posts about or somewhat related to ‘Transparency’

Interactive: What does your country ask Google to censor? 
Sebastian Sadowski visualized data from Google’s Transparency Report and put it into an interactive graph sorted by country.
Image: Screenshot of the Transparency Report by Sebastian Sadowski.

Interactive: What does your country ask Google to censor? 

Sebastian Sadowski visualized data from Google’s Transparency Report and put it into an interactive graph sorted by country.

Image: Screenshot of the Transparency Report by Sebastian Sadowski.

Mostly Cloudy During Sunshine Week

To coincide with Sunshine Week, the Sunlight Foundation released their Open Legislative Data Report Card. Some states are doing well, many aren’t, with most scoring a Gentleman’s C or below.

Grades are based on what Sunlight calls the Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information. For this report card, their criteria is based on six: completeness, timeliness, ease of access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence.

The Society of Professional Journalists takes a different tact to explore government openness as they examine what obstacles reporters face when interviewing employees of federal agencies:

[A] survey of journalists who cover federal agencies found that information flow in the United States is highly regulated by public affairs officers, to the point where most reporters considered the control to be a form of censorship and an impediment to providing information to the public. According to a survey of 146 reporters who cover federal agencies, conducted by the Society of Professional Journalists in February 2012, journalists indicated that public information officers often require pre-approval for interviews, prohibit interviews of agency employees, and often monitor interviews. Journalists overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that “the public was not getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.

Meantime, over at the Washington Post, Josh Hicks gives a rundown of what’s going on with FOIA requests:

The Center for Effective Government said Wednesday that the administration’s rate of response to FOIA requests had improved in 2012 but that the percentage of replies with redacted information had grown.

“While processing has gone up, we see a record-setting rate of partial grantings,” said Sean Moulton, the center’s director of open-government policy.

Federal agencies averaged a “C-minus” grade for FOIA compliance in Cause of Action’s analysis, also released Wednesday.

The group sent identical FOIA requests to 16 federal agencies in April. In its report, it said that one-quarter of the agencies provided no information and that the average response time for the others was 75 business days — more than double what the law requires.

Reporters filing FOIA requests with the Commerce Department have to wait even longer. The average turnaround time there is 239 days.

And then there’s national security and whistleblowing. We’ll let the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald take it away. The gist of it runs like so:

Along with others, I’ve spent the last four years documenting the extreme, often unprecedented, commitment to secrecy that this president has exhibited, including his vindictive war on whistleblowers, his refusal to disclose even the legal principles underpinning his claimed war powers of assassination, and his unrelenting, Bush-copying invocation of secrecy privileges to prevent courts even from deciding the legality of his conduct.

Looking for more opinion and updates on Sunshine Week? Visit The SPJ or SunshineWeek.org’s opinions page.

Images: Screenshots, best and worst of the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Legislative Data Report Card. Select to embiggen.

How the Bradley Manning Case Endangers Journalism →

Harvard Law professor Yochai Benkler begins a recent New Republic article like so:

After 1,000 days in pretrial detention, Private Bradley Manning yesterday offered a modified guilty plea for passing classified materials to WikiLeaks. But his case is far from over—not for Manning, and not for the rest of the country. To understand what is still at stake, consider an exchange that took place in a military courtroom in Maryland in January.

The judge, Col. Denise Lind, asked the prosecutors a brief but revealing question: Would you have pressed the same charges if Manning had given the documents not to WikiLeaks but directly to the New York Times?

The prosecutor’s answer was simple: “Yes Ma’am.”

This last line, the simple, “Yes, Ma’am,” is important.

It’s not that Manning leaked to WikiLeaks the government is saying. It’s that he leaked at all. More specifically, in the government’s view, the act of leaking is “aiding the enemy,” and it is those charges — a capital offense, although the prosecution says they will not seek the death penalty — that it looks like they are going to pursue.

