Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First They Came for the Economists

We don't do jackboots in Ireland; we do lawsuits instead. The outcome, at least in the initial stages, is still the same: the suppression of dissent. Yesterday, The Irish Economy blog deleted a post referring to a story by UCD economist Morgan Kelly in the Irish Times 'on legal advice'.

Even the Irish Times' Business Blog was moved to comment on the deletion, suggesting that it was time to Stand Up for Your Right to Be An Economist - with unfavourable comparisons to Latvia. They lean more towards the jackboot end of the spectrum there it seems.

On the one hand this is an extremely trivial affair (who cares about another post on another blog and all that navel gazing?); on the other, the incident strikes at the heart of academic freedom (as it is mainly academic economists who contribute to the blog). Ireland is still one of the freest countries in the world: but in these turbulent times it is even more incumbent on all of us who love freedom (Right and Left) to be ever more vigilant against the dissent-suppressing powers of the state and its acolytes.

Before it goes any further.

5 comments:

  1. Gerard, I think you're overreacting to this.

    As you know running a blog is something that a person has to fit into a really busy schedule and is not part of any core activity for most people who do so. I cant speak for whoever took it down but taking down the post seemed to me more of a statement of "couldnt be bothered and havent got the time to go checking whether there is a legal issue" rather than any real statement of fear that the government was going to come knocking at the door.

    The issue is definitely, in my view, not one of fear of heat for disseminating opinions. The issue is that a blog cannot devote the same amount of resources as a newspaper in checking the factual accuracy of someone's statements and thus it is perfectly reasonable to take down a post if there is some dispute on factual accuracy as there has been in the last few days concerning the article. Indeed the times itself published an amendment today. If blogs had to start getting into this type of stuff then it would be impossible time-wise to run one.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0122/1232474673030.html

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  2. Liam, I understand that a voluntary effort like The Irish Economy blog cannot be run with the same hands on style of a newspaper. I appreciate that the contributors have plenty of other things to be doing - but feel it is important nevertheless to invest the time and energy that they do in the blog (with considerable success I might add as a regular reader).

    If the decision to 'delete' was simply a case of someone leaving a comment on the post about Morgan Kelly's Irish Times article that was either libellous or just plain offensive to one or more individuals then I would expect/respect the writer(s) deleting the comment.

    I've done it myself on occasions - mostly in relation to 'spam-ments' rather than real comments.

    But deleting the entire post (which seemed fairly innocuous when I read it) seems like an 'overreaction' in itself.

    My annoyance with the decision to delete was not with the contributors to the blog per se, but with the idea of a third party (presumably a solicitor or similar) 'advising' the contributors to take down the entire post.

    Look, I realise this is all a storm in a teacup in the scheme of things: but I just think we need to be very careful about 'self-censorship' at a time when the country is being so badly led.

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  3. Sounds more like a commercial decision dressed up as a legal decision ... Oh for a truly free press, eh?

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  4. worth thinking about whether there is a set of principles for deletion on blogs. I have deleted things from our blog for the following reasons

    - spam

    - drivel (admittedly a somewhat subjective reason)

    - arguments getting too heated (rare but has happened)

    for the one I run, its pretty difficult to get into tricky territory but for something like a blog that is dealing with current and very contentious events with posts often being made by people not completely unconnected to those events, its a delicate balance that the moderator will have to strike.

    ReplyDelete

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