CNN coverage

Jose G. Perez jgperez at netzero.net
Thu Sep 13 18:43:41 MDT 2001


----- Original Message -----
From: "John Croft" <john.croft at eidosnet.co.uk>
To: "marxism lists.panix.com" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2001 6:09 AM
Subject: CNN coverage

>>It has been claimed, on another mailing list, that CNN have been using
images of Palestinians celebrating, which were in fact shot in 1991 after
the invasion of Kuwait. This person says that he has videotapes recorded
back then with exactly the same footage. This wouldn't surprise me, but can
anyone confirm this?<<

This charge --which has been spread (among others, I assume) by the
moderators of the Portside list on Yahoo groups, who in turn attribute it to
indymedia, although I was unable to find the original post at indymedia
using the URL given by Portside, not even using the indymedia site's search
engine-- should not be spread unless people are in a position to document
it.

In the version sent out by Portside, the story is that this is some sort of
post by someone at a Brazilian University, who does not himself have the
videotape proving it is the same footage, but claims an unnamed professor
has it and the writer is will "try to put my hands on a copy of this tape."

The problem with repeating this kind of claim are multiple. One is simply
fairness: to refute it, CNN would have to prove a negative, that none of its
networks or websites did what was claimed. I think elementary fairness
requires those who make such accusations to provide at least a bare minimum
of specfics so that someone falsely accused can answer the accusation. In
addition, there are issues of credibility and liability.

On its face, this charge, with absolutely no specifics --no date, no time,
no specific CNN service (there are several, at least two CNN cable TV news
networks available in Brazil as well as something like a dozen web sites in
various languages, any of which may have presented the video in question),
no anchor, reporter or URL -- and attributed originally to an unnamed
professor, with the strong implication that the person who wrote the post
had not seen the claimed original footage or compared it to what was
recently aired, simply does not sound credible. Repeating it --even with a
question mark in the subject line, as Portside's moderators do-- doesn't
enhance the credibility of those who do so.

The other problem --especially for a moderated list like Portside, which
only sends out 4 or 5 posts a day, specifically chosen by the moderators--
is liability. By editing, you assume editorial responsibility. If you have
an open bulletin board or list, which automatically publishes everything
sent in, then your stance would be that you aren't a publisher but a service
provider, and exempt from liability unless you fail to take down the
offending post once given notice. The argument would be that by selecting,
the moderators become publishers.

The problem with "publishing" the post that Portside sent out is that the
charge is, on its face, defamatory, and could subject those who sent it out
to a claim for libel. Given the current state of U.S. libel law, not just
CNN as such, but *any* person identified with CNN *might* have enough
grounds to at least get into court.

The usual exemptions from liability in repeating such a claim, that it is a
report on an official proceeding of some kind, would not be applicable in
this case. Unfortunately, the Portside moderator's choice of subject line:
"CNN: Manipulating Images?" only makes matters worse, for it would make it
easier for a plaintiff to prove "actual malice." Proving "actual malice"
requires the person suing for libel to show that the people who made *or
repeated* the statements did so either a) knowing them to be false or b) in
reckless disregard of whether or not they were true. The question mark
headline in effect says, we have no clue whether or not this is true, but we
are going to republish these defamatory statements anyways.

I believe a claim that this is commentary or opinion is not credible in this
case. Someone can argue as much as they like that in putting out such images
CNN is lying because it misrepresents the real situation and sentiments
among the Palestinians, or that all the CNN coverage is in effect a lie
because it doesn't show how the U.S. has carried out many such crimes in the
past and so on. Those are  matters of opinion and interpretation,
commentary. Not so an assertion or charge that CNN falsely presented video
from ten years ago as depicting a reaction to current events. That is, at
least in my opinion, a factual matter.

People should especially note: attributing a libelous statement to a third
party does not absolve the person repeating it from liability AT ALL under
U.S. libel laws, and the fact that the person repeating it doesn't vouch for
its accuracy may only compound the legal problems. Even asking a *question,*
not making a factual assertion, can expose someone to liability, for
example, asking in a published article or TV broadcast whether so-and-so is
a murderer or wife beater or rapist without some strong factual foundation
for the question itself is libelous. And it might be just as libelous if the
question is attributed by the writer/speaker to someone else.

José





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