Wednesday, October 12, 2005
The New York Times' reputation is in its own hands
There has been much ado in the blogosphere during the past week about Judith Miller's release from prison and the New York Times' reticence to report on what she, and conceivably it knows. What's Miller's role in the Valerie Plame case? Did she have clearance to give up her source well before her sentencing? Did she go to prison to save her career? These, among others, are all pertinent questions with potential implications for the anonymous source debate (not to mention the ongoing investigation) that must be answered (see previous postings here and here). But The New York Times has skittered around the topic in Bush administration-like fashion.
Because of its transparency-avoiding jig, the Times was knocked off its pedestal of best American newspaper, as so far as Jay Rosen, media critic and NYU journalism professor, who also called the Times 'Judith Miller's paper', is concerned.
In an article for Media Guardian that argues that a national shield law would only increase professional journalist privileges over citizen journalists and blogger, Jeff Jarvis asks, "she did not immediately reveal the full story to her public - and shouldn't that be a reporter's gravest sin?" Editor and Publisher asks, "Is the Times' reluctance to report fully on this case the result of being in a bit of hot water itself with the prosecutor?" and "Why have the Times' seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal."
Although the Times' executive editor promised that "Now that she's free, we intend to answer those questions (about the 'drama') to the best of our ability in a thoroughly reported piece," the Times has printed very little and other papers are beating it to every scoop on its own reporter.
The Times is only hurting itself. People want to hear the story, Miller's story; they want to know the truth. And just as everyone has been complaining about Robert Novak's silence and Karl Rove's politicking in the Plame case, they have just as much a right to complain about the Times' protection of its journalist.
The truth will eventually come out. If it is not read first from the pages of the New York Times, there will be grave consequences for the credibility of the Gray Lady.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Australia: Bali reporting anti-Muslim?
The media's style of reporting about the recent bombings in Bali as a religious instead of a crime story was criticized as an example of the negative perception of Muslims. "We're still in the mode of representing criminal stories as religious stories and somehow we've got to get out of reflex of seeing it as a Muslim thing rather than a criminal thing," said Peter Manning, former head of news and current affairs at Channel Seven and the ABC and now adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Technology in Sydney, reports The Age.
He went on saying that "Overwhelming these people are represented as Muslim warriors when, in fact, they are criminal lunatics - they are no more religious than the people who have been involved in Melbourne crime gangs are Christians ... I think it's part of our cultural baggage - I don't think Australia handles racism very well on all sorts of levels, and the way it thinks about Arabs and Muslims is part of the problem."
Last year, Manning published the results of his two-year study where he analyzed the representations of Muslim and Arabic people in the two Australian newspapers The Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald, before and after 9/11. The study found that asylum seekers had been presented as "tricky, ungrateful and undeserving".
Monday, October 10, 2005
Pakistan: courageous Frontier Post
In both cases, we also find courageous newspapers, journalists and editors reporting on their communities' tragedies and on their government' deficiencies. According to The Frontier Post, "The administration’s mantra that it has been hamstrung from relief work because of the communication systems’ disruption just cannot wash... This disruption is patently an excuse to paper over the ineptitude and lackadaisical of an administration that has been found so wanting right at this catastrophe’s outset. Hours passed, and it had no clue of the losses in life and property, so indispensable for launching rescue and relief operations. Its local tiers couldn’t be as helpless as they feigned in collecting this information, which eyewitnesses from all over the affected areas were volunteering to anyone caring to listen to them."
Maybe you will not find this criticism very sharp, but in a country like Pakistan, it is very courageous. And in the past years, for example, the Frontier Post was closed during several months due to the pressure of Islamist movements and the lack of safety provided by the government.
In comparison, the Daily Times was very cautious about criticising the Pakistani government: "TV channels have subjected the government to criticism and unconsciously helped spread the impression that earthquake tragedy was caused by the government simply because rescue work did not begin quickly enough. The truth is that no government anywhere, but particularly in the Third World, can be prepared for large-scale post-disaster management.".
I also didn't find any criticism in Dawn, the most prestigious English speaking Pakistani newspaper. And nobody gave me information about newspapers in Urdu (Jang, Khabrain...), the main language in Pakistan.
Russia: Gaidamak takes over Moskovskiye Novosti
From the Moscow Times: "Moskovskiye Novosti, a flagship of the liberal press from the time of perestroika that is now suffering a deep editorial crisis, has an unexpected new owner. Arkady Gaidamak, a Moscow-born businessman with four passports and a controversial past - especially the arms-for-oil scandal in Angola -, confirmed to Ekho Moskvy radio late Friday that he had bought the weekly newspaper." And Gaidamak is rather close to the Kremlin palace: it means that a new newspaper is controlled by Putin's friends.. Just after he bought the newspaper, Gaidamak said to Kommersant that newspapers don't need to be against the government!
