Liverpool City Council has joined China in blocking a website that offends the political elite. As the blogosphere comes to local government, should other councils follow?
Liverpool-evil-cabal is a polemic aimed at damaging the reputation of former chief executive Sir David Henshaw and two of his officers. According to this blogger conspiracy lurks at every turn, with breathless talk of 'blackmail' and an 'attempted coup'. In his hands the falling out of a leader and chief executive becomes the stuff of a le Carré novel.
It can be traumatic for individuals caught in this digital crossfire to watch their integrity being impugned with little means of defence. While LGC staff are required to be fair and truthful, and we are committed to accepting Press Complaints Commission rulings (we're 2-0 up so far), bloggers operate with little restraint.
Publication requires no more than a half-heard rumour, a prejudicial interpretation or a fabrication. The PCC is powerless and retribution through the courts is elusive; determining who is publishing and even which country they are publishing from is complex.
But blocking access is a flawed strategy. It generates publicity for the blocked site - the Liverpool blog claims a surge in hits around the time council staff arrive home - and is a hopeless attempt to keep the tide out.
In time, just as councils are now seen through the distorting prism of local newspapers, so blogs will become part of the authority's public face. You can embrace them, as Microsoft did with a blogging employee, attack them or learn to live with them. But blogs are now increasingly seen as legitimate expressions of free speech, if not repositories of fact and fairness. In the internet age blocking them will only harm a council's reputation.