fredag 14 december 2012

Guardian web site censorship

I notice that I am now being "pre-moderated" on the Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF) website; they deleted my comments in a developing sub-thread and half an hour after posting, a comment on the housing crisis had still not appeared.

The comment that was deleted was critical about the way that the CiF format has had, by reducing the quality of the comments and discussion to one-liners, and preventing comprehensive deconstruction of the original articles, the quality of which is often poor. Regular contributors such as Polly Toynbee and Will Hutton have long since ceased to say anything of value and are not a credit to the newspaper.

As I do not live in the UK, from my overseas perspective, there is a different take on what may and may not be said and how it may be said. I raised the possibility that the stifling of debate may have been intentional. Viewed from the outside, it is evident that the channels of discussion in Britain are nowhere near as open as they are in Scandinavia, so the notion is by no means far-fetched. In fact, I was not the first person to raise it on CiF and others in my circle have made the same point. Thus, this action tends to reinforce the suspicion.

At one time the quality of CiF comments was often better than the original article. In newspapers such as the Telegraph, which have always been threaded, there is little serious in-depth discussion. If that was a model, then the effect should have been predictable.

Whether deliberate or not, the effect is the same. When comment is no longer free, the result is to damage the reputation of the forum. Ultimately, visitors will stop coming and the quality of the comments will decline, especially the kind of visitors to whom it is worth addressing. I have noticed already that some of the more thoughtful commentators have already dropped off, including people that I normally disagree with but provide a stimulus to considered response.

There is a further issue: the dire state of the social and economic fabric of the UK. The mainstream political parties have nothing to offer, as was reflected in the low turnouts at recent by-elections. When democratic processes are failing, what happens next? The only thing that can get the country moving in the right direction will be the emergence of fresh ideas and ways of thinking, and for that, good and open public forums are necessary. In its previous form, CiF was performing an important public function which it can no longer do.

The comments that I have made over the years have always been courteous, well-considered, literate, and usually in a certain depth - features which the new format precludes. If people such as myself are deterred from contributing, it is a loss to CiF and the wider community.

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