage to buy a burial plot with armed guards and electrified fences, I doubt even that will keep me from somehow pissing on his grave.

4. Bush is finished and has been since the 2006 mid-terms.

5. The year or so of bloggage about Iain Dale and Paul Staines (and their overlapping team of wannabe thugs) looked very closely at the techniques used in their ongoing efforts to enjoy power without accountability… and from here it looks as if we’ve finally reached the bottom of their bag of tricks.

[Psst! Iain and Paul: Don’t get your hopes up, you lovable miniature media barons. There are still some loose ends flapping and an almighty wrap-up to come, and I guarantee that you’re not going to like any of it.]

So the time has finally come for a new ongoing project at Bloggerheads.

I have two projects in mind:

UK Libel Law

UK libel laws as they stand make it very difficult for any British citizen or resident to host their website in this country without fear of being silenced with quasi-legal threats (yes, even from total tosspots who can’t afford real lawyers). Overseas hosts are also prone to intimidation, and they most likely won’t give a flying toss about who is and isn’t legally entitled to what, because you’ll just be an unwanted headache to most of them.

After the Alisher Usmanov affair, I did some poking around to see what kind of support bloggers and other web-publishers could expect from the UK hosting industry we would most likely have to abandon en masse if this kind of thing continues… and I didn’t get a nibble.

There were some fine print and television journalists batting for us here and there during the whole Usmanov thing, but challenging the status quo on something this big requires hefty editorial support. I don’t like our chances.

The short version is as follows: if bloggers want to change or challenge the UK libel laws, those of us that do choose to stand together against this kind of nonsense will on our own.

On the surface of things, it’s also a wee bit dry as a subject. But, then again, so was SOCPA to an extent. I’m sure that with some teamwork and creativity, we could paint some well-deserving individuals and organisations into some interesting corners (i.e. give those with the power to change it reason to do so… or at least something to think about).

Murdoch Watch

I’d like to (finally) devote some serious time to this by creating a purpose-built multi-author weblog that documents the many ways that The Sun newspaper manipulates and betrays their readers and the public in general.

There are now some excellent writers in the blogosphere with sufficient background, experience and credibility to take this on. I’d be devoting a good portion of my time to it, and there are a few people I already have in mind that I’d like to invite to do the same.

Of course, we’d probably have to host it overseas (see above), but part of this would be the development of a working [outlet]-watch from scratch for instructional and inspirational purposes anyhow (“You can do this, too for the Murdoch outlet nearest you. And here’s how…”), so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t start afresh at or the like, just to prove it can be done and done well.

[Psst! Just in case you’re not aware, a FOX News watchdog already exists.]

So, over to you lot…

One of the things that I care about most in politics is levelling the playing field; those who wish to engage honestly from any side should be able to do so without being silenced, shouted down, shoved aside or sabotaged.

Which project do you think is most likely to take us forward on that front? Or do you have some ideas of your own?

Now’s the time to speak up if you have something to say.

UPDATE – Please note that I’ll be out for most of Thursday April 17th, so if you’re relatively new here or it’s your first comment, your 2p worth probably won’t be cleared for publication until late afternoon. Cheers all.


  1. mou says

    The libel law subject won't, as you point out, be as interesting. But if theres any chance that it could get a wider audience to address the issue, perhaps its worth consideration. You could probably do with some of the other well known bloggers – ie Staines and Dale – taking part, as the further the message gets the more likely it'll have an impact. Although with recent events, perhaps that's a little unlikely…The Rupert Murdoch thing I can envisage being a good read. The only problem is, it doesn't really have an outcome – the project will slow and eventually end without fanfare, and no good will have come of it. That said, I'd still like to see some of the bullsh*t spouted by the Sun documented. Some of their stories are, well, ridiculous once you start deconstructing them.So my vote is (currently) with Rupert Murdoch, because I know I'll enjoy reading it. But if you can get some more "influential" people on side, I'll happily change that vote!

  2. Manic says

    Ta for that. I feel I should point out that Staines has shown that he's willing to exploit some of the sillier aspects of UK libel law, so I can't see him getting on board for that reason alone. He was also conspicuously silent during the Usmanov matter.

  3. D-Notice says

    I'd be more interested in the libel law idea. Partly due to my legal background and partly because otherwise I'd have to read the Sun, which goes against my principles…

  4. bookdrunk says

    For what it's worth, I'd be really interesting in reading – and contributing to – a Murdoch Watch project. But the libel law thing might be a project which could have definable goals..

  5. Mark says

    I'm leaning towards the libel idea too, mostly because I was semi-threatened with it a few years ago by a Fiat dealership over something I wrote. Scared the crap out of me at the time and not something I'd wish on anyone else. Well, almost anyone.

