Tag Archives: Censorship

On a Guardian poetry blog, scenes from the crumbling old order

The Clash - Jakub Julian Ziolkowski

Much that is rotten about the social order collapsing in the dying age of print is obvious from what was cut when censors ran amok on – of all things – a supposedly liberal newspaper’s poetry blog, the subject of the last entry here. Readers who never saw the comments hacked out of that discussion have been curious about what they said, so I’m putting up a selection in another part of this site.

The Guardian purge is well worth revisiting, for connoisseurs of pattern recognition. Censorship itself started with religious authorities who had glimpsed the beginning of their end in Gutenberg’s printing press. As hard as it was for their 15th-century ancestors to keep up with the subversive literature of their day, the toil of today’s online censors is even more quixotic. Yet they bash on, against the popular will, the masters that they serve as hopelessly misguided as hierarchs of the past were in insisting on their entitlement to authority – banding together for reinforcement in much the way they did, and deploying similar tactics.

It was the very smallness and insignificance of the group of actors associated with the poetry blog that made watching old patterns play out in the bloodbath so entertaining – not merely horrifying.

Here are seven parallels that stood out:

1. The use of propaganda. After a hundred-odd comments were slashed – by the reckoning of several readers – a supporter of Carol Rumens, the lecturer and Poem-of-the-Week blogger enraged by attacks on academia’s effects on poetry, tried to justify the silencing of her opponents with this nonsensical post:

SCFMH
3 September 2010 3:47PM

An elegantly pruned blog, all excess foliage to the compost. These words of wisdom say it all: […]’Pruning grape vines is a basic principle that any grower, regardless of experience, must understand. Whenever you leave a vine unpruned, the first year you’ll have a massive big crop. Novice growers can feel delighted with their success and wonder what all the pruning fuss is about. […But …] when you actually prune a vine correctly, you remove as much as 95 to 98% of the previous season’s growth. […] The vine can’t produce enough energy to ripen an unregulated crop, and it’ll be poor quality.’

Propaganda is a branch of the art of persuasion. It nearly always relies on specious logic, like other kinds of communication that insult readers’ intelligence. Pruning a grapevine has absolutely nothing in common with suppressing free speech. Snipping leaves and branches serves a single, consistent aim – producing wine of a particular type. Not a bit like the right to free expression, which can serve as many aims as there are people expressing themselves, whose opinions can be diametrically opposed.

2. Defenders of the status quo are uniquely protected from criticism or reprisals – and on the public purse. SCFMH – whose posts are usually more intelligent — has revealed himself elsewhere on the net as Simon M. Hunter. Like Rumens, he appears to teach at a university. There is irony unbound in the reason why SCFMH can support a Rumens capable of calling her employers ‘you bastards’ without producing a single birth certificate blank where a father’s name should be – yet lecturing commenters not sitting in her classroom about their behaviour, and getting a few of them banned from the Guardian‘s site for no more than bracing, playful criticism. (I would place a large bet on no reader of or commenter on her blog’s ever having addressed an employer as she did, in full public view.)

That reason is called ‘tenure’. It was invented, as the Wikipedia says, ‘to guarantee the right to academic freedom: it protects teachers and researchers when they dissent from prevailing opinion, openly disagree with authorities of any sort, …’

Who pays the salaries of most university lecturers? Ah, in Britain and the US, that would be us, the unwashed public. Shouldn’t we be entitled to as least as much freedom as they have to speak out?

3. Blatant hypocrisy goes unchallenged. Like feudal serfs, most readers of the Rumens blog were stopped from objecting to her treatment of dissenting commenters by the censors’ threat: ‘This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.’ (And indeed, all attempts to support Rumens’ critics disappeared.)

4. Defunct, repressive authorities have collaborators, enablers and appeasers. . . among those who should know better, but fear that they stand to lose more than they gain from a revolution. Look at the posts left in place after the grand cull on the morning of September the 3rd and you’ll find fine samples of smug support for the triumphant status quo.

