Steve Job’s obituary “accidentally” published by Bloomberg

Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 22:59 | Posted in Journalism, Media | 2 Comments
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We all die once but not all of us are considered as important enough to deserve an obituary. The more of a celebrity you are, the more likely it is that major media outlets write your obituary well before you are even close to death. Speed is an essential factor at the contemporary news business so it would be inexcusable waste of time to start composing an obituary when a celebrity actually passes off.

Since obituaries are being written about persons well and alive, they also need to be updated occasionally. It would be inexcusable to omit somebody having been awarded the Nobel prize at their late years just because the obituary was out of date. So in course of a routine update, the unthinkable happened at Bloomberg: not only did they update Steve Job’s obituary, they also went ahead and published it. Accidentally, as they say.

This is not, of course, the first occasion of a premature obituary. As Mark Twain is said to have responsed to his obituary: “The news about my death have been grossly exaggerated”.

At Bloomberg, search of the guilty and punishing the innocent is reportedly in progress.

Thanks, Kalle, for bringing this incident to my attention.

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Press freedom the Chinese way

Friday, August 15, 2008 at 21:09 | Posted in China, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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The Chinese understanding of press freedom is that accrediated journalists are free to cover the Olympic events but should close their eyes regarding anything else. If they try to cover anything that the officials do not want reported, they have stepped over the line of the press freedom as it is applied in China.

This footage shows ITV correspondent John Ray getting arrested as he was covering a peaceful demonstration for Tibet in Beijing.

via China Watchblog

Olympic mouth-gag

Thursday, August 7, 2008 at 20:31 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Journalism, Press freedom | 2 Comments
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The IOC has issued what they call Blogging guidelines for the Olympic games (pdf file here, via Barbara). It is a substantial set of very restrictive rules for blogging during the Olympics by Accredited Persons at the Games. It could be best described as a mouth-gag, albeit practically impossible to impose.

At the introduction of the 13 paragraph mouth-gag rules there is a sentence I strongly disagree with:

The IOC considers blogging, in accordance with these Guidelines, as a legitimate form of
personal expression and not as a form of journalism.

That may very well apply for some blogs and bloggers but certainly not all of them. A blog of a journalist, either free lance or affiliated, can include journalistic personal expression or even consist of nothing else but. In that case the blog in question is indeed a platform of journalistic activities.

Many of us, Yours Truly included, publish in our personal blogs some of the material that did not fit in a story published by a main stream media outlet. The content has thus been aqcuired as a journalist and it stays as a jornalistic statement regardless of the media where it appeared. In other words, whether or not blogging is to be regarded as journalism does not depend of the blog format per se but of the status of the blogger and the nature of the contents.

Alas, the restriction imposed to accrediated journalists by the IOC must be regarded as a pathetic attempt to violate the freedom of press. While the so called guidelines also apply to Olympic athletes and there are detailed restrictions about covering Olympic events above the personal experience, it must also be regarded as violating freedom of speech. No interviews or just references to statements of fellow athletes are allowed. There are also extensive limitations to images published and “moving images”, as they call it, are totally banned.

Clauses of commercial material are disputable. If interpreted strictly, the mouth-gag rules could be understood to ban Google Ads in a blog, just to mention one wierd example.

As I mentioned, these so called guidelines are practically impossible to impose, both legally and technically. Dispite the Great Firewall of China, critical contents is leaking out all the time.

An alternative Olympic banner

Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 7:29 | Posted in China, Freedom of speech, Human rights, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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I picked this banner at the Reporters Without Borders web site. If you want to download it in full size, just click here.

Selective Olympic press freedom

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 12:13 | Posted in China, Journalism, Press freedom | 2 Comments
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The Chinese officicials have promised press freedom for journalists covering the Beijing Olympics. As this fresh RTHK (Hong Kong) report shows, the freedom of press is being applied very selectively. That is, the more pro Beijing you are, the more freedom you enjoy.

Check your facts

Monday, December 31, 2007 at 18:39 | Posted in Journalism, Politics | Leave a comment
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Many journalistic scoops would be brutally spoiled if all facts were checked before publishing. One would like to believe that media publishes less than factual articles because tight publishing schedules do not allow journalists to get in the bottom of their topics. However, misrepresented facts are often so obvious that one wonders if the author of an article really made a serious effort to uncover the whole truth.

Unlike journalists, politicians are generally not even expected to present their case based on solid and indisputable facts. Each party and candidate are by default assumed to bend the truth to show themselves in a favorable light. While it is practically impossible to provide a balanced picture of complexed issues in a 30 second sound bite, most politicians do not even make an effort because an average voter either does not bother or is not in a position to control the facts.

