The perils of poor copy-editing

December 27th, 2011

This article about PhoneDog’s suing of a former employee, Noah Kravitz, over his twitter account is interesting in itself (they’re claiming rights to the account followers, as a customer list, and seeking compensation on that basis). However, what caught my eye was the claim in the RTÉ sub-heading that Kravitz “must pay” $2.50 per user, which matched rather too well what PhoneDog are listed, later in the piece, as seeking.

A quick search reveals that the case is still being litigated. Thus, the ‘must pay’ is merely the claim being made by his former employer, and no damages have yet been assessed. Indeed, if what Kravitz says is correct, it looks like this is a counter-suit aimed at balancing out his claim for a share of PhoneDog’s advertising revenue.

RTÉ’s headline is fine, but the sub-heading implies that the suit has been settled, and compensation levels set. I’m not sure how much copy-editing RTÉ employs before adding news articles to its site, but this is something that could have been caught (and easily corrected) by a good copy-editor – or caused by poor editing that sought to simplify an overly complex construction in the draft lead.

Media Ownership, Journalism and Sam Smyth’s firing

October 20th, 2011

Labour Senator John Whelan has called for a Seanad debate on media ownership policies. The development that has brought this issue into focus is the firing of journalist Sam Smyth from Today FM. While the station has claimed that the firing was merely part of a re-organization of the station’s schedule, an attempt “to improve the programming quality and its relevance to audience”, there is widespread suspicion that the station’s controlling shareholder, Denis O’Brien, is behind the decision.

O’Brien is taking legal action (for defamation) against Smyth over comments he made in other outlets about O’Brien’s business activities. The Moriarty Tribunal, into political corruption in Ireland in the 1990s, “found that Mr Lowry had assisted Mr O’Brien in his bid to secure a mobile phone contract for Esat Digifone,” according to the Irish Times.

Journalistic independence from powerful forces is, on some level, a standard that can never be fully achieved – but a diverse media, with a broad range of owners and structures, can help. In this regard, Whelan’s right to draw attention to the recent announcement by Noel Curran, the Director General of public service broadcaster RTÉ, that the network will include investigative journalism as one of its six core areas in the years to come.

Dana’s allegiance issue

October 6th, 2011

It feels a little unfair to pick on someone when they’re down – Dana’s trailing the field in the presidential campaign, behind even Mitchell – but this is a fairly basic thing.

Background: Dana Rosemary Scallon became a US citizen shortly before running for president of Ireland in 1997.

The red herrings: Dana’s sister claimed during court proceedings in 2008 that Dana had actively decided not to bring that fact to the attention of the electorate. Dana claims that dual citizenship is possible, and points to De Valera, who was a US citizen by birth.

The real issue: While US courts have recognized dual citizenship in certain situations for some time, the process of becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States involves an oath renouncing one’s other citizenships:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

There’s a legal question here: adopting US citizenship through naturalization is understood in US law, at least, to require the surrendering of other citizenships (whether or not the other countries recognize that act as taking place.

There’s also a moral question: this is a formal oath, sworn by someone who proclaims herself to be a devout Christian, which includes the phrase “without any mental reservation.” Either Dana perjured herself, or… actually, I’m not sure there’s an ‘or’ here.

Dana’s not going to be president (she’s currently 100/1 on Paddy Power) in large part because so much of what she claims to stand for – an insular and shallow version of Irishness, dog-whistling to Irish conservatives still smarting over equal pay for women and the decriminalization of homosexuality – is unpopular and increasingly a marginal perspective. However, she has wrapped this up inside a constitution-toting package, proclaiming the defense of the Irish constitution as her primary platform, and it turns out she’s already sworn to defend that of another country, and she claims not to even remember that oath? Really? Irish law – where citizenship is automatic for those, such as Dana, who are born abroad to parents born on the island of Ireland – may not recognize the renunciation of Irish citizenship, but surely Dana feels a shiver when she contemplates the oath she swore before god.

