Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry redacts old news releases

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The Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry changed a contentious word in 18 old news releases still available on its website, apparently in reaction to a news article, effectively redacting a record without acknowledgement of the edit.

For most of my time as a reporter in Phnom Penh, I have been covering the border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple. The temple belongs to Cambodia by a final and unequivocal decision of the International Court of Justice issued in 1962, no question about that. Even the Thai government’s official position is to not contest the temple’s ownership. The dispute is over 4.6 square kilometers of land (mainly jungle with leftover landmines) near the temple. The legal and political details would bore my non-Cambodian readers, but suffice it to say the dispute, which has historical implications dating back decades if not centuries but heated up last July, has fed deep nationalistic sentiment on both sides of the border.

I noticed in the months spent reporting on this that Thai officials increasingly used the Thai name for the Cambodian temple —Phra Viharn— when I’d heard (and read) them used ‘Preah Vihear’ before. That’s the Cambodian term and also the one most frequently used in English/French, as far as I’ve seen. The name issue surfaced as a problem in border negotiations back in November, and again last week. I considered writing about that, but the Bangkok Nation beat me to it with a quite well written article on Feb 4. They showed that the Thai government frequently used “Preah Vihear” in the past, as recently as in July press releases still available on the ministry Web site.

Well, lo and behold, when I went to look for those uses of the offending word, I (almost) couldn’t find them. (Almost) every use of the words “Preah Vihear” had been redacted and changed to the Thai spelling “Phra Viharn”! It seems somebody went through the trouble of editing the public historical records of official ministry communication. How do I know this? How do I know my memory isn’t shaky or the Nation reporter wasn’t lying? It seems the Thai MFA’s Web editing software automatically updates the datestamp when the file is changed. If that’s on purpose, I commend the architect of this system for their care for transparency. So all those communiqués are still in chronological order of their original release but with a new datestamp of “February 4, 2009.” Just see the screengrab.

Thai Foreign Ministry website, press releases page 9, as captured on Feb 5, 2009

Thai Foreign Ministry website, press releases page 9, as captured on Feb 5, 2009

I counted 18 news releases modified. Apparently someone didn’t know about the “Find and Replace” function because a few “Preah Vihear” references remain within the text of at least two communiqués I went through. I know PR isn’t journalism, especially government PR, but the whole process just seems dishonest to me, and a bit sneaky (besides smacking of limited Web competence). PR has ethical rules, too, and redacting history surely doesn’t qualify as ethical. I’ll let you be the judge.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Wednesday, 11 February, 2009 at 10:36

French newspaper Le Figaro gets caught altering photo… and doesn’t sound all that sorry

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[Update on Nov 22]

L’Express’ editor-in-chief Eric Mettout explains on his blog how and why his paper published the scoop on Le Figaro altering the minister’s photo. (French version at the link, excerpt translated by yours truly below. Molière reference impossible to translate.)

“It’s true it’s not North Kivu, this story. But it’s information, not as harmless as it looks, which says a lot about the collusion of media and [political] power — worse, on the conditioning of certain newspapers or journalists who now self-censor even before the Commander intervenes. It threatens us, too. The day when, God forbid, we slip up, to be called back to our senses this way will be painful but salutary.”


Here’s one for the ethics textbooks that motivates me to revive this otherwise forgotten blog. Look at those two photos:



The top one is the Wednesday Nov 19 front page of Le Figaro, one of France’s top daily newspapers. The bottom one is the original photo taken by François Bouchon for Le Figaro. Notice the gorgeous ring on the finger of our justice minister, Rachida Dati? (by Chaumet, white gold and diamonds, price tag: 15,600 euros, or about $19,500 in today’s super high dollar.) Notice how it’s disappeared on the front page?

Worse than the act of altering a news image (huge no-no, if you were wondering), is the totally unapologetic stance of the Figaro photo editor when interviewed by L’Express, a competing newspaper, which revealed the photo was doctored.

“We went to press under a tight deadline. We’re taking responsibility [for this]. We didn’t want that ring to be the object of a polemic, when the real topic is the judges’ petition. Rachida Dati has nothing to do with this.”

[For context, Le Figaro is right-leaning, as is the government, and people could have assumed the minister requested the ring be removed from the photo. Also, Dati isn’t very popular with France’s law professionals and they recently let it be known. And generally, French people don’t like to see a 20k piece of jewelry on their government officials in the middle of the worst crisis since the Great Depression.]

I’m appalled. If you don’t want the ring to be so apparent, choose one of the other gazillion photos on file of this highly mediatic, government official. (Believe me, I too care about the judges’ petition; half my family is in the legal professions.) Being on deadline might be an excuse for not taking the time to tone a photo; I really don’t see how it’s one for going the extra mile and altering a photo. And most of all, nothing —NOTHING— is an excuse for misleading readers.

I really don’t care what circumstances this was done under, because I can’t think of a single one that would make it ok. At this point, were I a Figaro reader, all I’d want is an apology. And I have yet to find one on Le Figaro’s Web site.

PS: Now the photo is all everyone’s talking about, and not the judges’ petition.

Written by Isabelle Roughol

Friday, 21 November, 2008 at 05:47

Posted in Ethics, France, Photography

Hello, I’m Isabelle and I’m a plagiarist

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Thanks to Poynter, I found out about Jody Rosen’s discovery that her article (and many others’) had been grossly plagiarized by a Texas alt weekly. Articles under the Mark Williams byline in the Montgomery County Bulletin turned out to be mere collages of several other articles (not his work) in other publications. Rosen’s expose is quite edifying.

