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Thanet DC Draft Protocol on Blogging 2009

Thanet DC Draft Protocol on Blogging 2009

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Published by Matt Wardman
Thanet District Council draft Protocol on Blogging for Councillors
Thanet District Council draft Protocol on Blogging for Councillors

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Published by: Matt Wardman on Jun 16, 2011
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06/16/2011

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ANNEX
1 ThanetDistrict Council
 
Draft/
 
Blogging Guidance and Protocol
 Contents PageNumber 1. Introduction.........................................................................
2
 2. Blogging & Defamation.......................................................
2 - 4
 3. Blogging and theMembers Codeof Conduct..................
4 - 5
 4. Blogging and thePublicityCode.......................................
5
 5. Protocol on Member Complaints about Blogging...........
5 - 8 
Appendix
 
GuidanceNote on Defamation....................................................
8-15 
Version 1 - Standards Committee - 8 September 2009 
 
Draft/ 
Blogging Guidance and Protocol
 
1. Introduction
 
1.1
 
“Blogging” may conveniently be defined asthe act of authoring, publishing editing orcontributing media content to an interactive website or ‘weblog’. Inthat senseblogging differs fromthe more traditional forms of print media in itsaccessibility,immediacy and interactive capabilities. Consequently, blogging can be an effectivecommunication tool that supportsward councillors in their community leadership roleenabling themto express their viewson the polices and programmes of the Councilor to address the day to day issues affecting their ward or to canvasormobilisesupport for a particular policy option or for party political advantage. 1.2 However, blogging isnot a risk free activity for councillors for a number or reasons.Firstly, aswith any other form of communication media blogging will be subject to thelaws of defamation, thus placing the blogger who either intentionally orinadvertentlypublishesdefamatory content on a weblog or who failsto edit or remove defamatorypostings by third parties, at risk of being the subject of a libel claimand the prospectof having to pay substantial damages. Secondly, if it can be said that by the style orcontent of a weblog a councillor isacting, claiming to act or giving the impression thathe or she isacting asa councillor, then the MembersCode of Conduct will beengaged and will govern that weblog. Thirdly, if at some future date the Council takesthe decision to facilitate and host one or more councillor weblogs, then, in addition tocomplying with the requirementsof the Members Code of Conduct, furtherpublication restrictions will be imposed by the Code of Practice on Local AuthorityPublicity, principally a publicity restriction in the immediate lead up to a national orlocal government election aswell asrestrictions on the use of hosted weblogs forparty political purposes.
2. Blogging & Defamation 
2.1 Defamation isdefined asthe
publication
(communication
)
to
another person
of anoral or written
statement
which:-
 
exposesa person to hatred, ridicule or contempt; or-
 
causesa person be shunned or avoided; or-
 
has the effect of
lowering a persons reputation
in the estimation of right-thinking members of the publicgenerally; or-
 
injuresa person in his/her
office
, profession or trade; or-
 
imputescriminal conduct or criminal associations*-
 
imputesunchastity in a woman*-
 
imputesmental illness or disease* * if these would expose a person to hatred, ridicule or contempt or cause themto be shunned or avoided 2.2 Blogging as a formof publication will be subject to the laws of defamation and anyperson reading a blog in England and Waleswho considersthat content postedabout themsite is defamatory in nature will have the right to bring an action indefamation against the publisher of the statement – and thiswill remain the caseeven if the location of the server holding and storing the allegedly defamatory material
 
isoutside England & Wales. Ifan English Court findson the balance or probabilitiesthat such blog content was indeed defamatory in nature the remedy isan award ofdamages– and these may be substantial. It istherefore important that membersareaware that the Council will not provide financial assistance to a member who issuedin defamation, nor will the Council indemnify any member who hasbeen ordered topay damagesto a third party - even if the defamatory material that gave rise to suchliability was published when the member was acting in an official capacity.2.3
 
Members who publish a weblog may also be liable for defamatory material posted bythird partiesThiswill be the casewhen a members retains full publishing controlover third party content i.e. it cannot appear on the weblog without the membersprior approval - because in such circumstances it isclear that it isthe member, notthe third party who is the publisher of the defamatory material. Moreover, memberswho allow third parties to post content to their weblog without prior editorial approvalwill still risk defamation liability unless regular monitoring of third party content takesplace and defamatory material ispromptly removed. Consequently, it isstronglyadvisable that membersdo not permit anonymous bloggersto post material directlyon their weblog without exercising prior editorial control asthe cloak of anonymity isfrequently used to post defamatory material. Moreover, unlike defamatorystatements or documents made or published at a meeting of the Council, Cabinet ora Committee, the defence of qualified privilege will never apply to defamatory materialpublished on a weblog.2.4
 
Inaddition, although the Council asa corporate body may not itself sue third partiesin defamation, it may be sued in defamation by third parties. Asthe Council actsthrough the agency of members and officers, a member blogging in a defamatorymanner while acting in an official capacity could impose liability on the Council.Members should be aware that if the Council wasordered to pay damages to a thirdparty due the defamatory publicationsof a member it would be entitled to indemnifythe loss to the public purse out of the assets of the member. Indeed, in nearly everycase the Councilsfiduciary duty to the taxpayer would require it to enforce suchrightof indemnity.2.5
 
Members are therefore urged to maintain weblogspublished asa member of ThanetDistrict Council in a responsible manner by using moderate and respectful language,avoiding personal attackson individuals, exercising proper editorial control of thirdparty content and prohibiting the posting of anonymousblogswithout prior editorialsanction.2.6 Given the complexitiesof the law of defamation membersare referred to the discreteguidance attached asan
Appendix.
However, memberswill be expected to obtaintheir own legal advice in the event that defamation proceedingsare instituted againstthem.Relationship to the Code of Conduct 2.7 The publication of defamatory material, particularly defamatory statementsthat areuntrue or can’t be proved, may also constitute a failure to comply with the MembersCode of Conduct. Paragraph 3 (1) of the Code requires members to treat otherswith
respect.
Paragraph 3(2)(d) requiresa member not to do anything whichcompromises or islikely
 
to
compromisetheimpartiality
of an officer. Paragraph 5providesthat a member must not conduct himself in a manner which couldreasonably be regarded asbringing hisoffice or the Council into
disrepute.
Paragraph 6 (a) statesthat a member must not use hisposition asa member

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