Sunday, May 15, 2005

*Blogging and Fair Comment: Doom, Demise or just a long lonely slide down the merry path?*

We need an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) or someone/organisation willing to take on lawsuits on behalf of beleagued bloggers. With the threat of one single lawsuit (two actually, one abortive after tea), we are on a long slippery slope on the way to a silenced civil society. So much for Freedom of Speech being present and the trouble is that we are simply too afraid to speak up.

Bah Humbug.

A close textual perusal of today's article and letter in the ST today reveals a disturbingly simplistic and awful trend of thinking that goes along the following lines: Blog Responsibily - If you make a comment, be prepared to back it up.

Before we go on, it might be worth noting that while there is no way one could conceivably put blogs into neat classification and categories, it can be said that there are basically two forms.

1. Those that tend towards the personal: You know them, you seen them, you cringe at them at times. It's all about the blogger's life, comments and attacks tend to focus people that they know.

These people are safe. After all, most normal people are not going to go crying to a lawyer that they are being defamed on a blog.

2. Those that make political commentary of some form or other: These are the ones that are directly in the line of fire. After all, it's the organisations that we comment on that might find it in their interest (justifiably or not) and have the capacity to launch a suit. But the flip-side of this is that it chills fair comment. It's one thing to accuse a minister and the organisation of fraud, but quite another (in my opinion) to point out the counter-productiveness of a particular policy.

However, to some naive writters and commentors out there, this might give the impression that we are all a bunch of gunslinging gung ho writers who mouth off at issues that we have no right to talk about (Who does then? Journalists?). But in an Alice in Wonderland logical fashion, fair comment to some people means casting aspirsions on the organisation itself.

So while I totally and utterly support that stance of responsible blogging, there's a huge difference in backing up your comment in a reasoned article and being forced to back it up in a court of law. Fact: The threat of legal action is more than sufficient to have a massive chilling effect on speech. Fact: The entire legal process is long, drawn out, painful and expensive. So even if you could conceivably win the case, why bother? It's not as if you could counter-claim and get damages.

Rationally, why waste your life, time and money to fight against a monolith organisation that has the spare capacity and the lack of gumption of respond in a measure fashion rather using the nuclear option? Better to take down your site and apologise than go up against the legal department which is doing their job. You waste you life, they simply are marking the hours till they get home.

Hence, after that extremely longwinded and circular few paragraphs we come back to my orginal suggestion. We need an organisation that is willing to fight on the behalf of this abstract notion called Freedom of Speech (Article 14, Singapore Constitution). We need a organisation that will provide the expertise and expert legal opinion for bloggers who find themselves in the line of fire simply because someone doesn't like their fair criticism and wants to eradicate rather than debate it.

Mr Fluffy thinks that the title and contents of this blog is entirely too melodramatic and blames it on the author's lack of sleep. Mr Fluffy hence thinks it is entirely justified in using extreme prejudice in executing an operation to get the author to sleep. Mr Fluffy has also calculated and determined that spiking the author's milo and sending subliminal messages would be the most effacious method of sending him to dreamland.



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