Thursday, 31 January 2013 13:36

Propaganda, Red Hat-style

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The best publicity comes from others, yet companies are increasingly trying to manipulate public opinion by being their own best friends and spreading their own, masqueraded word. Red Hat, the biggest and best-known Linux company, has been hard at work on this front for the last three years.

Opensource.com marked its third birthday recently. The site bears no signs of overt Red Hat sponsorship or ownership, just the slogan that it is "a Red Hat community service". But it is owned and operated by Red Hat.

The other prominent open source site that spins its own yarns is the Linux Foundation. There are numerous cute PR women who write stories that can only be described as puff. At times, things become really ridiculous.

Some years ago, Red Hat was always willing to engage in a dialogue with me about its products or processes. That was until I wrote this piece. After that, the silence has been deafening.

Does opensource.com tell both sides of the story? The short answer is no.

If someone had reasoned criticism of Red Hat or anything to do with free software or open source, would that be published? Again, the answer is no.

In September last year, I wrote to Red Hat with some queries about the site. Though I received a reply from one Emily Stancil, promising answers to my questions, nothing arrived.

Ms Stancil then wrote to say: "I appreciate you reaching out. Unfortunately, since we're in our quiet period leading into our earnings call next week - we're not going to be able to provide feedback at this time. Please keep us posted if we can help in the future."

To me this meant that Red Hat did not want what could be not-so-positive publicity in the run-up to its big day in the sun.

Earlier this month, I renewed my correspondence with Ms Stancil. This time, after a week, she sent me replies to my queries from Jackie Yeaney, executive vice president, strategy and corporate marketing, Red Hat. I reproduce them verbatim below:

iTWire: I take it that the site has been running for nearly three years, judging from the date of the first articles. Do you pay people for contributions?

Jackie Yeaney: Red Hat launched opensource.com on January 25, 2010 with the idea of highlighting how the principles of open source development can be applied beyond technology. We do not pay for contributions. We collect stories from the open source community and publish articles on opensource.com. Opensource.com is a community service, meaning Red Hat funds the website hosting and development and provides editorial services, image creation, and community management. The authors and contributors share their work with opensource.com's editorial staff and that team helps amplify their open source story. The majority of the articles published on opensource.com are licensed using Creative Commons.

Do you accept articles that are critical of Red Hat?

Opensource.com's mission is to highlight how open source is changing the world in a positive fashion. To my knowledge, the site has not published and probably would not publish any article that would be critical of any company or organization (sic).

How would you respond to the statement that it is not a good idea for big corporates to own media outlets?

In the world we live in now, almost anyone can publish content to the internet, and with that, the notion that every company is a media company is now a reality. In the world of open source, many times, projects and community members lack the resources and marketing skills to effectively share their story. Opensource.com provides a platform for those stories to be told.

If someone claimed opensource.com was a subtle way of spreading good news about Red Hat, how would you respond?

You will find that opensource.com does talk a fair amount about the experiences from Red Hat associates including Red Hat culture and successes from the open source community. Because Red Hat has a unique culture, largely influenced by the open source community, we have great experiences and knowledge to share. That is the open source way. You will not find information about Red Hat's - or any other vendor's - products on opensource.com. If you're looking for the latest news or product information about Red Hat, you can visit redhat.com.

Would propaganda be too strong a word to describe some of the content on the site?

Yes. Opensource.com's mission is to highlight the power of the open source development model applied to disciplines such as business, government, education, and law. The site achieves this in a positive, motivating fashion.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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