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.

Moni wins!

Thursday, March 30, 2006 at 12:06 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | 1 Comment
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Moni's lawyer Udo Vetter posted in his blog 45 minutes ago that his client has received a letter from Transparency International – Deutschland e.V. and Moni is satisfied with what they wrote. Mr. Vetter concludes that the case is thereby closed.

Moni says in her blog, that she is relieved that the conflict is finally over. She intends to take a couple of days' break from blogging. Congratulations, Moni!

While all bloggers are naturally happy with the outcome, this will surely not be the last incident of its kind, sad as it is. Attempts to censor the Internet take place allover the World more often than we realize. Most of the cases do not attract high publicity. Far too many people have no option but to comply with restricting their freedom of expression.

We must not forget those people whose freedom of speech is attacked. Moni's blog Gedankenträger has a sub-line: [man weiß ja nie], you never know. You never know who will be the next one. It might be you. Or me.

Moni’s lawyer to TI-D: take it back or face lawsuite

Thursday, March 30, 2006 at 5:08 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | Leave a comment
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Moni's counselor Udo Vetter yeterday wrote a letter to Transparency International – Deutschland e.V asking them to retreat from statements made by the TI-D board member, Mr. Jochen Bäumel describing Moni as a liar. Unless a written notice of retreat has been received by 4 p.m. today (1400 GMT), Mr Vetter is going to sue TD-I and/or Mr. Bäumel on behalf of Moni for libel and/or slander. Both libel and slander are punishable according to German criminal codex.

Mr. Bäumel said in an interview to the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung yesterday that the facts were misrepresented in Moni's original blog post (English translation here, courtesy of Guido Schlabitz). The web site tagesschau.de belonging to public broadcaster ARD yesterday quoted Jochen Bäumel as saying that Moni's account of the facts was "completely pulled out of the hair".

On Monday, Transparency International – Deutschland e.V. issued a press release that in all substantial parts confirmed the facts in Moni's original post. Apparently realizing their mistake, TI-D then tried to pull back the release. Pulling back a press release is kind of hard to do, as Don Alphonso pointed out when he published it in his blog. Once a release has been issued, it is out.

On other news, TI-D was awarded with the second prize of the MEDIA TENOR Communicator Award 2005 in the cathegory of NGOs, Gerhard Schoolmann reports in Gastgewerbe Gedankensplitter. They were awarded for their achievements in communications. Some timing!

Edit: Guido Schlabitz has also translated the press release issued and then withdrawn by TI-D into English

Moni has integrity

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 9:03 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | 3 Comments
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This is how Dave Winer defined the term integrity for five years ago:

"Like a boat, a human being has integrity if he or she is what he or she appears to be. That's why integrity commands us to disclose conflicts, so that what we say, and who we appear to be, are in synch. Change the appearance if necessary."

I understand this as a strong recommendation to declare any circumstances that might affect or appear to affect our credibility. If you volunteerily declare any interests or absence of them, there is nothing to be digged up by watchdogs, journalists, fellow bloggers or by whoever. It is much worse if something pops up that you "forgot" to mention on your own initiative.

Moni declares her interests or absence of interests transparently and all by herself. She does it here and here. She tells that she once applied for a job at TI-D but she assures that she is not "out to get them" because she did not get the job. She also discloses the offers of money she has received to support her defense. She says thanks but no thanks as long as she does not have to pay out any money. When that time comes, she will open a separate and transparent account controlled by somebody else.

I believe Moni. I believe her because I find her to be what she appears to be. I find her to have integrity. She is what TI-D would like to appear but fails to convince us that they are.

Moni has integrity. TI-D has not.

George Mason

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 7:13 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | Leave a comment
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The Last Liberal in Central Florida tells Moni to hang in there and compares the global action of Bloggers United with George Mason's protest against the British government in 1763. In Britain itself, Tim Worstall joined the George Mason side of the dispute already on Sunday. Dave in Albany, NY concludes that the anti-corrupt have become corrupted.

