Every now and then, in our so called free world, we must talk about censorship. This is a story of media and the freedom of the press, which is put in danger, in the US and elsewhere -in fact, everywhere- not by one government, but by the very world-class companies who govern the distribution of media across the globe.
I’m talking about Apple, here, and the iPhone/iPad publishing scheme. An incident a few days ago, involving Apple and Mark Fiore, a Pulitzer-winning cartoon author, shows how far-reaching and uncontrolled are corporations in the US.
The antecedent is Amazon erasing Orwell’s 1984 book (the NY Times reported) from the Kindle of many readers who had bought the e-book. This action resulted from a copyright claim, and Amazon later declared it took the wrong decision. But still, they could in fact apply censorship upon their clients. Not only: since the Kindle is used all over the world, such censorship was actually stronger and farther-reaching than any one government can possibly exercise. Amazon apologized, in the end. And Apple, too, has apopolized at the censorship it imposed upon the works of Mark Fiore, the Pulitzer-winning author who publishes satirical vignettes and animations.
Apple in fact did not accept Fiore’s iPhone App containing his cartoons in December. This outraged the media, and the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote about his app’s rejection. Which prompted Steve Jobs to publicly apologize (“This is a mistake that’s being fixed“, he said) and ask Fiore to resubmit his app (How much control will Apple have over news app content?, CNet News, 16 April 2010).
The recent succes of Apple’s iPad, and the promise of many media outlets of wonderful versions of their publications for the iPad has propelled this story into new territory. Apple has got an immense power, with its App accepting scheme, to reject all sort of media which at its sole discretion, it deems not fit to publish. This has consequences in terms or real, global censorship that even the worst ayatollahs had never dreamt.
Says Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review, which issued a call to media companies to be more distant with Apple in the future:
Look, let’s face it. The iPad is the most exciting opportunity for the media in many years. But if the press is ceding gatekeeper status, even if it’s only nominally, over its speech, then it is making a dangerous mistake. Unless Apple explicitly gives the press complete control over its ability to publish what it sees fit, the news media needs to yank its apps in protest.
Will the Press maintain its gatekeeper’s status? Will it cede it?
Some people said that Apple is not a public service and thus not obligated to respect the free press. What? Am i reading well? Case dismissed: the Freedom of the Press is based upon free distributing channels, meaning that the prining presses that actually print the New York Times do not have the power to stop the paper from being printed, and the trains and airplanes which transport the paper do not have the power to refuse carrying it, based on its content. Actually, in real world terms, they can. But they’d lose their business.
Apple has changed the distribution business when it first began controlling music. It stole that distribution from the big recording industry -with its approval. Now, Apple is stealing the same distribution channel from the media publishing industry. Will it realize it is being robbed?
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