5. No right of appeal for those muzzled and expelled. ….The Guardian’s censors and moderators will only discuss deletions in private, by email. As anyone who can see why transparency is essential to justice knows, that amounts to, ‘We’ll brook no challenges and will suppress all evidence of our repression and mistakes’.

6. The powerful never stoop to an apology. Rumens showed that she understood that something of the kind was required of her when she said vaguely, the following week, ‘Milton may be above criticism, ATF, but , alas, I don’t think I am…’. .. A whole-hearted apology clearly linked to the censorfest might have won her some points. Most of all, she owed – still owes – her critics a respectful discussion of what academia has done to modern poetry; of the wider implications of both her and her featured poet being academics. … And she and the Guardian could have won the undying loyalty of many a reader by conceding that the censorship went too far, and above all, by restoring the censored posts.

7. Futile attempts to carry privileges from the old order into the new. Noting cracks in the joists and foundations of their fortresses, some members of the old guard are naively trying to set the rules for the new order. Anxious to be seen as egalitarian in spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary, Rumens said in the cull’s aftermath that her ‘blog has to have comments – that’s the admirable nature of the beast. It’s not about soloists.’ … Ah, but that’s the beauty of online media: there are no such rules. There are no externally imposed‘ has to have’s, shoulds, or musts. Millions of wonderful blogs on the net have no comments at all, year after year; millions of others have huge and lively comments sections that read like transcripts of beer busts.

… Indeed, the old order changeth … And yet, as an old friend put it, ‘These dictators never learn, do they? They can’t help themselves.’

22 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Criticism, Editors and editing, Poetry, Social trends, The blogosphere, The Guardian

Mysteries of modern poetry: are poets still free spirits?

Off with their heads!

Drawing by John Tenniel

Continuing our inspection of censorship at the Guardian, here’s a surprising suppressor of free speech — that is, if you are used to thinking of poets and other artists as passionate believers in unfettered communication.

Could that honestly be said of Carol Rumens, a published poet, university lecturer and Poem-of-the-Week blogger for that newspaper? Her electronic column — when written by her predecessor in that space — was a quick, open-ended introduction to a poem chosen for discussion by all comers. Under Rumens, the blog has taken on a directive and teacherly tone that some of her readers enjoy.

This week, an extended argument with commenters keen to lift the dead hand of academic analysis from modern poetry – affecting not just its criticism but writing – grew intense. Guardian moderators slashed comments by Rumens’ opponents so wildly and in such quantities that at least one onlooker wondered about the possibility of unhinged combat rage (think My Lai and Green Berets.)

The butchery was justified on the grounds that commenters had been attacking a living poet – the author of this week’s poem, Vona Groarke. Actually – as is clear from careful inspection of the unexpurgated record, there were no personal attacks on the poet, with the exception of a childish remark about her name by someone notoriously infantile. It was the opinions and judgment of Rumens herself that came under fire and, in a scant few posts, the poem itself.

At the end of the cull, Rumens made an ominous announcement in her comments section:

[…] I have emailed the mods via Sarah […] and they will watching the blog extra carefully.

@Einsloth, a delightfully whimsical commenter known to be an accomplished poet himself, was singled out for a special rap on the knuckles. Why? Because he had begun his critique by referring to ‘this precious pearl of a poem’. Comparisons with other samples of acid wit in the annals of literary criticism would reveal that to be mild – as intended.

But Rumens said,

He begins with a sneer. That is NOT doing what we should all do here. [her caps.]

Should. Shouldn’t. … Hmm … Now, this particular Guardian blogger has been a teacher for decades. We must allow her the tics of the more dictatorial members of her profession. But what was a newspaper doing, denying its commenters their right to disagree with her?

This post on acciaccatura is aimed at those moderators and constructed to honour the old maxim, ‘Do as you would be done by.’ I would like to see the Guardian simply highlight all comments it finds questionable – except for libel – and let readers reflect on them and draw their own conclusions. How? Just as I’m setting out these excerpts from the blogs and comments-section remarks of Carol Rumens – neutrally, and in a spirit of enquiry.

