This is going to be a difficult blog post to write and I don’t quite know where to begin. I wasn’t going to write this, but I realize that I need to write this, I need to get these thoughts out of my head and onto pen and paper so to speak as a way of trying to deal with what’s happened to me.
It’s my therapy. My way of coping.
Sticks and stones may break my bones…. but words? Actually, they really do hurt.
So, perhaps I should start with what other people have been saying about me?
- http://nbrightside.com/blog/2011/02/09/sarah-baskervilles-hidden-agenda – “Idiot“, “Hidden Agenda“, “prolong her 15 minutes of fame“
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2011/feb/08/pcc-twitter “The woman who put the twit in Twitter“
- I’ve also been in receipt of several abusive e-mails and tweets (that I won’t repeat here), from individuals that I have never had the pleasure of conversing with, yet deem it socially acceptable to openly attack someone whom they have never met and don’t actually know the true facts of the situation. I can only conclude that they have decided to base their “opinion & commentary” about me upon what has been said in the media regarding this “incident”. And what has been said leaves a lot to be desired.
It is abundantly clear to me that no matter I say, blog or tweet can be taken, republished, twisted and corrupted by those that wish to do so. The most innocent of phrases can be taken out of context, sneered and jeered at, implications made etc, in order to sell more newspapers or generate more hits on their websites.
Why? Apparently because I happen to be a Civil Servant, and I do fear for the hundreds of thousands of other Public Sector workers who are now at risk of the same “treatment” by the UK media to spin such stories in the tabloids.
Whilst this may give the editor the small satisfaction of writing an article which generates a lot of traffic, I do not think that for one minute they have actually thought, or indeed care about the unintended effects or consequences of what publishing, emailing or tweeting about that individual does.
I have never once sought to “prolong my 15 minutes of fame” as one blogger put it. I submitted my complaint to the Press Complaints Commission back in November when all of this first happened. It is my right to do so. I had been wronged in the Press and this was the “official” channel I could use to try and get an apology. I’m entitled to do so.
I had no idea that it would take so long for a “ruling” (for want of a better word) to happen, which effectively re-opened the whole mess again for me. Yes, I’ve had journalists bombarding me again through Twitter and emails, but fortunately this time not on my front doorstep – a traumatic experience to say the least.
I am more than happy to stay in the background, quietly engaging away with other colleagues, civil servants, friends, family, coders, geeks, open data people having discussions, nurturing friendships and conversations about life, the universe, X-factor and dare I say even the odd work conversation? It happens, and I defy anyone to say that they haven’t done the same either.
By staying in the background I don’t mean being quiet and NOT using social media, because that’s where a lot of people engage. It’s where I engage. I will continue to use Social Media *in a personal capacity* to converse with my friends, my on-line friends, my other friends who are scattered around the UK and the Globe. I simply do not understand why the conversations I have with friends using my own personal equipment (not my employers) are subject to national coverage, sneering and slandering in the national press.
I’m not newsworthy. Unless of course I won the lottery, or maybe started dating some famous celebrity then perhaps there would have been something there to write about there. But I lead a fairly normal average life, have an average job, had an average family up bringing. Hardly newsworthy.
I’m not Perfect.
I’ve never said that I was, and I’m certainly no angel.
- I’m overweight
- I probably drink too much
- I probably eat all the wrong foods
- I’m 35, on my way to being the wrong side of my 30’s
- I lose my temper too easily
- I probably swear far too much
- I wear my heart on my sleeve
- Sometimes the I say things before the brain has engaged because I’m a fairly reactive person. It’s only on reflection and once I’ve had time to calm down that I think “oh bugger…arse.”
I’m a Public Sector worker. Not a slave to the media to be jeered at with no means to redress. When I became a Civil Servant I did not sign away my rights with respect to Freedom of Thought, Speech and Expression of Opinion (and that includes political opinions as well).
I am 100% impartial and dedicated when it comes to my work. I’m still at work, trying to deliver against a very, very challenging and stressful environment. However, I am entitled to have my own personal opinions and express them. If you have read my blog posts and tweets you will have seen this, and I have attempted to keep well within the Civil Service Code of Conduct. I’m sure that you can appreciate that there’s not a lot more I can say about work in this respect, but as like all other civil servants, by performance is constantly monitored by my line management and if there were to be issues, it would be dealt with by my management. Not the National Press.