This is where a site like FactCheck.org is useful. They are dedicated to call the bluff in political rhetorics. The project is hosted by Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. This is how the site defines their mission:

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

What I like about Factcheck.org is that they target republican and democratic misrepresentations of truth equally. Not only do they call the bluff but each statement is also thoroughly analyzed and argumented. The downside is, of course that they heavily concentrate in US topics. Understandable per se since most Americans obviously do not care what happens outside their borders but a similar project with a more global focus would be more than welcome.

In their end of the year post Factcheck.org present a review of some very notable whobbers of 2007. All major presidential candidates get their fair share of the criticism. So do both White House and the Congress and independent groups are not forgotten either.

It is hardly realistic to hope that media and politicians would become any more accurate than they are but one would obviously hope that those who make actual decisions on behalf of us all would have all facts in their disposal and all of them would be given accurate consideration before important decisions are taken. Which is more than the recent record of World leaders implies.

Finnish journalist convicted

Friday, December 21, 2007 at 8:47 | Posted in Finland, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment

A journalist was convicted for insubordination but left without sentence by a Helsinki court yesterday. Staff photographer Markus Pentikäinen of the Finnish weekly Suomen Kuvalehti was covering the violent “SMASH Asem” demonstration in Helsinki in September last year as the police ordered him to leave the spot. Pentikäinen refused to leave and quoted his right as a journalist to cover the event. The ombudsman of the Finnish Parliament ruled in November that the police acted partly unlawfully at the demonstration.

The European Federation of Journalists condemns the court’s ruling:

“This is an appalling decision in a country that enjoys one of the highest standards regarding press freedom. It goes against Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “When a journalist is doing his work during a demonstration that becomes violent, it cannot be that he or she is regarded as acting against the public interest and brought to trial, when they are only doing their job.”

“The government of Finland should carry out a full investigation and reassure all media that they have full access to demonstrations and public happenings,” White said.

Finland has traditionally ranked high in international press freedom comparisons. I have on several occasions pointed out that the self censorship widely applied by Finnish media is not reflected in those statistics because journalists are reluctant to talk about it. Alas, freedom of press in Finland has actually been ranked higher than it deserves. This incident may bring Finland back to reality in the rankings.

Supporting US Film and Television Writers Strike

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 15:39 | Posted in Journalism, USA | Leave a comment
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The International Federation of Journalists (of which I am a member through the Estonian Journalist Union) has expressed their support to the strike of US Film and Television Writers:

“Our self-employed journalists are wrestling with very similar problems in terms of giant corporations, where sometimes divisions of the same company are trying to re-use their work on new digital platforms without additional payments,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White.

“Your struggle is one we share and in which all creators have a stake. We have to win these fights to preserve the rights and the voices of individual creators and/or reporters in the face of globalisation of the entertainment and communications industries,” he said.

Hang in their guys! The World is smaller than it used to be so your action is helping all of us.

FEMA faked a press briefing

Saturday, October 27, 2007 at 5:11 | Posted in Journalism, Media, Press freedom, USA | Leave a comment
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The US Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA desperately needed a PR face lift after their bad handling of Katrina and in view of difficulties faced with the California wildfires. As the Washington Post reports, FEMA decided to organize a televised press conference but just to make sure that no media representatives would show up and spoil their party, they made sure to announce the conference with a 15 minutes notice.

The questions to the deputy administrator Harvey E Johnson were put by FEMA employees faking to be reporters. No need to say that the questions were characterized as soft, without any critical points whatsoever. You can see an extract of the briefing, as broadcast live by FOX at the FOX web site.

As the BBC reports, after being exposed by the Washington Post, FEMA has apologized for their media stunt. The Homeland Security Department were apparently also less than amused:

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the incident “inexcusable and offensive”.

“We have made it clear that stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated,” Laura Keehner said, adding that the department was considering whether or not to reprimand those responsible.

I would not even have expected something like this from Göbbels. Did these guys actually think they would get away with it? How low can an administration sink!

Edit: Here is some C-SPAN footage (via Dandelion Salad) with White House press secretary Dana Perano answering questions (apparently by real reporters) about the incident:

Edit: Also via Dandelion Salad, this footage of E.J. Dionne from the Washington Post discussing the scandal in MSNBC.

Iceland and Norway on top, Ertirea at bottom

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 3:54 | Posted in censorship, Freedom of speech, Journalism, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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Reporters Without Borders have issued a new World ranking of press freedom. It shows Iceland and Norway sharing the top position of countries with most press freedom, followed by Estonia, Slovakia, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Portugal.

