Thursday, 18 June 2009

The End Of Blogger Anonymity

In my opinion a worrying precedent has been set by the decision of the High Court to allow The Times to 'out' the previously anonymous police blogger known as NightJack.

According to the judgement in The Author of a Blog v Times Newspapers Ltd (BAILII link), "because blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity" no anonymity can be given to NightJack and by extension the true identity of many a pseudonymous blogger can be revealed in England and Wales.

In the case in point The Times took it upon itself to try and find the identity of the revealing and award-winning blogger, ostensibly it seems by following the many trails left online (although it would be interesting to know all the methods used).

Although their lawyers advanced public interest for disclosure it is little more than a trashy expose, He took great care not to mention live cases and has not to my knowledge broken the Contempt of Court Act 1981 or any other law in his writing. There is also little glory or financial reward, he did not accept his Orwell Prize and donated the prize money to the Police Benevolent Fund.

Defenders of his unmasking will point to freedom of information and accountability. As this Gawker article does, splendidly missing the point that it will have the opposite effect in, as this case shows, stopping someone from writing openly about the inner workings of public institutions and further discouraging whistle-blowers already put off by recent stories. There is also an element of hypocrisy given the use of anonymous police sources in several stories within the Times. Should they be subject to the Times' new high minded approach?

Thankfully although his career may be ruined, he will be free. Given the situation in Iran it is important to state that many writers are risking their lives, which is why in many cases, anonymity is vitally important, sadly it would be possible for people to cite this ruling as justification to reveal their identity.

Whether it is a matter of life and death I would defend the rights of those who wish to preserve their anonymity or privacy from scuzzy acts of so-called journalism.


  1. It is worrying....

    A good example of the establishment sticking together to cover up it's own incompetence, and punish those who dare to reveal it.


  2. Yes, I read about this. I wonder whether there is any co-incidence in the Times being part of the Murdoch media empire?

    Do blogs threaten traditional columnists and, inter alia, newspaper purchase?

  3. The media is becoming more and more like a huge dangerous shark each year..if it isn't eating it dies...

    How ironic that a tenet of journalism is that journalists always protect their sources. They understand full well how vital anonymity can be to break a story. But if it serves them to ruin someone else's life for no apparent reason, they'll do so without a thought...

  4. A sad day indeed. I am all for anonymity *and* freedom of information, but once again it seems what is "in the public interest" and what is "a necessary secret" is wholly inconsistent and entirely in the interests of those with the power.

    (Oops! I've put my name to this post. I shalle expect a letter from Mr Murdoch shortly!)

  5. Obviously the editors and managers of The Times have not read Tom Paine's "Common Sense", published anonymously a couple of hundred years ago.

    Indeed, they seem to eschew one of the foundations of their trade.

    Shame on them.

    Carolyn Ann

  6. I am reminded of Nina Cassian speaking of how Ceaucescu registered typewriters instead of guns...


  7. I note that the newspaper has had heaps of criticism heaped upon it by their own current (and several who have become ex) readers. But sadly the damage has been done.


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