So, suffice to say you can guess that it’s been a rather stressful time because of all of this. For those that do know me better, they will know that the last 6 months of my life have been hell. Absolute. hell.
Last August, I got a phone call. It’s a phone call that we all dread. That someone you care deeply for has fallen seriously ill. He’d collapsed with a brain haemorrhage and was in the High Dependency Unit. The days and weeks blurred into one another, spent at work during the day in the office, then late afternoons and evenings up at his bedside.
I think I’d been living on automatic pilot during that entire period and was so glad when he was finally discharged weeks later. It’s been slow progress, dealing with the tiredness, mood swings, medication, physiotherapy exercises, memory recall etc. It’s only now, near 6 months later that he’s finally returned back to work – but all of that was incredibly stressful, and there’s still further recovery to go and more big life changing decisions to make.
Not long after he was discharged from hospital I got another dreaded phone call. My Grandad had just died http://baskers.posterous.com/my-grandad, although he was a grand old age this was totally unexpected and had come like a bolt from the blue.
I was struggling in dealing with all the raw emotions, grief, loss and stresses of these two tragic events in my life, but I was managing to keep my head above the water. I am still going to work, still managing my team, delivering against my objectives – even managing to deal with the implications of the political decisions by the new coalition government to slash the Administration Budgets of all Central Government Departments by a third. This is directly effecting me as every single person where I work is now having to reapply for their grade, and if they are successful they will then be reallocated to a new “role” within the new, smaller and slimmer Department.
I hope that you understand why this is an incredibly stressful time for all that work in Government who are going through this. There are whole swathes of people taking voluntary redundancy, resigning, retiring and for those that are left there is the uncertainty of the job selection process and whether or not you are going to be served your 90 day notice. Our office environment is changing beyond any recognition. Friendships and teams are being torn apart. It’s all extremely stressful and we are all affected by stress in different ways.
For some, they will internalise until such a time they can hold it in no longer and they simply snap. Some will “snap” in the office environment, others at home or when traveling. It’s already happened. Good, hard working people that I know are suffering and are struggling to cope.
Just as I am.
I thought I was coping, I thought I was doing well. But I’m also at breaking point. Right in the middle of all of this, with all that is happening around me I have also had to deal with the unwanted and unmerited press intrusion into my life. My name has been published all over the tabloids, the media, the internet. I’ve even had journalists from America and Australia contacting me for quotes and commentary. This is pushing me to tipping point and I’m now suffering from the classic symptoms of stress.
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of motivation
- Fragile emotional state
I can feel the cold icy grip of depression coming over me, the razor sharp shards of it’s nails digging into my brain and beginning to paralyse my very thoughts, my hopes and dreams. It’s as if a great dark ice cloud has descended over me and is slowly rooting me to the spot. Bit by bit, day by day it takes that bit longer to get out of bed, trying not to burst into tears each morning, to get to work, to try and feel motivated and inspired to lead my team. I can feel the angry dark cloud of depression seeping into my bones and I don’t like it.
I cope with my depression as best as I can, by engaging with people on and offline. It’s helped me immensely over these troublesome times and it helps me keep the faith that there are some genuinely nice people out there, which I’ve also had the great honour to meet some of them, and hope to meet many more.
Despite all the nastyness I’ve encountered, it warmed my heart to find that there were many people (some I’d met, the majority I’d never met) who jumped to my defense with the first press intrusion into my life back in November (here’s where you can see a collection of blog posts regarding that – http://annkempster.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/a-history-of-the-defense/)
Making the complaint
Understandably I was immensely upset by all of this. I lodged a formal complaint to the PCC using the only thing I could which is the PCC Code of Practice http://www.pcc.org.uk/cop/practice.html which sets out exactly what I can or can’t lodge a complaint against a newspaper. It is narrowed down into 16 specific areas to complain about which are further narrowed down into sub categories that further restrict you in what you can legitimately lodge a complaint about.
You’ll note that defamation of character, slander, the republication of my social media content or it being a “non-story” aren’t actually covered as reasons to complain, thus I had to try and word my complaint in a way that slotted into the limited categories available to me.