LITERARY STYLE

Can a prose style like this, introducing poems, earn poetry more readers – and stimulate new interest in the most graceful literary form?

It’s a strong poem that inhabits a slightly uncharacteristic lyric angle, off-road to the central preoccupations of this septuagenarian poet’s spacious, modernist imagination. Yet I feel it reveals the emotional forces implicit in those preoccupations.

… when the same ideas could have been stated like this:

It’s a strong poem, with an uncharacteristic touch of lyricism, a departure from the usual preoccupations of this septuagenarian modernist. Yet, to me, it reveals the passion behind those preoccupations.

APPROACH TO CRITICISM

Is this a helpful interpretation of a cheerful short poem? Lines that describe an athletic woman diving into the sea?

In an understated way (provided we allow that the poet is the protagonist of her own poem) “Pier” seems a feminist work. Exposed in bathing-togs as she “flip-flops” past the fishermen, the woman here is untroubled about body-image. There’s no shrinking from either visibility or danger. Next time, in fact, she’ll claim even more visibility, and take a bigger risk: she’ll dive from the pier head-first, and she’ll shout. While not as blissfully at one with the environment as her project at first suggested, the speaker embraces the growing sense of power and liberation her risk-taking gains her. We might also infer that, where Church and state attempt to control women’s bodies, rebellious leaps and shouts may be fun but are also more significant politically than they may first appear.

N.B. A controller critical of controlling?

SELF-EXPRESSION

Should a blogger cooperating with censors of free speech be calling her own employers at her university ‘you bastards’ in public – on a Guardian blog? Carol Rumens was gently reprimanded by a kind commenter: shouldn’t she extend the same kind consideration to the impassioned comments of others?

CarolRumens
Comment No. 1200270
July 2 18:41

To my Employers (the National Institute for Excellence in the Creative Industries, University of Bangor)

Nasty
Idiotic
Emetic
Crap
Innit

Sorry but they are trying to get me to do some extra teaching that forces a younger colleague out of a job. Hope you’re reading this, you bastards.

stoneofsilence
Comment No. 1203154
July 4 8:57

Never slag off an employer on
Impulse, especially in forums
Everyone can be a voyeur on
Carol Rumens, Oh Carol Rumens
Ire will misfire- its – hire or fire

Seriously, Carol I think it is best that these matters be resolved using the appropriate channels. If you believe there is a case, then take it to the union or whoever represents you, and take it up with the boards. If it is a Dean or Director who has made this decision then go to the head of the college. If you have already exhausted those channels then you can use this blog to vent off your anger, but not until then. I do not personally think it is useful to make fun of your employer’s strategy which is one that is typical of all those humanities departments that had to reinvent themselves in the 1990’s so as to be more attractive to business. …

Readers, I’ll let you decide …

29 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Editors and editing, Poetry, The Guardian

A prize-winning journalist becomes the latest casualty of free-speech suppression at Guardian News & Media

GNM's expansion and redesign explained to NetMag

GNM's expansion and redesign explained to NetMag

To many if not most readers of this blog, big business is boring. Small business is boring. Management is boring. Journalism is rather boring. . . And I have, by now, written so many posts on the subject of irrational and self-destructive censorship by editors and moderators at Guardian News & Media that that’s almost certainly boring, too.

So why am I posting in this spot about a widely admired Observer columnist on management whose job was axed in a recent round of economy measures at GNM?

Not just because, writing at the top of his form, this writer — Simon Caulkin — is a fine literary essayist whose work has been garlanded with the most coveted awards in his sphere. Anyone who cares about literature should also be outraged because he frequently used that column for incisive criticism of the disregard by large corporations, government departments and other powerful institutions of basic human and cultural values – and frequently, of common sense as well.

For an idea of what I mean there, look at the brief extracts I’m pasting in at the bottom of this blog entry, chosen at random from the dozens of columns by him that I’ve admired over the years. The first is about the vogue for mercantilist window-dressing that includes the pious phrase ‘corporate social responsibility’. The second is about fakery in general becoming business-as-usual for business.

