Yen Yearning Yammer

The Japan Times reports that Asahi Shimbum (daily circulation 12 million), one of the world's largest newspapers, recently succeeded in changing the wording of an ad placed in its pages by a competing magazine (Shukan Bunshun, weekly circulation 630,000) that was promoting an article critical of Asahi's editorial practices. The magazine ad line in question read, "People call it black journalism, 50 million yen that Asahi Shimbum received from Takefuji in 'backdoor ad fee.'" The ad that ran in Asahi did not include the "People call it black journalism" part, which Asahi found offensive. Apparently the magazine's advertising agency had approved the change in the ad, which ran intact in other Japanese newspapers. The magazine article had accused Asahi of having accepted money from a major loan company for a series of articles in 2000-2001. Asahi said the money was a form of "editorial assistance," but it never acknowledged its series was sponsored. So far as we know, Asahi Shimbum charged full price for the edited ad. How do you think Asahi got so stinking rich?

Serbs, Orthodoxy, and Greek Television

A new documentary on the Srebrenica atrocities ran slightly edited on Greek television stations-the opening scene, in which a Serbian Orthodox priest blesses Serbian soldiers about to go to battle, was edited out. The video played in its entirety on other European stations, Greek Helsinki Monitor reports. Greek politicians, media and public opinion were largely Orthodox Christians and on the side of the Serbs during the Kosovo conflict, but Greek television apparently decided that showing the priest blessing troops later photographed committing atrocities was just a bit too embarrassing for the Church. According to GHM, the only criticism of this cozy censorship was an article on June 18, 2005, in the TV magazine of the country's largest daily, Ta Nea, referring to the habits of ostriches burying their heads in the sand...

Harry Potter and the Magic Scoop

As the whole world was agonizing over which character would be killed in the then-soon-to-be-released Harry Potter book last summer, a reporter and a photographer of The Sun in England were involved in a scuffle with two men who allegedly had copies of the book, the BBC reported. The two literature-loving men were arrested on "suspicion of theft and firearms offenses" and two copies of the embargoed book were recovered. A Sun spokesperson proudly said that the company employees "met with the two men with the intention of obtaining the book so it could be returned to the publisher and the police could be informed." Here's a good deed that went unpunished. The publisher of the Potter book must have been very grateful.

Peking Duck a la Microsoft (and Yahoo)

Reporters Without Borders reports that Microsoft has amended its blogging tool, MSN Spaces, to include warnings for Chinese users when they employ such words as "democracy," "Dalai Lama," "Falun gong," "China+corruption," "human+rights," etc. When such expressions appear, a warning now comes on to say "This message contains a banned expression, please delete this expression." Yahoo and Google have been accused of similar self-censorship to accommodate Chinese restrictions. In fact, Reporters Without Borders recently criticized Yahoo Hong Kong for giving Chinese authorities information about a Chinese journalist who had allegedly posted an internal government document banning media commentary on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest. The journalist was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "leaking state secrets." Whatever happened to the media liberationdemocratization and the public empowerment the Internet promised?

Illustrating War Casualties

A recent survey by the Los Angeles Times revealed that one of the key reasons American media do not run photographs of American casualties in Iraq is the delay required for next-of-kin notification. The photographers who are responsible for most of the war pictures that are distributed to American media are bound by military rules and, by the time families are notified, the photographs may no longer be newsworthy. Some photographers have complained that this results in the use of pictures of more Iraqi and Afghani casualties, but Newsday's Moises Saman says this is a double standard. "Americans understand we are at war-but not many people want to see the real consequences, especially when they involve one of your own," he told Editor and Publisher. "I think some publications cater to this sentiment by trying not to anger subscribers and advertisers with harsh 'in-your-face' coverage of the true nature of war." This way we can be in war, and almost not know it. And some say we didn't learn anything from the Vietnam war.

What Would William Allen White Do?

An editor of the 10,000-circulation Scottish North East weekly faced charges of racism last summer for publishing an editorial opposing the establishment of a refugee center in his area. His editorial, entitled "Perverts & Refugees," said that the people of the area were opposed to the center because their communities would then become "cesspools and ghettos where murder, rape, robbery, assault, break-ins [would occur].." The editor denied that he is racist, and said that his editorial mentioned nothing about "black refugees or Asian refugees." "I don't think the police would have taken action against a bigger newspaper," he told the Press Gazette. Ah, yes, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable..

The Post as a Pillar

The Washington Post in August ended its co-sponsorship of the Pentagon-organized Freedom Walk, a march that would end with a concert by a pro-war singer. After criticism from within and outside the newspaper, The Post's spokesperson said that it is the paper's practice to "avoid activities that might lead readers to question the objectivity of The Post's news coverage." The Post would honor the Washington area victims of 911 by contributing instead to the Pentagon Memorial Fund, Editor and Publisher reported. Leaders of The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild passed a resolution saying: "Post news employees are subject to disciplinary action for participating in political activities that may be perceived as revelatory of personal opinion or bias. The Washington Post itself should be held to the same high standard." One can't help but wonder what took them so long.

Not Funny

The Guardian (U.K.) reports that Ireland's Derry News had to run a front-page apology for publishing altered pictures of Pope Benedict XVI in an apparent attempt at humor. In manipulated photographs from a consecration mass in Cologne, Germany, during the pope's recent trip there, the pontiff was depicted as holding a glass of beer instead of a chalice of wine and holding a pretzel instead of communion bread. The paper said the images were a "highly regrettable error" and an insult to Catholics "both clerical and laity." Yep-but why did they do it in the first place?

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, co: MEDIA ETHICS.

The above article was published in Media Ethics, Fall 2005 (17:1),pp.2,25.