Tuesday 21 April 2009

Blogging Ethics

I maybe a little late to the party over Sunder Katwala's statement of progressive blogging ethics but so far, contributions from the far left outside the Labour party have been lacking (previous two penneth worths can be read here, here, and here).

It's been interesting to see how smeargate has led to circuitous rounds of introspection and soul-searching by centre left bloggers. Take a look at the large number of posts on this very topic at Liberal Conspiracy, for example. This is not necessarily a bad thing - it's good that the left are upfront about their values. And the episode has demonstrated to everyone the gulf between the moral vacuum at the heart of New Labour and mainstream left opinion.

However, the statement of progressive blogging, while worthy, is broad to the point of meaninglessness. If you take out the explicit references to the left, there is no reason why some politicos who do not meet the basic criteria of 'progressive' (which I would broadly define as a commitment to equal rights and building a post-capitalist society) could not sign up. I'm sure LibDems and a few thinking Tories wouldn't have fundamental objections putting their name to it, if they were so inclined. That said, the statement is broad for a reason.

Pause for a moment and look at right-wing blogging in this country. It stretches from the Tory centre to the far right fringe, taking in neoliberals, one nation types, "libertarians", UKIP'ers, and so on. The big beasts of this jungle are Iain Dale and Paul Staines, followed by a few more right-wing blogs that pull in sizeable audiences, and then the rest. What tends to unite those who inhabit mainstream right are obsessions with parliamentary tittle-tattle, often hysterical denunciations of ZaNuLiarBore (did you see what they did there?) and "analysis" that serves to advertise their ignorance. The thoughtful Tory is a rare beast indeed.

But this swims with the media stream. What they value as news is a mirror image of what constitutes "newsworthiness". For example, if we return to the schema used here to dissect the Draper vs Staines affair, the homology between Iain Dale's blog content and media punditry has seen him cash in the cultural capital accumulated through blogging for a ubiquitous presence on the 24 hour rolling news media. Just see his itinery for the past couple of weeks. This is the primary reason why right-wing blogging has a higher profile, which appears to give traction to the intellectually lazy argument that the left "lags behind".

Lukacs hit upon something when he said the powers that be cannot see the wood for the trees. While the right concentrates a large and politically influential audience around a very narrow spectrum of interests, progressive blogging is much wider. There is the (centre) left inside and outside Labour. There is the far left. There are bloggers who write from feminist, anti-racist, and LGBT perspectives. It would be churlish to exclude the Greens, who are to all intents and purposes a centre left party. There are strong social democratic elements in the SNP and Plaid Cymru. And last but not least there are trade unionists. The "stars" of progressive blogging may not pull down as many readers as Dale or Guido but they are definitely in the same league. But they are only part of the story. I would stick my neck out and say the combined audience of progressive bloggers is much bigger than that enjoyed by the right.

The challenge is to make this audience more cohesive and a force for political good. For this reason the statement of progressive blogging ethics could not be anything but broad. As such it should be seen as a contribution to the debate on how we go about this and not a settled set of prescriptions.


Robert said...

The question of course is not my values it's the values of the Labour party

Phil said...

I don't think the general thrust is Labour specific, if you excise the explicit references to that party I think, actually, you have something close to a generic code of conduct. I'm thinking about posting more on this once I've finished by John Stuart Mill series to see if there's anything there of use when it comes to blogging ethics.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the sentiment of having a code of ethics, but that code either seemed vague or straightforward.

Jim Jepps said...

Just a thought but if you're a pro-war, pro-privatisation blogger and you can follow a code of ethics (like this one) how ethical does that make you?

Doesn't it just make you one of the more polite reactionaries?

Mind you I'm all for politeness whether from reactionaries or anyone else.