Tuesday, October 05, 2010

In the noise of #Groggate, don't forget those silenced

I've been tracking the discussion on the outing of Greg Jericho as author of the Grog's Gamut blog by The Australian journalist James Massola.

In the last seven days there have been over 100 posts, articles and interviews and nearly 2,000 tweets on the topic - discussing freedom of speech, anonymity, media power and public interest.

Few have mentioned one of the first claims made by The Australian;
"The prolific blogger shows a strong preference for the ALP, despite the Public Service code of conduct stating that "the APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner"."
Grog disputed this in Spartacus no more, his final post last Monday before falling silent.

Whether Grog's voice remains silent is up to him and his employer - his Department and behind that the Australian Public Service. It is not up to the media or bloggers.

Across the world many talented public servants operate blogs. There are firm roots in other western democracies such as Britain, Canada, the US and even New Zealand.

Groggate is a challenge not only to broad freedom of speech in Australia - potentially silencing anyone who believes their employers may have concerns over their words - but also challenges the public service to reconsider what Australian public servants may and may not do.

There are hundreds of thousands of intelligent and educated professionals who choose to work for Commonwealth, State and local governments across Australia. They serve the governments of the day diligently, as mature adults most are fully capable of separating their work performance from their personal views (and they all vote).

How many of these intelligent and potentially influential voices will now choose to remain silent rather than face the scrutiny - both public and internal - that Grog is facing?

If Grog continues writing, it will be at the permission of his employer, potentially under greater internal and external scrutiny.

If he stops writing - due to personal reasons or the level of controversy - a thousand other public servants may not develop the courage to start.

How much public sector experience and diversity has been lost to our public debates due to Grog's outing?

We'll never know.


  1. Great post Craig.

    If Greg is forced into blogging-silence, what sort of precedent is this setting for the rest of the blogoshpere. Especially those whose day job is working for Governments (of all sizes shapes and persuasions) and even large multinationals.

    As a matter of principal Greg should be allowed to continue to Blog. Perhaps a movement could be started to promote this view?

  2. It also shows that journalists really don't grasp the nature of public service work.

    Public servants have a responsibility to be impartial in the course of their work, not their life. Public servants are allowed to hold political views, even belong to political parties. They have the same rights as the rest of the population. They just have to remain impartial in the delivery of their work, and not to comment on issues on which they have inside knowledge (which Greg Jericho made clear he avoided). Whether Grog's Gamut leaned to the ALP or not is irrelevant.

    The sad thing is I'm sure it has already put many public servants off writing about anything even vaguely related to public life - from one of the most informed cohorts in the country.

  3. Craig, the fact that his voice is now dependant on his employers agreement is I suspect what was aimed for.

    It is deeply concerning that the net effect is that as a public servant you can only have a view on public matters with approval, even when they are outside the realms of the work you do.

    If this becomes the expectation or the requirement, then we as a society are worse off, and a society where only "approved" voices may speak is one that I feel very uncomfortable about living in.

  4. It is deeply concerning that the net effect is that as a public servant you can only have a view on public matters with approval, even when they are outside the realms of the work you do

  5. I suspect those who wanted Grog to be silent would assume most public servants to be Labor-leaning.

    And thus would be happy to have them also remain silent.