Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

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Campaign for the rights of bloggers wins

June 16, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2009, 2010, 2011, blogs, fringe, journalism, organisers, participants

The email from Michael Lynch, Chairman of Writers’ Week Listowel, Kerry, is more than welcome. It is generous. It is also a total vindication of all points raised in the blogpost which launched the campaign for the right to blog at Listowel Writers’ Week Festival.

I am delighted with Michael Lynch’s email. It must have been incredibly difficult for the Committee of Writers’ Week to agree. In the circumstances, it is a noble & extraordinary victory for common sense – and future reputation of Writers’ Week.

I’d like to explain why I’m so pleased with the Chairman’s response.
It’s important to remember that Michael Lynch wrote the email after the Committee meeting. Since 9 June, the Committee received many representations from people in Kerry, Ireland & abroad – emails, letters, Joe Duffy Liveline RTE national radio show (a listenership of 414,ooo), and, most of all, via Twitter (#LWW10). There have probably been many face-to-face conversations too.

The Committee considered the issues while under considerable pressure from ‘outsiders’. They had to deal with a situation where someone ‘assaulted’ me, and announced, in the name of the Committee, I wouldn’t be welcome again at Writers’ Week. It’s no easy matter for a local committee to deal with such an unprecedented situation.

The internet, all its off- shoots & platforms (digital cameras & recorders, blogging, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter for example) challenge all of us. The Committee of Writers’ Week was not in its comfort zone.

It would surprise no one if many Committee members deeply resented being put in such a storm – by someone from outside.

The Committee’s Response:

Michael Lynch begins with “Thank you…” That’s such a difficult thing for anyone under pressure to say. To be thanked for my email, which demanded a public apology, simply amazes me. It shows a spirit of big-heartedness. I feel greatly relieved – it would have been so much easier to have said something else. I did not expect gratitude.

The Chairman continues “You have raised an important issue …” Think about it, I raised the issue of being attacked, ‘assaulted’ in public, by a committee member. Michael Lynch now responds by saying I have raised an important issue. Of course he’s right, but a lesser committee might have denied, or tried to sweep the issue under the carpet. Instead Michael says “… which Writers’ Week is formally addressing.”

What did I expect? Did I expect the woman to be ostracised in public? No self-respecting local community would do that to anyone. No committee could do that without losing the confidence of its home base. The committee will deal with the matter in a formal manner – behind closed doors. This is exactly what a business does when one of its staff has behaved badly: its internal disciplinary process goes to work without ever informing the outside world what has happened. It is enough that I am assured the commitee will deal with the issue in its own way. The behaviour will never be repeated, I trust. It seems clear to me that the lesson has been learned.

I take this as the equivalent of a public apology. I am satisfied on this issue now. There is no reason for me, or anyone else, to be bothered that they might be attacked by a Committee member at Writers’ Week again.

Recording at Writers’ Week:

The good news is that the Committee is committed to a clear policy which we can all understand. Michael Lynch says

Our policy has always been that only authorised recordings are permissible and we will in future be informing our audiences to this effect.”

It is entirely appropriate that “authorised” recordings may be made at the Festival. There are circumstances in which it would be unfair, even dangerous, if recordings were made. If speakers come from certain countries and speak their minds freely, it may put others in danger – if their words are recorded & broadcast. I fully support the right of speakers to speak publicly without their words being transmitted – provided that there’s a good reason.

My view is that the sensible policy for Writers’ Week to have is this: a default position that everything can be recorded – except when a speaker has an important reason for not being recorded. It should be easy to make this clear to everyone – whenever such a situation arises.

The important matter has been sorted: there will be a publicly available policy – and it will be understandable to us all.

All event organisers have struggled with the advance of technology – unobtrusive recording devices increasingly link to the internet.

But there’s also another shift in society: more and more people want to find out what’s going on. More and more of us want to share our experiences with others via the internet. We’ve already moved into a more connected & transparent world. This revolution is profound & challenging. It’s also something I love. It is great to see the Writers’ Week Committee committed to a public policy – rather than leaving it to individuals to take the law into their own hands.

Authorised recording” – bloggers can all be authorised recorders, on the same basis as mainstream journalists, I trust. This is a major step forward.

Bloggers are welcome at Writers’ Week in 2011:

After what happened – and all the fuss which Twitterers, Facebookers & Bloggers have created – some committee members must have been keen to ban bloggers for ever. That’s a human reaction. Of course, wiser counsel prevailed. I always knew that if it was put up Michael Lynch & the Committee, the answer would be clear.

Please pay attention to the wording : “we are looking forward to welcoming you and all bloggers to our future festivals…

This is the first time Writers’ Week Listowel has said, publicly or privately, that it is looking forward to welcoming bloggers. This is a huge shift.

In 2009, bloggers from our Fringe Blog were allowed in. We paid our way. We were tolerated, treated civilly, as we published a stream of articles about the Festival. In 2010, with a bigger team, we returned to the task of blogging this Festival. We were similarly tolerated – apart from the single disgraceful incident. But were we “welcome”?

I never felt truly welcome until now. That’s my personal feeling. I have no idea what the committee of Writers’ Week intended in the past. Perhaps they were welcoming but never expressed it.

Patrick Stack & I – with the help of Jeremy Gould – set up Listowel Writers’ Week Fringe Blog. As we wrote before the 2009 Festival

It is on the fringe, meaning that we alone are responsible for its content, its cock-ups, mistakes and whateverelse we get wrong.

But we’re not here to speak for LWW. They can do that for themselves.”

There is an advantage in being independent of the Festival – independent enough to say exactly what we think of any aspect of the Festival.

It would be posssible for Writers’ Week to set up an official blog. I would welcome that – but that is a matter for those who’s job it is to think about the long-term future of the Festival. We, bloggers from the fringe, have loved Writers’ Week in our own individual ways.

The important news for all bloggers is that we are all welcome – that means that bloggers can take different angles on the festival, and still be welcome. There is no equivocation in the welcome Michael Lynch has expressed.

There are different types of bloggers: bloggers who write, photo bloggers, podcasting bloggers, video bloggers and even cartooning bloggers. Writers’ Week is now on record as welcoming all bloggers. I think this is a huge step forward.

This is important because it means people who can’t make it to Listowel will be better served than before in 2011. Our bogging effort has always about opening up the Festival to the wider world in a responsible way.

I’m on record saying to Joe Duffy that I think every Festival that gets pubic money should be open via the internet. The citizens who pay via the Arts Council, & customers who pay for corporate sponsorship, are entitled to share in the experience.

The internet experience is different from the live one. What you get via the internet from Listowel – in Dublin, New York or Tokyo – is very different from what you get in the town – in Listowel Arms Hotel, John B Keane’s, The Kingdom Bar, Wolfe’s Bookshop or Lynch’s Bakery. Nothing is quite like conversations struck up with strangers around Listowel, and its hinterland, during the Week.

The Writers’ Week Festival was begun 40 years ago by Brian McMahon, J B Keane and others. It was seen by them as a campaign for a better Ireland. We owe it to their memory to move with the generations, the technology and the zestful spirit of the founders. They were gritty. They have inspired us all.

I would like to publicly thank Michael Lynch, and the whole Committee of Writers’ Week, for the brave and generous way they have responded to this challenging experience.

With this understanding & spirit, I ask you all to give your on-going support to Writers’ Week in 2011. Put aside all negative thoughts and impressions.

I believe there will be much good from this. I thank you all for the wonderful support you have expressed for this cause, and for me personally. I thank those of you who have not agreed with my position. We need all voices. There are many festivals, thank goodness.

Listowel Writers’ Week will need all your support for the future.

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