  6. Jim Bliss says

    One point; while the Murdoch watch idea has relevancy to a worldwide audience (even in those places where Murdoch doesn't own media outlets, the general principle of a single individual shaping a disproportionate amount of news will have resonance), the libel law thing won't be of huge interest beyond the UK.I'm not saying that you shouldn't address it, or that it doesn't need to be addressed, but it certainly isn't going to be of great interest to your international readers (however many of us there are).

  7. D-Notice says

    I think the libel law idea would be of interest to those outside the UK as we could use it to show how it's exploited by people with no connection to the UK whatsoever and why something needs to be done about it…

  8. Manic says

    D-Notice has a point. There is an international celebrity card to be played from time to time. Hollywood stars don't always come here for the excellent weather, you know.BTW, Nicolas Cage has never been arrested for stealing a Chihuahua:…On goals, Murdoch Watch would very much be an educational thing; showing people how the machine works… and how to draw explanatory diagrams of their own if they've a mind to.

  9. poons says

    murdoch watch is the most important surely?have printer (as you know) has stickers – needs designs

  10. Sim-O says

    My initial thought was that Murdoch Watch could turn into a Biased BBC type of thing, just end up shouting "hey look at the shit he spouting!" and nothing actually changing until he karks it.Then I thought, about the people that would be involved and realised it would be deeper than that.Having said that, I think the UK libel law thing would be a killer of a legacy for UK blogs.

  11. Kate says

    I think it's vital to have a clear goal. I'm not sure what that would be with Murdoch-watch – what end result would you want to see? Obv he's not going to last forever, but in terms of forcing some kind of recant … ;-)OTOH – and I do realise that people's time is a finite resource – why not do both? In different ways. Murdochwatch as an ongoing wiki, and libel law as a clearly defined project with a goal and an end-point.

  12. Manic says

    Kate: (a) Can't see myself doing both. (b) Murdoch isn't the first media baron to interfere with democracy, and he won't be the last. I don't expect him to change or for people to stop seeking the media path to power, but why just just roll over and ignore/accept the games these people play when we could at least reveal/document them in an engaging way? (c) A genuine wiki would quickly be overwhelmed by a machine with far greater resources and a track record of rewriting history.

  13. Surreptitious Evil says

    The libel project seems the nicest – defined goals, chance to finish, politically neutral and applicable to a wide range of interests. I deal with Murdoch by refusing to pay money for any of his products but recognise that as the 'ostrich solution' it is.

  14. Justin says

    I'd go with the libel project as well. I don't think it'd be too hard a sell with a little imagination which we have in spades. The law of it is very interesting when you get into it.I think the Murdoch Watch thing happens on a kind of ad-hoc basis anyway, doesn't it? There are a bunch of bloggers out there with an eye on the evil empire and report back as they see fit.You could build a one-stop shop where people could cross-post their stuff and leave it at that – it wouldn't take a huge amount of maintenance beyond the initial build.

  15. MatGB says

    Joining the chorus for the libel project, I meant to kick something off ages back but, y'know, life &c:'s got a clear goal, it's been obviously and palbably needed since the John Major/New Statesman thing, and if we can get enough steam behind it to actually pull it off it'd be a major coup for us.Plus we have enough MPs from across the spectrum talking to various of us regularly now that we could get listened to, need to make sure it's non-partizan.

  16. Bartholomew says

    The libel thing I think is most needed. I don't think it's "dry" at all, and with Tesco currently cracking down on critics in the UK and Thailand there could be a hook for wider interest.There can more than just a UK focus: the issue is a cross-border one, and problems in UK libel law can be thrown into relief by comparative examples (especially from the US). It should also be noted that the New York State legislature recently passed an Act protecting authors from UK libel decisions if they go against US free speech provisions (this was because a conservative author had been hit by a London suit from a billionaire Saudi).I've written a few blog entries on this subject that may be of interest, and I've indexed them on this page:

  17. Manic says

    Liking this very much Re: Murdoch Watch…"You could build a one-stop shop where people could cross-post their stuff and leave it at that – it wouldn't take a huge amount of maintenance beyond the initial build."The case for challenging UK libel law is strongest so far.

