By Martin Bright
November 16, 2009
Following our story on the spat between Ed Husain and Melanie Phillips, Cif Watch revealed that the moderator on the Guardian's Comment is Free website known as BellaM , is Alan Rusbridger's daughter, Isabella Mackie (Rusbridger's wife is the journalist Lindsay Mackie). Just to remind ourselves, Bella M (whose job is to act as an independent moderator of other people's comments) wrote of the JC columnist: "I imagine she's like a character in Little Britain who is violently sick every time she hears the words 'black' or 'gay'. Except for Melanie, the word would be 'Muslim'." Nice.
I was teaching a group of journalism students when the Cif Watch scoop broke of the true identity of BellaM and I mused to them and later on Twitter that it was all was quite depressing.
I was subsequently contacted by a senior member of Guardian management who assured me that Ms Mackie was interviewed rigorously and won the job as a moderator three years ago because she was the best candidate. I was also told that it was an old story that Isabella Mackie worked at the Guardian (although perhaps not that she felt it appropriate to parade her partisan views as the anonymous BellaM).
At this point it is perhaps worth printing in full the statement given to the Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday as we went to press:
"Staff at the Guardian are actively encouraged to engage with users and curate discussions in threads across the whole site, not only on Comment is Free. The well-understood convention is that staff posting in threads do so in a personal capacity and are permitted to express their own opinions; 'below-the-line' engagement in an opinion forum is a different role, and the expectation of impartiality that would apply to the regular work of reporters, editors and moderators does not necessarily pertain. When posting in threads, staff cannot be expected to be automatons sticking to leader lines in this informal context of online debate.
"However, they are expected to abide by the site-wide 'talk policy', as any user is; and over and above that, to be mindful that, as they are clearly identified in threads as 'staff', they should uphold a high standard of civility and avoid any behaviour that might bring the Guardian's good name into disrepute.
"In this particular case, the staff member concerned was reminded of these guidelines; but no disciplinary action was judged appropriate or necessary."
So that's the official line at present. I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions.