Thursday, July 30, 2009

The rise of Iran's citizen journalists
Digital Planet
Dave Lee
BBC World Service
30 July 2009

It has been 40 days since Neda Agha-Soltan, a young Iranian woman, was killed during an anti-government protest in Tehran.

Within hours, graphic scenes showing her final seconds of life dominated newspapers and bulletins over the world.

Yet this moment wasn't recorded by a professional journalist working for a big news organisation. Instead, a regular bystander captured the powerful footage and uploaded it online.

The clip of Agha-Soltan's death is just one of hundreds of pieces of citizen journalism to come from Iran in the past few months.

With journalists forced to stay in their hotel rooms, or even leave the country, these amateur recordings quickly became the only means of getting uncensored news out of Tehran.

No entry

With no correspondents allowed on the ground, the BBC, like almost all major news organisations, is forced to rely on the honesty of citizen journalists to provide details from the protests.

Inevitably, with valuable information comes deceptive mis-information and programme makers have to make difficult decisions about how to harness social networks.

We look at what's going on on Twitter, and then we follow it up in order to verify
Azi Khatiri

Download the podcast

"On Twitter you see people tweeting on various protests that have happened," Dr Azi Khatiri, an interactive producer for the BBC's Persian TV service, said.

"But, as a news organisation we have to make sure what we report is accurate and correct.

"We look at what's going on on Twitter, and then we follow it up in order to verify," she told the organisation's Digital Planet programme.

"We have various contacts inside of Iran that we call up so they can tell us that, for example, a protest has actually happened."

Flood of information

Since the disputed election results, BBC Persian has been inundated with content sent in by viewers.

Far from being a hindrance, Khatiri says the great flood of information helped the team decipher content and identify reliable information.
Protest in Iran
Protests have continued since the 12 June presidential election

"We literally get hundreds on days that massive protests happen inside Iran," said Dr Khatiri .

"When somebody tells us that something has happened, and then we get 10 or 20 pieces of film coming in from mobile phone footage, it shows the same thing: it actually did happen."

However, Bill Thompson, a technology journalist, said the move to citizen journalism didn't necessarily spell the end of the professional.

"Anybody can now have access to these sources," he said.

"But of course there's no validation or verification of the stuff coming out. The role of the journalist is not just to be the person who gets the information, but the person who puts it in context and makes sense of it."

"When it comes to complex political situations, where people's lives are at risk, the mainstream news organisations come into their own because they have done this before. We know how to check something, we know how to get the balance right," he added.

He said that he was also concerned that citizen journalism was only representing the young, web-savvy community of Iran, and that the older generation, with perhaps different views, are being drowned out.

However Dr Khatiri is adamant this isn't the case.

"A lot of the older generation have also been out in the street.

"This is not just the one-sided, young and youthful and funky sort of a protest. You would think, 'OK, do people in the provinces really give a damn? Is it really their cause as well?' I say that yes, it is."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Judith Miller seemed like a hero protecting sources, but turned out to be a mouthpiece for the Bush administration

Karl Rove had asserted in an interview with the FBI that he had learned the identity of Plame from a reporter. That reporter turned out to be Judith Miller.

Judith Miller (journalist)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Judith Miller (born January 2, 1948), is an American journalist. Miller, based in Washington D.C., was a prominent New York Times reporter with access to top U.S. government officials. Her coverage of these officials, especially regarding the Bush administration’s conclusions about Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Program in 2003 and her involvement in the Plame Affair, made her a high-profile media personality. The work that Miller and Michael Gordon did in presenting the case for WMDs has been questioned. Miller eventually lost her job over these reporting issues though Mr. Gordon has remained a reporter for the New York Times. Miller announced her retirement from The New York Times on November 9, 2005.

Miller was a mouthpiece for the Bush administration
New York Times career: 2002-2005

Miller was criticized for her reporting on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). On September 7, 2002, Miller and Times reporter Michael R. Gordon reported the interception of metal tubes bound for Iraq. Her front-page story quoted unnamed "American officials" and "American intelligence experts" who said the tubes were intended to be used to enrich nuclear material, and cited unnamed "Bush administration officials" who claimed that in recent months, Iraq had "stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb."

Miller added that "Mr. Hussein's dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq's push to improve and expand Baghdad's chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war."

Shortly after Miller's article was published, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld all appeared on television and pointed to Miller's story as a partial basis for going to war. Subsequent analyses by various agencies all concluded that there was no way the tubes could have been used for uranium-enrichment centrifuges.

Miller would later claim, based only on second-hand statements from the military unit she was embedded with, that WMDs had been found in Iraq. "Well, I think they found something more than a smoking gun," Miller said on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. "What they've found is a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we've called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them, firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions." This story also turned out to be false.

On May 26, 2004 a Times editorial acknowledged that some of that newspaper's coverage in the run-up to the war had relied too heavily on Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles bent on regime change. It also regretted that "information that was controversial [was] allowed to stand unchallenged." While the editorial rejected "blame on individual reporters," others noted that ten of the twelve flawed stories discussed had been written or co-written by Miller.

Contempt of court
Further information: CIA leak grand jury investigation and CIA leak scandal timeline

On October 1, 2004, federal Judge Thomas F. Hogan found Miller in contempt of court for refusing to appear before a federal grand jury, which was investigating who had leaked to reporters the fact that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative. Miller did not write an article about the subject at the time of the leak, but others did (most notably, Robert Novak), spurring the investigation. Judge Hogan sentenced her to 18 months in jail, but stayed the sentence while her appeal proceeded. On February 15, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld Judge Hogan's ruling. On June 27, 2005 the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

According to sources reported to have firsthand knowledge, Karl Rove had asserted in an interview with the FBI that he had learned the identity of Plame from a reporter.

On July 6, Judge Hogan ordered Miller to serve her sentence at "a suitable jail within the metropolitan area of the District of Columbia." She was taken to Alexandria City Jail on July 7, 2005.[19][20]Testimony at the Libby Trial

On Tuesday January 30th 2007, Miller took the stand as a witness for the prosecution against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's former Chief of Staff. Miller discussed three conversations she had had with Libby in June and July 2003, including the meeting on June 23, 2003 Miller said she could not remember during her first appearance in front of the Grand Jury. According to the New York Times when asked if Libby discussed Valerie Plame, Miller responded in the affirmative, "adding that Libby had said Wilson worked at the agency’s (C.I.A.) division that dealt with limiting the proliferation of unconventional weapons."[38]

The trial resulted in guilty verdicts for Libby.