Apple Rejects Satirical App, iPad Mass Media Censorship is Next [UPDATE]

Last Updated Apr 16, 2010 3:52 PM EDT


UPDATE: According to BNet's Erik Sherman, Apple is now asking Mark Fiore to resubmit the cartoon. I suspect the PR damage is already done.

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Critics are up in arms that Apple blocked Mark Fiore, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, from having his political satire iPhone app released. The real issue isn't apps like political cartoon browsers and others easily available in the iBookstore, but the future of magazines, newspapers and other mass media.

From Nieman Journalism Labs:

This week cartoonist Mark Fiore made Internet and journalism history as the first online-only journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize. Fiore took home the editorial cartooning prize for animations he created for SFGate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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When I asked about the next phase of his business, curious if it will include a mobile element, Fiore said he's definitely hopeful about mobile devices. "I think the iPads and anything iPod to iPhone - to maybe a product not made by Apple - will be good or could be good for distributing this kind of thing," he said.

But there's just one problem. In December, Apple rejected his iPhone app, NewsToons, because, as Apple put it, his satire "ridicules public figures," a violation of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which bars any apps whose content in "Apple's reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory."


The good news is that Fiore doesn't require an app to get his content out. In fact, Apple has already shown it supports controversial political debate:
  • Look at the top 10: The current iBookstore top 10 has Jason Mattera's Obama Zombies, a critical look at the president and his tactics.
  • Apple has several self-publishing publishing programs: Lulu and Smashwords now bring their self-published books to the iBookstore. I just published my own book, The Damon Brown Reader: A Decade of Sex, Tech and Pop Culture Journalism, on the iBookstore, and it is full of satire and criticism.
  • Compare it to Amazon: The Kindle has already retroactively removed content without warning. The iBookstore is new, but Apple is probably wise enough to not follow Amazon's lead.
Book-friendly content isn't the problem. No, the problem is that Time, The New York Times and other periodicals haven't settled down in the bookstore, but the app store. An op-ed piece from Maureen Dowd? A tea party piece in The New Republic? Based on this precedent, any biting satire -- or wit, depending on your perspective -- has the opportunity to be rejected.

Nieman commenters wisely note that Stephen Colbert's highly satirical app has been on the store for some time, which means Apple could be using its adult app policy of "[only accepting them from] a well-known company with previously published material available broadly in a well-accepted format".

Frankly, it's hard to tell which scenario would be more dangerous: Blocking every app deemed satire or accepting satirical apps only from "established names".

Either way, Flash images might not be the only holes in our iPad content.

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