I don’t have a massive salary or swathes of personal assistants, lawyers, journalists to spend hours researching these clauses, sub clauses etc to put together the perfect complaint. When this was all kicked
off that weekend in November I lodged a complaint there and then on what I thought fitted best into their categories. I will be the first to hold my hand up and say that the privacy angle wasn’t the strongest of defenses, but what was I to do? At that point in time I had journalists turning up at my front door, phoning me, emailing me. My Twitterstream, email and phone went into meltdown. I felt like I was under siege.
Why my social media content was republished nationally, subject to spin and comment like that is anyone’s guess.
I do not live in the public limelight, nor do I actively court the media circus. I do not consider myself to be fair game. I am a private citizen and have rights as such not to have my life plastered across the tabloids. If however I had done something that merited press intrusion (murder, fame, terrorism, espionage etc) then I would consider myself to be “fair game”… however merely owning a blog and Twitter account, being an active user of Social Media does not make one “fair game”. Publishing on the internet/social media platforms is not the same as being published in the national press.
If the Daily Mail was unhappy that Civil Servants are afforded the protections of the Civil Service Code and Articles 8, 9 and 10 as set out in schedule 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 then I would suggest that writing a slanderous character assassination article about me is hardly the way to go about having an *informed* debate on the personal use of Social Media by Civil Servants. One wonders if the Daily Mail will be lobbying next for Civil Servants to be barred from voting at election time because this could be construed as to expressing a political opinion……
Unlike the celebrities of this country I can’t afford to take the newspapers to court for what’s been written about me and had to put my faith in self regulation of the media industry through the PCC. Thus, I submitted my complaint to the only authority there was and waited for the outcome.
The Press Complaints Commission ruling
So, with the publication of the PCC ruling, there were others out there who instead of jumping on the bandwagon with the megaphone journalism who have dug a little deeper to find the deeper story underneath the tabloid smears. These aren’t my words, these are the words of people that I don’t know (apart from Terence who I’ve only met twice at large social gatherings), and who have no vested interested in my job or what I do.
- http://shkspr.mobi/blog/index.php/2011/02/baskers/ – “the victim of a vicious and petty bullying campaign in two national newspapers“
- http://bluebridgeim.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-privacy-and-unprotected-tweets.html “tabloid bullying“
- http://themediablog.typepad.com/the-media-blog/2011/02/twitter-pcc-privacy.html “Victim of lazy journalism“
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/journalism/blog/2011/02/twitter-monster.shtml “And those papers printed it as ‘news’, not because it deserved to be in a national paper but because they could. And that’s the real issue. ….But we still haven’t got our heads around this distinction in the new, networked universe. Around the idea that just because (almost) everything is knowable, everything isn’t news. And just because we can, doesn’t mean we should“
“It seems to us that there is a good argument that there was no proper journalistic justification for writing about Ms Baskerville’s tweets………The fact that social media allows the newspapers to obtain this kind of information does not convert it into something which is “newsworthy”.
You see, I don’t consider myself newsworthy and nor do a lot of others. This was a total non-story and should never have been published in the first place. Publishing Social Media content isn’t news. It’s lazy journalism. It’s not a story, unless you try and spin it into a story. I was only made newsworthy because the Daily Mail decided to concoct a story about me because of some tenuous link to Sally Bercow (I’ve only met her a couple of times), and my use of Social Media more importantly, Twitter. And I think we all know the Daily Mail’s stance on those two subjects.
It has been pointed out that at the time I hadn’t locked down my Twitter stream, or locked my photo’s, or locked my blog. When I first started using Social Media I had thought about doing all of that, but it got me thinking about how do I want to live my life? Did I want to hide away? To be afraid to have an opinion? How is that in living with the ethos of Social Media? Is it wrong to openly engage and converse with people?
Perhaps I was naive, as has been pointed out in several blog posts that I didn’t hide away. What sort of society are we to become if we are to hide our thoughts and emotions away from one another? Bit by bit, we seemed to be moving closer to the “Big Brother” society where our very own thoughts are being used against us in the frenzied hype of the media circus. I do hope this trend can be reversed.
So there I was, unwittingly held up in the limelight to highlight everything that was wrong with the Public Sector and Social Media, with a sideswipe at the Bercows. This then became the “story”, thus reasonably justifiable for other papers to print it and add to it, according to the industry. And now, because of the PCC ruling it’s looking like it’s open season on any other public sector worker who’s caught in the grasp of the sweaty nicotine stained fingers of the press.
