Saturday, July 14, 2007

COMMENT: Tim Blair splits hairs ...

Yesterday in Crikey, I exposed the fact that far-Right blogger and opinion editor of the Daily Telegraph had published an "article" from Wassim Doureihi of the Aussie branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir on July 12 2007.

The "article" included the by-line "By Wassim Doureihi". At the conclusion of the article appeared these words ...

* Wassim Doureihi is the media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia
The article was published on the opinion pages of the Tele. It was published as an opinion piece. Yet no opinion piece was submitted by Wassim Doureihi. Indeed, the Hizb ut-Tahrir website re-published the Tele version with this notation ...

Please Note:

Just for the record, this article is an edited version of the HT press release issued yesterday 11/07/07. It was included in Daily Telegraph (DT) as an opinion piece (with DT editing) without the prior permission of Wassim Doureihi or representatives from HT. Team

Proper and professional opinion editors print opinion pieces which are submitted to them by the authors or which they commission the authors to write. If an opinion editor wishes to reproduce something on his/her page from another source, s/he will obtain permission from the author.

There are proper and professional opinion editors. And then there is Tim Blair. According to Blair, it's enough that the Press Release somehow managed to end up in the possession of the Tele. That gives Blair the trigger to publish it as an opinion piece without seeking any permission from the supposed author or the organisation.

So next time any lobby group or company issues a press release and it ends up at the Tele's offices in Surry Hills, they shouldn't be surprised if their media contact becomes the author of an article edited and published without their permission.

Here's what I wrote in Crikey yesterday ...

... Doureihi confirmed to Crikey ... that neither he nor anyone else from his organisation submitted anything to the Tele.

So where did the Tele's Opinion Editor Tim Blair source this article? Well...Doureihi sees the article as surprisingly similar in content to a recent Hizb ut-Tahrir press release placed on their website.

... what on earth was Tim Blair thinking when he decided to reprint (and almost plagiarise) a press release as an article without seeking the author's permission?

I've had op-eds published in over 16 newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. I've never seen or heard of a paper editing and reprinting my stuff without my permission. In fact, most opinion editors ask me to approve the final version before it goes to print. Certainly Blair's predecessor showed the same basic professional courtesy.

I've had some disagreements with Tom Switzer, opinion editor at The Australian over the past few months. But Switzer is a true professional. He won't take a press release or blog entry, edit it and then print it as an op-ed piece. If he wants to use excerpts from an outside source for his "Cut and Paste" section, he will obtain permission from the source.

I've had a Korean newspaper in Melbourne ask me permission to reproduce a piece I wrote for The Age. I've had the editor of an Anglican parish newsletter in Queensland seeking my permission to reproduce an article that first appeared in the Courier-Mail.

It seems the editors of small community and church publications exercise a greater degree of professionalism than the opinion editor of a major Sydney daily. And Blair's excuse?

The very same press release was sent to the Telegraph. All I did was put Wassim’s name on it and remove some self-quoting intro lines - which, seeing as he wrote the thing, seemed fair enough. People are now alert to Hizb ut-Tahrir’s beliefs, expressed in their own words ...

I was thinking this: here’s a press release from Hizb ut-Tahrir. This is what they believe. Let’s publish it.

Given that Blair never even bothered to contact anyone from HT, the question arises: How did he reach the conclusion that Wassim Doureihi wrote the press release? Yes, Doureihi is mentioned as the media spokesman. But does it necessarily follow that Doureihi actually wrote the release?

Anyway, Tim. Let's presume that you did the correct and proper thing. If I get my Christian mate to write a press release on his views on the management of a certain Christian denomination and send it to the Tele, will you edit the article and run it without first getting his permission?

Things must be pretty dire down at the Tele if Blair has to uplift press releases and run them as op-eds. Maybe if he used less colourful language with contributors, he'd find himself with more work to do.

UPDATE I: Poor Tim must have had an awful past 24 hours. He's already entered FIVE updates on this issue, each a lame an attempt to justify his lack of professionalism.

Things must be pretty desperate down at the Tele when the opinion editor has to trawl websites to find opinion pieces. You'd think that, in an election year, MP's would be lining up to have their submissions published. You'd think there'd be no shortage of submissions from people wanting their view heard by a large audience.

Of course, by printing the HT press release as an op-ed, Blair has exposed his newspaper to the same criticism it makes of Media Watch and the ABC. Blair has kicked an own-goal. He's also managed to make his boss David Penberthy look rather silly.

Let's see how many more updates Blair will publish.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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