The Nielsen Buzzmetrics conference on “Consumer Generated Media” (e.g., blogs, Flickr streams, youtubes, Wikipedia, etc) has a blanket prohibition on any reporting or blogging. Now, there’s nothing wrong with an off-the-record conference, I’ve attended and even helped run many of them. But the usual practice is to adopt the Chatham House Rule — no reporting on stuff that the speaker declares off-the-record, and no attributing any remarks without permission of the speaker. It’s pretty ironic for a “consumer generated media” conference to prohibit the creation of “consumer generated media.”
Although I do think there’s something wrong with an off-the-record conference particularly when people are invited who report things or simply enjoy their freedom of speech. The last sentence is telling (“But there’s an interesting parallel to the standards meetings and UN treaty bodies I’ve attended on Internet [governance] — the less Internet access those meetings had, the more likely it was that the meeting had been called to destroy the Internet.”); it’s not for the speaker to decide whether they’re to be a part of “consumer generated media”, it’s for the person reporting to decide. If you don’t want your comments to be repeated, don’t tell them to people you can’t trust to keep your secret. Certainly don’t hold a conference to air them.
Some issues are too important not to share; there are reasons why the high-ranking officials in government, for instance, have closed-door meetings to discuss the fate of democracy. I recall a similar problem writ small regarding secrecy at an ostensibly “community” radio station where I used to work. A number of important Board meetings were held in closed session (I was the only person to regularly attend these meetings as an audience member and I was regularly kicked out of the closed session discussion so often nobody else at the station heard the run-up to the closed session affair). Meeting minutes had insufficient detail to put together voting records even on open session votes. This Board defended Board-elected Board members (in other words, the Board was not fully accountable to the voting members) in the worst way by saying it helped keep control over the Board. Board meetings allotted far too little time to discuss matters of significance such as why ballots in one Board election were shipped out to an unnamed accountant, why the accountant’s unobserved vote tally was being taken seriously, and where those ballots ended up afterwards. I learned that not all paying members had received ballots in that election. Policies such as these are carefully constructed to maintain the appearance of fairness and democratic oversight while delivering neither.
So even though I disagree with the take Boing Boing presents here, I find the subsequent discussion of consumerism interesting and I wonder if they’re as sensitive to the self-contradiction they pose as I’m sure you will be if you read their post.