It seems a tumbling of small stones has started an avalanche on the blogosphere that has transferred to the real world as a local Labour blogger, Councillor Tristan Osborne finds himself under investigation for breaking the Council's code of conduct.
Cllr Osborne has been accused (by other Twitter users - not me) of bending the truth or "spin" in the past but despite our differences in opinion (there have been a few, including my defence of Tracey Crouch's role over Social Media) his blog does have something to offer and does give a constructive critique from the opposition, although sometimes it does need a bucket of salt and you must bear in mind the intentions of the author.
Still. The basic complaint arose over a repeated accusation about Council of "Fraudulence." The posts themselves were actually about Council tax avoidance by people and so the fraud isn't on the Council's behalf. So the title of the pieces was misleading?
At best it was a poor choice of wording, at worst it was a deliberate term to plant seeds in the minds of people who wouldn't then read the whole article but blissfully walk away thinking the Council committed Fraud - unlikely for the majority of people.
Anyway, John Ward posted the original complaint about these blog posts here, it was picked up by the Medway Messenger in Monday's paper (27th February) and then by Alan W. Collins here. I'm not going to reinvent the wheel by telling you the whole story, Alan and John do a better job of it.
Alan quotes Cllr Osborne as saying;
When Tories are talking about fiscal prudence the evidence stands for itself as this blog has regularly commented upon to much annoyance to those who would rather not allow any form of free speech. Sanctions are the preserve of the desperate; not the strong.
To a degree, I agree. As a Liberal Democrat and a firm believer in the works of Mill et al the freedom of speech and the ability of one person to say what they want IS a fundamental right...
BUT, at the same time you also must be careful not to say everything you want to, as it will offend other people and could encroach on their freedoms.
I myself have had my knuckles firmly but fairly wrapped by our chairman and reminded about what I can and cannot write when it comes to discussing the Medway Libdems, our plans and aims etc... It is in the same way that if I wrote about the Imperial War Museum and how hypothetically I felt it conducted business etc I could lose my job and rightly so.
It is the cross all journalists and that includes us Bloggers, have to bear. I've made assertions and backed down, even written amendments to the original blog. A prime example was the "Fighting Boris Island?" post where I was critical of Medway's MPs for not being there to ask questions on the project only to find out an hour later that they had been in a meeting with the Minister - whoops!!!
The fact is I apologised via Twitter and posted an amendment to the article.
My advice to Tristan would be to keep doing what he's doing, maybe turn it down a notch and maybe re-read or rethink a blog post before you hit "Publish Post" As I tried to explain in the Social Media post the online community, especially those in the Public Eye, need to be careful what they say, write, blog and tweet. People are watching. Me, I'm just a citizen really, just writing my opinions so as long as I don't accuse Councillor Jarrett of being a Giant wasp monster from the planet of Glargon VI with a taste for human flesh sent here to destroy the planet (clearly he isn't...), bring my actual employer into disrepute, or just bold face lie, I am free to state my opinion. As a professional politician, even on the local level the world is full of landmines to step on and there are people waiting for you to stand on them!
At the end of the day, I personally think it is a lot of noise over nothing. Indeed John Ward, who made the original complaint, said that he only wanted Cllr Osborne to get a slapped wrist and reminded of how he should conduct himself but suddenly it has blown out all proportion. I am sure that the board will eventually come back and tell him to be more careful but can see that the posts themselves did not accuse the council directly of Fraud. However the best advice I can give to Cllr Osborne? - An extra read through, rephrasing or save and come back to read it later could save you a lot of crap in the future. You've got an important position as opposition to put out an alternate view and it would be a shame to waste it and I genuinely mean that.