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The JC's blogs, comments and bans

November 24, 2016 22:57

A number of bloggers have asked in recent posts if I
could explain our policy in relation to moderation, and what – and what not –
we consider acceptable.

Let me try to give some context. We have two aims, which
are in a sense irreconcilable. The tension emerges when we try to reconcile
them.

First, we want to encourage as many people as possible to
set up their own blogs and to use the JC’s site as a forum for debate and
discussion – in fact for whatever purpose people want.

The same goes for comments. We want people to feel that
they can leave comments and engage in debate.

It’s in the nature of blogging that posts, and comments,
can be somewhat blunt. That’s fine. We want passion to be stirred.

Sometimes, however, a line is crossed. Some commenters go
too far, and are so abusive and intemperate that they make sites unpleasant for
others to read, let alone join in.  The
JC does not ‘publish’ any of the blogs on our site, other than those written by
JC staff. We simply host them.  That’s
the law, and it’s very important that that is clear.

But as host, we are not willing to allow our facilities
to be abused. That’s why we have banned some commenters and bloggers.

In the end, it’s up to us at the JC to decide when that
line is crossed. Others might disagree with our view, but we host the blogs and
it’s our decision. No one is guaranteed a right to post on a JC blog – or
anywhere else, for that matter.

Others might not agree with such decisions. That’s their
right. But it is our right – and duty - to make the decision.

That brings me to the second aim, where more difficult
issues arise, and the tension sometimes emerges.

We are a Jewish newspaper. In a sea of media bias against
Israel,
our newspaper provides a space where the facts can be reported and commented on
without that bias. Yes, we make sure that the paper is balanced – we have, for
instance, a Palestinian stringer in Gaza who is
a regular contributor - but our stance is clear: we are proud to be an
independent voice for Israel.

Blogging is not – cannot be – the same. We could,
perhaps, impose some sort of theoretical rule that all contributors must be
‘pro-Israel’, and not allow any anti-Israel comments on pieces. Clearly, that
is what many of our posters think, and it’s understandable. How, they ask,
could the Jewish Chronicle, of all hosts, allow anti-Israel comments on its
blog?

But I believe that imposing such a rule would undermine
one of the core purposes of blogging – to foster debate. It would also be
preposterous: Who is to define the criteria? Is urging talks with Hamas of
itself anti-Israel? Should we allow the BNP to blog because it claims to
support Israel?

It is impossible to make hard and fast rules that would
work. In the end, we have to take the decision as to what is, and what is not,
an acceptable viewpoint for us to host on our site. You won’t always agree with
us, but we try to remain committed to the principle of allowing people who want
to set up a blog to do so, and allowing people who wants to comment to do so.

Up to a point. Where an individual or group is, in our
view, not offering constructive and thoughtful criticism of Israel but
out-and-out anti-Israel bile, then we will refuse to host it.

Similarly, when we consider them to be far from the terms
of civilised debate, then we will not allow them to take advantage of the JC’s
facilities.

We recently banned a blogger from the ISM for just that
reason – as we would a BNP member or a supporter of terrorism or violence
against Israel.
Similarly, when we consider a blogger is using antisemitic language or
arguments which use antisemitic themes, we will bar them.

But much as I and many other JC readers consider members
of a group such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians to be contemptible, and
view with disgust their support for a boycott, I do not consider that barring
them from posting is a sensible response. Better, surely, to destroy their
arguments in debate.

Others may not like this approach, and may feel that the
JC’s blog pages should be reserved solely for pro-Israel posters, but I hope I
have explained our rationale in taking a different view. That means that there
will be bloggers who are anti-Israel.

Some of our bloggers are angered by this, feeling that it
is not right for a Jewish newspaper to allow any anti-Israel posts.

I have two points in response. First, the JC’s blogging
facilities are not the same as the paper, either legally, technically or in
spirit. As editor of the paper, I am entirely responsible for what appears in
the paper. As a company, neither the JC nor any of its staff are in any way
responsible for what is written by bloggers and commenters. We simply throw
open our facilities for you to use. That’s the essence of the internet and of
blogging and what differentiates it from newspaper publishing.

But there is a more fundamental point. Many JC readers –
me included – get extremely exercised by sites such as the Guardian’s Comment
is Free. In the end, it’s their property to do with as they wish, and if they
wish to be biased against Israel,
it’s their right in a free society.

But we can’t on the one hand urge them to allow other
points of view, and then argue that blogs and comments hosted on the JC’s url
should be exclusively pro-Israel.

When anti-Israel posts are published, the point of
comments is to subject them to proper scrutiny. That is the sensible approach.

As a gesture, after this post we have decided to wipe the
slate clean. From today, those who have been banned for incivility and abuse
will be allowed again to post. (We will maintain our bans on those bloggers
whose comments and posts we consider crossed the line of anti-Israel
commentary.)

But we will make no apology for cracking down, as before,
on commenters and bloggers who we consider are abusing the freedom our
facilities offer them.  If those who have
been banned carry on as before, they will be banned again.

But I want to end on a positive note. Our website has
gone from strength to strength in recent months. Our hits have increased
exponentially, and we are confident that we’ll reach our initial target of a
million a month. Blogging is at the centre of that, so we want to do everything
we can to make the blogs as welcoming and important a read as they can be. That
they are almost always just that it thanks to you, our bloggers and commenters.

November 24, 2016 22:57

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