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Is Apple Acting Like An Old-Time, Broadcast Network?

Apr 15, 2010

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Back in the day when broadcast networks ruled, they cast a wary eye on anything too political or provocative.

When Joan Baez went on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, CBS censored the dedication to her husband who was in jail for resisting the draft. Baez could talk about it on the street but she couldn't talk about it on a network that reached millions of American homes.

Times they are a-changin', right? Now, we can broadcast whatever we want over the Internet and reach millions of eyeballs. Well, not nescesarily, if you happen to be using an iPhone or iPad.

Right after the iPad release earlier this month, I reported on how Apple's mobile devices were more like living in a gated community than being out in an open city. Apple can, and does, have veto power over who gets to put applications on its devices.

Many people say they are perfectly happy with Apple's gated community. But, they may not be happy to know that Apple blocked the app of a Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist Mark Fiore. Fiore's cartoons — some of which have appeared on NPR.org — make fun of political figures.

Fiore told Nieman Journalism Lab that last December Apple rejected his iPhone App "NewsToons."  In a letter to Fiore, Apple wrote:

... we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement ...

Could a news organization run into problems with Apple if they were publishing unpopular stories about a political topic? Imagine if The New York Times wanted to publish the Pentagon Papers on its iPhone and iPad apps. Would Apple stand in the way of controversial reporting if the political winds were blowing against it?

Maybe that's an exageration.  But, if Apple really ends up dominating the market for media-consumption devices, maybe not.

UPDATE:

The latest news is that Fiore told the Wall Street Journal that Apple has asked him to resubmit his app and they will reexamine their rejection.

However, that makes me wonder if a Pulitzer prize is required to get the attention of Apple?  What about those app submissions from less well known figures, say like Mark Fiore was in December before he won his Pulitzer and Apple rejected his app. 

This looks like a victory for Fiore, but the bigger question is whether it will change Apple's overall app review policy.

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