Howard and me

Regular readers will know that The Bristol Blogger was forcibly removed from the internet by those oh-so trendy freedom of speech spouting Californian techno buffs at WordPress on Tuesday morning without explanation.

It later transpired that the geeks had decided to suspend this blog along with one called Howard Newby Watch and an excellent academic blog called Ecologics “for defamatory statements” in relation to some posts from 2007 about the former UWE Vice Chancellor, Sir Howard Newby.

The geeks then went on to tell local radio journalist Martin Jones, “we received a complaint that there were a number of false and defamatory statements on the [Bristol] blog[ger]. This was checked and we agreed with the complaint.”

But it’s hard to see who WordPress were “checking” anything with because some of the complaints they received were patently absurd, while other “defamations” they were “agreeing with” have been published in Private Eye, The Guardian and that famous fount of untruth, the Times Higher Education Supplement!

Indeed the Guardian claims about Newby are far more controversial than the Private Eye retreads and sweary insults you could find on this blog:

The use of management consultancy firms linked to both Sir Howard and his wife, assistant vice-chancellor Lady Sheila Newby, also caused concern.

“They were private companies with no idea about university or academe telling us how to do things and what to do. People got upset because he was running the university life a little fiefdom and giving very big contracts to his mates,” said one academic, who preferred not to be named.

Even more extraordinarily, statements that WordPress were telling The Blogger were defamatory on his blog are still appearing on Ecologics:

As EcoLogics has noted in several of its posts, the scheme was eventually aborted, but not before a potential conflict of interest was noted by UWE staff and by Private Eye, which published a short piece pointing out that Newby was a non-executive director of Carter & Carter

Go figure!

It now transpires that the complaints to WordPress did not even come from one of the big libel law firms – like Schillings or Carter-Fuck – who might understandably make WordPress shit their pants but from Kevan Ryan, Director of Legal Services at the University of Liverpool, Newby’s new employer.

A fucking public sector bureaucrat – a sort of higher education version of McNamara – with little knowledge of defamation writes a dodgy complaint and WordPress are on the run. Pathetic.

However, the offending posts have been removed to appease the brave, freedom loving geeks at WordPress who have the power to remove this blog for good if we don’t comply. Although all the claims made here about Newby are still out there just a google away.

In the long run, you suspect the big losers in this affair will be WordPress who have evolved something of a swashbuckling reputation for themselves.

While you expect little else of characters like Newby and his sidekick Ryan – a fairly typical pair of public servants in New Labour’s Britain – openly censoring material critical of them while being handsomely paid to bravely defend academic freedom on our behalf, a little more might have been expected of WordPress.

Poor show chaps.

Further reading:…………………………………

Contact the University of Liverpool’s man with his hands dirty:

Mr Kevan Ryan
Director of Legal Services
The University of Liverpool
The Foundation Building
765 Brownlow Hill
Liverpool L69 7ZX

This entry was posted in Blogging, Education, Journalism, Media and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Howard and me

  1. BristleKRS says:

    I see this is getting coverage on Index On Censorship now – all that remains is a chapter in the latest Chomsky doorstep and a decent hashtag and will be brought, snivelling, to its knees!

  2. BristleKRS says:

    …Oops, missed the fact it’s at the top of your FFIs, oops :-O

    Anyway, I was wondering whether Liverpool Uni’s legal eagle Kevan Ryan is the same Kevan Ryan as listed in this rather more lowkey way on online directory

  3. Derek Wall says:

    be good to see more people blogging about Sir Howard Newby, I think he is likely to be a lightening rod for wider concerns with the way British universities are going, essentially distributing fees to a high paid elite while screwing down university teachers and other workers.

  4. earwicga says:

    Can I ‘steal’ from your post so as I can write about this censorship on my blog? I’m too lazy at the mo to do the background reading required to make up my own post. I will do it in the future when warmer weather hibernation is less my style.

  5. Pingback: WordPress gagging order: update « Alphaville

  6. Me says:

    Sent to Mr Ryan….

