Wednesday, 28 November 2007

AM Bloggers: Blogging - It's the future

An update to an earlier post and what was recorded at committee.

Blogs Aelodau’r Cynulliad / Use of Blog Sites by Members

[41] Jeff Cuthbert: There is a paper from the Commissioner for Standards on this, and we have a private briefing provided by Keith. I have given two television interviews on this today; it seems to have excited the media.

[42] Kirsty Williams: We have not been as popular since we dealt with the Freemasons. [Laughter.]

[43] Jeff Cuthbert: I know. Allegations have been made by certain bloggers that we are doing this because we do not have enough to do. I can assure them that that is not the case. It is important, because the last three complaints to the committee relating to Assembly Members have been in relation to their blog sites, so we would be negligent if we did not draw the conclusion from that that there is a downside to blogs that Members ought to reflect on. We do not want a series of complaints relating to blogs coming to the committee that may be avoidable. I will use this as an opportunity to stress that under no circumstances are we talking about restricting freedom of expression, trying to dissuade the use of new technology or anything of the sort. However, if there are downsides to using blogs that Members ought to be aware of, it is our job to draw those to their attention, and they will then make their own decisions. Members should be made aware of any important considerations. It is recommended that that should probably be done through the issuing of a note.

[44] As I said, we have the commissioner’s paper and Keith’s paper, so I will ask both for any further comments.

[45] Mr Penn: You have covered the point. It is not part of my role to suggest that blogs are not an appropriate way to communicate with the community and constituents. However, there is a track record, as we had in the early days—as Kirsty will remember—on the use of Assembly resources. That was the cause of many complaints and we were certainly proactive then in encouraging Members to understand the rules without restricting their right to use Assembly resources. We simply made them aware of the rules. Interestingly, I have been meeting with new Assembly Members over the past two days and they have all referred to the issue of blogs—they are aware that it is a potential problem and have asked for my guidance. I am not going to give them guidance except to say that they should be cautious, because it is an area of activity that can produce complaints. Therefore, many Members are looking for a bit of guidance, although some will resist it. As you said in your introduction, it would be worth considering issuing a note to help Members to be aware of the issue. That is probably the right course.

[46] Mr Bush: The only thing I wish to add is that my note has drawn attention to the fact that it is not only what people write on their own blogs, but the facility that they give to third parties to say things, that can get them into trouble. Interestingly, there was such a case before the courts in the past month or so, where Sheffield Wednesday Football Club supporters’ club is being sued by the directors of the club, because people posted allegations about financial impropriety on the supporters’ club website. So, the courts are becoming increasingly conscious of this issue.

[47] Obviously, this committee will specifically be concerned with breaches of the code of conduct that may be committed by Members giving a platform to abusive, defamatory or illegal conduct or statements generally. An element of that must be to make it clear that people cannot simply say, ‘I did not put it on my blog; I simply allowed someone else to do that’, and for that to mean that they have a defence.

[48] Brynle Williams: I am going to show my ignorance here, ladies and gentlemen. The bottom line is that you are not subject to any parliamentary privilege on a blog—is that right? If any Member posts anything on a blog, he or she has lost all parliamentary privilege, simply by having that blog.

[49] Mr Bush: Absolutely. Parliamentary or Assembly privilege only attaches to publications that are made under the authority of the Assembly. So, an individual Member’s blog is not covered by that privilege.

[50] Brynle Williams: I am sorry for putting it in such simple terms, Chair, but it has to be clear in my mind. I now know exactly where I want to go and what it is.

[51] Mr Bush: I should add for completeness that a person has a defence, of course, if he or she takes reasonable care to avoid something defamatory being said. So, if it is impossible for you to tell that something has been said—if it is an obscure reference to something that you do not or could not understand—the law will not impose liability on you in that situation. However, as we all know, many comments that are posted onto blogs are clearly defamatory and anyone who permits that to be done does so at his or her own risk.

52] Brynle Williams: So, no politician should have a blog site; it is as simple as that, but we do not live in a simple world.

[53] Kirsty Williams: I think that the committee should agree to the commissioner issuing a note to Members, to make them aware of their responsibilities and the potential pitfalls in this area. It is not to restrict anyone; it is simply to make Members aware of their responsibilities and how blogs may or may not bring them into conflict with the code.

[54] Mr Penn: I think that good organisations use complaints as a source of learning. The message to give is that we have received a number of complaints and we have learnt some lessons from that, which we are passing on to Members for their use and consideration.

[55] Jeff Cuthbert: Absolutely. I think that we should ask Richard and Keith, perhaps together, to prepare a suitable note, based in particular on the powerful statement that Keith has included in his private briefing, which we can then perhaps e-mail. I do not know of any other problems that are coming up, but blogs are being used every day, so the sooner that this is done the better. Perhaps you could prepare something—I do not think that we need to wait until our next meeting—and circulate it to the four Members. We will then take feedback on this. We could perhaps meet should there be any minor tweaking to be done, if you are content. I see that you are; thank you.

All done and dusted with nothing to worry about, and carried out with a minute to spare.


Peter Black 28 November 2007 at 21:55  

52] Brynle Williams: So, no politician should have a blog site; it is as simple as that, but we do not live in a simple world.

Good grief!!

Miss Wagstaff 28 November 2007 at 22:01  

Peter - for a brief moment I bet you thought that you had to shut up shop. :)

Peter Black 28 November 2007 at 23:29  

I am a Liberal. If I am told to shut up shop I automatically redouble my efforts.

Miss Wagstaff 29 November 2007 at 09:52  

Well said Peter.

bethan 29 November 2007 at 11:16  

circulate it to the four members of the committee or the AM's that now blog...which is decreasing by the minute.

Miss Wagstaff 29 November 2007 at 11:38  

Has anyone given up blogging? I know that Alun Cairns hasn't blogged for nearly a month, but assumed that it was down to his workload regarding the budget and being Finance Committee Chair. Peter, Huw, Nick and yourself still seem to be active, and the others never really blogged to the same degree.

Anonymous 29 November 2007 at 13:59  

Anyone who is interested in Mr. Penn should get back copies of Private Eye to read about the time when he was Chief Executive of Bradford. I'm amazed no one in the Assembly has picked up on his past. He was twiggged by the WLGA who withdrew a job offer

Huw Lewis 29 November 2007 at 15:41  

I'm still chipping away, as is my colleague Leighton Andrews.

Miss Wagstaff 29 November 2007 at 21:05  

I had forgotten about Leighton as he tends to play it safe these days.

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