I used to be left on my own with the foreign pages, late at night on The South China Morning Post. I found it terrifying to write stuff straight into the paper and publish, with no editor or lawyer to look at it first. Not so much because of spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, but in case I libelled someone and they sued. Bloggers do this without a second thought and they don’t have a newspaper to pay legal fees or damages.
Countless bloggers and tweeters have libelled me, blind to the irony of criticising the excesses of the Murdoch press in terms so defamatory they would not make it into the Daily Star. One blogger casually referred to ”a smash and grab raid by The Sunday Times on Gordon Brown’s bank account”, conflating (legal) blagging with armed robbery. Others talk about Murdoch’s Mafia or criminal empire and ‘HMP Wapping’, libelling not just the editorial staff, but secretaries, cooks, cleaners, hairdressers and security guards.
Some bloggers libelled Ken Livingstone recently because they were not aware that tax avoidance (legal) and tax evasion (illegal) are not the same thing.
Even if nobody bothers to sue, this carelessness makes the blogger look unprofessional and undermines their argument. This is one advantage of the dead tree press and its editorial process; the protection of fact-checking subs and lawyers. If you are blogging and don’t know the difference between blagging and armed robbery, or tax avoidance and tax evasion, you need to find out.