The worse situation has been detected in Eritrea. The runners up (or should I say runners down) are North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran and Cuba. Commenting the bottom rankings, Reporters Without Borders said:

“Even if we are not aware of all the press freedom violations in North Korea and Turkmenistan, which are second and third from last, Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom. The privately-owned press has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime are thrown in prison. We know that four of them have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate.”

The oragnization is also concerned of the situation in Burma and China (6th and 7th from bottom respectively). In view of the 2008 Olympic games, imprisoned Chinese journalists are not likely to be released soon. In Burma, the junta seems to have determined to hang on which is likely to rather increase than ease restrictions of free speech.

Shut up and be pretty

Sunday, August 5, 2007 at 23:57 | Posted in Journalism, Media, TV, video | Leave a comment

Margaret writes in Transblawg about a nasty incident with British Channel 4 reporter Sue Turton being pinched in the back by a bastard in Oxford in live television while reporting about recent floods. While Margaret’s post focuses on translation of legal terms involved with judicial proceedings around the incident, I am interested in some other aspects of the case. The point I want to make is that female reporters seem to run a considerably greater risk of being exposed to humiliating situations in the air than male reporters.

As this YouTube video shows, Ms Turton had no way of anticipating that this sort of a cowardly act was going to take place. The bloke comes out of the blue from behind and does his dirty deed as Ms Turton delivers her report to millions of viewers. She deserves my deepest respect for being able to finish her report as if nothing had happened although I can only imagine the feelings she must have experienced at the time.

Another video clip, also at YouTube, features Gretchen Carlson’s legs in a Fox News Show. Why do I get the feeling that nobody bothers to listen what Ms Carlon is actually saying? The focus is definitely not on what she has to say.

Unlike Sue Turton, Gretchen Carlson must have had the option of not appearing in the show the way she was exposed. Very true, that option was probably mainly theoretical. She likely stood faced with the option of appearing the way she did or not appearing at all.

The studio set up shows something pretty interesting. Both of the male reporters wear dark business suites. Both of them have laptops on the table. They are not seen using the computers which seem to be there to add up their credibility and possibly act as cover for too revealing camera angles.

Gretchen Carlson has no laptop because she is not supposed to be taken seriously by the viewers. She seems to be in the studio for the sole purpose of exposing her visual virtues. Another classical case of “shut up and be pretty”.

Michael Rasmussen’s e-mail cracked

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 9:27 | Posted in e-mail, Journalism | Leave a comment
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The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende writes that they have been approached by a cracker who says he has intruded in the private e-mail box of Michael Rasmussen, the cyclist who was kicked out from Tour de France. The cracker tried to sell the paper alleged correspondence between Rasmussen and Rakobank which would have shown whereabouts of the cyclist during disputed dates in June.

Berlingske turned down the offer. Sports editor Peter Brüchmann says that the paper can neither buy nor use any information aquired illegally.

Futile censorship

Sunday, July 22, 2007 at 19:51 | Posted in absurd, censorship, Freedom of speech, internet, Journalism, Legal, Press freedom | Leave a comment
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A court order in Spain issued by judge Juan del Olmo triggered a police operation to impose a seizure of all copies of the Spanish weekly satirical magazine El Jueves. The El Jueves web site has been down all weekend but I do not know if this is connected with the seizure. Judge del Olmo ruled that this caricature featuring Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Princess Letizia “struck at the honour and the dignity of the people represented”:

In the text the Crown Prince, while banging his wife, says that if she becomes pregnant, it would be the closest to work he will ever have been during his life. The statement makes fun about the Spanish government’s plan to fight declining birth rate by paying 2500 € to parents of every fresh born baby. El Jueves is known for their republican sympathies.

Insulting the Royal Family is prosecutable in Spain. While judge del Olmo obviously had no choice but to grant the court order, I wonder if he and the prosecutors seeking the seizure realize that in this day and age, trying to censor something, especially something which is witty and funny, is bound to backfire. This is the most certain way to guarantee that the cartoon is going to be spread far beyond the boarders of Spain while the printed copies would probably have been forgotten within a week without these futile attempts of censorship.

As the Spanis paper El Mundo puts it:

“The picture, which had been seen by thousands of people, was posted on numerous Web sites in Spain and abroad and will now have been seen by tens of millions of people. Not even the Crown’s worst enemy could have had that effect.”