According to Moscow Times, "Moskovskiye Novosti had been owned by Ukrainian media magnate Vadim Rabinovich, who acquired it in July from Leonid Nevzlin, a core Menatep shareholder, who lives in Israel and is wanted in Russia on charges of fraud and tax evasion.
In March 2005, Moskovskiye Novosti descended into crisis after editor Yevgeny Kiselyov, a former television anchor appointed by Nevzlin, fired several prominent veteran journalists. Kiselyov left when Nevzlin sold the paper.
At the time, media industry observers speculated that Rabinovich had paid no more than $1 million for the paper, which also publishes an English edition, Moscow News...
... Since 2002, Gaidamak has lived in Moscow. In May of this year he was elected head of the Congress of Jewish Communities and Organizations, one of the three largest national Jewish organizations."
Source: Moscow Times
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
American bloggers: from Jayson Blair to Judith Miller
Jay Rosen, NYU professor and blogger, just changed his ranking of the top three newspapers in the US: The Washington Post is now first before the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal! But what is interesting in this - personal - view is that his move is linked to the Judith Miller story. Rosen was horrified that nothing appeared in the Times except a very deferent article presenting the journalist as a "First Amendment hero". That is exactly the Editors Weblog position from the beginning: you can't see the trees (anonymous sources debate) for the wood (the Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction scandal in American mainstream newspapers).
Moreover, Rosen made a subtle link between the Jayson Blair story (forged sources issue) and the Judith Miller story (anonymous sources issue). But the great difference is that the blogosphere was an infant two years ago and now it is a rebellious teenager! When the Blair scandal appeared in 2002-2003, the debate was among journalists and a Times report cleared the affair in a few months. It seems that this kind of "smooth process" does not exist anymore. Rosen and other bloggers are asking for more transparency and more investigation, they want more than the fairy-tale...
At the Editors Weblog we understand that it is difficult - and sometimes unfair - to compare the Jayson Blair scandal with the Judith Miller case. But in both situations, it raises questions on the information process and how stories can be distorded or manipulated. And we think it is a very good debate to clarify what really happened when Judith Miller was in jail. If not, the community of journalists will be accused not to cover the real news!
My conclusion: The New York Times must react very quickly to avoid any parallelism between how the newspaper managed the Blair scandal and how it deals with the Miller affair.
Here are some quotes from Jay Rosen: "Just one man's opinion, but now is a good time to say it: The New York Times is not any longer--in my mind--the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was. Some time in the least year or so I moved the Washington Post into that position...
? The Post, I believe, is our great national newspaper now; the Times is number two, with the Wall Street Journal close behind. Still a strong fleet. With a new ship in the lead perhaps it will sail to unexpected places."
Saudi Arabia: Blogging site blocked
The Saudi Internet Services Unit (ISU) blocked the site blogger.com from October 3, therefore preventing Saudi bloggers from updating their blogs. Blogger.com is a hosting service for blogs. Yesterday, Reporters without borders called on the ISU to explain that step. Reporters without borders said, "Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that censors the Internet the most, but blog services had not until now been affected by the ISU's filters. The complete blocking of blogger.com, which is one of the biggest blog tools on the market, is extremely worrying. Only China had so far used such an extreme measure to censor the Internet." ISU, however, did not give any reason. According to tests by Reporters without borders, names under the blogger.com domain are still accessible, meaning that users can still access the blogs hosted on the site.
Source: Reporters without borders
How to deal with anonymous sources?
The problem of anonymous sources has been debated strongly recently. Judith Miller was just released from jail after agreeing to testify in a grand jury investigation (see previous posting). And Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc, announced that he is going to write a book about the use and misuses of anonymous sources, reports New York Times.
The question is whether newspaper should use anonymous sources or not. Some argue that it is better to avoid anonymous sources altogether. Paul D’Ambrosio, investigations editor at the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, New Jersey said that while anonymous sources can help in the reporting process “the final product has to be anonymous source-free in order to maintain trust with the reader."
In the same article in Presstime, a publication by the Newspaper Association of America, Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, gives advice how to get sources on the record. McBride recommends for example that journalists, when asked for anonymity, should say no and see how the source reacts. They should ask for an explanation why the source does not want to reveal its identity and why he or she wants to tell the off-the-record information to the paper. Her advice goes on, "Reporters should then tell the source they can't grant anonymity until checking with an editor, and ask the source to describe the nature of the information, she says. Also, explain clearly what the terms 'off the record' and 'on background' mean, as people often have different understandings. If the reporter decides to grant anonymity, tell the source that his or her identity will be shared with at least one other person in the newsroom. It's a policy that all papers should have."
After that the journalist should check the story again "piece by piece" with the source. If the story is finally run, the journalist should tell the anonymous source that "if the paper is subpoenaed in connection with the story, and the judge denies the paper's motion to quash it, the source should agree to publicly identify himself." If the source does not agree to that the paper has to think about the legal risk in comparison to the worth of the information for the public.
