A blog is not an excuse for lying

The BBC website has a page today reporting that

Spectator columnist Rod Liddle has become the first blogger to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission.

Liddle was censured for a very good reason. He wrote, in December 2009, that

the overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community.

But apparently that was not true. So the director of the Press Complaints Commission, the body which oversees UK newspapers, was right to say that

the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions.

There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary, but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed.

And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.

Liddle responded that the PCC had

got it wrong … a blog is different because it has to be a conversation, otherwise there’s no point in having a blog.

So he seems to be claiming that it is OK to tell lies in a blog because it is “different” from a printed newspaper or magazine. But there can be no excuse for lying in this way, for deliberately deceiving readers whether of print or of websites. In this case the issue was compounded in that the effect and probable intent of this lie would have been to stir up negative feelings towards the African-Caribbean community in London.

As bloggers we don’t want censorship. But we do need to exercise restraint in writing only what is true and responsible – and in quickly correcting any errors we might make by mistake. If we fail to do this we are only inviting the authorities to take action against us. The Press Complaints Commission probably has no authority over ordinary bloggers not linked to newspapers or magazines. But we don’t want to encourage the government to extend its competence to cover everything on the Internet. So, as bloggers, let’s write responsibly.

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