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February 13, 2005
WEF: The Tapes Will Never Be Released

A CQ reader, Bekarach, contacted the World Economic Forum's Mark Adams about releasing the Davos forum videotape of Eason Jordan. Adams, head of media at the WEF, responded that Jordan's resignation effectively closes the issue of releasing the video:

Sent: Sunday, February 13, 2005 7:45 AM Subject: Re: Query - Will WEF release videotape/transcript Eason Jordan?

Firstly, apologies for not getting back to you earlier - I rather unwisely took a holiday after Davos, so havent been in the office 100 percent.

As you can appreciate we have to operate too under very strict rules regarding the Annual Meeting, and such a situation has never before arisen in 35 years of successful meetings at Davos.

More than half of the sessions that take place at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos are 'workshops' and interactive sessions, as was the case for the session attended by Mr Jordan. All participants take part in those sessions on the understanding that their comments are 'non-attributable' - that's to say that the general tenor of the session can be reported but not specific quotes. The more than 500 members of the media who attend the Annual Meeting are given these 'ground rules' before the start of the meeting, and more importantly everyone who takes part in a session as a speaker does so on these grounds.

Such rules, agreed by all who participate, allow for openness and even controversial debate, and I hope you can appreciate that it would be a breach of trust, not just to all the participants of this session - but of all such similar sessions at Davos - if we start releasing transcripts of what was said by each of the participants.

Since Mr Jordan has now resigned and is to all intents and purposes a private individual he has made it very clear what his position is. The availability or otherwise of a tape of the session in no way hinders discussion of this very serious topic, and i'm sure that will continue.

With Mr Jordan's resignation the debate will perhaps now shift from what he acutally said to the actual substance of the debate.

Mark Adams
Head of Media

"The actual substance of the debate" was what Jordan said, since he disputed the accounts of at least seven other witnesses to the forum. If Adams means that the debate should shift to the question of US policies of assassinating journalists, that would also confirm that Jordan lied in his valediction from CNN and his previous denials.

Further, the notion that transparency would breach the trust of a public forum is ludicrous. For one thing, there is serious question as to whether this particular forum even operated under those rules. If it did, why did the WEF videotape the entire forum? Rony Arbovitz and Rebecca MacKinnon have both stated that they did not understand that the forum was off the record. That rule applied by the room and not by the forum, and both have said that the room in which Eason Jordan spouted off was clearly understood not to be an off-the-record room.

Mark Adams does draw a conclusion from Jordan's resignation that the rest of the American media appears reluctant to reach, however. In making his position "very clear," the presumption Adams communicates is that Jordan knows what he said would seriously damage both himself and CNN, and his resignation is designed to avoid that. Too bad the WEF and Mark Adams will not allow the videotape to be publicly viewed so that we can skip the conjecture and make our own judgment about Eason Jordan's allegations.

UPDATE: For a forum which supposedly was off the record and where the rules supposedly prevented direct quotations, the WEF itself seems rather flexible about following its own regulations (hat tip: commenter Dishman):

Moderator David R. Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA, opened the session by suggesting that the trivialization of the press means that the public is becoming increasingly disengaged and is less inclined to vote. And because too much of the media is owned by corporations, much of the world isnt being covered because of the costs.

Barney Frank, Congressman from Massachusetts (Democrat), USA, agreed. "Essentially theres less news," he said. "Reporters used to come to the city hall and that is a thing of the past. The biggest change is in the corporate ownership. People used to put out newspapers because they wanted to be journalists. Nobody is doing that these days; they do it because they want to make money. Papers are in a circulation race."

The commercialization of the press is having its effect on the TV channels, too. Eason Jordan, Chief News Executive, CNN News Group, USA, said that his organization is under pressure to compete against entertainment-led cable outlets. For his part Richard Sambrook, Director, World Service and Global News, BBC World, United Kingdom, said that the suicide of David Kelly and the subsequent Hutton Report which criticized the BBC had resulted in a new commitment to the journalistic values of objectivity, transparency and accountability. "I think its going to become more important to divide the serious media from the others who are driving the bottom line," he said.

But Heaven forbid that the videotape taken of this "off-the-record" conference get released ....

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 13, 2005 9:26 PM

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