Legal Blogging and Freedom of Expression
My last blog post resulted in a legal journalist threatening me with legal action for doing nothing more than republishing their own public tweet on the topic I was blogging about. It seemed extraordinary for a legal journalist to be seeking to suppress freedom of expression by a legal blogger.
I thought it might be useful, in the circumstances, to highlight some quotes by others on freedom of expression:-
1. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the things they read (or watch, or listen to, or taste, or whatever). They’re also entitled to express them online.
2. Sometimes those opinions will be ones you don’t like.
3. Sometimes those opinions won’t be very nice.
4. The people expressing those may be (but are not always) assholes.
5. However, if your solution to this “problem” is to vex, annoy, threaten or harrass them, you are almost certainly a bigger asshole.
6. You may also be twelve.
7. You are not responsible for anyone else’s actions or karma, but you are responsible for your own.
8. So leave them alone and go about your own life.
― John Scalzi
If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
― Noam Chomsky
Two things form the bedrock of any open society — freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.
― Salman Rushdie
Society needs to open its collective mind to all ideas and ideologies. It needs to give its people the chance to listen to the opinions of others, and then examine them critically instead of rejecting them prematurely. Such a creative dialogue based on positive critical thinking can enhance and develop ideas.
― Raif Badawi
My freedom to say ‘No’ directly underscores your freedom to say ‘Yes’. RESPECT my freedom to PROTECT your freedom.
― Mamur Mustapha
Every one has the right to refute any opinion. But no one has the right to prevent its expression.
― Periyar E. V. Ramasamy
But ‘I worked hard on this’ doesn’t exempt you from criticism. Those harsh reviews aren’t about anyone being out to get me. It’s not an Authors vs. Reviewers thing. It’s people taking the time to express their opinions because they care about this stuff.
― Jim C. Hines
It is also worth remembering that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
I will continue, as I have done since 1 January 2011, to provide critical thought on matters concerning the past, present and future practice of law and will not be daunted by threats from those that consider themselves to be “a real journalist” rather than a mere blogger who happens to be a lawyer. There is more to be written on that topic and I will return, at a later date, with my detailed thoughts on Legal Journalism v Legal Blogging.
Update 29 September 2019: Thought this tweet apt to add to this particular post. Not sure whether Nir Golan had this post or not in mind when he tweeted it:-
@BrianInkster @TheTimeBlawg this one made me think of you for some reason… https://t.co/FnApRCEk0U
— Nir Golan (@lawheroez) September 29, 2019
Reactions on Social Media
There have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-
Adrian Samuel (Solicitor Director at SO Legal Limited):
Keep doing your thing Brian Inkster
Thanks for your support Adrian. I will do so.
Ben Rigby (Editor in Chief, CDR, at Global Legal Group):
I’m a legal journalist. I support your stance unequivocally. Both blogging and journalism have useful and valuable places in our shared industry. There is room for debate about the nuance, style, emphasis, and depth of either, as well as bias and commercial self-interest. Threats of libel should be the last resort, and even then, there are defences. Even so, critical analysis isn’t unwelcome, unless it’s malicious or unfair. None of which I find here. I would say, however, that editing and self-editing in journalism, is difficult but such criticisms could be avoided – which might have rendered your critical analysis otiose.
Thanks Ben. Great points. What I often find surprising is the editing by certain legal journalists that goes on when they receive comments on their websites or on LinkedIn. I have seen legitimate comments made by me left unapproved and thus not visible on the web and also LinkedIn comments deleted. I know of others who have suffered the same fate. Those legal ‘journalists’ do not want to hear or let their readers see any other voice but their own. Can that ever be “real journalism”?
Paul Ryan (Data Intefration, Analytics and Process Automation):
Well any article that gets in quotes from Chomsky and Rushdie is certainly an achievement let alone one about Legal blogging!
In a legal tech industry of diminishing numbers of very large suppliers, where sales managers pass as consultants and independent consultants are often tied to the big suppliers there’s some important truths here. It’s genuinely very difficult to get honest open assessment of suppliers and their products.
Thanks Paul. Where legal journalists remain in the pay of those suppliers it will, naturally, be very difficult to get honest open assessments of those suppliers and their products.
On the whole we get press releases from the suppliers republished with no critical comment applied. Of course those press releases will be based and one sided.
Also those writing about the tech have more likely than not never even used it. If you see a review of the latest iPhone or Samsung Note 10+ or iPad or Surface it will be put through its paces by the reviewer and all its important attributes commented on (critically if necessary). I have yet to see that properly and regularly happen in #LegalTech.
Nir Golan (General Counsel & Head of Global Legal Ops @ Attenti):
Brian I would like to add two quotes which guide me and i think are relevant to this critical debate:
״what stands in the way, becomes the way” – Marcus Orelius
“It’s only when diverse perspectives are included, respected, and valued that we can start to get a full picture of the world, who we serve, what they need, and how to successfully meet people where they are”
Continue doing what you’re doing. Your brave inclusive discussions make us all better (whether we’d like to admit it or not).