Sources: The Ink Blog, Aftermath News and Helsingin Sanomat

The fuzz around Estonian KAPO review

Sunday, May 27, 2007 at 2:23 | Posted in censorship, Estonia, information, internet, Journalism, Personal, Press freedom | 8 Comments
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There has been radio silence in this blog for a few days but the site has been busy as you can see in the graphic screen shot above. The otherwise modest statistics for May have two peaks: one just before mid May connected to Hubertus Albers who prefers to appear under his artist name Atze Schröder. Unlike the German TV clown, the other peak these last couple of days associates to a serious topic: the annual review of the Estonian Security Police.

Some of my friends in the wide World have asked me what the fuzz is around the annual review. As I am a part of that fuzz in that the documents were at least partly spread out allover the Internet through my actions, this post is strictly written on my personal point of view. I am referring to some outside sources, most of which, however, are in the Estonian language. I hope you will appreciate that I may not be able to disclose all details in my knowledge partly to protect my sources and partly because the legal situation around publishing the files is contested. So I may need to “take the fifth”, as it were.

As Wolli writes here, the Estonian Public Information Act specifically stipulates that government agencies (both local and national) are under obligation to publish reports about their work and fulfilling their responsibilities in the Internet. They also have to guarantee access through the web as soon as possible to all information obtained or created in course of fulfilling their legal function.

The Estonian KAPO printed their annual report and distributed it to selected media outlets and their partners. The printed copy was also available for free for anybody who would ask. For some reason which can only be speculated, they were not even planning to publish it in the web.

Up untill a couple of days ago, KAPO did not have the earlier editions of the annual review in their web site had the reviews up to 2004 in their web site. They have since hastily uploaded previous editions the 2005 editon but not the review for 2006 which is what we are talking about. Their freshest press releases were three years old and they had a list of wanted persons which was last updated in 2003. Press releases have since been added and at this moment they are almost up to date. The list of wanted persons has been taken down which is obviously good for the persons who were entered there but may not be wanted any more or may even have been found innocent.

These shortcomings in informing the general public through the Internet suggest that KAPO have been concentrating in their actual function which is protecting the country. If you download and read the review, I think you would agree that they are doing that well. Nevertheless, that is not an excuse for failing to interact with the public and make public information accessible through the web.

Many bloggers and IT specialists in Estonia were concerned that the country which has otherwise been praised for its outstanding achievements in the area of e government and e society (the first country in the World to have had a nationwide election with possibility for secure voting over the web) has a security police that does not seem to understand what the Internet is all about. Some of these concerned citizens got hold of pdf files of the annual review prepared for the printing purposes of the book. Their contents were identical to the printed version. Since there is not a single statement in the files restricting the use of them and the documents are public according to the law, some bloggers uploaded the files (Estonian and English) into the Internet.

Each of the bloggers, including Jaanus Kase, were rapidly contacted by the KAPO and asked to remove the files. The bloggers complied the request and for a short while the documents were not available in the web.

Having the two pdf files in my possession (how I got them falls under a journalist’s privilege to protect their sources), I was evaluating the situation in the afternoon of Wednesday 23rd May 2007. I had information that the KAPO was only interested in making the printed copies available. The documents are public and KAPO is under legal obligation (Public Information Act) to specifically make them available in the web.

Colorful parts of the document had been published in media, here a few appetizers by Eesti Päevaleht. There was definitely a public interest to have the files downloadable in the Internet. I judged that the public interest outweighs any other concern. While I understand that people who were asked by KAPO to take the files down did so for personal reasons, I think I would have been a bad journalist if I did not upload and link to them.

At 15.43 local time I published a short post with links to the two pdf files I had uploaded in a secure server. The post has been read during the last three days almost as much as my first post about Atze Schröder during the last 30 days. The interest has been beyond borders, both the Estonian and the English version has been downloaded heavily. (Sorry, I am not releasing download stats at this moment to protect myself legally.)

Within less than an hour and a half after my post was published, a somewhat odd comment appeared in the blog. It was a polite request to “block the downloading access to kapo’s yearbook”. While the Estonian bloggers were contacted by KAPO, this comment was signed by Ms. Evely Ventsli who indicated she was a project manager of Smile Group, the ad agency that had compiled the document for KAPO. Strangely enough, Ms. Ventsly indicated that she was writing “on behalf of” KAPO. No proper reason to the request was given, other than I had no permission from them nor KAPO to publish the documents.

Having made arrangements to secure the files (I thank a number of distinguished members of the blogging community for their kind help, no names obviously) and consulted a number of friends and colleagues, also having informed the board of the Estonian Journalist Union, I wrote to Ms Evlyn Ventsli asking on what grounds and authorization she made the request. I also pointed out that the files were public documents which is why I did not need consent of neither her agency nor KAPO to make them available in the Internet. I sent the letter at 21.35 local time.

