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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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RE: Owned by Apple
By mofo3k on 4/16/2010 10:15:43 AM , Rating: 5
Well, if Microsoft tried to block some random application from running on Windows then they would be paying out large sums of settlement money and facing penalties for it's monopolistic behavior. It might not be such an issue if Apple gave you the ability to install these applications without using their app store, but as it is you have to hack the phone to do that. If they want to play the morality game, they could very easily lose a lot of business to the Android Marketplace or some other competitor who isn't so picky.

RE: Owned by Apple
By JediJeb on 4/16/2010 12:26:31 PM , Rating: 2
That is the whole idea behind Free Market Capitalism, if a manufacturer is making something you don't like, ( here combined phone with app store) but someone else does, you are free to purchase the alternative. Until people stop whining for Apple to do what they the customer wants but settling when they don't, instead of opting for another vendor, then Apple will continue doing things as they always have.

RE: Owned by Apple
By NullSubroutine on 4/18/2010 1:37:31 PM , Rating: 2
And that is why we have monopoly protection (not saying it necessarily applies to Apple), because there is no such thing as a "free market". There will always be people using some sort of non-market practices to gain market share. You often have poorer products dominating better ones because market position, back room deals, or just plain illegal/unethical business practices.

I do think the free market is the way to go (considering all other systems), but because of human nature we need to have protections to make sure the market place is the decider not the above non-free market practices. For the record we really haven't had a true free market in the US, at least maybe since the 1800s. We have had Corporatism now morphing into economic Fascism.

"You can bet that Sony built a long-term business plan about being successful in Japan and that business plan is crumbling." -- Peter Moore, 24 hours before his Microsoft resignation

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