Did I forget to mention Scottage in Rochdale or Jope who added the story in the Spanish news portal meneame.net, thus bringing it to the attention of the Hispanic World? Osame in Sao Paulo and w.y. in Malaysia have also added their two cents.

I think what we are about to witness is a snow ball slowly getting to roll. It is still taking shape and we have yet to see how it will move about and once it starts to roll it will grow as the speed accelerates. Once the ball is moving there will be no way to stop it.

So far the story is "just" in the blogs but it is only a matter of time before it will spread out through Google to the larger general public of Internet users. The traditional main stream media is also bound to pick it up. That could happen as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.

The World wide Transparency International has actually managed to do something about fraud and corruption. As most of us can see where this is leading, the obvious question is, whether all of this will result in less transparency than before, more fraudulent business conduct, secrecy and corruption. None of us would hope that to happen which is why TI should clean up their house fast.

The damage may have surprised the TI but what is done can not be undone. When you make a mistake, the decent thing to do is to acknowledge it, apologize and take action to improve yourself. Pretending that nothing happened is out of our time. The Britons already tried that with George Mason back in 1763 and we all know what happened after that.

Moni vs. Transparency International – Deutschland e.V.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006 at 3:24 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | 2 Comments
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I just discovered that the story of Moni vs. Transparency International – Deutschland e.V. has now reached South America and Portuguese has been added to the languages that it has been blogged in. Osame Kinouchi in Sao Paolo writes: "Não vou escrever aqui sobre essa luta de Davi contra Golias porque a história sobre a tendinite é verdadeira e Juju minha ajudante está tomando café…"

Meanwhile in Berlin, Moni has engaged herself a counselor. And not just any counselor: she is now represented by none other than Udo Vetter, a well known blogger himself. Mr Vetter reacently represented a number of bloggers in a dispute involving Euroweb Internet GmbH. Sapere has a summary of that case in English.

Udo Vetter has posted a letter on behalf of Moni as her official response to Transparency International – Deutschland e.V. Not surprisingly, he rejects the claims of TI-D on every account and advices the counterpart that a counter claim may follow.

Mr Vetter begins his respons by pointing out that TI-D did not specify a singel detail in the disputed blog post that would have been untrue. He states that the post was truthful and suggests that the TI-D argue their case if they do not agree. As you may remember, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Marten skipped that sort of boring formalities in his letter to Moni by writing: "I am sparing myself from going into the details of this issue".

Mr Vetter goes on to expose what may hitherto be news for TI-B: "There is a freedom of press and a freedom of opinion in our country", he writes. I can imagine that TI-D is shocked when Mr. Vetter tells them that even an organisation like theirs has to put up with being the object of critical expressions. They may have thought that the right to criticism is exclusively restrained to their domain.

Udo Vetter also points out that if TI-D is under impression that it is theirs to decide what is said about them in public, they have a weird relationship with the freedom of press and opinion. He also seems to suspect that TI-D has missed something: "Is there any chance that you may have failed to notice that the edited post does not mention your organisation by name even once?", he asks.

It looks to me that a major shift of balance in this case took place on Monday. Before Monday, the Transparency International – Deutschland e.V. was the only party represented by a counselor. Now it seems that Moni is the only party represented by a competent counselor.

By the way, for those of you who read German, Robert has an exellent chronological account of the developments in this case. His analysis is adequate and most of his conclusions, in fact all of them, make sense. Good work, Robert!

Added: These conclusions by Adam Selene deserve to be echoed:

Moraleja: no te metas con un blogger.
Moraleja 2: en la era de la información no puedes
evitar los comentarios negativos, ni tratarlos con métodos del siglo
XX. Sólo puedes contrarrestarlos con otros comentarios positivos, si
eres capaz de generarlos.
Moraleja 3: para un caso que tenga que ver con la red, búscate un abogado que entienda lo que es la red.
Moraelja 4: si pretendes ser una organización
"global", y no sabes cómo funciona Internet, mejor que cierres el
chiringuito. Todo te va a ir cada vez peor.