At 15.35 the following day (Thursday 24th May) I received a reply to my inquiry. It was anonymously signed “Kaitsepolitseiamet” (the official name of the agency supervising the Security Police) but it was sent from the mail address of Evely Ventsli from the ad agency (evely@smilegroup.ee). This raises a number of questions, obviously.

If a government agency drafts and sends an official letter, it is signed by the appropriate official within the agency who is authorized to do so. They sign it with their own name and rank. Has Ms Ventsli been authorized by the Security Police to act as their mail box or is she a member of KAPO? Who authorized her? Was the authorization legal? Or did Ms Ventsli appear as an agent of the Security Police on her own?

The letter itself was obviously written by somebody with legal education. It was quoting copyrights under sections of the Estonian copyright legislation. It ended with an insinuation that I may be about to commit or have committed an action that could be prosecutable as crime.

As far as I am concerned, I do not regard the anonymously signed letter delivered through an ad agency as the official response of the Security Police. Neither do I recognize that documents that are public under law and should have been published in the Internet by the Security Police themselves would be protectable by copyright. I question if Ms Ventsli had any legal right to act in this matter. I am also asking, who exactly is claiming copyright. The Security Police or the Smile Group?

By now it is just academical whether I take the files down or not. They are already in so many places in the web that they can not be put back to the bottle. Somebody has even made copies in HTML, MS Word, plain text and even Mp3!

For the moment the files stay in my server. I am going to take them down as soon as KAPO puts them up in their own site. That is what they should have done in the first place. Had they done so, none of this fuzz would have happened.

Update: Since KAPO have released the Estonian version on their own web site, I took it down. I am happy that the joint efforts of bloggers in Estonia and elsewhere have contributed to a reconsideration by KAPO. Public documents must be availbale for members of public.

I am happy to take down the English version as well, as soon as KAPO will have it in their web site.

Update: KAPO have now released also the English version. It is downloadable as a pdf file on their web site. Therefore, I am also taking it down as obsolete.

Quoted by the media

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 0:05 | Posted in ethics, Journalism, Media | Leave a comment

Thomas has been briefly interviewed for an article about blogging lawyers in the German magazine Wirtschaftswoche. He does not seem to recognize the statement published by Wirtschaftswoche as his own. Unfortunately, this sort of mishaps are not uncommon.

Whenever somebody who has given a statement to a journalist feels that they were misquoted in the article or their statement was presented out of its intended context, it is a sign that there was something wrong in the communicating and mutual understanding between the journalist and the person who was interviewed. Having on many occasions been on both sides of the fence, I dare say that this is above all a matter of professional ethics and skills of the journalist. We are not supposed to interview and quote people in order to deliver our own opinion but to present the facts as objectively as possible.

While some journalists deliberately misquote people and tend to disallow solid facts to spoil a good story, I would like to think that most of us sincerely make an effort to get the facts right. Many mistakes happen because a journalist working on a story is too busy to check and double check. Many of us work with several stories at the same time with pressing deadlines to meet.

While checking a detail may feel like small potatoes for a journalist overloaded with work, getting misquoted in that detail is important for the person we interviewed. Silly mistakes can easily be prevented by routinely agreeing on some procedural basics.

Asking a journalist to present the article or the part concerning the person interviewed before printing should not be understood by the journalist as an insult. A simple exchange of e-mails does not take much time but it may be a very useful way to make sure that both parties have understood each other correctly. Appearing in media under one’s own name is not daily bread and butter for most people who are interviewed by journalists. By making sure that their statement appears correctly and in the right context results to a better article and helps increase credibility of the author and the publication.

Last time I was on the other side of the fence, i.e. being interviewed for a newspaper article, we did not have a chance to meet in person. The questions and answers were e-mailed and both of us also exchanged some information off the record. The manuscript was sent to me before it went to print. There was a minor missquote which I pointed out and got it corrected. Going through these simple steps had an improving effect on the printed article and both of us were happy.

Publications usually have a limited space for each article. Not everything may be published which was said or written between the two parties. In this recent case, nothing very essential was left out of the article, just some irrelevant sentences that did not change the contents of what I answered.

When a blogger is interviewed, there is always the chance to publish in the blog what did not fit in the paper. Publications obviously like to be the first to publish what their journalists have been working on. A blogger and a journalist should therefore make a gentlemen’s agreement that the blogger publishes the full interview only after the story has appeared in print.

That is what I did in this case. My blog post thus became something which supported the article in the paper. In that case, being quoted in the media was beneficial for both parties and a professional co-operation worked for the best of us both.

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