Tuesday, October 12, 2004


The Indymedia seizure and the media

Last Thursday October 7, the FBI seized two servers in London which contained the content of a number of Independent Media Center (Indymedia) websites. As John Lettice writes in Britain's The Register,

.... [T]he procedure ought to send shivers down the spine of every publishing organisation on the Internet. It is clearly perfectly possible for their operations to be crippled without warning, without their being told what it is they've done, and without explanation. Depending on whether the authorities (under the international MLAT regime this could be many, many authorities) want something you've got or just want to stop you doing something, the crippling could be pretty extensive and pretty long term.

The BBC reported yesterday,

The seizure has sparked off protests from journalist groups.

"We have witnessed an intolerable and intrusive international police operation against a network specialising in independent journalism," said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists.

"The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting."

In the US, the civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said it was working with Indymedia over how to react to the seizures.

"The constitution does not permit the government unilaterally to cut off the speech of an independent media outlet, especially without providing a reason or even allowing Indymedia the information necessary to contest the seizure," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.

A more blatant infringement on freedom of the press does not readily come to mind.

Media coverage

Given the extraordinary implications of what has transpired, you would expect the seizure to be front-page news in every major newspaper in the United States, Europe and Australia. You will therefore not be surprised to learn that it is not. The media matter occupying the mainstream press has been the contempt citation against NY Times stenographer Judith Miller1 for not revealing her sources in the Valerie Plame affair.

All three major wire services—AP, Reuters and AFP (Agence France-Presse)— have carried the story of the seizures in that vague sort of way that is guaranteed not to make the public sit up and pay attention.

Currently the only two media organizations investigating the story are Indymedia itself and The Register, a British technology publication that has a digital-rights component to its coverage. StateWatch, the European Union's equivalent of the ACLU, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are also investigating.

Of the newspapers that I have checked, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Houston Chronicle, the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times have not run so much as the AP report. USA Today and the San Francisco Chronicle ran the wire service story, and the NY Times also carried it in—Oh, come on, guess! I'll tell you at the end of this post. The only mainstream newspaper that has attempted to write its own story is the Sydney Morning Herald,2 though it appears to be based on the wire-service accounts.

And the American networks? ABCNews has the AP article online under "Business." CBS and MSNBC have apparently not noticed.

Why should they care—the print media and the networks? Because their own content is being delivered more and more via the internet. If the FBI can bust an Indymedia server in London, why not the NY Times servers in New York?

This being the case, it behooves us all to encourage these centers of media power to investigate. Write their news desk editors, their ombudsmen and any journalists you happen to know. This story needs to stay alive!

Oh, yes. I promised to tell you where the NY Times ran the story. You'll find it under "Technology."

Previous post:
This is serious: Indymedia servers busted (10/08/04)


1 Miller could be held for up to a year and a half for contempt, but the judge has allowed her to remain free while she appeals. It is highly unlikely that Miller will ever see a day behind bars.

Miller, of course, is the NY Times reporter who wrote all those breathless front-page accounts of weapons of mass destruction dictated to her by Ahmad Chalabi in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and for which the NY Times apologized—sort of. Rather than suffer any kind of punishment, she will most likely gain undeserved notoriety as a staunch defender of freedom of the press. [back]

2 I am going to say a kind word here for the Sydney Morning Herald. Their reporter Paul McGeough wrote the story of Iraq's Allawi shooting six prisoners in cold blood, which was promptly removed to the "ancient history" section by the American media and ignored. They later provided me information on the Australian kidnapping affair that no other paper provided. And finally, one of their online blogger-columnists had the extraordinary perspicacity to link to a post on this blog. [back]

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