A petition drawn up by one distressed fan of the column was signed by an impressive list of ninety authorities on management from both sides of the Atlantic, and elsewhere, as you’ll see by clicking on the link to this headline: ‘Academics threaten Observer boycott over ousted columnist, as newspaper faces uncertain future with GNM’.

The Observer refused to print the petition – or, as I’ve now given up hoping, reconsider its decision to drop the Caulkin column. Since that newspaper is effectively run by its owner, GNM, that hardly comes as a shock to some of us vanishingly trivial figures, bloggers recently victimised most bizarrely by the group’s managers. It felt like par for the course to read Philip Whiteley, chairman of the Human Capital Forum and the leader of the protest, saying to a journalists’ web site tipped off by Private Eye about this fight:

“I find it shocking that The Observer did not print our letter, given that as a ‘liberal’ paper it would presumably oppose the suppression of dissent and debate in public authorities or major corporations.”

The Observer’s continuation of columns by comedians David Mitchell and Dara O’Briain futher angered him: “Many of the letter’s signatories complain that The Observer is more interested in celebrities than the weighty issues of the day; and in breaking up the content into bite-sized pieces.

“Many formerly loyal readers feel patronised or ignored. It’s interesting to note that titles that have not gone down-market, such as the Financial Times, Economist and Wall Street Journal, and have not been so badly affected by the downturn in advertising,” he said.

“The editors of the Guardian/Observer seem to be insistent upon cheapening content, then wondering why they can’t charge for it any more. They have responded to decline by guaranteeing further decline.

Does the organisation have no imagination whatsoever? Doesn’t it understand that flexibility practically defines the new online media with which it has been grappling? That one option it should surely have tried was an online version of the column – perhaps dedicating a specialised segment of its site to discussions of it? Search engines bring up so many complaints about GNM’s decision to wield the guillotine, in this case, that it’s hard to imagine such an experiment having anything but encouraging results.

At the very least, shouldn’t GNM have run the petition and let readers debate the termination of the column? Not just because we see opportunities for such discussion as a basic right in this age of blogging, of which GNM’s Comment-is-Free site is part, … supposedly a free speech forum — about which it boasts so often and proudly?

What GNM has been emphasising to the world repeatedly about its push into online publishing is that the scale of this drive is massive. Would finding a way to fit a management column into the grand enterprise have been so far beyond the wit of its management?

The shaky marriage of capitalism and virtue
Simon Caulkin, management editor,
The Observer,
Sunday 29 October 2006

… It’s true that the business case for corporate social responsibility (CSR) has never been more forcibly put, or more widely believed, including, genuinely, by company executives.

[…]

‘There is a business case for CSR, but it is much less important or influential than many proponents of civil regulation believe.’ Thus, despite the new conventional wisdom, and earnest endeavours by researchers to prove it, there is no evidence to show that ‘responsible’ companies are more profitable than irresponsible ones, let alone a causal link between the two. Neither, alas, does socially responsible investing produce higher returns than the ordinary variety.

[…]

CSR is shareholder capitalism’s guilty conscience, but it leaves the justification of shareholder primacy intact. And some guilt it can’t assuage: in the late 1990s, one company was highly rated by ethical investment funds and garlanded with environmental awards. Its name was Enron.

Why honesty is the most profitable policy
Simon Caulkin, management editor
Sunday August 5, 2007
The Observer

The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, you may remember, declared that the Gulf War (the first one) took place only on television. […] Far from being just an aberration at the BBC, faking is now revealed to be endemic: it’s the way TV works.

We should hardly be surprised. Faking it – hiding one version of reality with another – is increasingly what management is about; profit is the product of an arbitrage between the company’s image of reality and yours. Consider Penelope Cruz’s eyelashes, or any number of airbrushed model images. Almost all advertising and much media production is faked in some sense.