As GigaOm’s Matthew Ingram points out:

[I]f Manning is found guilty of “aiding the enemy” for releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks, it could change the nature of both journalism and free speech forever.

Why? Because as Benkler points out, the charge for which Manning is being court-martialed could just as easily be applied to someone who leaks similar documents to virtually any media outlet, including the New York Times or the Washington Post. In other words, if the U.S. government has seen fit to go after Manning and WikiLeaks, what is to stop them from pursuing anyone who leaks documents, and any media entity that publishes them?

And, as Benkler, who’s an expert witness on the case, further explains:

[T]hat “Yes Ma’am” does something else: It makes the Manning prosecution a clear and present danger to journalism in the national security arena. The guilty plea Manning offered could subject him to twenty years in prison—more than enough to deter future whistleblowers. But the prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks, a big stick that could threaten not just members of the military, but civilians too…

…The prosecution case seems designed, quite simply, to terrorize future national security whistleblowers. The charges against Manning are different from those that have been brought against other whistleblowers. “Aiding the enemy” is punishable by death. And although the prosecutors in this case are not seeking the death penalty against Manning, the precedent they are seeking to establish does not depend on the penalty. It establishes the act as a capital offense, regardless of whether prosecutors in their discretion decide to seek the death penalty in any particular case.

Chilling, indeed. As Ingram sums up:

Benkler’s warning shouldn’t be taken lightly: if Manning is guilty of aiding the enemy for simply leaking documents, then anyone who communicates with a newspaper could be guilty of something similar. And if the leaker is guilty, then the publisher could be as well — and that could cause a chilling effect on the media that would change the nature of public journalism forever.

Yochai Benkler, The New Republic. The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case.

Mathew Ingram, paidContent. If Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks are guilty, then so is the New York Times.

Should journalists be allowed to have opinions? If so, when and where — and how — should they be allowed to express them? Such questions have been a thorn in the side of the traditional media industry almost since the web was invented, and they have become even more irksome now that Twitter and Facebook and blogs give everyone the ability to publish with the click of a button. Although it involved an open microphone rather than social media, the latest example of a journalist being fired for making an offhand comment is Yahoo’s former Washington Bureau chief David Chalian, who was dismissed for a remark he made about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But social media or not, the underlying question remains the same: why are we trying to pretend that journalists of any stripe are emotionless robots?

Matthew Ingram, GigaOm. Why can’t we just admit that journalists are human?.

Ingram argues that the more we know of a journalist’s opinions, the better: “We need to encourage more transparency rather than less, because there are so many sources of information now that the old “journalist as impartial oracle” approach, or what Jay Rosen calls the “View From Nowhere,” simply no longer works (and was a fiction in any case).”

motherjones:

sunfoundation:

The News Without Transparency

Giving you a glimpse of the news in a world without public access to government information.


Well in other news, the Senate wants the make the government less transparent.

FJP: Read through to see what data sources are used for different types of stories. Nicely done, Sun Foundation. 

motherjones:

sunfoundation:

The News Without Transparency

Giving you a glimpse of the news in a world without public access to government information.

Well in other news, the Senate wants the make the government less transparent.

FJP: Read through to see what data sources are used for different types of stories. Nicely done, Sun Foundation. 

Facts Get In The Way of Everything

Slate has two recent articles that illustrate a growing fear of facts. The first looks at the Republican party generally and Mitt Romney specifically.

It’s tough times for facts in America. First Mitt Romney—interviewing for the position of president—declined to release his tax returns because, as he explained, the Obama team’s opposition research will “pick over it” and “distort and lie about them.” He isn’t actually claiming that his opponents will lie. He’s claiming he’s entitled to hide the truth because it could be used against him. As Jon Stewart put it, “You can’t release your returns, because if you do, the Democrats will be mean to you.” These are tax returns. Factual documents. No different than, say, a birth certificate. But the GOP’s argument that inconvenient facts can be withheld from public scrutiny simply because they can be used for mean purposes is a radical idea in a democracy. It has something of a legal pedigree as well.

