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Defend Your Right

Here in New Zealand we have a well known blogger, Cameron Slater, who publishes the “Whale Oil Beef Hooked” blog. It’s a fairly standard right-wing political blog with all the usual stuff you would expect: shock and horror at every minor indiscretion of those on the left; conspiracy theories involving issues the right are in denial about, such as climate change; and a general admiration for those on the political right and for the standard conservative values.

I’m not saying that everything Slater does is worthless because of his very obvious bias, but you really do have to really be aware that anything he says should be the subject of a great deal of skepticism.

On the positive side, he does like to reveal secrets which those involved don’t want known, and he has become embroiled in various legal problems because of this. So I do have to commend him on having the courage to do what he thinks is right even when the legal system tries to stop him.

Slater is currently in trouble over a post about a local business person who took objection to a blog entry he made quite a while back. A judge has made a ruling requiring him to reveal the source of the information he used to write the blog post. The information seems to have come from a hard disk which was allegedly stolen from the business person’s office. Slater didn’t steal it (assuming it was stolen at all) but maybe his source did or might know something about it.

The original post has been removed but thanks to the magic of the internet it is easy enough to retrieve and it seems to be some sort of trivia regarding disagreements over a local pizza franchise called Hell Pizza. This company has gained a reputation recently for treating its franchisees poorly and it does seem like their business practices are a bit questionable.

I didn’t get into reading the details of the problem because, to be perfectly honest, the issues involved in a business of this sort really should be of little interest to any intelligent person. However the bigger issue is more interesting: does the media have the right to disclose information of this sort while protecting its sources, and is a blogger part of the media anyway?

I’m a great fan of whistleblowers as should be obvious from some past blog posts I have done on people like Edward Snowden. But the information revealed this way must be of true public interest and in most cases that would involve government or corporate wrongdoing. I’m not sure whether a disagreement over some pizza shops really belongs in this category.

Regarding the second question: I think clearly some bloggers have become part of the media community and are increasingly important now that traditional news agencies have been downsized and are often hesitant to publish material which might upset current or potential corporate advertisers.

So Slater does talk a load of crap most of the time but I support his right to do that. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (and yes, this is often misattributed to Voltaire but it was actually written in her biography of him).

But if it turns out that Slater was wrong about the information he published, or he arranged for the disk to be stolen, or there is no genuine public interest component in the situation, then I think there should be some sort of consequences. We need public information to be made freely available but we need privacy too. That’s a difficult balance to get right.

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