Earlier this month, a post-Gutenberg entry on the Leveson Inquiry had the honour of being put in the Twitter ‘favourites’ queue of Hans Peter Lehofer – an administrative law judge and former head of the Austrian Communications Authority, which decides the rules for broadcasting in that country.
No, we did not interpret our inclusion in his list as a gold star of approval. He almost certainly uses the ‘favourites’ button on the glorified e-notice-board the way we do – as an online bookmark. Never mind if, exactly like us — making the same point to #Leveson the other day — he doubts that merely passing laws affecting the way the press works can guarantee our getting what we need, which is ‘broadcasting’ representative of society as a whole.
What did please us is that Herr Lehofer’s interest bears out our forecast in May that Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations on press regulation would influence the debate about media policy around the world. Austria is lucky to have such a curious and progressive rule-maker. Anyone in Britain worrying about bloggers and citizen-journalists being treated as mere pawns in the chess game the Inquiry is being forced to play with politicians in the final weeks before it delivers its report is bound to be heartened by this judge’s grasp of the size of the leap in thinking about media that we need from the judiciary. He has a blog of his own, and also blogs collaboratively on more than one site.
Gerard Hogan, another intelligently au courant judge — a specialist in constitutional law at Ireland’s High Court — recently accorded the blogosphere a right traditionally reserved for professional journalists. In what the International Forum for Responsible Media (INFORRM) reckons as ‘the first Irish judgment to consider the position of bloggers,’ the court allowed Mike Garde, the blogger-director of an Irish organisation helping people brainwashed by cults, to protect his sources of information.
Hogan J’s judgment read, in part:
Part of the problem here is that the traditional distinction between journalists and laypeople has broken down in recent decades … Mr. Garde’s activities fall squarely within the “education of public opinion” envisaged by Article 40.6.1. A person who blogs on an internet site can just as readily constitute an “organ of public opinion” … [T]here is a high constitutional value in ensuring that his right to voice these views in relation to the actions of religious cults is protected.
How much longer, we wonder, will it take Elie Wiesel – twice quoted on this blog in recent weeks, and cited yet again, below – to join the unmediated conversations in the blogosphere? He has used every other medium in his extraordinary record of ‘bearing witness’ to the murder, torture and terrorisation of European Jews in World War II – after surviving Auschwitz, where he was dispatched as a 15 year-old.
His age today, which is 83, hardly explains his failure to start a blog. Last spring, The New York Times ran an inspiring profile of a Chinese human rights activist, 105 at the time, using a blog to broadcast his thoughts. This astonishing Zhou Youguang – still blogging at 106, if the net is to be believed — is the inventor of the Pinyin or ‘Romanised’ system for converting Chinese sounds into the English alphabet. For his transmissions on the net,
Mr. Zhou … uses a typewriter that converts Pinyin into characters to deliver ever-more pointed critiques of the party in essays and on his as-yet-uncensored blog.
The explanation for the deep hooks sunk into post-Gutenberg’s brain by Elie Wiesel’s short 2010 novel, The Sonderberg Case, is the startling correspondence between this author’s reflections on the role of the press in society, and the actual debate over the Leveson Inquiry. He also uses the trial at the heart of his story to weigh the relative worth of the work of lawyers and journalists – most engagingly.
Our final excerpt from the book is about a fight at a dinner party in New York. It seems uncannily prescient about the precise arguments being used in real life by the media’s old guard – here presented by the main character, Yedidyah, a journalist, and the hostess, Emilie, his only ally – as opposed to those of the public, on whose behalf Yedidyah’s wife Alika, an actress, spars victoriously.
There seems no doubt whatsoever about which side the author is on:
We talk about journalism. Is it useful to a democratic society? Honest or corrupt like everything else? A reliable source of information, a necessary tool for forming an opinion? Emilie and I stand up for the media, primarily because they represent an indispensable element in protecting individual and collective liberties. Alika is our most violent opponent. I’ve rarely seen her as fierce in her opinions. For her, even the best daily papers disgrace their readers. And she goes on to quote and appropriate the remark of a big British press baron concerning a well-known magazine. ‘It isn’t what it used to be … and actually it never was.’ And this applies to all publications, she tries to convince us, with no exceptions. Alex agrees with her. So do their guests. Emilie and I valiantly stand up to them. Alika flares up.
‘How can the two of you stick up for all those miserable newspapers and weeklies? I’m prepared to think you don’t read them! Even the cultural pages are over-politicized. As for the literary supplements, what do they tell us except ‘long live the buddy-buddy network’? What kind of moral rectitude is that? And what about the right to truth?’
Calm and resolute, Emilie pursues her counterattack and cites the facts: Can we really suspect such and such a writer, at such and such a newspaper, of dishonesty? And can we honestly question the integrity of such and such a professor, who writes in such and such a journal?’
Without the slightest compunction, Alika answers with a shrug of the shoulders. ‘Yes we can. And we should.’
‘In other words,’ Emilie says, ‘they’re all guilty until proven innocent, is that it?’
‘No,’ Alika concedes. ‘I wouldn’t go that far. But I maintain that as a reader, I have the right to wonder about their conception of ethics.’
… Happy birthday, tomorrow, Elie Wiesel.