AP at the Arab Media Summit

Several AP people took part in last week’s Arab Media Summit in Dubai, a large annual gathering of journalists and news executives from across the Arab world. This year there was substantial interest in user-generated content — how we verify the accuracy of photos and video we find on social networks.

AP Standards Editor Tom Kent talks at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

My talk at the Arab Media Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, May 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Of course, some news organizations devote little attention to such verification, but most of those we talked to in Dubai understood its importance. News media have to be better than relayers of “whatever’s out there”; viewers look to us to vet what’s true and what’s not. And, ultimately, the truth will win out: false or deceptively labeled images are usually quickly discovered, and the reputations of news organizations that use them are tarnished.

In my presentation, I showed a number of photos that turned out to be false, or labeled in order to mislead. They included a fake photo of the Statue of Liberty with Superstorm Sandy whirling around it and a fake video supposedly showing a young boy pulling a little girl to safety from an attack in Syria.

Our Beirut bureau chief, Zeina Karam, and AP Dubai business writer Aya Batrawy gave a separate session on reporting on the Middle East. Karam spoke about the challenges of reporting on the Syrian civil war while not being able to be in Syria outside of government-controlled territory. Batrawy, who recently filed several stories from Saudi Arabia, said she’s often asked if it’s a hindrance or a help to be a woman journalist in that country. She said being a woman has given her a great advantage because she has access to half the population of women that often male journalists are barred from approaching.

John Daniszewski, AP senior vice president for international news and a speaker last year, joined the AP team at the forum, along with staffers from AP’s commercial operations in London.

AP general counsel urges lawmakers to strengthen FOIA

Associated Press General Counsel Karen Kaiser today urged lawmakers to enact bipartisan legislation now before the U.S. Senate to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and make it work better.

Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws. Kaiser testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2015, before the Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws. Kaiser testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In testimony delivered to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, Kaiser detailed the many problems journalists and the public face when seeking access to public documents.

“Non-responsiveness is the norm. The reflex of most agencies is to withhold information, not to release, and often there is no recourse for a requester other than pursuing costly litigation,” Kaiser said. “This is a broken system that needs reform. Simply stated, government agencies should not be able to avoid the transparency requirements of the law in such continuing and brazen ways.”

Kaiser, who spoke on behalf of AP and The Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of media associations promoting open government, said the legislation would “result in a more informed citizenry and a more transparent and accountable government.”

Kaiser said the legislation is critical to:

  • improving efficiencies for FOIA requesters.
  • reducing the troubling backlog of cases.
  • driving agencies to decisions that better align with FOIA’s goals.
  • ensuring government operates from a presumption of openness in most cases.

AP is a leading and aggressive advocate for transparency in government. As detailed in the news organization’s 2014 annual report, requesting public records and fighting for access around the world have long been AP priorities. AP journalists file many hundreds of requests each year for government records and other information under FOIA and state open records statutes, many of which resulted in important stories that the public would otherwise not have known.

Last week, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll detailed some recent government access challenges, on NPR’s “On the Media,” and in March AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt wrote a column published in newspapers across the country that explained how the government is undermining “right to know” laws.

AP and other news organizations seek Freddie Gray report

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts announces that the department's investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was turned over to the State's Attorney's office a day early at a news conference, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Standing at right is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis.  Batts did not give details of the report or take questions. He said the department dedicated more than 30 detectives to working on the case and report. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts announces that the department’s investigation into the death of Freddie Gray was turned over to the State’s Attorney’s office a day early at a news conference, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Standing at right is Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis. Batts did not give details of the report or take questions. He said the department dedicated more than 30 detectives to working on the case and report. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press, has called on the Baltimore Police Department to release immediately its report on the death of Freddie Gray that it has submitted to the Maryland state’s attorney.

The coalition argues that “release of the document would … only serve the public interest.”

See the letter sent to the police department.