Wednesday 15 April 2009

Right to Campaign: Right to Protest

Three cheers for the New York Fund Manager who took those shots of the unprovoked assault on Mr Tomlinson. It is great that new technology exposes the wrong doing of those whose job it is to protect us. Quis custodiet custodiens. And now we have the new development yesterday of the You Tube pictures of a woman being beaten by a police officer. It is clear that there were other such incidents as well from the accumulating news stories.The age of the mobile phone camera and video , and the use of Web 2.0 enables us all to keep a watch on the activities of our State. An inverse surveillance society.indeed.

For 20 years I was a Youth Court Magistrate in South London, so I have no illusions about the police or Prison Officers. Many of them are great public servants. And let's remember what other countries have to put up with! But let's not pretend its all great with our friends in blue. And when you put into play the psychology of crowds then it can be lethal. Literally so in this instance. And it is telling that the death of Mr Tomlinson has brought to light many other instances of police violence to innocent bystanders and even journalists covering the events.To publicise these stories is not about being anti police. The real problem is that these stories act to undermine public trust in our institutions . The police cannot do their job effectively if they lose public trust . That is why these stories are so damaging . That is why the blogs that uncovered the malicious behaviour of advisers in No 10 are so damaging . If people increasingly believe the State is not to be trusted then we damage our democratic institutions. It is interesting that whilst the State is losing trust , increasingly the third sector is seen as the vehicle for campaigns as well as delivery of public services. As is so clear , the 21st century is the century of the third sector. Are we up to that challenge?

The right to protest, like our right to campaign is a precious gift. But make no mistake, it is not to be taken for granted. Just as we applaud our New York banker we have to remember one of the more draconian aspects of recent anti-terrorism legalisation is a clause that makes it an offence to take photos of the police engaged in counter terrorist activities. Used, apparently against people taking photos of police cars parked on double yellow lines. So we must all be alert to attempts to curtail what we must cherish. That is why we have to protest loudly at those like Jill Kirby, of the Centre for Policy Studies, who tries to muzzle charity campaigning. It is an insidious attempt to curtail our right to demand change as a third sector, and so again damages our democratic institutions.

Blogs are coming into their own in a big way; YouTube, Twitter and Freedom of Information are the public's defence against a growing surveillance state. The downfall of McBride is a great example of how evil deeds can now be exposed. In ACEVO we have a division of responsibility with me blogging and my Deputy Twittering. And I am going to encourage more of our talented staff to take up new media to get messages across.

So its a great encouragement to me to carry on blogging . But it also makes the wider point that in an age of new media attention , our sector cannot be immune to challenge . Our sometimes less than transparent governance or our lack of accountability will be a source of more attention . And as we see a greater use of blogs and , indeed , freedom of Information requests we better all ensure we have our act together . there is increasingly no place to hide bad practise.

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