News embargo broken on Prix Pictet 2009 winner – both parties respond

There are lots of points to consider in the light of the breaking of the news embargo announcing the winner of the Prix Pictet 2009 (22 October). However, I felt it important to ask and allow both parties to respond to my questions. In an age when  many people consider themselves to be journalists, it’s important not to lose sight of some basic journalistic principles, including the need to ensure that information is fair, accurate and honestly conveyed.

So far, the response from Jeanette Ward of Theresa Simon & Partners PR company, has circulated online only as reported by A Photo Editor. Both replies are posted below unedited:

Why was the news embargo in place? What was the purpose of the news embargo?
Jeanette Ward from Theresa Simon & Partners: “The news embargo of 21.00hrs (Paris, France) on 22 October 2009 was in place because the prize winner was to be announced at an awards event on the evening of 22 October. The nominees were not told in advance who had won. Naturally we did not want anyone at that event, which included the winner of the Prix Pictet 2009, Nadav Kander; the winner of the commission, Ed Kashi; and the majority of the ten other photographers nominated for the prize, to know who had won before it was officially announced by Kofi Annan. However, we did want to enable print media to report the winner the following day and for some broadcast media to put their pieces together with the winner in mind. For that to happen they needed to receive the information and images in good time for their deadlines earlier on 22 October, hence the early issue of the release with an embargo.

“It is disappointing that the embargo was broken, particularly for those directly involved in the event, many of whom would have had Blackberries with them, and for those friends, family and colleagues who might have been waiting to hear elsewhere in the world. However, a mistake was made: I thought that everyone on my media list was a journalist and would therefore understand the meaning of the embargo. In fact, A Photo Editor, told me on the telephone that he doesn’t describe himself as a journalist and he felt that he was spammed by our embargoed release. This was never our intention and he has subsequently been removed from our media lists both at his request and because we try to only send press releases to journalists.

“On hindsight the embargoed release only needed to go to a handful of selected daily print and broadcast media with online media receiving the release after the embargo had past. Obviously the use of embargoes does need to be reconsidered in this age of the internet and blogging and this incident has been a valuable lesson for me personally”.

Why did you decide to break the news embargo? Were you aware of the knock-on effect of taking advantage of knowledge before others?
A Photo Editor aka Rob Haggart: “I’m embarrassed it happened and it wasn’t intentional. I’ve pasted the top of the press release I received from the PR agency. (Press release: Embargo: 21.00 hrs, 22 October 2009). There’s no time zone on the embargo and I assumed that it had already occurred so I posted it. This is the first time anyone has ever sent me embargoed material and I told those idiots at the PR agency that they shouldn’t email blogs they have no relationship with. Spamming blogs with your press releases is horrible PR to begin with. Sending out the name of a contest winner before it’s been announced is stupid”.

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