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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April, 2005, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Blogging from East to West
David Reid
By David Reid
Reporter, BBC Click Online

What should we make of blogging? Is it simply the latest internet fad, a truly democratic tool for change or, as some have suggested, a vehicle for mob rule? David Reid finds blogs are rocking the boat both East and West.

Cai Chongguo believes 63 Chinese bloggers have been arrested
Weblogs started off as a personal outpouring, a kind of digital diary.

If you work on the basis that a problem shared is a problem halved, you can share with millions and - who knows?

Now blogs feature everything from cant on cars, opinions on opera, to rants from the politically righteous East and West.

But not everyone is free to say what they think.

Reporters Sans Frontières campaigns for the rights of journalists in China, where the ability to turn a nice phrase in criticism can be frowned on from a height.

In fact, the list of things you cannot talk about in China is almost as long as the things you can, as Cai Chongguo, a Chinese dissident, explains.

"We can't talk about police or military corruption.

"And of course we can't say anything about workers or farmer demonstrations. All that's taboo.

"According to Reporters Sans Frontières, at least 63 bloggers have been arrested, and most of those are publishing articles outside of the country.

"These are people who are really resisting government oppression."


So why are authoritarian governments so worried about blogging?

Blogging is a very, very important tool in terms of freedom of expression
Julien Pain, Reporters Sans Frontières
Perhaps it is because the internet is so virulent.

In the same way that spammers can reach millions of people in an easy way, ideas deemed dangerously democratic by many regimes can spread faster than bacteria on a petri-dish.

Julien Pain, of Reporters Sans Frontières, says: "Blogging is a very, very important tool in terms of freedom of expression.

"Even if you don't know html or how to set up your own website, using a blog without any technical skill you can become a publisher.

"That's why it is so interesting. It is a kind of a revolution now.

"In a country like Iran people couldn't express themselves and now they can, because they are using blogs to tell the world about what they are living and their conditions."

But bloggers are not just getting under the skin of authoritarian regimes.

In the West, particularly in America, they are also making waves among traditional journalists.

These are people working in what right-wing bloggers see as a cosy liberal club, and call MSM or mainstream media.

The term is designed to depict the traditional media as a self-serving branch of the establishment.

The World Editor's Forum particularly resents this and says it whiffs of a political campaign.

Bertrand Pecquerie, of the World Editors Forum, says: "I think we need a barrier, a sort of code of ethics for bloggers.

"There is a political agenda: right-wing bloggers saying that all media are liberal, that they have to attack the New York Times and Washington Post, even if there are differences between the two newspapers."


Bloggers have already caused two high-ranking journalists to lose their jobs.

There are more than six million bloggers world-wide
One, CBS's Dan Rather, retired early after one of his reports was found by bloggers to be wrong.

Though Mr Rather claimed that his early departure was not prompted by the actions of bloggers.

The other, CNN News Executive Eason Jordan, stepped down after a blog reported him as personally suggesting that the US army was targeting journalists in Iraq.

Bertrand Pecquerie says: "Even if he is wrong he has the right to say that. It was an attack against freedom of speech.

"Very well known journalists were obliged to step down because there was a political campaign against them.

"My point is that you cannot accept that. You fact-check, OK, but you cannot oblige someone to step down."

"Voices shrieking in the electronic wilderness" is how one columnist writing in the International Herald described these blogging witch-hunts.

Newsrooms are divided, however, over blogging. Some believe journalists are over-reacting.

James Connell, deputy technology editor of the International Herald Tribune, says: "I would encourage my traditional media colleagues to look upon blogs as a positive thing and not a negative thing.

"OK, a few people have been fired and blunders have been exposed, but this could have happened without blogging.

"Anything that makes debate more inclusive and more lively, and anything that makes it easier for the average person to say: 'hey that's not right' to the entire world, is a positive thing."

'Collective intelligence'

Christophe Labédan, of Blogger Social Media Group, says: "It is not a one-to-many relation, it is what we call a many-to-many relationship.

The bloggers act as fact checkers and we always need fact checkers
Bertrand Pecquerie, World Editors Forum
"You have one or many bloggers on one side and you have readers responding to that.

"The overall result is that the information is probably more digested, more filtered, and more developed than you would get with traditional media."

Bertrand Pecquerie describes it as: "a form of collective intelligence.

"And it is interesting for newspapers or for media in general, because the bloggers act as fact checkers and we always need fact checkers."

Political mileage

It is not just the established or mainstream media that blogging is affecting.

There is something about its reputation for authentic feeling that has got those great manipulators of emotion - politicians - eyeing the blog.

Christophe Labédan says: "It is quite daring in a way and I would say it could be very risky, because obviously they are leaving themselves open to criticism.

"But the public is seeing a more human face of the politician.

"And they're getting a lot of information in return, qualitative information. It is almost as if they are getting market research information."

James Connell adds: "A lot of people are realising that a blog is a way to have a personal relationship with your audience without seeming too commercial.

"Even companies are doing it now. You have major corporations who make available an executive who has a good or personable writing style and he writes a blog about the company.

"Some of them are very frank and honest - and that is part of the strategy - and others are more limited."

Christophe Labédan says: "Blogging is risky if you are a well known person.

"If you are not, it can give a lot of power, because if your blog is interesting and well read suddenly you become almost a public figure."

Blogging is also risky for another reason: the law.

Bloggers have recently fallen foul of trade secrecy laws in the states when three sites revealed details of up-coming Apple products before they were launched.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.



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