Probably not coincidentally, last week Senate Republicans filibustered the DISCLOSE Act—a piece of legislation many of them once supported—again on the grounds that Democrats might someday use ugly facts against conservatives. The principal objection to the law is that nasty Democrats would like to know who big secret donors are in order to harass, boycott, and intimidate them. The law requires that unions, corporations, and nonprofit organizations report campaign-related spending over $10,000 within 24 hours, and to name donors who give more than $10,000 for political purposes. Even though eight of the nine justices considering McCain-Feingold in Citizens United believed that disclosure is integral to a functioning democracy, the idea that facts about donors are dangerous things is about the only argument Senate Republicans can muster. Last week even Justice Antonin Scalia told CNN’s Piers Morgan that “Thomas Jefferson would have said the more speech, the better. That’s what the First Amendment is all about. So long as the people know where the speech is coming from.”

That’s a ringing defense of the need for disclosure, which Scalia has always supported.

Not to be outdone, the State Department just won a case about the secrecy behind the diplomatic cables Wikileaks released in 2010 and 2011.

The government, it appears, would like to pretend that never happened even though anyone who cared has taken a look, and their contents have been reported around the world. If you want to double check that they’re out in the public, you can do so here.

Back to Slate:

It sounds like something from Catch-22. A U.S. district court judge on Monday ruled that diplomatic cables published worldwide by WikiLeaks, the New York Times, the Guardian, et al., are actually still secret. Why? Because the government says they are secret…

…The government’s logic, and the judge’s, is—and I do not think I am exaggerating or distorting their arguments here—that just because something is public doesn’t mean it isn’t also secret. In this case, the cables are secret because they contain information that could be harmful if released. Never mind that they’ve already been released by WikiLeaks. They still could be harmful if released by the government.

The ruling seems to uphold a broader U.S. government philosophy that even when everyone knows the government is doing something—conducting drone strikes in Yemen, waterboarding prisoners in Guantanamo—the government can continue to pretend that it is not doing it, and the courts will back it up.

Related: See Glenn Greenwald’s article in today’s Salon about Dianne Fienstein, California Democrat and Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and her continued calls to prosecute those disclosing sensitive government information (eg. drone wars). In it he writes about how government is defining what is a permissible leak and who permissible leakers are (spoiler alert: themselves).

"In sum," Greenwald writes, “leaks of classified information are a heinous crime when done to embarrass or undermine those in power, but are noble and necessary when done to bolster them.”

Seventeen Magazine's Body Peace Treaty →

On April 19, 14-year-old Julia Bluhm started a petition on Change.org asking Seventeen magazine to print one unaltered photo in its magazine each month.

By Tuesday morning, the petition had attracted 84,168 signatures. And Ms. Bluhm reacted enthusiastically to news of the magazine’s policy statement.

“Seventeen listened!” Ms. Bluhm wrote on her petition page, under the headline “How We Won.” “They’re saying they won’t use Photoshop to digitally alter their models! This is a huge victory, and I’m so unbelievably happy.”

Editor-in-chief Ann Shoket, along with the entire magazine staff signed an eight-point pact to never change the body or face shapes of any of its girls and only include images of “real girls and models who are healthy,” and also make photoshoots transparent by posting them on Tumblr.

FJP: Well done, Julia Bluhm. And well done, Seventeen. We especially like the effort to be transparent.

Sources, Attribution and Transparency: It's an Ethics Thing →

After the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, a common story that’s appeared is what “ordinary” Americans think of the decision.

Both NPR and NBC canvased the country to get insight. And both, somehow, end up interviewing a New Jersey man named Joe Olivo. In each report, he’s presented as a small business owner who says that the Affordable Care Act will either prevent him from hiring more people or force him to stop offering health insurance at all.

What neither report mentions is that Olivo is a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that opposes the Affordable Care Act, has testified in congressional hearings against the act and has appeared numerous times on television stating the same.

