Notes on Nightjack

Notes on the Nightjack verdict, written in haste, in anger, and unedited (because I'm knackered and I have no time to do it justice. My apologies – I think I made more sense when speaking to a Guardian journalist about it)

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When I started writing this blog I made some effort at remaining anonymous, it wasn't a big effort mind you, but it involved writing under a pseudonym and not shouting about it in the messroom. When my real name was found out I discovered that I was very lucky, that the communications department of the LAS didn't want to come gunning for my job.

There are laws that protect you should you wish to 'whistleblow', if someone is doing something illegal or immoral then you can be protected if you brig it to someone else's attention. Of course, in the real world, that 'protection' is only as good as the lawyers you can hire to fight for those protections.

A lot of what bloggers bring to light is the chronic state of the their day to day life – a classic example would be police bloggers letting us know about how much administration that they must fill in whenever they make an arrest. Part of what I write about is to highlight the flaws in the governmental running of the NHS. Other bloggers do this more than me.

What bloggers do is humanise and explain their section of the world – public sector bodies do well to have bloggers writing within them, after all these are the people who care about what they do, about what improvements should be made and about where the faults come from. They highlight these things in the hopes that, in bringing this information into the public consciousness, they can effect a change that they would otherwise be powerless to bring about.

Anonymity provides a protection against vindictiveness from management who would rather do nothing than repeat the party-line, or lie, that everything is perfect, there is no cause for concern. Having seen management do, essentially illegal things, in order to persecute and victimise staff – anonymity is a way of protecting your mortgage payments.

It is not just for bloggers this protection of anonymity – consider a support forum for people with mental health problems, anonymity allows these user to perhaps be more open, more honest and more themselves then they would do were they forced to reveal their own identities. It is the nature of the internet that our identities are fluid.

Perhaps that can be the Times next 'scoop', tracking down the people behind anonymous forums in the cause of 'public interest'.

Journalists work to protect their sources, some ending up in prison over their refusal to breach the privacy of their sources. This is right and proper.

So – when Judge Eady told the Times that they could breach the privacy of the police blogger Nightjack, it has lead to a very real fear of what this means for the rest of us.

The thought that Nightjack breached laws on writing about criminal cases (when the details are all in the public domain post-trial) seems petty, and if he did indeed compromise trials then why is his force only giving him a written warning rather than prosecuting him?

I won't dwell on the 'public interest' of unveiling bloggers, they have done it before in utterly despicable ways and for some reason it seems to be their 'cause' – were I vindictive I'd be looking into their expense accounts right now for some justified retribution. Or googlebombing them as a bunch of tossers.

Instead I'm mindful that a lot of exceptionally interesting, thought-provoking blogs might now come to an end. What is to stop companies and public bodies from hunting down people who may have been negative about them. What blogger, with bills to pay and mouths to feed, is now going to take the chance of lifting the lid on mismanagement, badly though policies or idiotic governmental decrees when there is the very real chance that their identities can be revealed for nothing more than a lurid headline on someone's chip wrapper.

Why should bloggers put their careers at risk, over subjects that they are evangelical about, when the simpler, safer option is to fall back into the horde of people who grumble under their breath yet risk nothing to change things for the better. The world can then continue with less public scrutiny because people are scared to speak out.

If it is so important to know a bloggers name so as to better judge them as a source, then I think that it is time to do away with the journalistic practice of protecting sources. After all, without producing the source, the journalist could be (gasp) making up lies. I think we should also know, for definite, what enticements a journalist has had to write a piece for a paper – that 'holiday in France' piece, was it 'bought' by the holiday company that receives the good review?

(The answer is that this does go on – I've seen it with my own eyes)

I wonder if Judge Eady reads blogs, or even has any idea what a blog is. I wonder if he has any idea of what a door he has opened for witch hunts and the reduction of our knowledge of public services to bitesized PR fluff. I wonder if he realises that anonymity is one of the strengths of the internet, not a weakness.

And as for the Times – I wouldn't wipe my arse on it.

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I am exceptionally busy this week, with a 60 hour work week, two days of conference and numerous other things dotted around the place. I barely have time to sleep, let alone eat or write.

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Photograph by Robotson licensed under a CC license.

15 thoughts on “Notes on Nightjack”

  1. This is the same judge who has made it so difficult for Simon Singh to defend a libel suit from the British Chiropractic Association over an article he wrote in The Guardian. Judge Eady's decision on the meaning of the word “bogus” means that to win, Simon has to prove that the BCA knew that Chiropractic doesn't work for colic and asthma yet still pushed it as a remedy. Yet in the article, “bogus” is placed in context and simply refers to the lack of scientific evidence and not on the intent of the BCA.More info here: http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/

  2. I think your point IS taken by the goverment Tom. After all, the anominity of those presenting evidence to the enquiry into the second Iraq war will be totally protected. Result!

