Monday, March 27, 2006

Moni Becomes the new Norma Rae

If Transparency International keeps this up, it won’t be long before Moni becomes the next Norma Rae. From talking to her it is all too clear she doesn’t see herself in that light. Quite to the contrary, Moni just sees herself as an unemployed woman who knows of an apparent injustice she would like to blog about. But as TI continues their full-court press against the blogger, this woman who wants little more than to be supportive of her friend is beginning to become an icon to the European world for free speech. Perhaps the US should adopt her for the same purposes.


First, a quick overview of the story. An unnamed woman worked on a probationary basis, 20 hours a week, for Transparency International, a watchdog group that combats corruption and pushes for open and honest dialogue from governments and companies around the world. However, the salary was too low to support Andreas and her 3-year-old child, so she took a 2nd job. At the end of her probationary period, they offered her 30 hours at a slightly higher rate, but not enough to offset the loss of wage from the second job. The woman said she could stay at the current rate and hours, or move up to the new hours with a higher rate, but she couldn’t accept TI’s offer as it would not be enough to support her and her child.

The woman told a friend, Moni, who felt much as I do that a big company should be a bit more flexible with a single mother. AndMoni decided to post about the situation on her blog, again, fully within her rights under both German law and the values that democracy is built upon. But Friday, TI set an ultimatum for Moni, telling her she had 48 hours to remove the post or face being sued and paying a hefty fine, at least. And here is the first point where Transparency International really acted unethically.

It’s Friday, so it’s not like lawyers are accessible to discuss the issue. And Moni had no experience in similar cases to draw back upon. Afraid for her own career, Moni did pull down the post on Sunday, just before the deadline, but not before posting the threatening email from Dr. Jurgen Marten, TI’s ethics counselor. Outrage around Europe grew, and there has been no bigger topic over the weekend than TI’s bullying of these two women. People speak of boycotting and withholding the large donations that TI receives annually, and certainly their reputation as the international arbitrator of fairness is more than tarnished.

Still, Moni, the woman and others at the center of the controversy spoke of the important of TI’s role in the world, and urged people not to react yet, but to wait until Transparency had a moment to step back and re-evaluate their position. All parties were sure that this must have been a heat-of-the-moment decision, and that when the company looked at the whole situation objectively, they would allow Moni to maintain her freedom of speech. How could they not? This is an organization that is all about fairness and openness!

Well, time to get with the program, Moni and Andreas. Transparency is like every other company in the world: they’re about greed, money, and power. Instead of recognizing their mistake in trying to stifle Moni, they compounded it by further threatening Moni if she didn’t remove the note from Marten. Again Marten wrote, saying that posting the email was an “infringement of copyright” and giving her 12 hours to remove the 2nd email.

I don’t know if she posted the second letter on her site, but it’s not there now, and the first letter has been removed as well. However, her original post, the first email, and the second letter have all made their way on to other web sites. Moni’s site thanks people for all the support, but indicates that she feels intimidated to keep the posts up. However, she has hired a lawyer, at her own expense, and he has written a response to TI – Germany, which you can read (in German) here.

Understand, I may not agree personally with Transparency’s decision to let Andreas go. It would not have been my choice, but it is their right to take that action. They need to choose the right employees to further grow their company, and the hours and payroll of that staff must be considered. But I do have issues with intimidating Moni to remove the posts from her site. To me, it’s a basic freedom of speech issue, and what’s more is the exact type of free disclosure that Transparency is in existence to protect.

Moni isn’t doing this for publicity, or to drive traffic to her blog, or to get recognized on the street, much like Norma Rae, who was not self-aggrandizing at all. Moni just sees an injustice and thinks that any good person should speak up when they see an injustice. These are my values, just as they were Norma Rae’s in the 70s. And at first Norma Rae was made out to be some sort of criminal or evil person by big business for helping the Unions prevent some of these injustices, much as Moni is experiencing now.

Wasn’t it only a couple months ago that Germany and France were our champions in the whole Mohammed Cartoon controversy, screaming to the world that we can not allow free speech to be intimidated, even in the face of the overwhelming danger from the protests spreading throughout Europe. But here, in a clearly parallel incident, will no one stand up for Moni? Will no one stand up for her freedom of speech? Well, perhaps it will fall to bloggers to protect their own. Count me in!


Moni has been kind enough to write me and correct a couple quick points. I'm sure that Moni has a lot on her plate right now, so I really do appreciate her help.

Moni never did publish the second letter on her site, but she did publish excerpts from it, again in German, here. She Also still has the first letter published, which she was ordered to remove by 9:00 is after that in Germany now. And she has re-posted her first post. Her lawyer has indicated that these are not copywrite issues, and that she should repost all the postings.

I think it's very brave on her part. If more occurs I will post it here, and hope that Moni will keep us in the loop.

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Posted by Scottage at 6:55 PM / | |