Via Balloon Juice:

Wow — two news organizations covering the same story scoured the nation for a random small business owner to comment on that story — and they both found the same one! How’d that happen? What are the odds?

Well, as it turns out, Joe Olivo of Perfect Printing turns up quite a bit in public discussions of this and other issues. Here he is testifying against the health care law before House and Senate committees in January 2011. Here he is on the Fox Business Network around the same time, discussing the same subject. Here he is a few days ago, also on Fox Business, talking to John Stossel about the law. Here he is discussing the same subject on a New Jersey Fox affiliate.

And here he is in July 2010 discussing small business hiring with Neil Cavuto on Fox News. Here he is opposing an increase in the minimum wage in an MSNBC debate a couple of weeks ago.

Go to many of these links and you find out something about Joe Olivo that NPR and NBC didn’t tell you: he’s a member of the National Federation of Independent Business. NFIB’s site and YouTube page promote many of Olivo’s public appearances. He was the subject of an NFIB “My Voice in Washington” online video in 2011.

NFIB, you will not be surprised to learn, is linked to the ALEC and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and to the usual rogues’ gallery of right-wing zillionaires.

So Joe Olivo isn’t just some random business owner — he’s dispatched by NFIB whenever there’s a need for someone to play a random small business owner on TV.

Thanks, NPR and NBC — you asked us to smell the grass, and you didn’t even notice it was Astroturf. Or you noticed, but you didn’t want us to.

Is it wrong for NPR and NBC to use Olivo as a source in their reporting? Most certainly not. Is it wrong for neither of them to mention that Olivo has opposed health care reform and is a member of a national organization actively opposing it as well? Absolutely.

Basically, it’s a matter of identifying sources in their entirety so that the public can make its judgement on the reliability of his or her statements. And if that sounds like something from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, it should. It’s item number three.

Or, as NPR writes in its ethics handbook:

If it is important for listeners or readers to know, for example, what political party the source is from, we report that information. If it is important to know what agency the source is from, we report that. If it is important to know which side of an issue the source represents, we report that.

Unfortunately, this is how reporting often works. A small case this, but remember the 2008 New York Times investigation that examined the role “military experts” play on TV. In that article we learned that “most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air,” and that those affiliations were seldom, if ever, disclosed to the public.

Bonus: The Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism’s link list to ethics guidelines of news organizations around the world.

What Would Open Source Journalism Look Like?

Last week we posted a video of Gabriella Coleman, Assistant Professor and Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University, discussing Wikileaks.

Here’s another one from her, in which she discusses what open source journalism might look like. What if journalists were transparent about their process, and all sources involved in a story could be shared publicly? 

House Republicans Blocking Transparency in Political Advertising →

During the 2012 elections it’s estimated that political parties, campaigns and their advocates (eg., Super PACs) will spend over $3 billion on television advertising. While stations are required to keep records of who’s purchasing what, transparency advocates have urged the FCC to require broadcasters to make that information easily available online (currently, any citizen can go the physical station and ask to see the paper documents).

In April, the FCC agreed despite opposition from broadcasters and issued new rules to make it so starting in July.

Now, however, Republican lawmakers are blocking implementation of the rules by refusing to allow funding for them.

Via ProPublica:

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., chair of the financial services and general government subcommittee of the House appropriations committee, added language to an appropriations bill ordering that no funds to be used to implement the disclosure rule. The bill, which passed the subcommittee Wednesday, funds the FCC and other agencies for fiscal year 2013.

The move by Emerson adds another question mark to the process of creating an FCC website with political ad data. At a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, a Democratic amendment to remove the Emerson language was defeated on a party line vote.

ProPublica reports that Democrats will try to strip the language when the full appropriations committee considers the bill. Also fortunate, “Even if the measure to block the FCC from funding the political ad rule passes the House, it still has to get through the Democrat-controlled Senate and be signed by President Obama, whose administration has supported the transparency rule.”

Our backgrounder on political advertising and broadcaster transparency is here.

