Thursday, July 08, 2021

THE GENTLE ART OF REDACTION


It used to be called "editing" but life has got a little posher since then and it now goes under the title "redacting" presumably drawing on the French word for it.

The most frequent context in which the word is now used is the censoring of material before its release for consumption by the public.

In this context it requires great skill, not just verbal competence but a full appreciation of the environment in which the material was composed and an equal appreciation of the environment in which it is to be consumed.

My favourite example of bad redaction made worse is contained in the redacting of a witness statement to the "Independent Jersey Care Inquiry" (3 April 2014 - 3 July 2017) which looked into child abuse on the island of Jersey.

Person 737
Click on image for a readable version

In his written witness statement the former Chief of Police, Graham Power, referred to a particular individual against whom serious allegations of sexual assaults against adult females, including rape, had been made.

The Inquiry's policy was to redact such references to preserve the anonymity of the person referred to. In the interest of consistency (or something?) the Inquiry gave each such person a number by which they were referred to in any published material. The person in question in this extract was given the number 737.

Now, the first problem with this piece of redaction was that the Inquiry team were not native to Jersey and were not sufficiently aware of the danger of jigsaw identification of individuals via stray and apparently harmless references left unredacted.

In the first paragraph above the individual can be assumed to have shares in "the newspaper" and is reputed to be a friend and business associate of the Chief Minister, Frank Walker. As there is only one newspaper in Jersey, this information identifies the man to anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the local scene.

The second problem was the numbering. While it might seem intelligent at first sight, there is a serious drawback to it. It not only increases the possibility of jigsaw identification as various bits of evidence about the person accumulate throughout the documentation but once you have identified the person you get to know a lot more about them. For instance, once I had identified this person, I knew from other evidence that he had been interviewed by the police under caution as a suspect but that nothing further was done about it.

Person 737
Click on image for a readable version

Now, the Inquiry was continuously messing about with the evidence, even after it was published in redacted form, and that's where they came a cropper with the third problem. They had clearly become uneasy about their original redaction and decided to have another go at it. Whether this had anything to do with me pointing out the inadequacy of the original redaction in my blog or whether it was just spontaneous on their part I don't know.

So, in the second round of redaction (highlighted here in yellow) they took out the reference to the newspaper which would make jigsaw identification more difficult, though for those who were constantly reading the stuff the damage had already been done by the inadequacy of the first redaction.

But at the same time they really put their foot in it big time. There had been a reference to John Averty in the second paragraph I quoted and this was in a very different context where the former Police Chief was speculating on who might have been behind his suspension. But when the redacter saw that name they immediately, in what was probably a reflex action, put a 737 stamp over it, absolutely confirming that person 737 was in fact John Averty.

So, as you can see, this particular piece of redaction was a complete disaster.

Mind you, there were many other aspects of the Inquiry which testified to incompetence and even serious bias on its part. But that's another story.

Incidentally, when the material was eventually turned over to the Jersey Archive for screening, archiving and re-publication, the numbering system, which should never have been adopted in the first place, was dropped.

Anyway, the lesson here is, if you're going to redact material and you decide not to obliterate all of it, you had better know what you're about.

2 comments:

  1. Polo.

    As I have previously mentioned you are one of the unsung heroes in this sorry saga of "The Jersey Situation." Your research is meticulous if not forensic as demonstrated in this latest posting. You deserve far more credit than you get.

    On the subject of redaction/Cypher numbers you might recall, almost unbelievably, the alleged abusers/pedophiles were granted more protection, by the Care Inquiry, than the Survivors were granted.

    Your readers might be interested in reading about it HERE.

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  2. Neil

    You are too kind. My involvement is from the safety of offshore while the Jersey "opposition" faces retribution for any stepping out of line or challenging the oligarchy. As we have seen this can include being libelled, dismissed from your job, bankrupted & effectively deported, and even having your life threatened.

    As for the forensics, I love a challenge and I can be like a dog with as bone when the mood hits me. The incompetent Inquiry however made this one too easy. I already covered it in my post on Graham Power but thought it deserved a separate airing here, particularly as the guy is apparently still walking around unchecked.

    Yes, the offenders were better treated than the survivors at the Inquiry, which started out with not even a thought of counselling for witnesses who were baring the tortured souls in public, some for the first time ever. You also covered that in one of your posts.

    When it comes to unsung heroes you are up there at the top of the pile, challenging the establishment with solidly researched blog posts which put the island's mainstream media to shame. It was good you got some recognition in the recent BBC documentary. Nice boat !!

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