BY MANNY PARASCHOS
UGANDAN MEDIA AND HOMOPHOBIA
The UK's Independent newspaper reported recently that in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal, a gay rights activist was found bludgeoned to death after his name and photograph were printed in the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone. The Ugandan paper, in another edition, had printed photos under the headline "Hang Them."
The police said it was not certain if the reason for the killing was the victim's sexual orientation-or robbery. Friends of the victim reported that he had received death threats and abuse prior to his death. Other gays on the tabloid's list were driven from their homes by "stone-throwing mobs," the paper said.
Rolling Stone's editor condemned the killing and told Reuters "If he has been murdered, that's bad and we pray for his soul." "We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality, not for the public to attack themâ€¦." and "We said they should be hanged, not stoned or attacked."
It's reassuring to know there are still enlightened editors like that who have the guts to stand by law and order.
SHOCK AND AWE IN GEORGIA
A few moths ago, Agence France-Presse reported that Imedi, a privately owned local television channel in the country of Georgia, broadcast a "news" story that Russia again had invaded the country (it had done so in 2008), Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was dead and some opposition leaders had joined the invaders.
It was a fake story.
Although an announcement before the broadcast said this was a simulation (it used footage of the actual 2008 invasion), citizens reported anxiety attacks, fainting spells, heart attacks and made a record number of calls to emergency services.
Saakashvili, who has ties to the owners of Imedi, said he found the program "very unpleasant" but also a very realistic portrayal of what "Georgia's enemy has conceived." The government denied having any prior knowledge of the report.
Opposition leader Nino Burjanadze, who was supposedly one of those opposition leaders who had joined with the invaders, said the program was a state-sponsored propaganda stunt in order to shore up Saakashvili and his government. She called the report a "malicious slander" against the opposition.
What were the Imedi producers thinking? What could possibly have been achieved through this fake story?
One can only hope this Georgian version of the 1938 Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast had a purpose that might serve the public interest.
NEWS SOURCES ON THE PAYROLLâ€¦OR CHECKBOOK JOURNALISM?
Is there anything wrong with a news medium putting regular news sources on its payroll? Apparently, in a capitalist democracy it's allowed without raising too many eyebrows.
The Associated Press says that some important Republican leaders, such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, all of whom are said to be considering running for president, have been hired by Fox News for various "news analysis" roles. Supposedly, it is written into their contracts that the agreement becomes void if/when one of these "analysts" becomes an official candidate for office.
Does that give Fox an unfair news gathering advantage or Fox is placed, as AP's television writer David Bauder called it, in "a unique position of influence"? Most likely. Does it put Fox's competitors at a disadvantage if, by contract, these politicos are not allowed to give interviews to other news organizations? Again, most likely.
Either of these questions should pose an ethical question to both Fox News and its politician contributors/analysts/commentators. Unless, of course, in an era of bareknuckle politics, neither side can be bothered by such niceties.
AL JAZEERA COVERS THE EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION
As the Egyptian uprising intensified, so did Al Jazeera's coverage. But this didn't mean that Egyptians had it readily available. The New York Times and Reuters reported that, as events unfolded, it's signal carrier in Egypt, Nilesat, a satellite service owned by various official Egyptian agencies, frequently interrupted the Al Jazeera signal, not only locally, but to other Middle East countries.
An Al Jazeera spokesperson said, "Clearly there are powers that do not want our important images pushing for democracy to be seen by the public." In response, 10 other Middle East channels decided to simulcast what Nilesat would not transmit and used Twitter to notify people of its availability.
According to Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Lebanese television station Al Jadeed, in fact, was threatened by Nilesat authorities and decided to continue its "support for Al Jazeera and the Egyptian people" by taking a "different editorial approach." Al Jadeed carried Al Jazeera footage but added its own analysis "to comply with Nilesat demands."
Clearly, even that kind of coverage was not adequate to change the course of history.
RONALDO SCORES AN APOLOGY
The amount was never disclosed, but world-class footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, then playing for Manchester United, and Britain's daily The Telegraph newspaper reached a libel damages settlement over a 2008 Telegraph story, which said he was living it up in a Hollywood nightclub while he was supposed to be nursing an ankle injury.
Ronaldo moved to the Real Madrid club for $129 million a few months later, but an ankle injury is a very serious matter to the soccer world regardless of national boundaries. The Telegraph article said Ronaldo had thrown away his crutches and started dancing with several models. His alleged behavior disturbed his fans, coach and teammates. But it was not a true account of what had had happened, because Ronaldo sued and eventually won the settlement.
In its apology, The Telegraph said that Ronaldo was in the club but "did not drink any alcohol at all while there," and did not "put his crutches down and try to danceâ€¦. We would like to apologise to Cristiano for the embarrassment and offence our report caused to him as a professional who takes his health, fitness and recovery from injury seriously and we are happy to set the record straight," the paper said.
Did anyone fact-check at The Telegraph? Millions of dollars, pounds and euros are riding on this man's ankle and it should have been obvious this was no ordinary story, but one that demanded extraordinary care. Does "reckless disregard for the truth" sound even more reckless than what Ronaldo had supposedly done according to The Telegraph's incorrect story?
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post recently introduced means through which readers can report errors to the paper and/or authors. The Post created a "YOUR FEEDBACK" link in each of its online bylined articles, which leads to a form that asks for the story's URL, its section, the kind of error that is being reported (factual, spelling, grammatical or other), how the error can be fixed, and suggestions for future story improvement. It even asks if the complainant "would be willing to help with other stories?"
The Times change started with its Sunday magazine, which added after each article the author's (and the supervising editor's) e-mail address.
I believe these changes are laudable and should be imitated.
This column is a regular feature in MEDIA ETHICS. Readers with verifiable contributions for future issues (all subject to editing), or comments on the entries chosen for this issue, should send them to Manny Paraschos, c/o MEDIA ETHICS.