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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mark Fiore's iPhone app was recently rejected for being satirical. Apple prohibits apps that "ridicule" public figures.  (Source: Nieman Journalism Lab)

One of Fiore's prize-winning flash cartoons involved the White House party crashers from last year.  (Source: Nieman Journalism Lab)
Cartoonist remains hopeful that electronics giant will change its mind

There's no denying that Apple's iTunes and App Store revolutionized the fields of online media sales and smartphone application delivery, respectively.  However, for all the company's success, of late it has a baffling track record of trying to police the morality of the apps that go into its app store.

Initially Apple rejected any apps that overlapped with its functionality, any mature apps, and any other controversial app.  Occasionally a strange one (like "Baby Shaker") would slip through, but generally all these kinds of apps were prohibited.

Recently, Apple promised to improve the process facing complaints from frustrated developers.  And there are signs of that improvement -- Opera Mini, a rival browser, was just approved for the iPhone and numerous adult apps of violent cartoonish nature have been approved.  On the other hand, Apple still is banning mature apps of a sexual nature.

Particularly baffling, though, was the recent rejection of Mark Fiore's iPhone app.  Fiore this year received the distinction of becoming the first online-only journalist to win the Pulitzer prize.  Fiore used to make cartoons for print newspapers, but today runs his own syndication business dealing exclusively with flash cartoons.  He does about 8 cartoons a month, selling for around $300 per site, syndicated to multiple sites, including his main outlet, the SFGate, the website for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Looking to use the latest smartphone technology to grab more fans Fiore crafted a humorous iPhone app with highlights of his award winning, ground-breaking work.  He describes, "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."

But there was one tiny problem.  Apple's developer agreement forbids content that "ridicules public figures".  Apple elaborates in its iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, "Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory."

On December 21, 2009 Mr. Fiore received the following email from Apple:

Dear Mr. Fiore,
Thank you for submitting NewsToons to the App Store. We’ve reviewed NewsToons and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains content that ridicules public figures and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:
Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple’s reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.” Examples of such content have been attached for your reference.
If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that NewsToons does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.
iPhone Developer Program

Apparently Apple found the cartoon of the White House gate crashers interrupting an Obama speech (among the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoons) to be offensive.  It attached that screen grab and several others, including a reference to torture, Balloon Boy, and various political issues.

Fiore remains hopeful that his app will eventually get let in.  Fellow cartoonists Tom Richmondand Daryl Cagle , were initially rejected [2] by Apple, only before eventually being allowed in [2].  Those turnarounds took months.

Fiore remains hopeful that Apple will eventually let him in.  He states, "They seem so much more innovative and smarter than that."

Updated: Monday April 19, 2010 8:55 a.m. -
After an outpouring of negative publicity, late Friday Apple contacted Fiore and encouraged him to resubmit the app, indicating that this time they would approve it.

Fiore, however, isn't entirely satisfied with the response.  He states, "I feel a little bit guilty because it feels like I am getting preferential treatment.  It seems like you need to raise a stink to get something political approved.  That's what makes me a little upset, if you are someone people haven't heard of and have an amazing satire app, you won't get this through."

He's willing to give the Cupertino giant a pass, though, saying that maybe they're just adjusting to their role as the world's largest smart phone app host.  He states, "Maybe this is just growing pains.  Hopefully, they will realize, 'Hey, I'm becoming part of the Fourth Estate'. They are becoming the delivery vehicle, and there are some responsibilities that come with that."

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Unlucky for Fiore and some sucky reviewer
By XZerg on 4/16/2010 10:03:14 AM , Rating: 2
I think Fiore got shafted because of his App review went to some despressed/lifeless/close-minded reviewer who feels he/she can be a dick due to their own personal views. If I had to bet, maybe it was someone who got offended by the Obama cartoon - not necessary Obama supporter but could be due to race issue too.

O well another day another stunt by Apple.

RE: Unlucky for Fiore and some sucky reviewer
By HotFoot on 4/16/2010 10:15:22 AM , Rating: 4
I think this points back to the problem I see with the App store. Apple has to approve applications, and therefore they are taking way too much responsibility for those applications. If there's an offensive video game I play on my PC, I don't go complaining to MS (actually I don't go complaining to anyone, but my point stands).

A logical progression of Apple's stance is they will have to set up their own server as the only sanctioned access point to the internet for iPhones and any other Apple device. Then they'll block any sites with pornographic, violent, religious or political content. I don't actually think they'll do that - but really Apple needs to be able to distance themselves from being responsible for the applications you can get on their smart phone.

By The0ne on 4/16/2010 10:19:44 AM , Rating: 2
Regardless whether or not that is the case, which I think it is as well, Apple's rule does apply. So if he gets in then what are the consequences? Do they just let "famous" people in and dismissed average users, even talented ones, out? Either way, it won't be fair.

Fiore should be upset, should make his voice heard and hopefully thousands, not millions now (not that crazy), will somehow wake up and smell the manure.

By JediJeb on 4/16/2010 3:42:35 PM , Rating: 2
I think one problem lies in society today wanting to be able to sue anyone for anything. In a way Apple is smart here by limiting what is available because if it was completely open and some kid downloaded a porn app onto their iPhone, instead of the parent accepting responsibility for what their child did, they would immediately sue Apple for allowing it to happen. Even if Apple would win, they would still have the cost of defending themselves. It is a shame that our society has come to such a point, but since noone wants to accept responsibility for themselves anymore you get what we have.

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