The problem with the PCC
Of course, you are going to think that I’m going to have an axe to grind here. And yes, you are right. I’ve put my faith in the PCC only to be badly let down. From my personal experience of the PCC, I feel that it isn’t independent at all and that the industry is failing to self regulate to the angst and cost of normal individuals.
There are several issues I have with the PCC;
- The PCC is entirely dependent on it’s funding from the newspaper and magazine industry, although it claims to be independent. You are hardly going to bite the hand than feeds you are you?
- The PCC is staffed by many people, journalists and editors from the newspaper industry, although it claims to still be able to make independent rulings. Conflict of interest?
- The PCC doesn’t actually represent the entire newspaper and magazine industry. Thus if you wish to make a complaint concerning a paper that isn’t in the PCC remit, you can’t and would probably have to go to court instead. Hardly making “justice” accessible to those who can’t afford the costs.
- The PCC doesn’t actually listen to it’s own guidance, As http://inforrm.wordpress.com/about/put it:
“newspapers cannot automatically justify the use of material simply on the basis that it has appeared previously on the internet and is, therefore, ‘publicly available’. Even if an individual has not taken steps to protect their personal information (by hiding it behind strict privacy settings), newspapers will have to consider whether republication of the material shows respect for the individual’s privacy”.
By treating “public availability” of tweets as a “key consideration” the PCC appears to have given little weight to its own guidance. More importantly, the adjudications do not address the question as to whether the republication “showed respect” for Ms Baskerville’s privacy. The “public interest”identified relates to “the wisdom of civil servants using social media platforms” rather than the specific content of the messages. In other words, even on the basis of the PCC’s own guidance, the adjudications are questionable.”
So, where to now?
Well, what’s done is done with me. I’ve already been plastered across the tabloids, world press and internet. As much as I hope that this doesn’t happen again to anyone else I don’t hold out much hope given the recent PCC ruling. I can’t afford to take this to court so I have to live with what has been done to me, my character and reputation.
But if anything good is to come out of this, then perhaps ;
- a truly independent Press Complaints Commission that is independently funded – perhaps via a tax/levy on the industry?
- A body that ALL newspapers and magazines are accountable to, not just those that currently subscribe to the current PCC Code of Practice
- A new Code of Practice that takes into account a far wider remit than the current one does
- A body that is staffed independently from the newspaper and magazine industry
I don’t make the policy, as they say in the old jokes “That’s not my Department love”.
But something has to be done.
Because the next “victim” of this social media and public sector hatred campaign by the press may not be so lucky to have the support network that I had. This “bullying” has to stop before it does actually causes someone some serious mental or physical damage. There is only so much you can put up with. And as it stands, clearly the PCC in it’s current form isn’t in the position to be protecting their rights.
Should I stay or Should I go?
I’ve yet to return to Twitter, I know I said earlier on in this blog post that I would continue to use Social Media but as I get to the end of this post I’m now questioning whether or not I will.
Because I’m tired of all of this. I’m tired of the sneers, the jokes, the poking and pointing at my expense, just because I dared have an opinion and express my thoughts. I’m tired of receiving unsolicited emails from people who think they can sit in judgement over me because of what they’ve read in the newspapers.
I’m tired of having to second, triple, quadruple guess anything I say in case it could be used against me in the national press. That’s no way to live a life.
I will miss everyone immensely, but I’m mentally and emotionally shattered by what’s happened and am struggling to escape out of the depths of depression that I now find myself in, close to tears as I write this blog post. I don’t want to have to go through that entire vile experience ever again.
I realise it could be said that by me posting this blog post, I’m indeed courting the media (although I don’t think that I actually have that many subscribers to my blog) and deserve everything I get but that isn’t my intention at all. I’m writing this as a way of processing my thoughts on the matter and trying to work through my feelings about this. There have been many, many posts written about me and I have haven’t publicly commented on any of them. But I’ve never written about this, until now. And it’s something I have to do and get it out of my system if not for my own sanity. Whether I will write again is another matter. I honestly don’t know if I ever will. Who knows, perhaps I will feel better after some sleep and perhaps I’ll feel a little less vulnerable about the whole thing.
Or, perhaps Quentin Letts has won at the end of the day.
One less voice in the wilderness?