Tag Archives: The Guardian

BristolBloggerGate: Three years on – the University of Liverpool, WordPress & censorship

Three years on from the original incident, fellow blogger EcoLogics has recapped some of the salient points in what some called BristolBloggerGate as something of a valedictory to the WP platform…

Exactly three years ago today, on 5 January 2010, WordPress took down several of this blog’s posts.

Actually, Ecologics didn’t fare too badly; even as a handful of my posts vanished without warning, WordPress, or rather its parent company, Automattic, closed down the entire blogs of some other writers (at least one has subsequently managed to find an alternative home). To be sure, WordPress also agreed to republish the censored posts. What we the censored bloggers had in common was that we had all published information about one Howard Newby, the former vice-chancellor (director) of the University of the West of England. It seems that Newby took exception to our views regarding a financial scandal which erupted around him in 2007, and which involved a private training firm which subsequently went bust (Carter & Carter).

Soon after the scandal emerged, and only about a year and a half since he first took up the post, Newby left UWE. But most peculiarly, it was not before three years had passed that the legal department of the University of Liverpool, Newby’s new home, got Automattic to close the blogs with information about Newby’s practices at UWE […]

I hope to revisit some of these issues again myself when I have the time. Perhaps even The Bristol Blogger – now relocated beyond the walled garden of WordPress.com, but quiet for nearly a year – might themself pipe up once more some time in 2013.

In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of the various pieces I wrote about the whole Sir Howard Newby/Lady Sheila Newby/Kevan Ryan/University of the West of England/University of Liverpool clusterfuck:

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BristolBloggerGate: Why was Liverpool University so reticent in releasing details of Sir Howard Newby’s appointment?

The University of Liverpool might regret kicking off BristolBloggerGate, seeing how now every internet sleuth and their aunt is out looking for clues as to what is really going on.

For example, a search for Sir Howard Newby on What Do They Know? throws up an April 2009 request for the “report by the [Liverpool University] Joint Committee relating to the appointment of Professor Sir Howard Newby”.

The University’s ‘Freedom of Information Co-ordinator’ Lesley Jackson initially stonewalled, citing exemptions on the grounds of ‘prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs’ and commercial interest, but Julian Todd, who made the application, stood his ground and argued effectively that these exemptions did not apply. Two months after the initial request, Kevan Ryan – the director of legal services at Liverpool who appears to have been the one calling on WordPress.com to silence critical bloggers – finally responded by giving Mr Todd the document reproduced above.

Of course, this one page document does seem to fall short of what one might imagine a report on the selection of a vice-chancellor of a major university would look like.

Perhaps the pending WDTK request to the University of Liverpool asking for “information regarding all the legal advice and/or legal work the university has purchased from any provider between 1 January 2008 – date” might shed some light on this, and on the reasons behind BristolBloggerGate.

BristolBloggerGate: What would Jon Snow think of his old university trying to silence internet critics of Sir Howard Newby?

This BristolBloggerGate thing is rumbling on and on and on – it now appears that the party demanding that WordPress.com take down blog posts on the issue (scalps so far: The Bristol Blogger, EcoLogics and Sir Howard Newby Watch) is not former UWE vice chancellor Sir Howard Newby but instead his current employer the University of Liverpool!

I wonder what former Liverpool student and current Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow – who is also a patron of Media Defence Legal Initiative, which provides “legal support to journalists and media outlets who seek to protect their right to freedom of expression” – makes of all this…

BristolBloggerGate: It’s just a typical n00b mistake!

So, thanks to radio journalist Martin Jones and news website Bristol 24/7 we now know that the reason for WordPress’s fritzing of The Bristol Blogger today was due to pressure from ex-University of the West of England vice-chancellor Sir Howard Newby. It seems he didn’t like some reference or other made by TBB. The word ‘defamation’ seems to have been thrown around. TBB is back up now, but WordPress has said the offending references must be gone by daybreak (or something similar).

Still, it makes you wonder exactly what it was that earned the takedown…

Whilst the blog posts in question appear to have been taken down, they can still be viewed via caches. One post, dated 26th May 2007, mentions a “private sector training company” in which both Sir Howard and his wife Lady Sheila held an interest being brought in to work with UWE. Another, from 7th July 2007, reflects on Sir Howard’s departure from UWE for pastures new at Liverpool University and again refers to the Newbys’ involvement with private consultants hired to work at UWE.

Similar points have been raised elsewhere – including the WordPress-hosted blogs Sir Howard Newby Watch and EcoLogics. However, the former appears to have been suspended in the same way as TBB was, and the latter’s blog post about the Newby-connected consultancy going into administration now throws up a 404 error message, consistent with a blog post that has been deleted (such as the Newby posts on TBB deleted under pain of blog deletion). Again, all the missing material is accessible through a cache search. Bizarrely, a different blog post on EcoLogics goes into greater detail about the Newbys involvement in private consultancy at UWE (and Sir Howard’s management style and educational philosophy) than the mysteriously missing post. Additionally, an independently-hosted blog, DC’s Improbable Science, carries similar material but remains up and running.

Outside of the blogosphere, mention is made of all the salient points in reports by the likes of Private Eye, The Guardian, Times Higher Education and others. The THE story refers to a different “private consultancy used by UWE during Sir Howard’s leadership…used by Liverpool for ‘work associated with strategic planning'”.

So what exactly was the beef with The Bristol Blogger (and Sir Howard Newby Watch, and possibly EcoLogics)? Is there something in the scandal pipeline that someone, somewhere, is trying to preemptively draw attention away from?