Observant Media watchers might have noticed a story on the ABC The Drum site this morning to the effect that Club Troppo and Larvatus Prodeo had quit the Domain blog group headed by Graham Young’s Online Opinion. LP’s letter to Graham was apparently leaked by person/s unknown. So that you can say you read it here first, I’m republishing Troppo’s letter to Graham over the fold.
It is with deep regret that we advise that Club Troppo is severing its formal association with Online Opinion and the Domain group of blogs effective immediately. We understand that the Larvatus Prodeo group may be considering a similar step but no doubt for their own mix of reasons.
Nicholas Gruen has properly abstained from participation in this decision except to suggest some possible ways in which we might consider continuing the association. He agreed that the decision should be taken by Don Arthur and myself. We are conscious that the decision might result in some friction or confusion given Nicholas’s position as Online Opinion chairperson but hope that our clarification of his role in this e-mail will ensure that it does not occur.
Ultimately Don and I reached the view that your continued refusal to consider tightening OLO’s comment moderation policy to avoid a repetition of the extremely unfortunate Muehlenberg affair, or indeed to delete the grossly offensive comments from the thread, required severing of the formal relationship. Our decision revolves around OLO’s comment moderation policy and its implementation in practice. We acknowledge and accept that as a general opinion journal publishing articles from many authors on a diverse variety of subjects, a correspondingly liberal comment moderation policy may be appropriate. However there are nevertheless limits beyond which civil discourse cannot occur, and in our view they have been overwhelmingly exceeded on the Muehlenberg thread. Many of the comments are hate speech of an almost indescribably virulent kind and conceivably even unlawful in some jurisdictions. Moreover, emotive, vindictive comment threads generate an atmosphere inimical to clear and effective communication and have a polarising effect on participants. I instinctively sided with OLO at the outset of this affair, only to learn to my chagrin that matters were not as I understood them. That is not to cast blame, it simply illustrates the extent to which effective communication and mutual understanding are impeded by the fog of angry emotion that vitriolic comment threads invariably generate.
The moderation policy of another blog or publication would ordinarily be none of our business. However, the evident and almost complete boycott of advertising from all Domain blogs flowing from the Muehlenberg affair has brought home to us the extent to which the situation is altered by a formal business association like ours. As the largest publication in the group, its public face, administrative centre and sole contact point with advertisers and advertising agencies, OLO’s moderation policies unavoidably affect the way people think about Troppo. We have concluded that we cannot in conscience maintain the association in the current circumstances. I re-read the offending comment thread last night and was literally physically sickened as a result. In our view continuing to publish hate speech of this ilk is indefensible on any reasonable grounds including classical liberal principles.
That said, we continue to regard OLO as an invaluable publication for Australia’s political culture, and we admire and strongly support your unstinting personal and financial efforts over the years to promote and extend open and diverse civil discourse. Thus we remain willing to assist OLO in whatever ways we reasonably can to overcome its present difficulties and again thrive and prosper. Even if you find this e-mail personally hurtful, we hope it might prove possible to conduct discussions about how we might assist. As an immediate gesture of our support and concern we have decided to donate to OLO Troppo’s remaining residual accumulated advertising revenue from the Domain arrangement less a small retention fund for hosting costs in the immediate future. We will also republish any OLO announcements and/or appeals for funds and support.
We again express our deep regret that we felt it necessary to make this decision and express our best wishes for both yourself and OLO in the future.
NB I initially closed comments on this post but have decided after discussion to re-open them. I will actively moderate it to avoid undue unpleasantness. Feel free to stoush but in a deeply civil manner befitting of the East Pymble Pony Club (as Catallaxy’s Jason Soon once labelled Troppo).