Rowhani or Rouhani? AP adjusts its spelling for Iran’s president-elect

AP stories about the Iranian presidential election referred to one of the leading candidates as Hasan Rowhani, the spelling we’ve long used for this Iranian politician and former nuclear negotiator.

However, after he became president-elect, we noted that some publications have been spelling his name Rouhani. So we asked officials working with him what he prefers. Although both spellings are legitimate transliterations from Persian, “Rouhani” is the English rendering preferred by the president-elect himself, according to two officials working for him — one with his campaign, and the other at the Center for Strategic Research, where he still works. It is also the spelling used in the name of his website, http://www.rouhani.ir.

The AP Stylebook says we should “follow the individual’s preference for an English spelling if it can be determined.” Therefore, the AP is switching from Rowhani to Rouhani.

Rouhani is scheduled to become president Aug. 3.

Perhaps the greatest variety of English spellings for a world leader were those applied to the former Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi. Spellings of his name included Qaddafi, Qazzafi, Qadhdhafi, Qaththafi, Gadhdhafi, Khadafy. Even Libyan officials could offer no recommended spelling. Although the AP long used Khadafy, it eventually shifted to Gadhafi, based on the name’s pronunciation in Arabic and the spelling Gadhafi used in a series of English-language letters to American schoolchildren.

AP CEO lays out 5 measures to ensure press freedom

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt addresses National Press Club in Washington, June 19, 2013.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt addresses National Press Club in Washington, June 19, 2013.

In the wake of a secret seizure of AP journalists’ phone records by the U.S. Department of Justice last month, Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt said the overbroad action is already having a chilling effect on journalism.

In a speech today at the National Press Club in Washington, Pruitt, a First Amendment lawyer by training, outlined five steps that are “imperative to give meaning to the powers spelled out” in the Constitution to safeguard press freedom:  

  • “First: We want the Department of Justice to recognize the right of the press to advance notice and a chance to be heard before its records are taken by the government. This would have given AP the chance to point out the many failings of the subpoena. We believe notice was required under existing regulations; if the DOJ sees it differently, then regulations must be strengthened to remove any doubt.
  • Second: We want judicial oversight. We need to ensure that proper checks and balances are maintained. In the AP phone records case, the Justice Department determined, on its own, that advance notice could be skipped, with no checks from any other branch of government. Denying constitutional rights by executive fiat is not how this government should work.
  • Third: We want the DOJ guidelines updated to bring them into the 21st century. The guidelines were created before the Internet era. They didn’t foresee emails or text.  The guidelines need to ensure that the protections afforded journalists from the forced disclosure of information encompass all forms of communication.
  • Fourth: We want a federal shield law enacted with teeth in it that will protect reporters from such unilateral and secret government action.
  • Fifth: We want the Department to formally institutionalize what Attorney General Holder has said: that the Justice Department will not prosecute any reporter for doing his or her job.  The Department should not criminalize — or threaten to criminalize — journalists for doing their jobs, such as by calling them co-conspirators under the Espionage Act, as they did Fox reporter James Rosen.  This needs to be part of an established directive, not only limited to the current administration.”

Read the full text of Pruitt’s prepared remarks.

Read the AP news story.

Whistle-blower or leaker?

With two secret-spilling stories in the news — NSA/ Edward Snowden and Wikileaks/Bradley Manning — we reviewed for our staff today our use of the term “whistle-blower” (hyphenated, per the AP Stylebook).

You can look it up: A whistle-blower is a person who exposes wrongdoing. It’s not a person who simply asserts that what he has uncovered is illegal or immoral. Whether the actions exposed by Snowden and Manning constitute wrongdoing is hotly contested, so we should not call them whistle-blowers on our own at this point. (Of course, we can quote other people who call them whistle-blowers.)

A better term to use on our own is “leakers.” Or, in our general effort to avoid labels and instead describe behavior, we can simply write what they did: they leaked or exposed or revealed classified information.

Sometimes whether a person is a whistle-blower can be established only after the revelations have sunk in, depending on what wrongdoing is confirmed or how public opinion eventually develops.

AP’s everyday work of seeking access to government information, with names attached

The rules by which journalists engage with government officials can sound arcane. “Background briefing.” “Off the record.” “Not for direct attribution.” But arguments over applying these rules are part of a struggle that really matters. Most democratic countries explicitly promise the right to speak and publish freely. But often only implied is the right to gather the information you want to speak about or publish, or to have someone gather it on the public’s behalf.

Which is why, at the AP, we see it as our everyday job to argue for access to the workings of government and the information government holds. Government officials increasingly offer to provide official information only on the condition that they are not identified as the source. These so-called background or off-the-record briefings are popular in government because officials can present information without taking responsibility for it. Without attribution it is hard for citizens to know whom in government to hold accountable. We believe anonymity should be reserved for sources who want to share important information with the public but could lose their job, or even their life, if they were identified. That clearly isn’t a risk for most government officials when they insist briefings be “on background.”

So AP journalists are instructed to ask that briefings be on the record. Sometimes they succeed. When government officials refuse, our journalists are instructed to use their best judgment about whether the information is important enough, and credible enough, to distribute despite the restrictions.

The struggle for access is not only about words. The White House often bars photojournalists from events with the president. The only images of those events are thus by government-employed photographers. You get to see only what the White House wants you to see. In those cases the AP generally declines to distribute the government handout photos, unless the restrictions were unavoidable.

The importance we place on being allowed to gather the news without interference was given a great deal of attention after it was revealed last month that the Justice Department had thrown an investigative drift net over the phone records of some of our reporters and editors to identify their sources. We protested, vehemently. As AP CEO Gary Pruitt said, this was an unprecedented intrusion and chilled our ability to gather news. The case was unusual, but our position flowed from the work we do each day to assure access to the workings of governments all around the world.