Yesterday, astonishingly, a number of games journalists defended advertising a game on their Twitter feeds in order to win themselves a PS3. This caused a reaction from others, me included, and I was quickly told to shut up and stop interfering by a number of those I had thought were colleagues. Robert Florence wrote an excellent article about this on Eurogamer, in which he quoted a couple of these people, and then pointed out the potential damage such statements could make to someone’s reputation.
He pointed out that when someone vociferously defends a journalist’s right to advertise a game for personal gain, and also has her Twitter homepage emblazoned in images from the forthcoming Tomb Raider game, it could make others ask questions. Never mind that it’s obviously massively stupid and inappropriate for a games journalist to smother an unreleased game all over their personal page – he simply pointed out that in doing so while so enthusiastically arguing that other forms of advertising are fine, people could conflate the two. That would be an entirely reasonable point. You’d think.
However, that point has now been removed, following a complaint from writer Lauren Wainwright, one of the people quoted in Rab’s article.
Let me categorically state that Lauren Wainwright certainly doesn’t have her Twitter page emblazoned in images from the forthcoming Tomb Raider game for any reason that could be understood to be corrupt. Yes, she vociferously defended a journalist’s right to promote a game for personal gain – in supporting the PS3 competition – on that Twitter page, and yes, if you were the sort of person who wanted to get threatened, you might mistakenly conflate the two. However, Wainwright states that she is simply a massive fan of this unreleased game, and with what I believe to be naive enthusiasm, hasn’t thought through the negative implications of making her Twitter page look like it’s sponsored. It isn’t. Even though Wainwright publicly lists Square Enix, publishers of Tomb Raider (screencap for when that inevitably gets edited out), as one of her current employers. However, don’t point out that possible confusion.
And what the above proves is not only just how moronic UK libel laws are, where someone can’t directly quote a person and then point out possible misinterpretations that could arise from it, but also how deftly our broken system can be used to silence not only discussion, but also criticism.
When a journalist feels they have been misrepresented, even if this so-called misrepresentation has arisen from their having been directly quoted, the response should not be to demand it be removed. The response is to offer to write a response column, or to publish a response in any of the public outlets to which they have access. To do anything else is to be an enemy of journalism, deliberately stifling discussion, and going out of one’s way to ensure further discussion is feared.
What will happen now is all manner of places will host the original version of the article, it will be far more widely circulated and discussed, and the reputations of those who have tried to silence criticism could be far more damaged than if they had just ignored it, let alone acknowledged they could do better.
I’m disappointed that Eurogamer edited the article, as I’m quite sure there was nothing defamatory about it – commenting on a person’s public statements is absolutely allowable, even if that comment suggests someone’s public statements put them in a bad light. I’m also dubious as to whether the angered parties would really have been willing to spend the massive amounts of money it would cost to make it a legal matter. But I’m also certain that Eurogamer knows just how screwed up libel laws are in the UK, and likely followed the advice of their lawyers. However, others are willing to test things in republishing the article. That won’t be the only one.
The last two days have been an utter disgrace for UK games journalists and PRs. I’m sick with anger about it. I’m embarrassed by my profession, and I’m once again reminded that even though being outside the cliquey circles can feel like you’re doing something wrong, it likely means I and others are doing something right. I implore young writers getting started in this business to avoid getting embroiled in the cosy world of PR-journo group hugs, and I desperately suggest to them that if you ever think you might want to prevent another journalist from publishing their thoughts, that you instantly quit and get a job where you won’t be a disgrace to our industry.