How to Watch Presidential Campaign Ads

A few days ago, Susan King, dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s Journalism School, called for transparency in political ads, a request that has been on the table before, as Steven Waldman broke down back in December.

In late 2011 and early 2012, the Iowa caucus cycle produced 24/7 campaign ads, and some reports indicate that local television broadcasters in the state earned $18 million in campaign advertising. I believe that it is in the interest of the community and the larger political audience to know exactly what a station has earned in an election campaign cycle and to know who purchased those ads. Transparency is the issue here. (via TV News Check)

FJP:  Let’s look a little closer at the who question.

This is the first presidential election in which Americans will be inundated with television advertisements aired by Super Political Action Committees. Often negative, these ads frequently mislead voters, provide little or no information, are often inaccurate and reveal the media’s unclean hands when it comes to undermining democracy, observers warn. And it’s about to get worse. The involvement of Super PACs in the 2012 Republican primary contest has skyrocketed with a 1,600 percent increase in interest-group sponsored ads aired as compared to 2008. (via Poynter)

Though super PACs cannot legally coordinate with a candidate’s campaign, past connections to a candidate are likely. But they are big players and as reported by Reuters, they will make broadcasters a lot of money. For more information, see the Free Press’s recent report, Citizens Inundated, in which Timothy Karr writes,

Short of stopping the DVR and freeze-framing the faint disclaimer line at the end of the commercials, there is very little to help consumers differentiate Super PAC ads from those sponsored by candidates.

FJP: On that note, see these tips on how to watch Super PAC ads:

  • Look for the faint type at the end of the commercial to ID the Super PAC.
  • Look up the Super PAC online to see which candidate or cause it is connected to by going to Web sites such as opensecrets.org. Run by the Center tor Responsive Politics, the site lists the organizations, candidate the group supports or opposes, how much money the group has raised and spent, as well as its political viewpoint.
  • Pay close attention to claims made in ads, then check with fact-checking websites. Remember Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? John Kerry’s armed services career was redefined, for some, when the organization alleged that his Purple Hearts were earned fraudulently.
  • Look at the production values. Are faces darkened? Is the background music ominous? If you minimize those emotion-grabbing elements, what is the ad’s message?
  • Ask yourself whether the ad is positive in support of a candidate or negative in opposition to a candidate. Super PAC ads can be either, in fact the groups can say anything they want, but their ads are usually negative and characterized as “attack ads,” though it is difficult to determine who is attacking. (via Poynter)

Tumbling Transparency →

As Tumblr continues its efforts to attract big-name publishers, the metrics of human resources can be a sticking point.

Via Digiday:

The challenge for Tumblr is convincing resource-strapped publishers that maintaining a Tumblr is a good use of time. After all, there’s no way for pubs to directly make money off their efforts unless users end up back on their sites.

This is by and large true, and the article does point out that some publishers recognize that building greater brand awareness is their Tumblr ROI.

But late in the article we learn that Blackbook is making money off its Tumblr by running recipes from Don Q Rum. Curious, I went to take a look and sure enough found a tasty looking beverage

But what I did not find was any indication that “Coquito by Don Q Rum” is an advertisement (or advertorial or content marketing or whatever you might want to call it). 

I don’t want to be a noodge — or at least I’m not quite ready to be one — but am interested in what transparency people want from publishers when ads are posted into their content streams. For example, a quick note indicating that the post is “sponsored”, or a page on the Tumblr listing who the publisher’s advertisers are, or something entirely different.

Thoughts?