Reducing US spending? Cut the military budget

October 5th, 2011

From Just Foreign Policy: FCNL has established a toll-free number: 1-877-429-0678. Urge your Rep. and/or Senators to press the Supercommittee to end the wars and cut the military budget. In talking to your Rep., urge support for the Lee-Campbell bipartisan letter to the Super Committee on cutting military spending.

Global Facebook subject to Irish Data Protection rules

September 28th, 2011

Turns out that all Facebook user accounts, outside of the US and Canada, are overseen by its European headquarters in Ireland. That means that it’s subject to Irish data protection rules, and the Irish data protection commissioner has now launched an investigation. This is one to watch.

Austin Airwaves seeks support for its Borneo project

September 22nd, 2011

Jim Ellinger of Austin Airwaves does great work supporting community radio near and far. Their most recent project involves supporting the establishment of community radio on the island of Borneo. They’re looking for donations of equipment and cash. Check here to see if you can help.

Drumm not just a cad, but also engaged in immigration fraud?

September 1st, 2011

It appears from the report in tomorrow’s Irish Times that Anglo Irish Bank is accusing former CEO David Drumm of engaging in fraud to secure his visa to the United States:

Anglo alleges that Drumm devised the “loan” from his wife “as a ruse” to qualify for an “E-2 Treaty Investor Visa” to live in the US and to use the cash in his business accounts as his “personal piggyback to spend on personal expenses.”

If true, Drumm could have more serious problems than a failed bankruptcy scam (both Anglo and the bankruptcy trustee are opposing his attempt to be discharged from bankruptcy, on the basis that he lied repeatedly, claiming that “Drumm “testified falsely” and engaged in a pattern of conduct to conceal from and defraud Anglo, Dwyer and other interested parties, the bank claimed.

In her complaint, Dwyer claimed that Drumm failed to disclose transfers of property, materially understated the value of assets and concealed property.”).

Orphan works: Low-stakes civil disobedience by curatorial institutions

June 24th, 2011

Interesting to see the library at U Michigan publishing copies of orphaned works, even if the copies are to be restricted to on-campus users. This is similar to the policy of the Free Music Archive in including orphaned works in their collection. Institutions such as these (the FMA is backed by WFMU) are usually wary of breaking the law, given their fiduciary responsibilities and the risk of financial penalties from civil suits. In the case of genuine orphaned works, however, the risk should be low – given that attempts to actively seek out rights holders have failed (and in the case of U Michigan, they note that most of the works are low-circulation scholarly works, with limited economic potential) – and the organizations are taking the view that, on balance, their charge to make creative works available outweighs the limited potential for financial costs. An emerging venue for copyright activism and and debate.

A mixed day for RTÉ

June 21st, 2011

Two rather different news stories featuring RTÉ today. The first, their triumph at the New York Festivals Radio Program and Promotion Awards (and isn’t that a mouthful), where they were named Broadcaster of the year, as well as being recognized in 17 different categories, including one of only three Grand Awards. I learnt about the news via a release from Michael D. Higgins, who noted that “this is the first time in the Festivals’ 54-year history that an Irish broadcaster has won the Broadcaster of the Year Award and it represents a timely boost for Ireland’s radio broadcasting community throughout the country.”

I’ve been listening to some of the station’s documentaries recently – now that the Documentary on One is consistently available online – and reminded of some of the great colour pieces regularly produced, such as a touching portrait of the situation on Arranmore in light of changes in fishing regulations. This content doesn’t attract the attention – or audience – of the big name stars, but is at the center of the public service remit of the station.

