On Tuesday night, ABC News aired its exclusive report on the working conditions at one of the Foxconn factories where almost all of Apple’s products are produced. I was looking forward to the seeing the report because of my enthusiasm for Apple and because I had become more interested in Foxconn’s production methods since seeing Mike Daisey’s monologue The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs last November. To be fair, I was skeptical from the beginning that a commercial television network would broadcast a scathing report against Foxconn and Apple, and I was overall disappointed by the report portraying the Foxconn factories as little worse than mind-numbing labor.
I appreciated that Bill Weir, the story’s reporter, acknowledged the relationship between ABC/Disney and Apple at the onset. Not only are both companies heavily financially invested in each other, Disney often is the software to Apple’s new hardware. For example, when Steve Jobs demonstrated the original iPhone’s movie playback capability in his famous 2007 keynote, it was Pirates of the Caribbean on the new screen. Most disclosures seem innocent enough, but this one stuck with me. Out of all the news organizations in the United States, why did the one that is most owned by the Steve Jobs Trust get this scoop?
The abbreviated length of the report hindered the ability to investigate the factory throughly. Nightline only runs for twenty-five minutes, and once you subtract the advertisements, we were left with less than twenty minutes of actual news. Moreover, since the report aired on a major broadcast network, it needed to brief the audience at the expense of covering the details about the factory and its human toll. For example, instead of hearing about how popular these devices are, I would have liked to seen more than one shift of workers on the factory floor and perhaps even the shift change. It would have also been nice to have see how they hire from the nearly 3,000 new applicants each week. Also, could we have seen at least one former employee or did they all move into management and out of poverty?
Weir and his crew must have been challenged by what seemed to be Foxconn showing for the cameras. While it was unprecedented that cameras were given almost full access to the factory floor and its employees, Foxconn knew about the reporters and FLA inspector and the news crew was escorted for their entire visit. The presence of management during an inspection or investigation can be chilling for those being interviewed. What would happen to an employee if she or he spoke candidly to Weir, once the cameras and reporters were gone, other than complain about the wages and the loneliness. What if they spoke about happen what happens to misbehaving or under-performing employees?
I never expected this report to shock anyone or make any real impact, as such is broadcast journalism in the conglomerate era. After all, this was a report aired by a commercial broadcast network, owned by a media conglomerate, that depends on advertising and the approval of its shareholders. However, this might be the perfect opportunity for a competing news operation, such as CBS, NBC or CNN, who have vast resources and no substantial relationship with Apple, to follow up. If only Bob Costas covered technology and labor.