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Embargo cults 

I wonder how much longer the system of media embargos can survive.

Many organisations allow accredited journalists (whatever that means) access to information or reports in advance of its release, so they can write an informed article, rather than rushing something out the door. I used to get reports from the World Bank, IMF, the UN and the OECD under these terms, which as a magazine editor — with deadlines well before when the publication actually appeared — was very useful.

In the rougher world of government and politics, I don’t think embargos persist in many places. Certainly when the UK government issues an important report, journalists have to quickly grab their copy and scan it for headlines. In most cases, release is simultaneous on the Internet.

The World Bank’s embargo policy is in the news today because of a kerfuffle with the Financial Times. The bank accused the FT of violating its embargo on the global development finance report by publishing a one paragraph preview on Monday, ahead of the Tuesday release.

Yesterday, the bank announced the FT would be barred from accessing its Online Media Briefing Center for six months. This may have been a correct application of the rules, but it would have harmed both the FT and the World Bank. I don’t think any media outlet treats the bank’s publications with the attention and care of the FT.

Oops. It turns out the World Bank had violated its own embargo and today rescinded its ban on the FT.

I like the idea that embargos allow those who wish to read complex material, digest it and write something considered. But with the number of potential outlets for information increasing daily, I suspect it’s an idea who’s time has passed. Release things to everyone at the same time, and those who want to rush out the news will do that. Those who want to write something more thoughtful have the time and space to do that. More democratic, more sensible.

Cruelty and hypocrisy at the Vatican 

Polly Toynbee is wonderful:

  The Vatican is not a charming Monaco for tourists collecting Ruritanian stamps or gazing at past glories in the Sistine Chapel. It is a modern, potent force for cruelty and hypocrisy. It has weak temporal power, so George Bush can safely pray at the corpse of the man who criticised the Iraq war and capital punishment; it simply didn’t matter as the Pope never made a serious issue of it or ordered the US church to take strong action.
  The Vatican’s deeper power is in its personal authority over 1.3 billion worshippers, which is strongest over the poorest, most helpless devotees. With its ban on condoms the church has caused the death of millions of Catholics and others in areas dominated by Catholic missionaries, in Africa and right across the world. In countries where 50% are infected, millions of very young Aids orphans are today’s immediate victims of the curia. Refusing support to all who offer condoms, spreading the lie that the Aids virus passes easily through microscopic holes in condoms — this irresponsibility is beyond all comprehension.
  This is said often, even in this unctuous week — and yet still it does not permeate. He was a good, caring man nevertheless, they say, as if it were a minor aberration. But genuflecting before this corpse is scarcely different to parading past Lenin: they both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost. How dare our prime minister go there in our name to give the Vatican our approval for this? Will he think of Africa when on his knees today? I trust history will some day express astonishment at moral outrage wasted on sexual trivia while papal celebrity and charisma cloaked this great Vatican crime.

A bonus link from The Guardian: Jonathan Steele clears up the history of the pope’s minor contribution to the fall of communism.

  After prolonged negotiations with the regime, he made a second visit to Poland in 1983. Although martial law was lifted a month later, many Solidarity activists remained in jail for years. The government sat down to negotiate with Solidarity again only in August 1988, by which time Mikhail Gorbachev had already launched the drive towards pluralistic politics in the USSR itself and publicly promised no more Soviet military interventions in eastern Europe.
  The impetus for Gorbachev’s reforms was not external pressure from the west, dissent in eastern Europe or the Pope’s calls to respect human rights, but economic stagnation in the Soviet Union and internal discontent within the Soviet elite.

No news at Downing Street 

Given the viciousness of modern politics, I love the way the proprieties are followed in some areas in Britain. The Downing Street website announces:

  It is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any ‘new action of a continuing or long-term character.’
  Therefore, during the election period, the Government will make few new announcements — so this website will not be publishing its usual mixture of news stories or briefings during the campaign.

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