In more sombre news, the station is launching a redundancy plan, with plans to lay off at least 70 staff. That’s not an incredible surprise, in light of a recent opinion piece by DG Noel Curran in which he blamed a projected budget shortfall of €17m for this year (after remedial action to cut it from a possible €34m) on a range of factors, including (State) budget decisions, unexpected expenses associated with the two major recent State visits (by Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama), and a number of other unspecified items. The redundancy will actually increase the shortfall in the near term, by an estimated €10m, but result in savings of €5m a year thereafter. The original €34m projected overrun for this year was split between €20m in annual costs (the Budget issues and “other recent cost impositions on the public side”) and €14m in once-off expenses, so after the €17 in savings made this year (if those are sustainable on an ongoing basis, rather than once-off efforts such as maintenance deferral), the station’s finances should be stable in the medium term – provided there are no other State visits, funerals, or other unexpected events! In other words, the numbers add up, but the station’s still looking rather vulnerable to outside pressures.

If we look beyond the short-term budgetary pressures, though, what might we ask of a world class public service broadcaster, as it looks to the future. I’ve got three items on my list:

  1. The broadcaster recently announced it would make its TV news available for free to members of the National Newspapers of Ireland (NNI). This is part of a strategy to defuse pressure from the major newspaper groups, who claim that RTÉ is (and should not be) subsidizing its online operations from license fee (public service fund) revenue. A clever move (though it will be seen whether these commercial operations are able to both take the free service and continue to push for restrictions on RTÉ’s operations). Inspired by Simon McGarr’s attempt to be covered under the offer I would suggest that much RTÉ content should be made available for use, in non-commercial contexts, by outside users – and that in particular content produced with public funds should be made available to non-profit and non-commercial users on at least as favorable terms as they are made available to commercial users, such as the members of the NNI.
  2. RTÉ should build new platforms and tools to provide improved services to the diaspora, drawing on the potential of digital (and internet) distribution technologies, including the ‘new’ emigrants of the post-Tiger age.
  3. There’s a lot of attention paid to the ‘top 10’ presenters, focusing in part on their high pay (sometimes in contrast to their perceived, or actual, workload, though sometimes noting the tendency to find a talented person and place them in every possible part of the TV and radio schedule, in part on the varied quality of their output (with subjective readings of this element lending itself to a multitude of criticisms and critiques). There’s a more significant, and long-standing, issue – one that dates from the days of Sit Down and Be Counted – and which takes on a new significance and shape given the participatory potential of digital tools. RTÉ should take it upon itself to investigate how to facilitate a more multi-vocal, inclusive, and decentralized rendering of our national conversations. Public service broadcasting not just from D4, but threading more directions through and around our country. Documentaries such as that from Arranmore show what can be – and is – done, but there’s potential for far more ambitious undertakings here.

Marking Bloomsday

June 16th, 2011

Two different suggestions today from Labour politicians about appropriate ways to mark Bloomsday. Joe Costello notes that Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of public holidays in Europe (9 per year, only exceeding the 8 of England and Wales) and suggests that making the day a holiday could provide cultural and economic benefits (through providing a focus for literary tourism, perhaps by introducing a literary festival):

I believe that the extraordinary literary tradition of this country should be marked by an annual public holiday around which a major festival of literature would be developed.

A public holiday to celebrate our literary heritage could also be extended to Northern Ireland because of its rich literary tradition too and could become an all island festival of literature and culture.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin pushes in another (though not incompatible direction, in noting the high level of problems with literacy in many parts of Dublin, and calling for a ‘culture of literacy’:

“Dublin has a rich literary tradition and is recognised the world over because of the brilliant writers we have produced. In addition, Dublin is also a Unesco City of Literature and we are home to the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It is now incumbent on this Government to ensure that we build on these traditions by greatly enhancing our children’s capacity for literacy.

“I believe that fostering a culture of literacy in this city would the most fitting tribute to our great literary giants. It is my hope therefore, that when we celebrate Bloomsday in years to come everyone on this island can truly appreciate the literary genius of Joyce and just maybe inspire a child to create a masterpiece of their own.”

Today’s Galway Advertiser also has an interesting piece from John Morley, providing a sketch of Joyce’s connections with Galway, via Nora.