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An Unlikely Blogger Expelled

Although it’s not good for Sudan, I think it’s good for blogging: CNN reports that 

The government of Sudan on Sunday gave the top U.N. official in the country three days to leave, marking the latest hurdle in international efforts to bring peace to the nation torn apart by civil war.

Sudan expelled Jan Pronk, the top U.N. envoy to Sudan, who has openly criticized Khartoum as well as rebel groups on his Web log.

Pronk has been running a blog for nearly a year and while it doesn’t look like your average blog (really long posts, no external links, no comments, blogs numbered as if they were official UN documents) it’s an impressively direct account of the Sudanese conflict. His third post started as follows: 

This week the seventh round of the Abuja talks between the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements will start. Will it be the last one, producing a peace agreement before the end of the year? The chances are diminishing.

Not the sort of mealy-mouthed stuff we’re used to from senior UN officials. And it’s probably upset the UN as much as it’s upset the Sudanese government. But if so why had the UN not closed him down earlier? Pronk, according to UPI, did not offer any disclaimers, but the UN has since made clear he was writing in a personal capacity. The UN has “no rules barring blogging specifically, though employees face restrictions when publishing articles and participating in interviews.” It seems Pronk was probably senior enough, and his comments uncontroversial enough, for no one to mind too much. Until last week.

What I like about it is that reporters tend to meet these kind of people in the field, and it’s great to hear them sounding off about the situation, but rarely are their words captured in sufficient quantity for their great background knowledge and high level involvement in such diplomatic processes to be read by a wider audience. I’ve not followed the tragedy in Darfur much beyond what I read in the papers, but Pronk’s year-long posts are a diary of immense and satisfying detail about the process, peppered by great photos, that are worthy of more than the word blog. 

Take this one, for example, from June 28

There is a significant risk that the Darfur Peace Agreement will collapse. The agreement does not resonate with the people of Darfur. On the contrary, on the ground, especially amongst the displaced persons, it meets more and more resistance. In my view it is a good text, an honest compromise between the extreme positions taken by the parties during the negotiations in Abuja. That is why the UN, like all international partners, has endorsed the agreement. However, in politics objective rational calculations will always be confuted by subjective emotional perceptions and aspirations. And those perceptions are that the agreement does not meet the expectations of the people in Darfur, has been forced upon them and, rather than meeting the interests of all parties somewhere halfway, only strengthens the position of the government and a minority tribe, the Zaghawa.

That too me is very clear writing, reflecting his knowledge of the situation on many levels. Not every situation could allow a senior figure involved deeply in the political process to write so frankly and openly, but wouldn’t it be great if they could? This to me is the real potential of blogs and citizen reporting. Someone who really knows what is going on telling us about it.

PS: Jan Pronk has a reputation of sorts in Indonesia, my current abode. He earned the lasting enmity of then president Suharto by

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Is Guy The Citizen Pundit In Danger?

Disastrous news for instant celebrities everywhere: Being mistaken for an Internet pundit on the BBC can bring you to the attention of the wrong people. Our hero Guy Goma, whom we (mistakenly) called a taxi driver when he was in fact an expert in data cleansing when the BBC mistook him for an Internet pundit and interviewed him live on TV, is in fact an illegal immigrant, according to UPI. (In turn, the BBC has possibly taken my suggestion that he be given his own showed too literally and has also mistaken him for a TV celebrity who can be wheeled on to answer questions about EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania. Painful stuff. (Here’s the clip. ) )

Anyway, the UPI story, which could take a lesson or two from my rather pompous diatribe on sourcing) rather brushes over the fact that that the Mail on Sunday story is not based on any interview with any British officials:

LONDON, May 21 (UPI) — BBC’s fake interviewee — an illegal immigrant from the Congo mistakenly plucked from the lobby and interviewed as an expert on British TV — may be deported. <snip> Goma — who coincidentally has a master’s degree in business from the Congo — tried to blunder through the question and answer session, the Sunday Mail reported. <snip> But it also brought the immigrant to the attention of British authorities who may deport him. That would be unfortunate because Goma recently applied for a technology position and wanted to capitalize on the publicity he’d received.

I may be missing something but I don’t see anything in the Mail on Sunday report suggesting the UK authorities are after him. Indeed, the entire story is based on an interview with Goma himself, which itself makes for hilarious reading (he’s hired a PR person to cope with the fame). True, he may be skirting on the wrong side of the law given he only has a tourist visa, but until the Immigration folk actually finger him, or say they’re about to finger him, I don’t see how one can say, as UPI said, his fame has “also brought the immigrant to the attention of British authorities who may deport him.” The Mail on Sunday didn’t say that, so why did UPI?

Anyway, I’m hoping that even if the authorities do start to think along those lines, they will recognise Mr. Goma as just the kind of addition the Brits could do with, and grant him whatever is necessary to keep him on our streets.

How To Scoop The U.S. Press Corps

Perhaps we journalists need better tools to find out the stories we’re looking for.

According to Ed Cone, a posting on an aviation website late on Monday may have been the first evidence of the Kerry/Edwards tie-up: A poster to the US Airways forum called ‘aerosmith’ said he/she had spotted John Kerry’s plane in a Pittsburgh hangar, where “John Edwards’ decals were being put on engine cowlings and upper fuselage”. The time: 9:44 PM. (11.45 PM EDT)

Unfortunately the poster, a US Airways employee called Bryan Smith, wasn’t allowed to take a photo, which would have erased any doubt, but confirmation appeared to come from another poster, ‘Prince of PAWOBs’ (PAWOB, in flying lingo is a Passenger Arriving With Out Bag), who posted a few hours later that he/she had heard “North Ramp control on 130.775 Mhz talking to another aircraft about it tonight”.

Ironically, within a few hours The New York Post was hitting the streets with its own ‘scoop’ about Gephardt. The first mainstream journalist to report Kerry’s correct selection was Andrea Mitchell on NBC’s “Today” show at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday — eight hours after aerosmith’s posting. Here are AP’s version and UPI’s version of the aerosmith story.

There’s a lot of talk about blogs being the Next Journalism, and I for one believe that that is how a lot of folk are going to get, already getting, their news. It’s a great development, and I don’t worry that people get wrong information: Time will weed out the good stuff from the bad. But maybe there’s a broader lesson here, especially for us journalists. There are other ways to research stories and find scoops than the obvious political channels and sources. This time around it was an obscure website for flying enthusiasts.