Michael Sallah, investigation editor at the Miami Herald, said that journalists should also try to ask the source if he or she might know somebody who could tell about the same subject and would go on the record.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Reporter jailed for not disclosing anonymous source freed
Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter that chose to go to give up her freedom instead of giving up the name of an anonymous source, was released on Thursday, September 29 after agreeing to testify in a grand jury investigation. Miller, who had been incarcerated for almost 3 months, received direct clearance from her source, US Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis Libby, that repealed all obligations of confidentiality. She will now be allowed to talk freely in front of a grand jury investigating the outing of a CIA agent that could have grave consequences for the Bush administration. After being released, Miller said, "I went to jail to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promis not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. I chose to take the consequences, 85 days in prison, rather than violate that promise. The principle was more important to uphold than my personal freedom."
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Kremlin ducks out of press freedom meeting – As journalists talk of 'resistance'
Leaders of the Russian press and foreign publishers and editors, meeting in Moscow to discuss press freedom problems, were stood up by a senior Kremlin official who pulled out of the programme at the last minute. "Another brilliant public relations coup to improve the Kremlin's image on press freedom and independence", said – ironically - Timothy Balding, Director General of the World Association of Newspapers, which organised the meeting together with the World Editors Forum and the Russian Guild of Press Publishers (GIPP), during Publishing Expo 2005, which ends in Moscow today, Thursday.
Natalia Tymakova, Head of President Putin's Press and Information Office, was to have defended the Kremlin's position on press freedom and independence. She gave no excuse for her withdrawal from the meeting, where publishers and editors from Europe, Asia, Latin America, the USA and North Africa discussed a wide range of issues with the representatives of several leading Russian newspapers and magazines. "The Russian media does not face classic censorship, as the word would normally be understood", said George Brock, President of the World Editors Forum (WEF), in his opening remarks. "As far as the government's approach goes, I would christen this technique of smart, informal censorship as 'predatory manipulation,' said Mr Brock, who is Saturday Editor of The Times in London.
"If the authorities, federal or local, believe that press freedom in Russia is 'neither better nor worse' than elsewhere in the democratic world" (as President Putin has claimed ) "they are deceiving themselves," he remarked. "Taking normal press freedoms overall, Russia is currently moving away from - not towards - the basic understandings which underpin the relationship between the media, society and the state in Europe and America."
The Russian speakers and panellists at the meeting pinpointed Kremlin interference, misused subsidies and official advertising budgets, low public trust in the press, poor distribution, the failure to adopt professional journalistic and business practices, and the domination of 'quasi-government' electronic media among the many reasons why newspapers in Russia today remain weak (only 27 out of 1,000 adult Russians buy a newspaper every day). But they were also highly self-critical:
"The lack of trust in the media has more to do with the media than the government", said Vladimir Pozner, a prominent TV presenter. "Many
journalists have sold out, many journalists are on the take". Pyotr Godlevsky, CEO of the Izvestia daily newspaper, said that the "misfortune" of the press was the "lack of solidarity" among publishers and journalists, who were also responsible for the drop in quality of newspapers that had led to such a high level of public disaffection ? only 9 % of Russians trust the media, compared with more than 50 % who trust President Putin.
Andrei Richter, Director of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Institute told the meeting that "only when the people are interested in the destiny of newspapers will they stand up for the freedom of the press", adding: "It is possible to fight the authorities, but it's difficult because the power of the media is incomparable to that of the authorities. We must start by raising the authority of the media".
A glimmer of hope that the "resistance" of journalists has begun was given by Yury Purgin, the CEO of provincial press group Altapress and President of the Independent Regional Publishers Association, ANRI. Mr Purgin said that the authorities were beginning to learn "that they are not dealing with uniquely obedient media". Citing a recent petition signed by several hundred journalists against an abuse of government authority, he said: "We are starting to confront the powers and stand up for ourselves".
"Towards a Free and Independent Press in Russia" was organized by WAN, WEF and the Russian Guild of Press Publishers in the lead up to the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum, the global meetings of the world's press, which will they will organize in Moscow from 4 to 7 June 2006.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Korea: government impeding media convergence
An editorial in Korea's JoongAng Ilbo calls for the elimination of government restrictions that would allow for dual ownership of newspaper and television companies and help catapult Korea into the 21st century of communications. Commenting on a speech made by Noh Sung-Dai, head of the Korean Broadcasting Company, to the country's National Assembly, the editorial lauds the advantages of "media convergence" and points out that it is already a common practice in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan. According to the JoongAng Ilbo, the law that prohibits dual ownership, a product of the military regimes of the 1980's, is only impeding the growth of Korean media which already has the infrastructure and advanced technology necessary to develop a thriving and internationally competitive media culture.
Source: JoongAng Ilbo