Apple censors hit Pulitzer Prize winning cartoons. Who’s next?

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Nieman Labs reports this morning that the Apple app censors are refusing to allow Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore to syndicate his work on iPhone and iPad apps because editorial cartoons”ridicule public figures”

Complete Nieman Lab report

Mark Fiore can win a Pulitzer Prize, but he can’t get his iPhone cartoon app past Apple’s satire police

We’re now seeing our creative freedom further diminished by the computer industry.

First Google  engineers are killing good, creative writing by demanding that text copy fit into their search engine parameters (at least that’s what the more spineless media managers demand….smarter media organizations encourage good writing but make sure the keywords are there so Google can find a story).

Now Apple, which may soon may be a powerhouse with iPad, has arrogated to itself  (through corporate arrogance and caution and probably also at the behest of corporate lawyers and image makers) the right to censor the content on their devices.

This isn’t just a censorship issue. It is another case like the Google books controversy of an large American company imposing U.S. law and U.S. corporate custom on the rest of the world.

Now it appears that Apple believes that lowest common denominator of American culture will apply to the rest of the planet, that is if  the world wants to use  iPhones or an iPads.

So just how is Apple going to deal with the rest of the world once the iPad is finally released internationally in about six weeks or so?

As Nieman and the blog Gizmodo have reported, Apple is already cracking down on the European custom of  (what is called in the UK)  “page three girls”  Today they censor nipples,  tomorrow editorial content.”

Apple took down Stern’s iPhone app without notice. Stern–a very large
weekly news magazine-
-published a gallery of erotic photos as part of its
editorial content. It wasn’t gratuitous…

The origin of the term “page three girl” is of course Rupert Murdoch’s money maker, the London Sun.
Watch for developments there….

The letter to Fiore, as quoted by Nieman says Apple’s policy is:

“Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of
any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in
Apple’s reasonable judgment may be found objectionable, for example,
materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.”

What would be “defamatory” in Apple’s “reasonable” judgment? Under whose law would something be defamatory? The state of California?  The United States? Canada? Common law or civil law? Or even defamatory in dictatorships where it is illegal to criticize the current great leader?

Investigative journalism is almost always vetted by lawyers working for a news organization. A good lawyer knows how to protect the news reporter or producer while ensuring that the story, often vital to the public interest, is published or broadcast within the legal framework of that country’s media. 

So imagine this,  there was an iPad  on June 13 ,1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers about how the United States made mistake after mistake in Vietnam.
The Washington Post soon got its copy of the papers and published. The Nixon administration tried to get an injunction stopping publication but failed when the U.S. Supreme Court  ruled that the attempt for an injunction was unconstitutional prior restraint under the U.S. constitution.

In a democracy, government prior restraint can be contained by constitutional law.
Given the track record of Apple and other similar corporations, it is likely in that in a similar situation, either out of corporate policy or on the advice of their lawyers, the Pentagon Papers would not have been published by an app controlled by a company such as Apple.

Corporations are not always restrained by constitutional limits on government actions. especially when it comes to censorship.

What Apple is doing is as if Goss, the giant maker of printing presses, or  a pulp and paper company that supplied newsprint to a newspaper decided that they had the right to control the content of that paper.

Corporate PR is now  corporate prior restraint, at least as far as data, web and app delivery is concerned.

Update

Columbia Journalism Review now warns the media to be aware of Apple.
It’s Time for the Press to Push Back Against Apple
The writer of the piece, Ryan Chittum says:

And this is a good excuse to more closely scrutinize the market
influence that Apple, now the third largest corporation in America,
behind Exxon and Microsoft, is gaining on markets, including software
development.

Other key links from the CJR story

Dan Gillmour in Mediaactive Complicating Relationships in Media: Apple, NY Times Dealings Raise Questions

and

an early warning from Wired by Brian X. Chen in Gadget Lab

IPad Apps could put Apple in charge of news

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