Sunday 5 September 2010

Hague should have ignored the blogging gossip

A strange thing happened to me last week – I actually had some sympathy for a senior Conservative MP.

I admit it, I’m not really a fan of Tories, but I have felt sorry for William Hague, and these rumours alleging a relationship between him and his former special adviser Christopher Myers.

It was a bad PR move by Hague to issue the press statement, denying a relationship with Myers, before detailing the problems he and his wife have had in trying for a baby.

Apparently he ignored advice from Downing Street advising him to release a more restrained statement. He made a mistake by not doing this, and in the end what was released ended up sounding like someone saying:

‘look at me, I’m having sex with my wife to get her pregnant, I can’t possibly be gay’

I know this wasn’t the intention, but that’s what it sounded like. What was just a rumour within political circles suddenly became a national news story.

I accept there was the issue on whether Myers a 25-year-old graduate was qualified for the role of special adviser – but it’s almost as if rumours of a relationship between the two were spread just to question Hague's appointment of Myers.

These rumours have been on the internet for a few weeks now, but they gained more attention following a posting by right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes.

During the election campaign, Hague and Myers shared the same room at a hotel in Birmingham.

This is what Guido Fawkes wrote on his blog in relation to how the two were acting the next morning at breakfast:

‘One witness told Guido that the room sharing couple’s body language at breakfast was eye opening.’

This is classic nudge nudge wink wink innuendo!

What I think’s become clear, is just how influential blogging and certain bloggers have become. Hague clearly felt he had to put a stop to these rumours once and for all following Guido’s post.

Guido Fawkes is a well-known blogger within political circles. I know about his blog and read it occasionally. I’ve made it my business to know about these types of high profile blogs, which is understandable being a blogger myself.

The thing is, outside of the Westminster village and political journalism, I doubt whether many people have ever heard of Guido Fawkes. If Hague had just ignored the rumours as he was advised, they would have stayed rumours within a small political world.

By making such a public statement, Hague’s acknowledging just how important and influential Guido’s blog has become.

There are millions of blogs out there in the web universe, many are never read by anyone. Some are just an excuse for people to rant and write any old rubbish regardless of whether it’s true or not.

There are however some blogs which become essential reading within certain professions, businesses, and communities. They have high value, useful content, and are respected by a particular audience who read these blogs to gain specialist information.

Guido Fawkes is in this category and he's become one of the most influential political bloggers in the country.

The problem with blogging is that bloggers aren’t necessarily obliged to follow any codes of conduct or apply journalistic principles to their writing.

What I mean by this, is that trained reporters on newspapers are required to check facts, sources, and make sure what’s written is accurate and correct. These are some of the principles that reporters are meant to adhere to,

Don't worry, I do realise that some people will be laughing at the suggestion that the words accuracy and tabloid journalism are some how connected!

This is the theory anyway, which even I’ve had to learn about. Bloggers don’t have any code of conduct which they need to meet. They don’t have to consider issues of accuracy or whether what they write is defamatory or not.

None of the tabloids have reported the rumours on Hague, if they had done they could have faced libel action being brought against them, which can cost papers thousands of pounds.

There’s no point in suing most bloggers, as there’s no money to be made from them. I know I don’t have money to fight any legal battles, so I’m going to be careful on what I write on here, and put my media law training to good use.

Having read about this story, I do wonder whether some high profile bloggers who know they have a certain amount of influence, should use a form of self regulation or try and apply some journalistic codes of conduct when writing on their blogs.

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