Friday, 02 January 2015 10:24

Guilt by association: Linux Australia members slam others over Williams' nomination

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At least two members of Linux Australia have criticised the attitude of members who have raised questions about an iTWire staff member who attempted to contest the organisation's elections.

Both Noel Butler and Russell Coker took a diametrically opposite position to that of others following the nomination for treasurer by David M. Williams, a columnist for iTWire in the past and an infrequent contributor for the last two or three years.

Williams nominated for the post of treasurer on December 15, and was seconded, but missed the cutoff date for filing his nomination as he was away on vacation.

Three days later, Mike Carden of Canberra raised the issue of Williams' affiliation to iTWire.

Following this, Steve Walsh, a senior member of Linux Australia, and one who has held office in the past, wrote: "I find that your failure to disclose your affiliation with a media organisation that has a long history of hostility towards the organisation in your nomination statement a bit concerning. I'm sure you'd understand that those of us who have interactions with various employees of the publication might take such an oversight like this, as accidental as it might be, in an unfortunately negative light."

Williams has hardly touched on Linux Australia in his writings for iTWire, except in a couple of articles after he stood for election as a member of the committee a few years ago. He raised the issue of low voter turnout, asking whether people elected by such small numbers had much legitimacy given the number of members. His articles were savaged by some members.

Not put off, Williams responded: "Your comment about 'hostility towards the organisation' is not a reasonable statement. It is a technology news site. You are, I believe, referring to a particular contributor who has their own opinion column which is unrelated to me." His reference was to me as I have criticised Linux Australia on numerous occasions – though the amount of positive coverage the organisation has received from me is far in excess of the negative.

Williams added: "Indeed, you cannot have it both ways. Linux Australia has on at least two occasions sought permission to republish two of my stories for its own use at various events. So, is it evil or not?"

To this Walsh responded: "I am referring to two people, a contributor who needs no introduction, and the co-founder and editor, who has shown continued poor judgement in the use of private conversations for the betterment of his publication."

The Linux Australia mailing lists and archives are not private but open to one and all.

It was here that Butler spoke up. "I thought we were all mature adults here? or, mostly such anyway...," he wrote. "If LA kicks off a policy of Guilt by Association, I'm pretty sure every single person on this list would have reason to not be elected.

"IOW, who gives a rat's arse who you are/were/might-be associated with, we ain't electing anyone's employer or social club, we are electing an individual person."

Walsh then cited three opinion pieces from iTWire, two written by me, and one by editor-in-chief Stan Beer, pointing out that while each had a legend at the top stating that the views in the article were the author's and did not necessarily reflect the views of iTWire, Beer had posted comments below each article stating that the writer had his (Beer's) full support.

One article was about Linux Australia's refusal to offer members with financial problems, like pensioners, some kind of financial help to attend the annual conference; a second (by Beer) dealt with my being asked to leave the annual Linux conference in 2013 on trumped-up charges, and a third dealt with censorship of the LA mailing lists.

Naturally, Beer did not post any comment in support of himself as an addendum to his own article.

Butler then wrote that every point raised in these articles was valid. "They are very valid points that this Sam had. So I assume you only want 'yes men' on this list... you only want those that sing the praise and hide the dirt? You don't work for the Qld Govt premier's office do you Mr Walsh?

"I would have an issue if his comments were BS or fabricated, but face it, they ain't, and he's right!...

"I see nothing written there that is false or misleading, in fact I only ponder why 'Sam' did not join LA if not already a member, and run for council to change those things."

"I also agree on the bit about pensioners etc getting support (or maybe even free access if they get their own way there), LA has given thousands to a now defunct US-based group to garner more women into this area (which I for one have seen no uptake of here to justify the values), so they surely can subsidise a few old folks or invalid pensioners who would like to attend. I fully know I open myself to flames on this paragraph, but frankly I don't give a fuck, it needed to be said."

Another member, Chris Neugebauer, then claimed that I needed to disclose my membership of Linux Australia in my writings about the organisation. Neugebauer was apparently unaware that disclosure is required when there is a conflict of interest — as when one is sponsored to attend a function and then reports on said function without disclosing the sponsorship.

Butler seemed to have a better understanding. "Fair enough, but, should he have to disclose it? Think about it before you answer," he responded to Neugebauer. "How many of us have affiliations with multiple organisations, should we be declaring everything everywhere any time we make a comment, regardless of where that comment is made? No, of course not.

"If Sam was singing the praises of LA, would people like Steve Walsh and all who agree with him, be making such a fuss? No, of course they wouldn't. Except in that case, I *would* find it most appropriate that he declare his membership, since when *praising* the organisation people should be aware that someone in media who's publicly supporting an organisation is a member, to be aware that it may be exaggerated hype, to get more people interested... after all *that* it's a form of free positive advertising."

Russell Coker, who seems to be someone with a clue about how journalism works, then closed out things with this: "This discussion is mostly silly. I have met Sam on many occasions. I've had him interview me and quote me on several occasions. In terms of his journalism I don't think there are any valid criticisms.

"His opinions differ from mine in many areas, but opinion pieces are there for someone to share their opinions and of course the editor will defend the author of an opinion piece for expressing an unpopular opinion. People who disagree with Sam's opinions are free to tell him. I prefer to tell him via email or when I meet him but the comment section is also an option.

"Now if Sam was to run for committee then people might decide to vote against him so that the committee can get consensus faster. But wanting to vote against someone who is employed by the same organisation is just silly."

Asked for comment, Williams said: "I will be interested to see how many people vote. I find it disappointing when someone becomes President with, say, 42 votes. It will be the same this time around undoubtedly – a mere handful of people vote.

"Truthfully I think Linux AU is nothing more than a committee to organise an annual conference. They don't do what a peak body should be doing. I would want them to be influencing government and business and so on."

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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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