Thursday, November 22, 2012

A guide to libel for bloggers

There is a new irregular verb in widespread use at the BBC:
I recuse myself
You step aside
He/she/it resigns
It seems to have caught on in Leicestershire too, as last night the ruling Conservative group on Leicestershire County Council announced that its deputy leader David Sprason had decided to "step aside".

Of course, we all wanted to know why. And my old friend Simon Galton, now the leader of the Lib Dem group on the county, tweeted as follows:

I was about to retweet it when I realised that I did not know if it was true. I was pretty sure that someone as sensible as Simon would not tweet in this fashion unless he knew what he was saying was true, but I did not know it was true.

So I retweeted something else by Simon that mentioned the resignation but not the porn. Mind you, I reasoned that anyone sufficiently interested in the resignation would look at Simon other tweets and find the porn story for themselves.

The furore over Lord McAlpine, I suspect, has made many bloggers more aware of issues of libel. And today in the day job I come across a useful and approachable guide on the subject: So you’ve had a threatening letter. What can you do? by Sense About Science.

I recommend any blogger who aims at being controversial, particularly in the current climate, to read it.

As it turned out, the porn story was true. As today Leicester Mercury reports it:
The deputy leader of Leicestershire County Council has stepped down while an investigation takes place after it emerged a pornographic DVD was found in his council computer. 
Councillor David Sprason is now to be investigated by Tory party whips. He told the Mercury he made an "error of judgement" when he watched a movie entitled She Likes It Rough in his county council PC and voluntarily stepped down while the matter is looked into. 
The DVD was found on the CD drive of Coun Sprason's computer in 2007 when he returned it to IT officers at County Hall after it broke. 
The matter came to light after a copy of a confidential letter sent to Coun Sprason by former council monitoring officer Elizabeth McCalla about the DVD was passed anonymously to the Leicester Mercury.
My usual response to such stories is to say that if only councillors bought their own computers, as the rest of us do, then they could watch as much pornography as they like.

However, I was talking to a Labour councillor on another authority today. She explained that councillors are warned that if their own laptop is stolen, and it has confidential data on it, then they will be held legally liable. So it safer to use an encrypted machine paid for by the taxpayer for council business.

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