Saturday, December 07, 2002

Normally we'd hold this back for pop papers, but...

Amanda Platell's piece on Popbitch needs to be dealt with right now, we think. For those of you who haven't been bothered by her rather tiresome existence, Platty was part of William Hague's crack team who helped him turn a Labour landslide into another Labour landslide through their rather useless Tory election campaign last time round.

Suddenly aware that she'd thrown her weight behind the biggest bunch of political weebles since Disraeli took a holiday and left his dog Footy in charge for a fortnight, she then flogged a snippy fly on the wall documentary to the telly going "Ha ha, look how rubbish the Tories are", in the vain hope we might forget that the most rubbish thing they did was hire her to do the press work for them.

Now she writes the sort of mediawatch column in the New Statesman which would embarrass a fourteen year old Livejournal writer for its lack of understanding and startling insight. Okay, we don't like her; you may have got that. Anyway, like a whale deciding to try some KFC instead of plankton, for a change she's writing about an internet issue; like that whale, she gets metaphorically stuck in the doorway and thrashes about a bit.

The cyber-gossip website Popbitch - it's proud motto 'Unfounded rumour peddled as truth' - has set the newspaper industry back years

Um... "proud motto"? actually, Amanda, that's a joke. You see? Popbitch doesn't actually pretend to be a news source, and doesn't take itself all that seriously. If you don't get that, you might be about to make yourself look a bit of a wally.
The industry has worked hard at self-regulation...

Really? By appointing a bunch of newspaper editors to pass judgement on other editors? That would account for the quality and restraint shown by the British press, then. It makes you wonder exactly how deep the shit dumped on the Diana butler would have been but for this admirable self-restraint. And have you seen The Sport, Amanda? Those pictures of Sara Cox with her tits out that the Sunday People sneaked through the bushes didn't actually exist, then?
... but the dilemma over whether to print what has now become known as the Beckham rumour, the very same that first appeared on Popbitch, has thrown the whole process badly off course

Amanda, sweetie, the rumour did appear on the messageboard at The Bitch, but not first - it actually appeared initially on a Manchester United message board. About ten seconds research would have told you that. But anyway, let's get back to the issue - surely if a newspaper is admirable and self-regulated, then there's no dilemma at all. "Do we print an obviously false story alledging misconduct by a celebrity?" I'm sorry, I can't see any dilemma there at all, even if you add "because someone said it on the internet." Every day, thousands of things are said about people on message boards all over the world, and yet somehow there's no great panic attack at editorial conferences as a result - does David Yelland really stride into Wapping and say "Lads, I've just seen on Usenet that Christina only fucks black guys and always takes it up the ass - do we run this?" Palpable nonsense. If the tabloids want to run gossip as fact, they will, but lets not shed any tears that the poor little things are worrying about self-regulation. "Curse the internet - we wouldn't be in this position if they'd never said anything. We could just get back to buying up stories from close friends of Princess Diana and the former Mrs. Barrymore and not need to worry about the pledges we signed about invasion of privacy."
The tabloids had a field day, either running the rumour - claiming it was utterly untrue - or running the story of the rumour without the details, which in many ways is worse

Well, on the later point we agree with you. We notice you - um - run the story of the rumour without the details, Amanda. Now, tell us, how is it Popbitch's fault that the tabloids are so lazy they get most of their stuff of the web these days? Have you heard the phrase "shooting the messenger", Amanda?
My phone rang constantly with people wanting to know the truth about the Beckhams.

How thrilling your life must be. Let's hope your friends don't ever get a computer with web access, or indeed half a life, that your phone may never be stilled.
One former newspaper executive shared with me his rather sinister speculations about the rumour. (I will spare you the details)

Yawn. It's not going to be forces at work in the country again, is it? While we're namedropping, my newsagent filmed a cameo for Hollyoaks this week. Don't we lead thrilling, thrilling lives, Amanda?
No newspaper would have run the story unless it had appeared on the website, so Popbitch has enabled some newspapers to get perilously close to breaking their own codes and others to succumb to their baser instincts

What on earth are you talking about? Do you realise how ridiculous you sound? "A big boy did it first, Mummy." Any newspaper that runs a story simply because it's on the internet really ought to think seriously about closing itself down; and since when did the british tabloids need the excuse of "it's on a website" to invade someone else's privacy? If the press can't contain themselves faced with a bit of nonesense on a usually unreliable website, the problem with self-regulation is shown clearly, but it's not Popbitch that's set them back years - it's the paper's editors, honey. You might as well try and blame Sara Cox for sunbathing topless, or Paul Burrell for getting arrested.
Although the laws of libel for the internet are the same as for newspapers, they are much more difficult to enforce

You don't really know this for certain, do you? In fact, as far as we can tell, it's a lot easier to enforce libel laws on the internet. You might have noticed, for example, that popbitch pulled all references to beckham - as they have earlier to leslie and clarkson - without any need for any solicitors to get themselves into a court room. References to the Beckham story disappeared as soon as they appeared. Whereas a libel, once its in a paper, sits there, unchangable in that edition.
Tracing the source of a mumour can be almost impossible...

I'm assuming, Amanda, you're aware that libel law applies to anyone repeating a libel, and so "tracing the source" isn't entirely neccesary, as you can bring action against the owner of the site where the libel is published rather than the person who posted the libel in the first place
... and, if found, there is little chance of them having the fund to fight a legal action.

Have I missed a major change in the defamation laws in this country? Is it now impossible to launch a legal action against someone on the grounds that they can't fund their defence? Or is Platell just typing words more or less at random?
Closing a website is a lot easier than closing a paper

Eh? It's not, you know. Rupert Murdoch closed Today by calling everyone in and saying "This is your last edition", didn't he? And, um, if its easy to close a website, doesn't that make it easy to enforce the laws of libel rather than "much more difficult"?
A few thousand pounds later, the culprits are up and smearing again in cyberspace with the same audience of 20 million people

A few thousand pounds? Amanda, is that how much you think it costs to establish a website? And surely the "culprits" would be, by then, under a court pledge not to repeat the libel, so they'd be in the same position as if a newspaper had reprinted a libel. (Of course, The Sun is just one paper who's abused the spirit of self-regulation to do just that - maybe running the "You're Still A Lying Trucker" story alongside the judgment of the regulators that the original "You Lying Trucker" story was Popbitch's fault too.) And to accuse - as you appear - Popbitch of running a smear campaign against David Beckham is just hysterical nonsense. As for the "audience of 20 Million", what is that figure? Where did it come from? Are you really suggesting the average website has a larger audience than Coronation Street?
We may just have witnessed the death of privacy

Let's hope there was a tabloid cameraman snuck into the hospital room to capture the moment - you know, like with Russell Harty and Gordon Kaye?
It is ironic that the website's founder, as revealed in the daily Mirror, is Neil Stevenson, editor of the Face magazine...

No, that's not ironic. Unless you're Alanis Morrisette. And "revealed" - how did the Mirror find out that deep dark secret? Reading The Face's press release when he was appointed? Looking at the news story on mediaguardian? We simply don't know.
... a publication that regularly features the stars Popbitch smears.

Again, "smears" is histrionic, and more importantly - have you read either the Face or Popbitch? Because for all the Face's taking of its eye off the ball, it doesn't feature former Spice Girls, footballers or pierced pop stars who make up Popbitch's stock-in-trade. Again, a spot of research before launching into print could help.
Talk of a celebrity boycott of the magazine comes as no surprise

And, to cap it all, after berating the press for running groundless, unsourced rumours, you end on one yourself. Hats off.

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