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Friday, 23 January 2009

ABSW Chair Writes to EurekAlert! in support of freelance member Paul Sutherland

Ted Nield, Chair of the ABSW has written today to Ginger Pinholster of the AAAS regarding EurekAlert! suspension of The Sun newspaper, for the 'Life on Mars' story written by ABSW member Paul Sutherland:

Dear Ginger,

I am writing to you in my capacity as Chair of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) to draw to your attention the concern being expressed over here about the suspension of the UK newspaper The Sun from EurekAlert’s embargoed news service, and more particularly, about the potential damage this may do to the author of the story, Paul Sutherland, who is a freelance journalist and ABSW member.

I understand that Paul wrote his story (“Life on Mars”), which was The Sun’s splash on Thursday 15, entirely from material already in the public domain, using good journalistic nous and a nose for news. We also understand that you accept that Paul’s story was written without any embargo being broken.

If this is true, it seems to me that EurekAlert is penalising The Sun merely for having got to a story first, without the help of embargoed NASA press releases. I do not think this is in the correct spirit of the proper relations between news providers and journalists. It is inevitable that other news outlets, many of which consider themselves very important, will have been dismayed by the fact that they were scooped by Paul and The Sun; but that is surely the nature of journalism and should have no bearing upon the case.

It is my view that to ban The Sun in this way is unfairly penalising that newspaper merely for being first with the story, which is doubly unfair on their other writers, particularly in the medical field who are now put at a competitive disadvantage. Finally I think this action may in some way carry an implied slur upon the professionalism of Mr Paul Sutherland, which could arguably put his career in jeopardy.

I believe it would be greatly appreciated by all if EurekAlert could make it clear that they do not hold Mr Sutherland responsible for any embargo break.

I would also urge EurekAlert to reconsider what many here think looks like a disproportionate act of petty revenge, unworthy of AAAS and EurekAlert.

This issue has once again drawn attention to the balance of power between news providers and journalists. At a recent meeting of the ASBW (AGM, Tuesday 20), we resolved to convene a working party to consider this whole area and to bring forward a draft report and recommendations for discussion at the World Conference of Science Journalism in London this year (30 June – 2 July

Ted Nield, Chair, ABSW