One of the many debates to be sparked by the appalling riots which have erupted around the country is that surrounding the use of the internet as a communication tool.
It is certain that some of those who sought to wreak havoc on our streets used social networking sites to rally others to particular flashpoints.
It is clear too that many sad individuals posted messages encouraging violence in general or reporting so-called incidents that in fact had not taken place.
Reporting live on disorder is a tricky business and, as journalists, we need to be so careful that we don’t just pass on information we do not know to be true. (An example – and a rare one – was a national BBC radio report that the JobCentre in Portsmouth City Centre was on fire. It wasn’t – the claim on the internet was false).
Some say we should in some way greatly rein back on social networking sites during times of crisis, but surely that would be both impracticable and an infringement of the legitimate use of them by the decent majority.
Provided journalists do their jobs properly, news sites will increasingly be seen as the place to access verified information.
We got a handful of complaints about a story we ran early last week revealing that Hampshire officers had been deployed to London.
One said: ‘What kind of journalists are you lot? How silly to put on the front page news of police officers from Hampshire going to London to help with the riots. If ever there was an open invite for yobs to go on the rampage in Portsmouth then this is it. Do you never think before you publish?’
The simple answer is, yes we do.
Our story did not suggest that Hampshire had been left with insufficient cover for any disorder here.
Police officers were being drafted to London from around the country and taxpayers had a right to know that. People living here surely were entitled to know that Hampshire officers were part of that deployment.
Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war.
We see our job as maintaining as far as possible the free flow of information, the veracity of which readers can trust.