Bad news travels fast – and gets even worse

Monday, March 27, 2006 at 20:15 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | 2 Comments
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The bizarre incident that hit the blogs during the weekend involving Moni, a German blogger bullyied by the non-profit NGO Transparency International – Deutschland e.V travels fast around the World. So far it has been covered at least in English, Estonian and Spanish. It has landed at least in North America and Far East. Even a corporate blog took interest in the case.

Meanwhile in Berlin, the events have taken an even more bizarre turn. I suggested last night that the most constructive approach to this matter by Transparency International – Deutschland e.V would be that their manager, Mrs Dagmar Schröder and their lawyer and ethical adviser Prof. Dr. Jürgen Marten would sit down and seek a civilized way to solve this conflict. I am sorry to say that they have done the opposite.

As I read through Sapere (in English) and from Moni herself (auf Deutsch) the ethical professor and champion of transparency law, the honorable Prof. Dr. Jürgen Marten has sent another e-mail to Moni. This time he is accusing her of infringing his copyright by publishing his first intimidating e-mail!

Good morning! Guten Morgen! While this claim may have some legal credit (but not necessarily), it definitely shows that these people either have no idea as how to solve a conflict or no desire to solve it in a reasonable manner. It also very clearly shows that they seem to be under the impression that they are allowed to expect the businesses a higher ethical standard than they are either willing or able to fulfill in their own conduct.

These people seem to think that bullying an unemployed young lady with no financial means to stand up for her rights is something they can just do and get away with it. No way! If they are going to start with building up their ego in courts of law, they may just as well prepare to sue a hell of a lot of bloggers and journalists allover the World.

It may be too late already to prepare the damage these arrogant people have made to a good cause. A cause that many people have faught for, risking their freedom in the worse case. Shame on you people for discrazing the very values you are supposed to defend!

The story goes on, I am afraid. Rest asure that it will be covered by this blog and a huge number of others!

How to ruin a good reputation

Monday, March 27, 2006 at 0:06 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | 11 Comments
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If you have a good reputation as a champion of freedom, transparency, accountability and integrity, you would propably want to keep your own house clean of any suspicions of the opposite. If you are globally known to have spoken for access to information, the last thing you would want to do is to be caught with intimidating anybody who is publishing embarassing information about yourself. That sort of behaviour would be bound to ruin your good reputation.

Transparency International with their HQ in Berlin and 99 independent national chapters around the World has just such a good reputation. It has no doubt taken years of efforts by dedicated people to build up their good reputation. Much of it was sadly blown out during this weekend by the counselor and ethical adviser of Transparency International – Deutschland e.V, their German branch.

As I posted last night, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Marten sent an intimidating letter to Moni on Friday demanding her to remove her blog post from the web by Sunday midnight. He threatened Moni with a lawsuite that could easily have reached the magnitude of several thousands of euros as Marcel explains here. That is quite a lot of money even if you do not happen to be an unemployed young lady in Berlin.

So Moni thought it was better safe than sorry and deleted her original post. It is sad but very understandable. She did, however, post the censor story today explaining the background of this incident. By the way, the original post can still be read in the web, courtesy of Donalphonso.

As it turns out, Moni's friend, the single mother who was sacked by Transparency International – Deutschland e.V, also seems to have received mail from Prof. Dr. Jürgen Marten. The honorable ethical adviser and officer of the law apparently thinks that Moni's friend has been out of her legal rights to speak about internal house matters to her friend Moni. The next thing we propably will hear is that professor Marten is going to sue me. Be my quest, professor, I am too old a fox to be intimidated.

Does he not think that the good reputation of Transparency International was hurt enough by getting on Moni? Does he absolutely and unconditionally want to flush down whatever is left of that good reputation? Or does he not even understand that he just comleted a perfect PR disaster?

To be a bit constructive, may I suggest that Prof. Dr. Jürgen Marten and the manager of Transparency International – Deutschland e.V, Mrs. Dagmar Schröder sit down on Monday morning, switch all the phones off and talk this over? It would be a good idea to appear in front of the press in the afternoon and explain in public what they think this is all about. How about showing some transparency for a change? How about showing some integrity and accountability?