[…]

Of course, some companies, pleading the pressure of the capital markets, will claim they have no choice but to fake it. Investors don’t care how the numbers are made, only that they are. This is not so much the Jean Baudrillard as the Groucho Marx school of management. As he put it: ‘The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you’ve got it made.’

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Filed under Censorship, The Guardian

How oral culture is turning editors into pterodactyls

I’ve had editors on the brain since this post of alarming‘s last Sunday:

[T]he comment from the modbots chez GU warning us to refrain from mentioning Mr. Swords may well have been a wind-up but parallax has just been deleted […] for mentioning him in connection with this Gaelic bit of verse.

I’m extremely anti the concept of martyrdom – there are two sides to almost everything – but the GU is going about this in a very dumb way. [my highlighting]

Most bloggers seem to be blaming the moderators (and modbots) of The Guardian’s books blog for the flurry of comment-deletions there that have been turning threads into nonsensical hyenas’ dinners. But it’s editors who give mods their marching orders. Trying to understand the curious decisions of these GU übermenschen lately, I’ve been straining to imagine what thoughts might be at the front of their minds.

I’d say it’s a safe bet that the rise of the blogosphere is their biggest worry — that, thanks to competition from bloggers (no, not this site, of course), it isn’t only their pensions that are no longer safe but their salaries in – who can say whether it’s one year from now or five? A thought-fragment from Ishouldapologise, who is also Phil Hall , posted on his site at the weekend, has stayed with me:

If you fill your words with life . . .

And that was related to a thought-stream of his on this site that led him to say, about The Guardian’s arts blogs,

I don’t even start off by reading the article. I read the commenters.

That’s exactly how I travel on that website, now – and I’m sure that ISA and I are representative of many, if not most, other readers there. I love the way not just distinct but quirky, untameable personalities blaze through the comment sections, and am increasingly irritated by the bland, sausage-factory taste and smell of too many above-the-line posts homogenised by the clicking of winged editorial fingers.

I’m sure that there will always be readers for polished and immaculate texts that require exceptionally skilled editors. I’m guessing, though, that there are going to be fewer jobs for editors than there are now, the more we revert to something closer to the oral culture of our most distant ancestors, and retreat from the book-based civilisation of the more recent past.

That’s not my idea. It struck me as exactly right when I came across it here, last December :

. . . Lance Strate, a communications professor at Fordham University and devoted MySpace user [. . .] says he is convinced that the popularity of social networks stems from their appeal to deep-seated, prehistoric patterns of human communication. “We evolved with speech,” he says. “We didn’t evolve with writing.”

The growth of social networks — and the Internet as a whole — stems largely from an outpouring of expression that often feels more like “talking” than writing: blog posts, comments, homemade videos and, lately, an outpouring of epigrammatic one-liners broadcast using services like Twitter and Facebook status updates (usually proving Gertrude Stein’s maxim that “literature is not remarks”).

“If you examine the Web through the lens of orality, you can’t help but see it everywhere,” says Irwin Chen, a design instructor at Parsons who is developing a new course to explore the emergence of oral culture online. “Orality is participatory, interactive, communal and focused on the present. The Web is all of these things.”

For centuries, most members of the ruling class were distinguished by their grammatical and elegant prose in letters and other communications. When necessary, the powerful hired scribes and editors to hide their inability to rise to the highest standards.

No longer. Casual and even sloppy prose is now the badge of power:

[B]osses tend to have the poorest spelling and worst grammar, conveying the sense that they have better things to do with their time.

[. . .] If your e-mail messages are late, unevenly capitalized and sloppy, you could be C.E.O. material. If your e-mail messages are earnest and combative, or if you run them through spell-check before hitting send, then you may be destined for middle management.

No matter what trend the statistics show today, I’d guess that editors everywhere sense a diminishing future demand for their services. The GU books blog editors, driving away bloggers with ever-more unreasonable moderation policies, have been reminding me of drowning people seeking control, who tighten their grip – disastrously — on would-be rescuers.