    Will you people never learn. You cant censor the the internet.

    You have now only brought more attention to the information you were trying to censor!

  7. thebristolblogger says:


    Feel free to ‘steal’ what you like. There’s no copyright on any of my stuff.

    Reproduce and disseminate as you choose …

  8. dreamingspire says:

    Reminds me of the retirement, around 30 years ago, of the boss of the then University College Cardiff, for giving away a Professorial Chair to an old friend. He got pilloried in the THES. (He had also cocked up the finances, seriously over-estimating the income from fee-paying foreign students.)

  9. david morris says:

    Welcome back !

    O/T but can’t wait for your comment on the recent elevation to Commandership of the Rt Hon Baron of Southville & your campaign to supply him with a new pair of red trousers………

  10. Tom says:

    Get your own hosting and move the blog over to avoid future problems like this.

  11. MJ Ray says:

    +1 to Tom’s suggestion. Pick a more ethical hosting provider than a private-sector Californian company (maybe GreenNet or one of the other co-ops that owns their own hardware?), but check that they are in a position to withstand the sort of legal threat that just downed you.

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  13. inks says:

    Humph… when I heard this blog had been taken down I was hoping for something a bit more than a wussy post about a polytechnic bureaucrat from 2007.

    Bad WordPress doggy – no bone!

  14. Tom C says:


    “Get your own hosting and move the blog over to avoid future problems like this.”

    Excellent advice. Just because you have enough courage in your convictions to write an article, this doesn’t give you the right to expect your hosting company to share it by standing up to legal threats on your behalf.

    Running a blogging site means that you take responsibility for publishing every blog on the site; this may be many thousands of users. Unlike a newspaper, these people can’t call in lawyers to vet every single article that goes in. If legal action is brought, the lawyers will attack the party who has the most money, and this will almost invariably be the publisher, rather than the writer.

    Faced with that magnitude of risk, far greater than that faced by any newspaper or broadcasting network, I suggest to you that there is no blogging site in existence which won’t fold immediately at the slightest whiff of legal menace. They owe you nothing, and will get no benefit from your articles. It’s pointless to argue that the risk is minute – the point is that it is incurred without any expectation of benefits. Why on Earth would you expect them to behave otherwise?

  15. MJ Ray says:

    @Tom C wrote “Unlike a newspaper, these people can’t call in lawyers to vet every single article that goes in.”

    Newspapers might run a few particularly sensitive investigative pieces past the lawyers, but none run everything past them. If they did, newspapers might contain weeks-old news worded in very ambiguous ways with LARGE PARTS IN BLOCK CAPITALS. 😉

    Newspapers generally work in a similar way to web hosting providers (react to complaints promptly) but have a bit more trust in their authors.

  16. Tom C says:

    @M J Ray
    “Newspapers might run a few particularly sensitive investigative pieces past the lawyers, but none run everything past them.”

    Well, substitute “every single contentious article”, then. The principle still stands: a blogging site with tens of thousands of authors would still accrue many times more such articles than any newspaper, even if the writers on both exercised the same level of caution. This is not however the case; while journalists are expected by their editors to exercise some awareness of legal realities, bloggers have no such moderating influence placed upon them.

    “Newspapers … have a bit more trust in their authors.”

    Trust has absolutely nothing to do with it. A newspaper is not there to provide its staff with a soapbox, although it may seem that way at times; it is a business run for profit. Any article which exposes the paper to potential legal action will be scrutinised, and the final decision on publication will primarily be a financial one, where potential increase in circulation is weighed against possible legal repercussions.

    Blogging sites face the same risk on the downside, multiplied by the number of users, and by a factor allowing for the users’ perception that they are entitled to write whatever they like without any adverse consequence. Sadly, there is no corresponding prospect of profit on the upside. The decision then becomes a very easy one.

  17. Andrew Coates says:

    Solidarity from Tendance Coatesy

  18. Pingback: BristolBloggerGate: Three years on – the University of Liverpool, WordPress & censorship | Bristle's Blog from the BunKRS

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