I seem to be having a bit of a Stephen Conroy lovin’ feeling lately, because in addition to what I was saying on another post about some of the thoughts that arose from his appearance on Q&A last night, I thought he was absolutely spot on about the right to privacy issues regarding James Massola’s outing of blogger Grog’s Gamut’s identity, and in highlighting the seeming contradiction between the News Limited campaign last year against the South Australian Attorney-General’s moves to prevent anonymity in online political comment and the actions of The Australian yesterday.
Conroy is right that we need to be having a debate about the right to privacy, and there’s more than one side to that debate than the position of the media’s “Right to Know” campaign. The public interest justifications for outing Grog are derisory, and the elephant in the room unaddressed by all the journos defending Massola is a clear desire to silence him or cause him troubles with his employer, something that one could reasonably infer is present also in the aspersions cast on Grog’s presence at the Media 140 conference last week in Massola’s very weak defence of his original article.
I don’t blog using my surname for a whole range of reasons, which are private to me. I don’t think this makes me any less accountable for my arguments and my opinion. The fact that I am prepared to defend it is surely sufficient, and if people really need to know something about where someone is coming from (and there’s a reasonable case that they do), I’ve always been happy to relate my own posts to my personal circumstances and experience, where appropriate. Similarly, Grog made it plain that he was a public servant. That was not news. He referred to his family on particular occasions when it was salient to his views on policy. We also know something about his taste in film and music. Thus, if there’s some sort of interpretive or hermeneutic need to have a sense of a personality above and beyond the words on the screen, it’s there. “Accountability” in this instance seems to me to be an absurd argument, and indeed it appears to be far more assertion than argument.
On some of the bigger issues raised by this kerfuffle, Peter Martin has addressed them quite nicely, I think. And Mary at Hoyden About Town has written a very good post instancing some of the very good reasons why people may not feel comfortable with their online writing being linkable to their offline identity. A lot of those go to basic issues of safety and security. They should be taken into account by all those trumpeting the claim that a view is somehow deficient without a surname attached to it.
NB: Previous discussion of #grogsgate on LP is here.
Update: Jeremy Sear.
Elsewhere: Jonathan Green:
The cited reason for the Australian’s invasion of privacy was the offence given by Grog’s online pseudonymity. A spurious case. Surely Jericho as Grog’s can be judged on the quality of his argument, all of it set in the context of a consistent online presence in which you choose to place faith and trust. Or not. Your call. Little difference there to the old-school of newspaper that ran its copy without byline, investing all of it with the reputable stamp of the institution. This is also how the internet works: consistent voices in consistent spaces, aquiring audiences, trust and good will. The name? Does that matter?
The subtext here is that journalism is Real Work best done by Real and Qualified people with both Names and the authority of Serious Commercial News Organisations or, better, properly constituted multi-national media conglomerates.
Which is where we begin to sense the sense of anxiety manifest in the attack of Grog’s privacy, the sense of siege and threat felt in newsrooms like The Australian’s.
Update: The Australian editorialises.
Update: Mr Denmore.