Harry's Secret Raises Questions About New Media

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Feb 29, 2008 1:26 PM


Aside from demonstrating his character and bravery, the Prince Harry story raises some interesting thoughts and questions about the blogosphere and new media.  As you have probably read, the Drude Report essentially made it a world-wide story:

British officials had hoped to keep Prince Harry's deployment secret until he had safely returned, but they released video of him serving in Helmand province after the leak. The Australian women's magazine New Idea reported on Harry's deployment in January. The news appeared Wednesday in the U.S. Web site the Drudge Report, and media around the world subsequently reported it
In most ways, the rise of the now ubiquitous "new media" has been a positive development.  For example, it has allowed more diversity of ideas, depriving the three big networks and major newspapers of their long-held monopoly.

But the fact that everyone now essentially owns their own printing press and microphone, also makes it much more difficult to keep anything secret.  This is often a good thing, but on a rare occasion, there is information that ought to be kept secret due to legitimate national security or public safety concerns.  This could be an inchoate military invasion (think D-Day being leaked by a soldier/blogger), or information about a suspect that the police want to keep quiet, before making an arrest.  It's one thing for a president to ask a hand-full of networks to keep a story quiet, but how does he ask a million bloggers to do so? 

It's not hard to imagine this having gone badly.  For example, let's suppose that Prince Harry had randomly been killed yesterday in Afghanistan, in the maelstrom of war.  Were this to have happened, some would today be comparing the temerity of the new media to the paparazzi who were involved in the death of Harry's mother   ...

This entire event, of course, raises interesting questions, such as: do bloggers have an ethical responsibility to the public to not report on some things?  I don't have an answer to that question, but I think it's an interesting debate to have. 

Update:  This is so thought-provoking that I continue to ponder these questions, myself.  I must say there are definitely things that I have not written about, because my writing about it would have done more harm than good.  But the problem with having so many blogs and bloggers is that, in the case of a big story that multiple bloggers will know about, you can't count on all of them being ethical.  This, of course, creates a situation where bloggers can essentially "cop out" by saying, "If I don't report it, someone else will..."