Stepneygate, sensationalism and censorship

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Silverstone, 2007, 5An interesting post went up on ITV-F1’s forum on Monday. Reading between the lines, the gist of it was, “speculating what Nigel Stepney and Mike Coughlan might have done is not allowed on this board”:

As you will appreciate, for legal reasons, we cannot allow user’s posts to include any speculation, potentially libelous or defamatory comments regarding F1 investigations.

If users continue to submit inappropriate posts on these issues they risk having a post/thread removed and a possible suspension of forum rights.

ITV are well within their rights to run their forum as they see fit. They’re doing it because they’re afraid of becoming the next Mumsnet.

Mumsnet was taken to court earlier this year by Gina Ford, a parenting expert who was unhappy with the stinging denunciations written by Mumsnet forum posters of her controversial approaches to child rearing.

ITV may be trying to limit discussion of ‘Stepneygate’ on their pages because they don’t want to get sued. But others like Pitpass editor Chris Balfe think speculation about the affair has gotten entirely out of hand. In an editorial today beneath a large photograph of a (mercifully clean) toilet bowl he wrote:

The ongoing espionage/sabotage saga has allowed some ‘journalists’ and ‘web publishers’ the run amok, to trample on the basic rules of journalism, and as a result we are all the losers.

I am absolutely appalled to read headlines such as: “Race fans believe McLaren guilty” and “Did McLaren pay Stepney?” Talk about trial by media.

(You’ll find what I believe may be the stories he’s talking about here and here.)

As Balfe correctly points out, the scandal is a serious matter. And at present the outside world knows very little about what has actually happened.

Because of this it’s inevitable that there will be speculation both in the established media and on forums. I expect the quality media to give me informed insight and I expect the forums to be hotbeds of gossip.

And I think suing a forum host because of idle gossip is pathetic, and trying to censor it in the first place is hardly any better.

Anyway, long story short, I couldn’t do a sensationalist poll about who you think is guilty because my poll facility thing is broken.

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