What most mystifies me is why their subconscious model for the running of the books blog appears to be a school, if not quite a prison – when it should surely be a pub, a scintillating dinner party, . . . a a 17th-century London coffee house, why not? Why should conversations between grown adults require supervision and correction?

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Filed under Censorship, Editors and editing, The Guardian

What did The Guardian censor today?

The BaronCharlus said about two brief mentions of new posts on this site, including Since when was a newspaper strictly a mercantilist tool? that were deleted after less than an hour on The Guardian‘s books blog yesterday,

You’re definitely being censored (assuming your ‘moderated’ post wasn’t just off-topic swearing).

Oh I can swear with the best of them, Baron, and that’s typically when exasperated with myself. . . But I’ll let you and other honourable readers judge that newspaper’s guillotine-tenders for yourselves.

I put this one on a Poster Poems thread, a few minutes after the threadmeister himself posted:

wordnerd7
Nov 21 08, 8:57am (1 minute ago)

TyrannosaurusAlan, this might be a perspective that would get your stamp of approval — not sure . . .
https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/a-poet-of-the-silver-screen/

And I put this one on the thread about Sarah Palin, that instinctive cosmopolitan, who will soon demonstrate the superiority of Alaskan volkspeak to anything in English or American literature of any century:

wordnerd7
Nov 21 08, 9:01am (1 minute ago)

Well, JeanHannah, you’ve certainly earned your windup spurs with this blog — and here’s a post written partly in reply:
https://acacciatura.wordpress.com/2008/11/21/since-when-was-a-newspaper-a-mercantilist-tool/

Since GU bloggers have been inserting links to their sites into comments for at least the year-and-a-half I’ve been posting there, I was hardly doing anything extraordinary.

10 Comments

Filed under Book publishing, Censorship

Since when was a newspaper strictly a mercantilist tool?

No one has yet appeared on this site to object to more than one of us remarking that The Guardian has been behaving as if it’s just a business, with no purpose other than to make a profit.

Does no one remember that it’s a newspaper still supposedly charged with the responsibilities of The Fourth Estate?

Here’s Thomas Carlyle, writing in 1841 (if the Wikipedia date is accurate):

Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,–very momentous to us in these times. Literature is our Parliament too. Printing [. . .] is equivalent to Democracy [. . .]. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures. [my emphases]

The Guardian’s adherence to its charter is monitored by the Scott Trust. This body is supposed to ensure that the paper retains its editorial independence, and it doesn’t absolve it of a duty to show a profit on its operations. The trust’s job is:

[t]o secure the financial and editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity: as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation; remaining faithful to liberal tradition; as a profit-seeking enterprise managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

But in the area that interests us, books, should that mean censoring or discouraging criticism of the exclusively money-oriented book publishing industry – as The Guardian has been doing? And being seemingly oblivious of the abysmal consequences for our culture of allying itself with it, as in George Steiner‘s lament here?

Yesterday, the GU books blog posted yet another coy defence of publishing’s transformation into a mercantilist tool unconcerned with literary quality – which is increasingly treated as a sort of joke, or a ludicrous form of preciousness.

Jean Hannah Edelstein writes entertainingly enough, here, but her conclusion, in which her tone turns serious, is craven — to say the least:

Erica Heller is making the cardinal mistake – as many of the left-leaning intellectual elite who write really good books are apt to do –that the publishing industry are gatekeepers of high culture, that having work published should be an honour granted only to the most gifted writers. This despite the fact that such a model would cause the publishing industry to collapse entirely, because they wouldn’t have any money at all. Of the 411,000 books that were published in the US last year, probably very few, if any, were as groundbreaking and influential as Catch-22, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have been published. I cringe to admit it, but I’m starting to see how left-leaning snobbery like this makes people like Palin refer to places outside New York as “Real America”. [my highlighting]

Jean Hannah’s merry war dance and flailing tomahawk are directed at a pathetic straw man, as she knows perfectly well. No one with half a gram of grey matter is arguing, as she claims, that only ‘the most gifted writers’ should be allowed to publish books (how would one measure talent, for a start?). The trouble is, the industry has been steadily adjusting its modus operandi to put no creative effort or imagination into selling books other than those written by ghost writers on behalf of celebrities — or by easily marketable writers, for many of whom literary aspirations don’t even rank second or third on the list of what matters most.