  18. OneHourAhead says

    My vote would go to the Libel project.The murdochwatch project could too easily get bogged down as it would be essentially a war of attrition, one in which one side has vast resources and actually doesn't give a toss about the other. As Justin said and Kate alluded to, better to create a site that allows many to post and rip the shit out of the sun than one person/few people spending a massive amount of time on it. Then you can quickly accumulate a large body of evidence of The Sun's shenanigans that can be easily findable and searchable on the web without wasting too much of one persons time.Like everybody else has said, the libel project has a clear goal and has the bonus that others may well take up the cause and add momentum. When the next big profile case comes along it can then be a place to cause all manner of embarrassment for the parties involved and to point out all the stupidities.I'm not sure whether it is a good or bad thing that it seems easier to take on the British government than a media tycoon?

  19. Jherad says

    *bleary eyed*Good grief – I need to check my feedreader more often!I'd definitely go with the libel law thing first – it is probably something that would appeal to a huge swathe of the blogosphere, and have the most chance of effecting change in.The Murdoch thing is something I feel *very* strongly about, but already gets more coverage. Hey, if you managed to get libel law changed, you could probably do more vs Murdoch afterwards anyway :P

  20. Katherine says

    Just a note of caution re the libel thing – and I don't mean to be negative, but it is important – what actually ar your goals here?I ask simply because, whilst most bloggers would agree that that the Usmanov thing was appalling, you might not get quite so much consensus on what people do want. I, for example, would not want to see the UK libel law go the way of the US free-for-all.Yes, UK libel laws are old-fashioned and, for the internet at least, not fit for purpose. It is also merely a plaything for the rich, because of the costs involved in actually suing. Nevertheless, there are a few nuggets of goodness in there. Just to thoroughly mix the metaphors, I wouldn't want to see, and couldn't support, a campaign that threw the baby out with the bathwater.

  21. Friendly Fire says

    You might try BBC watch.

  22. Nosemonkey says

    Now those both sound like things I could get behind. Two immediate thoughts, though:1) Pretty much the whole of the press (bar the big media barons at the top) is against the current libel laws, and they haven't managed to get them changed yet. Because the only people who really get done for libel as far as the general public are concerned are journalists, and we're hated nearly as much as politicians (not least by the politicians themselves). To get this off the ground, we'd need a repeat of Boris getting his site taken down in the Usmanov thing – but this time an MP themselves getting hit in a libel threat actually aimed at them. Which means getting an MP willing to deliberately provoke such an action, while ensuring that they don't actually break the law. Which is not only very, very tricky, but also isn't overly likely, let's face it.2) Murdoch-watch I'd be well up for, as there really should be a comprehensive repository of all his manipulation somewhere. But I refuse to read the Sun. Happy to do it for the Times (just as bad), but would have to come up with a new pseudonym – I have been known to take the Murdoch shilling from time to time. (Hey – I'm a freelancer, and better in my pocket than his, eh?)

  23. MatGB says

    Katherine: My basic objective would be to remove the basic stupidities of who is liable financially. At the time of the John Major/New Statesman thing, it was theoretically possible to sue a paperboy that had delivered an offending publication. Major went further than most did by suing printers and distributors, and they settled out of court thus essentially bankrupting the mag, even though there wasn't an effective case to answer.So my objective would be twofold:1) only hold the writers, editors and publishers liable, not the printers and distributors. This should also exclude hosting companies (as was the problem in the Fasthosts affair).2) Limit liabilities in some sensible way, and ensure access to legal aid for good faith publishers and writers.We could also do with clarification on who is liable for comments, especially if the site owner is moderating comments, etc.

  24. Manic says

    Friendly Fire: What, and get myself accused of plagiarism? Perish the thought.Jherad: Point. Noted.Katherine: (a) I seriously doubt that the laws will fall like ninepins before us. In fact, I dare say that we'll struggle to tackle it one absurdity at a time. (b) Not just a play-thing for the rich, as has already been proved by Obi etc.; sometimes, all you need is a chum who looks like a libel lawyer from a distance. (c) Which brings us to the ease with which one might make one's point on this front.(nods knowingly to Nosemonkey)

  25. Leon says

    Another vote here for the libel laws one. I agree it has a clearly defined objective and has the potential to pick up some real momentum (and could attract support from across the political spectrum).Justin's idea for the murdoch watch idea is .a great one too.

  26. bigdaddymerk says

    I'd go with the libel thing too – emailed you

  27. Manic says

    Libel law is ahead by many a length.We're not done here yet, but…A cross-platform Murdoch-related bloggage aggregator looks to be a fine idea. Anyone with a track record of creating such a beast, please do get in touch via email. I can point some relevant traffic your way within a day (the only condition being a commemorative plaque in honour of Justin McKeating… just so Rupert knows where to focus his anger).

  28. Piers says

    Interestingly, Mike Butcher (Techcrunch UK editor) posted this today:

  29. Matt Wardman says

    I'm for the Libel Law project, but you know that.

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