ProPropublica Builds Transparency Layer into its Articles
ProPublica, the nonprofit, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative startup has introduced a tool to let readers explore source material used in their reporting.
In the image above, I’ve selected a highlighted phrase from an article by Marshall Allen about a woman’s fight for information about her husband’s death at a Texas hospital. Once selected, a windoid appears containing source material pulled from DocumentCloud.
ProPublica calls this “Explore Sources”.
Via ProPublica:

In the course of reporting the piece, Marshall made over 500 annotations in 64 documents he uploaded to DocumentCloud, many of which were sources of facts in his story. We thought readers would find these annotations useful, and may even use them to explore the documents on their own. However, we didn’t want to show them in a separate graphic or interactive feature, but rather sprinkled throughout the story itself.
So we made a special feature we’re calling Explore Sources. To try it, click the “ON” button next to “Explore Sources” at the beginning of the article. Words and phrases throughout the piece will turn yellow. Click these yellow highlights to see the portion of the source document from which Marshall got that fact. Once the annotation is visible, click the document image inside of the popup to go to the full document in DocumentCloud, or anywhere else to dismiss it.

Read on to learn how ProPublica then created a little app that the reporter can use to connect to specific DocumentCloud snippets when authoring into the organization’s CMS.

ProPropublica Builds Transparency Layer into its Articles

ProPublica, the nonprofit, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative startup has introduced a tool to let readers explore source material used in their reporting.

In the image above, I’ve selected a highlighted phrase from an article by Marshall Allen about a woman’s fight for information about her husband’s death at a Texas hospital. Once selected, a windoid appears containing source material pulled from DocumentCloud.

ProPublica calls this “Explore Sources”.

Via ProPublica:

In the course of reporting the piece, Marshall made over 500 annotations in 64 documents he uploaded to DocumentCloud, many of which were sources of facts in his story. We thought readers would find these annotations useful, and may even use them to explore the documents on their own. However, we didn’t want to show them in a separate graphic or interactive feature, but rather sprinkled throughout the story itself.

So we made a special feature we’re calling Explore Sources. To try it, click the “ON” button next to “Explore Sources” at the beginning of the article. Words and phrases throughout the piece will turn yellow. Click these yellow highlights to see the portion of the source document from which Marshall got that fact. Once the annotation is visible, click the document image inside of the popup to go to the full document in DocumentCloud, or anywhere else to dismiss it.

Read on to learn how ProPublica then created a little app that the reporter can use to connect to specific DocumentCloud snippets when authoring into the organization’s CMS.

Chicago Lobbyists
ChicagoLobbyists.org is a great example of what can be done with open data: create a Web app that increases governmental transparency and informs citizens about a key aspect of contemporary governance.
From the creators:
What is this?
ChicagoLobbyists.org is an open data, open government, and open source project intended to improve the transparency of interactions between the City of Chicago and lobbyists and their clients. All data comes from the City of Chicago Data Portal.
Who built it?
This is a project by Chad Pry, Derek Eder, Paul Baker and Ryan Briones. It started on July 16th, 2011 at the Google Hackathon with some amazing help from Chirag Patel, Ruthie BenDor and Nick Rougeux. Paul noticed the lobbyist data, conceived the project, and got the team together. Chad and Ryan did the bulk of the backend development with help from Derek and Chirag. Derek and Ruthie did the frontend development. Nick and Paul worked on the user interface prototypes.

Would be great to see this on a state by state and federal level.

Chicago Lobbyists

ChicagoLobbyists.org is a great example of what can be done with open data: create a Web app that increases governmental transparency and informs citizens about a key aspect of contemporary governance.

From the creators:

What is this?

ChicagoLobbyists.org is an open data, open government, and open source project intended to improve the transparency of interactions between the City of Chicago and lobbyists and their clients. All data comes from the City of Chicago Data Portal.

Who built it?

This is a project by Chad Pry, Derek Eder, Paul Baker and Ryan Briones. It started on July 16th, 2011 at the Google Hackathon with some amazing help from Chirag Patel, Ruthie BenDor and Nick Rougeux. Paul noticed the lobbyist data, conceived the project, and got the team together. Chad and Ryan did the bulk of the backend development with help from Derek and Chirag. Derek and Ruthie did the frontend development. Nick and Paul worked on the user interface prototypes.

Would be great to see this on a state by state and federal level.