Yesterday, BaronCharlus said in this spot – not approvingly, as I read him, but with an air of weary resignation:

I’m not sure publishing has ever been much more than commerce and, if it was, it was a rarefied industry for those with private incomes,

But should that also be true of what was once seen as a leading liberal newspaper? Should pleasing book publishers mean deleting comments critical of that industry by bloggers, on The Guardian’s arts site – without apology or explanation? . . . and publishing an endless stream of articles to assist the agendas of powerful book merchants?

And surely publishing, for that matter, could never rightly be treated as just another business when it has always — implicitly — been crucial to the preservation, enrichment, elevation and advancement of our culture?

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Filed under Book publishing, Censorship, The Guardian

Postscript to Censorship at The Guardian (part 2)

There’s been an unfortunate confusion of categories in conversations about posts made to vaporise on the Guardian‘s books blog. For one group of blogging comrades, it’s all about GU banning particular bloggers.

At the risk of boring careful readers of earlier posts witless, by repetition, . . . the problem I’m most disturbed by is rather larger. It has to do with the Guardian’s refusal to explain or discuss its reasons for censoring this post of mine — supporting Margaret Drabble’s criticism of the excessive commercialisation of book publishing, and objecting to secretive deletions of earlier complaints on the same theme. I’ve explained some of my reasons here.

A message to bloggers from a Guardian Community Moderator on October 27 could be partly responsible for the confusion. It didn’t so much as mention my many requests, on the books blog site, for enlightenment about censoring policy. It only stated that the blogging privileges of banned bloggers couldn’t be reinstated — and attempted to make a case for limiting ‘off-topic’ discussions between bloggers that, in practice, are always perfectly okay except when critical of heavy-handed moderation.

This isn’t to say that I have no sympathy for our banned comrades. Or that I agree with the Guardian’s reasons for and methods of locking people out of the site. More than once, I’ve joined other bloggers in protesting about these policies and suggesting that they need reconsideration.

What our separate objections do have in common is (i) the surreptitious and unacknowledged deletion of posts by GU; (ii) the Guardian’s refusal to discuss the evolution of censorship and moderation of the books blog with bloggers, whose posts are the lifeblood of that site.

Trying to stifle criticism of an ever-slicker and more mercantile book publishing business by conflating it with policing bloggers’ behaviour – and crushing all forms of disagreement under the same indiscriminate censor’s boot – seems to have an unfortunate parallel.

Isn’t it rather like the subject of so many recent Guardian blogs and editorials warning us that with the excuse of protecting us from terrorists, the government is vastly over-extending surveillance and stripping us of every last shred of privacy?

Yes that’s a bit of a stretch, on the surface. But in each case, controlling the unusual behaviour of particular individuals (murderous militants, as opposed to nonconformist literary bloggers) is being used as an excuse to deprive entire populations (the British people in one case; a blogging community in the other) of what our Enlightenment culture deems basic rights.. . . Incidentally, I can’t help but wonder whether the Guardian’s curious treatment of Jo Glanville’s article about Western software companies doing the actual work of censorship for repressive governments might have had something to do with this part of John Ozimek’s blog, to which I’ve linked in the last paragraph:

Recently, the home office informed me that “the government has been working … to develop filtering software [to protect] against illegal material that promotes or encourages terrorism”.

. . . Yes I do see that this isn’t the sort of thing we escapist books bloggers discuss ordinarily. I’m keen to move on to more lighthearted conversations on, for instance, Chris Power‘s charming reverie about getting real straw between his teeth. All I’m asking for, for the moment, is proof that the Guardian is going to stop behaving like book publishing’s drooling poodle, apparently not caring a whit about that industry’s wrecking of literary standards and culture.

23 Comments

Filed under Book publishing, Censorship, The Guardian