THE RANT: Why does Apple hate political satire? Pulitzer winner's app case stokes larger failure
The saga of the Rejected Political-Cartoon App rears its head again. Only this time, the heat of a Pulitzer has helped stoke the fires of controversy.
On Monday, Comic Riffs spoke with political animator Mark Fiore about his iPhone app that he says Apple rejected back in December. That rejection might have been end-of-story. Except that coverage of his Pulitzer win cast a spotlight on the app rejection. And in a case of conspicuous timing, Apple suddenly has urged Fiore to resubmit his app, the cartoonist says.
Haven't we been down this road before? And more important: Hasn't Apple yet decided how to resolve the larger issue of political satire apps instead of suffering PR black-eyes with each skirmish?
Both questions, of course, are rhetorical.
As MAD artist Tom Richmond told Comic Riffs last November, his iPhone app "Bobblehead Rep" -- a literal database of congressional representatives developed by entrepreneur/filmmaker Ray Griggs --- was rejected by Apple. The reason? According to the official rejection letter, Richmond said, his app was turned down because "it ridicules public figures" and "is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement."
On Monday, Fiore and I even discussed Richmond's initially rejected app -- as well as the initially rejected app of political-cartoon syndicator Daryl Cagle -- after Fiore mentioned that he'd had an iPhone app (titled "NewsToons") rejected.
The reason for the rejection? According to Fiore, citing Apple's language: It "ridicules public figures." (Yep. Deja-vu all over again.)
Both Richmond and Cagle eventually had their apps approved after their rejections garnered some publicity. So perhaps it should have come as no surprise that this week, Fiore got a call from Apple executive Richard Chipman, inviting him to "resubmit" his iPhone app, the SFGate.com animator says.
"The call came totally out of the blue," Fiore tells Comic Riffs, "and he [Chipman] didn't refer to all the [negative] press bubbling around. He just said: 'You might want to consider resubmitting your app.' "
So Fiore says he contacted his colleague Marty Beckers, who had handled the technical creation of the app. Beckers tried to resubmit the app, Fiore says, and saw an intriguing response from Apple: "Your submission is already under review."
Fiore says that Chipman also told him: "I can't guarantee it's going to be approved." Chipman did not returns calls from Comic Riffs seeking comment.
Fiore says that he's confident his app will be approved and that initially, his app will be available for free.
Ever the Mac devotee, Fiore adds: "I still think Apple is a good company." He does think, however, that Apple faces a larger issue of satire to be dealt with.
"At first it was a shock" when I was rejected, Fiore says. "But it's not just me. There are so many cool apps for satire.
"Apple IS a private company" Fiore continues, "but I think it goes farther than that now, because they're becoming a media company. And as a media company, they're the '4.0 Estate.' "
Tom Richmond also believes Apple's stance toward political satire needs to change. Today, the MAD artist posted this on his blog:
"Mark's story is striking a bit more serious chord than Apple just being overly Draconian in their app approvals. With the introduction of the iPad, the focus of content for these devices moves out of the convenience of having a few apps in your pocket and into the promised land of a media delivery/consumption device that could revolutionize the way the world get's its news, entertainment and information.
"Suddenly Apple's control freak approach threatens the development of the very technology it is supposed to be innovating by placing restrictions and outright rejections upon the content that would be consumed via their devices. Apps for publications and newspaper content won't be very useful if it only lets us see stuff that Apple and Steve Jobs thinks we should see, and rejects things they don't like."
Another clause that Richmond says Apple invoked in his case reads: Apple's reasonable judgment may find "objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory."
So should Apple remove its clause about the ridicule of public figures as a condition of refusal?
"Definitely," Fiore tells Comic Riffs. "I'm all for ridiculing public figures, and that should be perfectly acceptable. I can understand the libel and defamation clause -- [it rightly covers] obscenity and pornography. I think with satire of public figures, one of these things is not like the other.
"Maybe this [case] will be enough to get them to really decide" how to handle satire in the App Store, the self-syndicated animator said.
And what if Fiore decided -- via an approved iPhone app -- to ridicule that ever-public figure that is Apple honcho Steve Jobs?
"That could happen," he says. "And that would be interesting."
| April 16, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
Categories: The Political Cartoon | Tags: Apple, Mark Fiore, NewsToons, SFGate.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Steve Jobs, iPhone app
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