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Local media kept lid on leaked Music NL winners

Most of us have done it, at some time or other.

We've hit the send' button by mistake, transmitting an email to someone, or a group of people, either too soon or completely by mistake.

Last week, it happened to the Music Industry Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, or Music NL. On November 5, one of the staff who I will not identify, because I'm sure they've suffered enough already sent out an email message to more than 75 media people.

The message was blank, but there was an attachment a text file containing the names of all 23 award winners for the annual Music NL Conference and Awards Show, in Gander.

Only problem is, the event hadn't happened yet. The awards show was still four days away. It was the local equivalent of leaking to the Hollywood media the winners of the Academy Awards in advance of the show.

Within minutes, a second email came from Music NL, with the subject heading Whoopps!' and a request to please ignore the previous message.

Normally, the reaction from media would be, Good luck with that!' Local media are pretty darn competitive, and with so many newsrooms copied on the message, it would be natural for the herd mentality to take over, with certain newsrooms rushing the information to air immediately.

But that didn't happen. The awards show happened Sunday night, and the winners were a complete surprise to most in the room (except media people).

When she received the errant email last week, Suzanne Woolridge, Radio Arts Producer with CBC, said she sent an email out to all media on the recipient list.

"I asked them if they felt that a whoopps' one minute after the keystroke was struck was going to be enough to make them reconsider, and keep the secret," Suzanne said, "and all of the responses I got were, yes, they didn't think (they would use it). They all felt that they would keep the secret and they accepted that it was an error..."

Woolridge said her reaction was mixed.

"My reaction, as a person, was that we all make mistakes But as a journalist I thought maybe we probably should go ahead with it. I sat on it for an hour or so, and then of course someone else in the newsroom got it as well so we had a pow-wow with our executive producer, Kathy Porter, and sifted through it journalistically. We felt that, what would it serve to do it now, instead of Monday, and there was some concern that we would spoil the event itself. (If someone knew they weren't going to win) would they go to the event and would they miss some opportunity that may have been waiting there for them?"

In the end, all media outlets did keep the secret, Woolridge said. The conference had its highest attendance yet, Woolridge said, something that likely wouldn't have happened if everyone knew who the winners would be.

I'm surprised that local media outlets managed to work together and not let this out. Some might see it as conspiring to suppress information, and, if it was a serious matter such as something health-related I would agree with them.

In this case, there was no public interest to be served in releasing the award winners four days early. If anything, it would have hurt Music NL, by reducing attendance among nominated artists who decided against going, on finding out they weren't winners.

I am still scratching my head, however, about CBC journalist Mellissa Fung, who was recently freed after 28 days of being held prisoner in Afghanistan. It is wonderful that she was freed, and I think I follow the logic of CBC suppressing the fact of her being kidnapped until after the release.

But is there a double standard here? Would the CBC have worked so hard to suppress the information, if the victim had been a diplomat or a missionary?

This Globe and Mail article offers a good round-up of the story, and asks some tough questions.

However, I still don't feel like I am getting good answers.

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  • Doug
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Geoff:

    You raise an interesting issue with the Mellissa Fung situation. There are previous abductions that we can examine to see what might havce happened - particularly the case of the American aid worker, Cyd Mizell, who was reportedly killed by her abductors after gunmen kidnapped her and her Afghan driver in January as she was headed to work. Although there has been no confirmation of their deaths, the organization they worked for says the two are believed to be dead. The American media was all over that story just after the abduction. Did the news coverage contribuite to her apparent death? It's hard to say. Last Saturday afternoon I was flicking through the news channels when I first heard about Mellissa Fung's release. I recall saying to myself - did I miss something here? - I didn't know she had been kidnapped. Then when the news came out that there had been a cover up of her abduction it started to make sense to me. I use the term cover up reluctantly, because - like you - I'm still scratching my head over this one. But it struck home later that evening when I was at a dinner party with some friends - one of whom happens to work at the CBC. I asked him what he thought of the Mellissa Fung situation and he almost fell out of his chair. He hadn't heard that she had been released. He told me (after he quickly checked his Blackberry) that all the staff at the CBC had been asked to not say anything about her abduction to anyone - not even family or friends. I recall at the moment that I felt a little odd about the whole situation. And I still have a certain unease about this. Don't get me wrong - I am extremely happy that she was released - or freed - or whatever. I'm still not certain how it happened. There were media reports that she was exchanged for two criminals -- I don't think anyone suggested they were Taliban terrorists. In fact, further reports suggest that the Afgan police found where she was being hidden, captured some of her suspected adbuctors and then released them. Further reports say a senior Canadian government official [one source suggested it was Kory Teneycke, PM Harper's Director of Communications] told AFP, on condition of anonymity: There were people arrested that may have had links to the kidnapping and some of them were released once the investigation was concluded. But they were released as a matter of due process, not as part of a prisoner swap. That's the part that bothers me about this - we really don't know what went on. But does that secrecy obfuscate the fact that Mellissa is now free? Hardly. But youy are right - it does raise a journalist issue of ethics. Some may disagree with me. BUt the questioin remains - what will the media do - particularly the CBC - if a Canadian diplomatic or aid workers is kidnapped in Afganistan tomorrow?