Moni herself seems to be slightly amused by my description of her photo appearence: "who does not look like an experienced person judging from her blog profile photo)" as well as Scottage's remarks here: "If she’s over 25, I’m under 25…and it’s been a while since I’ve been under 25." She says in a comment at Scottage's that she is 34. Honestly, Moni, I would have given you 24, tops.

Edit: As Marcel was kind enough to point out the cost of a trial that Moni would have risked is somewhere in the area of 5.000-10.000 euros, not hundreds of thousands as I incorrectly wrote. The error has now been corrected. Thank you, Marcel!

Transparency the German way

Sunday, March 26, 2006 at 4:16 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany | 45 Comments
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The German chapter of Transparency International is in the middle of a self infected publicity disaster this weekend. A lawyer representing Transparency International – Deutschland e.V has threatened to sue the ass of a young German blogger unless she removes a blog post of hers by Sunday midnight. She received the threatening e-mail less than 48 hours before the dead line.

Moni posted in her blog a couple of weeks ago about a friend, who was fired from her half time job at Transparency International – Deutschland e.V after a test period. She used to work for 20 hours a week for 1000 euros a month (before tax was drawn off her salary). Since that is not sufficient to support her and her three year old child, she also worked as a free lance journalist.

According to Moni, the employer was happy with her friend's performance. As the test period was about to run off, the friend was asked if she could work for 30 hours a week instead of the 20. She would have had to give up most of her assignments as journalist in such case which is why she asked for a sallary that would have payed her 1400 euros a month in cash after the tax. Transparency International – Deutschland e.V thought that was too much, which is why Moni's friend offered to work with the old terms, that is 20 hours a week for 1000 euros a month.

As no agreement was reached, Transparency International – Deutschland e.V decided not to prolong the contract after the test period. According to Moni, her friend was replaced by another person to whom money was not a major issue. The lady is said to have applied for another job at Transparency International – Deutschland e.V but agreed to replace Moni's friend on terms that are apparently more agreeable for the employer. So a well off lady got the job and the single mother was fired.

That is the essence of what Moni posted in her blog. She also commented the moral and ethics of the behaviour of this internationally well known non-governmental organisation. She found that there was a contradiction between the publically announced standards of the organisation and its practical behaviour. Transparency International is known to have voiced issues of moral and ethics in business all over the World.

Moni received an e-mail on Friday and an identical letter on paper on Saturday from a lawyer representing Transparency International Deutschland e.V. The lawyer demanded the blog post to be removed by midnight Sunday the 26th March which is less than 48 hours after the e-mail and less than 24 hours after receiving the snail mail. He threatened to sue Moni unless the blog post was removed and intimated to a large punitive damage claim. The post was said to be untrue and offensive but instead of arguing the case, the lawyer just wrote: "I am sparing myself from going into details of this issue". That is some transparency, is it not?

As could be expected, the case has provoked quite an outrage in the German blogosphere. As I am typing this post, "transparency international" is the top search in Technorati. Also, the web site of Transparency International – Deutschland e.V is hard to access from time to time.

Many of the bloggers are outraged for the ridiculously short notice of dead line which makes it practically impossible for Moni (who does not look like an experienced person judging from her blog profile photo) to consult a counselor. Needless to say that the blogging community is less than amused of the lawyer's intimidating and arrogant language. Many folks are also asking if the World wide Transparency International is aware of and agrees with this odd manner its German branch is promoting its public relations.

I am not a lawyer, just a simple journalist and blogger. That is why I am not going to comment the legal merits of this case although I am very much in doubt that Moni's post would be anything else than excercising her right to free speech. But I dare say without hesitation that a major public disaster has inevitably taken place and is not likely to be prepared easily. I would definitely not want to be in the shoes of that lawyer on Monday morning, neither in those of the former boss of Moni's friend. I would also think twice before switching on my cell phone on Monday if I were any of the two.

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