In an editorial today, the RG says it is a privilege not a right to be able to comment on stories on their website.
This is a really interesting conundrum and one I faced for years and years – monitoring and taking off comments that I thought were trolling, offensive, defamatory or simply stupid – but allowing as many as I could.
It got to the point where I was being personally demonized because I would say something like ‘this comment has been removed because ….’ and leave my name and position at the paper, sometimes even my email address. One person left this charming comment: Jeremy Deacon rapes babies. (I left it to show the type of idiots we had to deal with)
There is an issue for newspapers in that they could face libel proceedings due to a comment.
In my time at the RG I cannot remember that happening – I may be wrong. We did have two cases where someone (including a judge) was defamed by a comment but neither the police nor the defamed person/s prosecuted us, they prosecuted the person who posted the comment.
The RG was given a great deal of protection in the two cases because its editorial staff responded immediately to take the offending comments off and ban the person who posted it as soon as it became aware of them.
In the UK the law of defamation has been amended to reflect the fact that if media outlets remove offending comments contemporaneously and take other appropriate action (ie banning the person) as soon as the issue is drawn to its attention, their exposure to be being sued is vastly reduced. If it prevaricates, that is another matter and they will feel the force of the law.
When I was the Acting Editor of the RG I raised this with the then AG Marc Pettingill. I was not able to follow it up, but perhaps this is an issue for the Media Council to raise?
I am not being critical, I think that this is an important area to debate.
So, is commenting on stories in the daily a privilege or a right? Is it a necessity in a small community? Does it encourage the hard-nosed political bloggers to put up misinformation? Does it aid or negate debate? Does anonymity give idiots people a voice? Should anonymous comments be banned? Should they comment through FB or Twitter? Why does Bernews news allow comments? Is there a solution?
I really want to start a debate on this, so I would love to hear some feedback.
Director Deep Blue Communications
Catch a Fire has also posted this: http://jonnystar.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/the-media-online-comments/
And BeachLime has posted this: http://beachlimegibbo.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/bermuda-online-commentating-still.html
I remembered that I wrote an editorial on this when I was acting Editor at the RG. The comments on this are very interesting.