Thursday, February 03, 2005

Rony Abovitz Speaks Out Again

Rony Abovitz, the blogger at Forumblog who broke the story of Eason Jordan's disturbing comments at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, has posted a followup this morning (Hat Tip to Daly Thoughts):

Since I first posted the story, "Do US Troops Target Journalists in Iraq?" last week from the WEF 2005 in Davos, there has been a fast growing interest in what really is a bundle of interconnected, complex issues.

I was very glad to see the post "Eason Jordan clarifies comments" by Rebecca MacKinnon. Eason's voice in this discussion is a very important one, and it should be heard. But I would like to point out that the substance of the issues raised here, as well as the posts by readers in response to the original article, go well beyond Eason. I am still disturbed. I understand the tough position Eason is in. He is the head of a major news organization and he has corporate and managerial responsibilities. But I felt that he was pushing at broader ethical and moral issues that perhaps go well beyond the scope of his current job. One reader, Ken Hechtman, posted a response with some data from the Reporters Without Borders website (http://www.rsf.org/special_iraq_en.php3). Other readers, including some soldiers, provide a voice from the field which is chilling. I am finding it harder and harder to understand the truth on this subject. I have, and likely only can, scratch at the surface here, but there appears to be some depth and complexity to what really is a tangled web of issues that may be even more frightening when the light of day shines upon it.

I would like to point out Rebecca's courage on this issue. My views and posts are unexpected by the mainstream media, and I have been unknown in that world. The free voices coming from the blog world are a new, uncontrolled force of change in the news world. I am already getting a flood of e-mails, requests to be on various media outlets, and pressure from certain powers that be. Clearly a nerve has been hit. However, Rebecca comes from this world. Eason was a former colleague and superior. But she heard what I heard - all of us in the room did. But few have had the courage to stand up and say something. It would be nice to hear from some of the major world leaders who were in the room with us.

This topic is of significant U.S. and global importance. It digs into the heart of the freedom of the press, corporate influence, and the fabric of democracy. There is not a real solid middle ground here. Do our media and political leaders really want the us to see the truth on a subject like this? Has a veil of influence been pierced?

Here are the issues as I see them:

(1) What really did happen in Iraq to both the U.S. and foreign journalists killed while trying to cover the war? The posts by the readers, in particular a few from soldiers themselves, make this question even more compelling. And what is going to happen to journalists covering Iraq going forward? How does the truth ever become fully revealed and made public? Does the U.N. need to investigate what happened? Is there a major media organization reputable enough to present accurate information on a question which by definition here involves the major media?

(2) What is the responsibility of the media, and of media chiefs in particular (such as Eason) when it comes to how the news is shaped (or not shaped) to meet the needs of their audience? Is the news a business that needs to market to their customers what they want to hear and see, or is there a higher set of ethical and moral responsibilities that come along with the business of news? What is interesting in this case is that I do believe that the exact, objective facts are available with respect to what was said. This particular discussion at the WEF 2005 was videotaped (hopefully it is in a complete and unedited form). The debate about exactly what was said is easily resolved if an accurate transcript of the tape, or the tape itself, can be produced and made public. This kind of transparency lends itself well to global issues where subjectivity can taint any side of a topic like this. It is possible in this case that the subjectivity on one part of this issue can be removed entirely (with the complete videotape and transcript of the discussion).

(3) What is the responsibility of those in major leadership positions when confronted with such issues? In the room with us were powerful men and women, including high ranking politicians, who could follow up in a serious and meaningful way. Where are those voices and where is the followup? This topic should not be buried away in the closet. Is what Eason said the problem, or should we be more frightened at the prospect of journalists being targeted and killed by U.S. soldiers. "I see no problem if the US snipers take them out" was a comment from one reader, as well as "If they chose to take the part of the Baathists and Al kayda (sic), and say, 'embed' themselves among them, they will be killed." At a minimum the data and confusion calls for at least someone of the stature of a U.S. Senator or Congressman to step in now and lead a robust investigation.

(4) The role of the individual in society. In this debate and discussion I made the decision to say something - to speak out. That decision has sparked a lot of things, including some intense pressures coming from a lot of sides. But I now feel an obligation myself to not give in to any side, but to ask for, in fact to demand, an accounting of the truth.

The ability of blogs such as this one to influence and reach the mainstream media is a relatively new mode of the expression of free speech - truly free speech. The balance of power is being disrupted because the corporate media can no longer strongly control what a wide audience sees or hears. We need to continue this reclaiming of the freedom of speech away from corporate media, where revenues and market share will always balance with objectivity - a business is a business and has its own internal logic of building shareholder value. Voices who care primarily about the ethical and moral considerations of an issue are needed if the world is to become transparent and accountable.

Is this the Boston Tea Party of major media? Maybe in a small way. Yes, I am asking some seriously difficult questions, but they do need answers. Is it wrong to ask for the accountability of major news media and their leadership? Aren't we also all disturbed at the prospect of Eason being correct about the targeting of journalists, including those journalists now in Iraq, or on their way there? If I were going to cover the news in Iraq, I would have no idea what to think or expect at this point.

As a techie, I like to see problems solved. Here are some specific actions that should happen:

* Independant, objective, and respected investigation into this topic in a timely way (now, not years from now).

* Disclosure of what is found to the global public.

* Better protections and neutrality status for journalists, subject to harsh, Geneva style accountability if violated.

* More voices should come forward now. The voices of the soldiers in Iraq, as well as of journalists on the ground, need to come out. Let us know in your own words, unfiltered, what has happened, and what is happening. Have courage.

Note: All of the views that I have, and will be expressing in these blogs are my own personal views, and not those of any organizations that I am affiliated with.


I'll have some followup comments of my own in a moment.

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