Thursday, 18 June 2009

Speak Out, We Live in a Free Country - As Long as we can See You

NightJack was a police officer by day, and a blogger by night, telling tales of the policing world that fascinated many, and revealed another side to the Force to those who weren't involved in it's day to day workings. Anybody who was interested in policing in the UK would have been wise to read it, as his unique insights and sometimes grippingly close to the bone recounts of real trials (names and incidents were changed to retain some sort of anonymity, but had you had the inclination, they were traceable to the real events) told the unheard story of a police officer who was seeing first hand, what the press was covering so viciously. His blog received thousands of hits each week, one entry regarding the vague details of a child rape case received nearly half a million views. NightJack - or as we all now know him, Detective Constable Richard Horton - won an Orwell Award For Blogging because of his "distinctive voice" and his gritty offerings of social commentary. Now that his cover has been blown by the combined efforts of The Times and the High Court, the blog has disappeared too, taking with it the views and comments of a man who knew his subject better than any other blogger, because he was living it.

Ruling that it was in the Public Interest for Horton's identity to be revealed, the court effectively destroyed a crack in the fence where ordinary members of the public could peer into the policing world and see another side to the way our country's laws are enforced. In one of his entries, "A Survival Guide for Decent Folk" NightJack explained the different ways that being involved in an investigation could incriminate you, despite your innocence. "complain about every officer... [and] show no respect to the legal system or anybody working in it...All you are trying to do by trying to explain is digging yourself further in. We call that a significant statement and we love it.” Controversial insights such as this are precious and incredibly few, and now with NightJack's blog deleted, one less avenue for such information has been closed down. For such a free and open society, we seem to be doing an amazing job of restricting the information that's actually being made available to us.

If DC Horton's cover has been blown, are other renowned bloggers going to be run off the internet too? What about Belle du Jour, a famous ID-Free blogger who has written her own article on this matter for the Guardian today? What I can't get to grips with is the decision that there is no legal right for a blogger who wishes to remain anonymous to be able to do so, and should a newspaper, like the Times, wish to "out" you through "detective work and deductions using mainly the Internet" they are allowed to, leaving your real life in tatters, and your blog in the desktop recycling bin. It seems to me that not only is this horrendously unfair, but it is irresponsible too - think of the bloggers and twitterers in China, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, who must remain anonymous due to heavy penalties. Sometimes, a blogger's view is the only way we can find out what life is like for an everyday person in these situations. NightJack was no exception - with a fastracked disceplinary to his name, his worst fears might be coming true; he could lose his job, be subject to revenge attacks, and his award-winning writing career has now ended, at least in it's current capacity.

He was nameless for a reason; Horton would face losing his job and reputation if he became known, but his failed injunction against the Times did nothing to stop them revealing his identity and placing the laws of public interest into disrepute - where else could we read about real life policing? The answer is you can't, at least not in real-time, and so here is my final question. What lies more within the realms of public interest? The name of a man providing interesting and entertaining anecdotes and information about a public service that general society knows little about the inner workings of, or the actual content of these aforementioned blogs?

Shane Richmond sums it up perfectly for me in his blog for the Telegraph - "What's the real value to anyone of exposing Nightjack, compared to the value he was creating by shedding light on his work?" What I found interesting were the reactions of the public that the Times were so desperately seeking rights for. In comments posted by ordinary readers on their website, disgust, outrage and general dispassionate ranting was found; as reader Brian Vallance points out, "The cases could only be identified because of the un-professional conduct of the journalist who revealed the author's identity." And he's right. Still, I suppose they know what's best for us.

13 comments:

Martin Higgins said...

Excellent stuff Katie. I'm ashamed to say I knew nothing at all about this 'NightJack' blog or it's recent outing. I'm also now annoyed I won't get a chance to read it thanks to some bitter dickhead at The Times.

Katie said...

I'll be honest, I only heard of it when this all started kicking off, so I only read a few things. Still kicking myself for not print/scr some of it. Balls. Never mind.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

http://www.archive.org/ cache the history of the web. It should be on there if you know the address.

Hey Katie, you know your Twitter has a Google PageRank of 2/10?

Katie said...

...what does that mean? Are you spying on me? lol

the_man_in_the_middle said...

It's Google's popularity rating and is based on who's linking to you and their popularity. I have a plugin so it shows up in the corner of my browser. So, no I haven't planted in your toilet a remote colour/audio 10mm spy cam with AV radio trasmission that has 500m range and the gain set in the direction of that curious looking house across the street... I was just curious as to which celebrities you were stalking... Brian Blessed for example has 1/10 for his Twitter page.

Did you find anything on archive.org?

Katie said...

Nah, it's been blocked by the owner. Never mind. End of an era and all that.

Is a google rank of 2/10 bad or good? Or nothing?

Katie said...

Also, now I now you follow me on twitter. So you're not who I assumed you were. Interesting.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

Well, this blog is 0/10, the lowest being undefined as it's not even in the index. The scale is logarithmic, so 2/10 is many factors times more popular than a 1/10. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have 9/10. So your 10 times more popular than Brian Blessed and 10000000 times less popular than Mark Zuckerberg. It's fairly meaningless, unless it's over 6 or 7, in which can you can sell links on your website for extortionate prices, but nice to know...

I'm glad your finding my veil of mystery of interest. Mu-hahaha! I'm like the Cadbury's Milk Tray man of the blogosphere... kinda. :S

Katie said...

0/10 for blog :( BOOO!

I *will* figure out who you are. It's only a matter of time. (Nice vintage advert reference btw. All because the lady loves...)

Huw said...

I can't say I was surprised that the courts didn't see anonymous bloggers having a legal right to remain that way - it's a public domain, and once you start putting yourself out in it, you need to be aware of that reality. For this reason, NightJack maybe didn't do enough to protect himself; some of what he wrote about was very poorly disguised now that the actual cases have been revealed.

However, what I do agree with you on is that The Times's decision to pursue him is nonsensical from a public interest standpoint. To my mind, it was much more driven by the need to get a scoop, regardless of the damage it caused one individual (or, if you prefer, to hundreds of thousands of readers). They have history for this though of course, and a lot of journalists resent bloggers.

the_man_in_the_middle said...

No legal right to anonymity in the public domain? Yet, it was the liberty of withholding information the police were protecting. The Times spin on it was to sensationalize the story among bloggers. He was breaking his employment contract though. I wouldn't feel too bad for the guy though. He's probably enjoying the exposure.

the_man_in_the_middle, away! *SMOKE BOMB*

the_man_in_the_middle said...

Click on cache next to the green urls

Katie said...

Huw - journailsts resent bloggers? Really? How come?

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