  3. In this context, Random Acts was named as one of the best anonymous work blogs by the Guardian. Though they clearly didn't dig too much to find a quote :-)http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jun/16/anonymous-work-blogs

  4. I literally started my CCTV blog about a week ago. I'm very concious that there are not many of us and my Local Authority can be particularly small minded. I would put myself in the area of people that may reconsider what they do. The slightest hint of attention from my LA will probably shut me up for good. My joke of a wage barely covers my mortgage as it is. The last think i will want to do is risk my job for the sake of entertaining and furthering what I think is a largely misunderstood position.

  5. Why is it that this is The Times AGAIN?! I can't help that they feel threatened by the quality and insight offered by some of the better bloggers out there and – with print journalism on the decline – are therefore are looking to eliminate some of the new opposition, whilst getting an exciting 'scoop' into the bargain. Paranoid sounding I know… Worth noting is that The Times only allows a small 'selection' of comments on its online articles (vs, say, The Guardian's articles which allow for thousands). Handy that – again, allows them to silence the voice of the online readership.

  6. I disagree with Huw's conspiracy, although that's always an attractive thesis – a quick look at this post reveals some pretty candid misgivings from crime reporters on the paper. (Let's face it – although the language is couched, and they can hardly bite the hand that feeds them, it's pretty clear what their opinion is).Anyway. Sigh. Here we go again. A lot of people seem to be concentrating on the judge, and I don't know enough about law to know whether this is unfair or not. I think everybody who blogs anonymously knows the risk by now… but is (in my ideal world) entitled to expect that any 'detective work' used to track them down comes from those with some form of genuine stake – not a broadsheet newspaper looking for a quick story.

    Put it this way – had I walked up to Richard Horton, kicked him in the nuts and the judge had let me off on a technicality, I'd feel a bit relieved if the consequences focused on the judge. It was another grubby bit of 'look how clever we are!' journalism that surely somebody on the paper must have realised would be counterproductive in all sorts of big-picture ways.

  7. Very concerning judgement indeed. It is certainly making me think twice about some of the stuff I'm blogging about!

  8. To be honest, I struggle to find fault with the judges decision. Bear in mind that it was Nightjack who went to court to try and get an injunction preventing the Times from publishing, so it was him who had to prove a case here. I don't think under current laws there is anything which would or even should give bloggers legal protection from publication. I don't like the outcome, but I think the correct legal decision was made.What really bothers me is why the Time thought it was in the public interest to do this in the first place. Nightjack was most certainly not hurting anyone. I know its been argued that if you dig enough you could put two and two together, but most people wouldn't. Besides, the Times has since published the links back to the original story, giving vastly more exposure to these cases than would ever have been the case with the original Nightjack posts. At the very least that smacks of rotten hypocrisy (You can't publish this stuff! Here, we'll just publish what we dont think you should publish to show you what we mean!).

    Even putting asside all the whistleblower angles, nightjack (and all the other emergency services blogs I read, including this one) just provide an interesting insight into how these organisations work. It's facinating and gives me a new respect for what they do. Far more respect than I now have for the Times. Which is a shame as I've been a regular reader of the Times for 20 years, but I'm not sure I want to continue reading a paper that behaves this way.

  9. Really, this is an attempt to scare all the other whistleblower bloggers. The police state is closing on all of us.It would have been very interesting to see how George Orwell would have written about the state of this country today.

  10. It was a reporter for The Times who “outed” Nightjack, indeed.Rupert Murdoch has plans to makes his online newspapers subscription-only.

    The blogsphere is felt by many to be one of the main competitors to traditional journalism for online news and comment.

  11. The only thing Orwell got wrong was the date…The govt wants to spy on every thought we have, how else are we supposed to view their current intrusive plans?

  12. I agree. This 'free press' thing is actually limiting freedom. I have this thing about paparazzi and obsessive journalists-I hate them. I'm sure there are good ones out there somewhere, but where are they hiding? I feel for poor Nightjack.

  13. Very depressing for us all. I liked Nightjack's blog a lot and I enjoy others of the same ilk (including yours of course). It will be a very Bad Thing if bloggers like us who are keen to inform people about our area of the public sector all take fright and hang up our laptops.

  14. I hadn't even known this had happened, thank you for writing this up. I completely sympathize, I relied on an online pseudonym for years just for my own sanity. “Outing” people has long been a debate among the circle I travel in who text roleplay on livejournal. When someone changes names and email addresses to start over or carry on multiple fake lives gets messy when we're talking about trust and emotional bonds. Possibly putting someone's livelihood or safety at risk in addition to that is morally reprehensible and just because it's online doesn't change anything. If anybody tries this shit in my country's legal system there will be hell to pay.”Just because he wished to remain anonymous… did not mean that he had a reasonable expectation to remain anonymous.”Bull. Shit. And why the hell did the newspaper care enough about his real name to take it to court anyways?

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