But there’s more revelation at the bottom of Rosen’s column (also pointed out by Poynter and Jeff Jarvis):

But perhaps the Bulletin is merely on-trend—or even ahead of its time. The Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and Real Clear Politics have made names and money by sifting through RSS feeds; Tina Brown and Barry Diller are preparing the launch of their own news aggregator. Mike Ladyman and company may simply be bringing guerilla-style 21st-century content aggregation to 20th-century print media: publishing the Napster of newspapers.

Wow. Frankly, as a blogger I’m offended that the editorial work of linking and aggregating (and, by the way, sending traffic your way Jody) is compared to the gross practice of slapping one’s name on somebody else’s work and passing it as one’s own. Ouch. I expected this from The Associated Press, not from Slate.

That’s just one paragraph too many (that’s already angered at least one blogger) in an otherwise edifying exposé, which I will link to (er, plagiarize) here again. Just ‘coz.

Written by Isabelle Roughol

Thursday, 7 August, 2008 at 06:53

Posted in Ethics, Journos, Web 2.0

Heard on campus today

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A J school student, on why she is not going to stay in journalism:
“Ethics aren’t really my thing. I’m gonna be a lawyer.”
This was too good not to post.

Written by Isabelle Roughol

Friday, 25 April, 2008 at 03:12

Posted in Ethics

What rules do you follow when blogging about journalism?

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Instead of writing the 3 blog posts I’ve had in mind for a week, I am powering through midterms these days. On this gorgeous Sunday, I am stuck in a coffee shop writing the first draft of my journalism capstone ethics paper. Which gets me to the question: what rules do you follow when blogging about journalism?

I am writing my midterm on the ethics of media blogging. Everyone and their mother has written about blogging ethics, but I am wondering particularly about the rules that apply to blogging about your own industry, the people you work with or might work with, even the very company you work for. How do you blog your honest opinion without burning yourself with future employers? How do you conciliate your journalist’s instinct to spit out all the information you have with your employer’s right to proprietary information? In general, how do you think news organizations are faring, when they praise transparency in the editorial process but are usually pretty defensive on disclosing their business practices, and what can/should bloggers do about it?

As you can tell, the topic is pretty wide. I’m only on the first draft, but I need help. Be kind, share your opinion and pass this request around to media bloggers you know.

Full disclosure: All comments will be sourced/attributed. This is for a footnoted paper that will serve as my ethics statement for my J-school senior assessment. It will be published on the portfolio section of this site, with a handful of industry insiders reading it (a 2-year-old’s handful, really). Excerpts might be used on this blog.

Written by Isabelle Roughol

Sunday, 9 March, 2008 at 19:02

A bad day calls for some random link-blogging

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I will not blog about the New York Times’ story on John McCain and his lobbyist friend. That’s right. Everyone and their mother has done it, and much better than I. I will, however, shamelessly plug McCain’s name here in an attempt to fool the Googly folks.

Item of note today: someone agrees with me. You might remember that I asked newspapers to stop shooting themselves in the foot by endorsing presidential candidates. (Jay Rosen rightly points out that the Times endorsed McCain while it was investigating his “ethical lapses,” and at the very least the publisher was in touch with both the editorial and the news sides.) Apparently, Time managing editor Rick Stengel is on my side.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is going ahead with his reform of France’s external media, which I could blog about for hours. He just named famed journalist Christine Ockrent to director of the holding France Monde, which will regroup France’s international radio network RFI, trilingual cable news channel France 24 and francophone channel TV5Monde. Journalism unions were quick to point out that Ockrent is the wife of Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign affairs minister. Ockrent defended her journalism credentials (I won’t deny they’re impressive) and said today on radio that she’s tired of being reduced to her “wife of” label. “Frankly, I find that unfair and humiliating,” Ockrent said. I couldn’t agree more, but she’s missing the point. Her new job puts France’s diplomacy and our international public media in the hands of the same couple. Can you say conflict of interest?

And lastly, think your job is threatened by bloggers, citizen journalists and the evil empire of Rupert Murdoch? Try fending off an insect invasion to save your paycheck.

Written by Isabelle Roughol

Friday, 22 February, 2008 at 05:39

“You’re really here for the revolution,” or why J school grads like me are freakin’ excited

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I just got out of my capstone class, which, under the somewhat pompous heading of “Journalism and Democracy,” is actually pretty good at helping seniors figure out what on earth we’re going to do with the rest of our lives. I mention it because today Geneva Overholser spoke to us. She was inspiring and kept it simple, giving us 4 things to keep in mind as we start out careers. I’d like to share those with you.

  1. Keep an open mind.

  2. Today’s journalism doesn’t resemble what we thought we were getting into, even just four years ago when we applied to MU. Get used to it and get over it.

  3. Be wise.

  4. “Wise shall be the bearers of light” is our motto engraved on the historic J-school building. Never has it been more true than today.

  5. Be entrepreneurial.

  6. Thank God! I side with the partisans of more business skills being taught in J schools. How can we save our industry if we can’t figure out how to make money at it? But Geneva wasn’t just talking about that. Talking about new media, she essentially said, you can’t have every skill in the world but you must expose yourself to them, be ready to understand them. Coming from a pretty grand figure of old media, this one made me particularly happy. Maybe I shall invite her to Wired Journalists.

  7. Have passion.

  8. Amidst all the doom and gloom talk, we’re almost forgetting that we got into this because we cannot possibly imagine doing anything else. With her 40 years’ experience, Geneva said she had never seen a more exciting time for journalism worldwide. And with my 2 years’ experience, I couldn’t agree more. “You’re really here for the revolution,” she said. “It’s gonna take your passion.”

With all that inspiring talk, I finally figured out my senior project, but more on this another time. If you want to read more from Geneva, download her Manifesto for Change. See her talk about it below (bless Berkeley for publishing their lectures online, even if the photography could be better.)

Written by Isabelle Roughol

Monday, 18 February, 2008 at 19:38