Thanks Nir. Good quotes. Out of interest do you know the source of the second quote?
Don’t worry I will continue doing what I have been doing at The Time Blawg since I started blogging there on 1 January 2011. If you look at very early posts you will see me calling out legal journalists for reporting, without any critical thought, on Twitter ranking tables (based on followers) that were just very plainly and obviously wrong. At least one of those was just a straight copying over of a press release without any checking involved.
8+ years later and, unfortunately, in certain quarters things haven’t really changed very much.
If no one challenged the misinformation put out there lawyers and others would potentially end up in a very misinformed state. Lawyers, by nature, want and should receive both sides of a story. They are then perfectly capable of deciding which one they favour. I know and accept that it won’t always be one put forward by me.
Brian Inkster agree wholeheartedly. The second quote is from Brene Brown. She’s awesome. A great critical humane thinker.
Thanks Nir. I’ll need to delve into her work. I see there is plenty of it at https://brenebrown.com/
Brian Inkster yes. She’s great.
Kevin van Tonder (I help drive innovation, value and change in legal leams. @designsthelaw):
I saw that threat and thought it was bizarre. There was a mention of neutrality. I would prefer objectivity because neutrality leads to poorly informed readers.
Thanks Kevin. Agreed. See also my comments on here on that point to Nir Golan. The ironic thing is that the journalist claims to be vendor neutral and not aligned in any way to any vendor yet got very annoyed when one of their tweets was reproduced in a blog post calling out a particular vendor for alleged bad practices. Their worry being that the vendor in question wouldn’t employ them again. How can that be being vendor neutral?!
Quddus Pourshafie (Accompanying the Legal Industry to pivot into the Future of Law):
Unfortunate situation Brian, I’m just glad I figured out who mr thetimeblawg is 🔥
I’m glad Quddus that you now know who is in this particular Tardis 😉
Aron Solomon (President at Mission Watch Company):
Thanks for your work. Great image too. It has been a super odd legal innovation week.
Thanks for your support Aron. It was indeed a super odd legal innovation week. Let’s hope that the new week heralds in some common sense.
Benjamin White (Founder at Crafty Counsel):
Thank you for the work that you do
Thanks Benjamin. Much appreciated in the face of the legal journalist who told me that “hardly anyone thinks [I’m] helping or much needed”. Words of support on here and on Twitter both openly and in private would suggest otherwise.
And on Twitter the following comments have been made:-
Neil Rose @LF_Neil:
Makes a change from journalists being threatened, I guess – I’ve got one woman on my tail who is claiming damages of £1bn for every day a particular article remains online. I’m not looking forward to the final bill, I can tell you, although think of the Avios points!
Alexander Low @alexander_low:
Just read through your original blog. Wow.
A case study in how not to do social media!
Janders Dean @jandersdean:
We were threatened too – they used the ‘don’t you know who I am?’ card when not given exclusive access to one of our events years ago.
They’ve spent past few years attempting to bully, trash our name in the market, and play the ‘poor me’ card – all because we didn’t kowtow.
Artificial Moggy @ArtificialMoggy:
Ed Wilson @oliver_twiste:
I don’t want to give more airtime to this sorry tale than is warranted but I walked away from that feeling pretty soiled having to plainly point out the clear irony in a journalist taking issue with what you’re doing and calling you out on expertise of all things. Just 🤷🏼♂️
Daniel Hoadley @DanHLawReporter:
Without any disrespect to anyone taking the time to write about interesting things happening in the legal technology space, I’m a little bit baffled by the rate at which temperatures seem to be rising in “#legaltech journalism”
Artificial Moggy @ArtificialMoggy:
I can sympathise as I know her cats and how legal journalists in general behave 😉
Kevin O’Keefe @kevinokeefe posted about:
Legal Blogging Community, What’s Entailed? My Thoughts Outlined at ‘Real Lawyers.’ https://buff.ly/2zcWyu2
In response and linking to this blog post I tweeted:
It can be hard as a blawger when “real” legal ‘journalists’ try to break that community up: – Thoughts?
Only as hard as you make it. The impact someone has on you is solely determined by you.
Not entirely the case. If they come out unexpectedly from the left side and you have to spend time and effort countering their false allegations. Although I believe the truth and common sense will always overcome the noise they make.
But my point was more about building a blogging legal community when those that should be integral to it don’t want to be part of it and see themselves as superior and above mere blawgers. But I guess the community is better off without them if that is the attitude they take.
The web is an open discussion. A blog community empowers and inspires legal professionals who blog or want to blog.
Agreed. I have been empowered and inspired since I started blogging on 1 January 2011 http://thetimeblawg.com/2011/01/01/a-new-blawg-materialises/ … and then again elsewhere on 18 March 2013 http://croftinglawblog.com/the-time-is-ripe-for-a-crofting-law-blog/ … But you may still be missing my point. Look out for my future post on Legal Blogging v Legal Journalism.