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Dejan Lazić comments the Washington Post article

This isn’t simply about retracting a review from the internet. It’s about web data hierarchy run by some major corporations that needs to be investigated. So I am questioning here the “modus operandi” of such corporations.

During the past 25 years of my stage presence I have received all kinds of reviews (like every artist does) and have never complained nor commented on the negative ones as I of course do believe in freedom of speech and everyone’s entitlement to have an opinion.

To be honest, my schedule allows me to only read certain number of reviews: the good ones do not turn my head and from the bad ones I am trying to learn. Then there are those somewhere in between.

I can certainly see constructive (negative) criticism as a vehicle to sometimes even rethink certain things I do as an artist and that can only be positive for my artistic improvement and development. Besides, it is all “part of the game”, we all know that.

Otherwise I could have in this case simply and quietly contacted Google Europe and ask for this single, outdated, and in my opinion defamatory article to be retracted (or at least downgraded) from their search engines within the EU – something I clearly have not done.

And I haven’t done so because I strongly believe that the wider public should be aware of this particular case where this single, outdated article seems to be strongly prioritized on Google searches under my name for years now, and on top of that, it is an article written by a journalist who is simply crossing the line of good taste and fair journalism rooted in the concept of freedom of speech time and time again, with countless artists involved (not only myself), all of which is also going on for years now!

In the present case I was also inspired and encouraged by the dispute maestro Placido Domingo had to endure in 2011 with the same reviewer, Anne Midgette.

Back then, as a reaction to this review, maestro Placido Domingo wrote this letter to the editor of The Washington Post.

Still, I personally would like to thank The Washington Post for giving me at least the opportunity to additionally comment and explain myself, although neither my two letters to the editor of this newspaper (the first one sent on 13th September 2014 went ignored for six weeks, so I’ve sent the second one on 30th October 2014) nor my email to the reporter, Caitlin Dewey, were known to the public in their entirety at the time when my quotes were published. Unfortunately.

As some of my quotes have been heavily taken out of context (perhaps simply for the editing purposes?) and therefore have the potential of being misinterpreted, I have to state at this point once again that I consciously and deliberately contacted The Washington Post first – and have not contacted Google Europe – as I strongly believe that this issue requires to be directed to the point of origin first, and that is the newspaper and its editor.

Of course, I did know that this EU ruling applies only to Google search engines in Europe and not to a US-based newspaper, therefore in my letter to the editor of The Washington Post I certainly have not claimed my right to apply that ruling to this newspaper, nor have threatened to undertake any legal actions, but have merely mentioned this EU ruling within the context of my letter and used it as a pathway in order to make my point.

I also did reflect on all the possibilities and outcomes such a critical letter of mine might generate, but that again is “part of the game”…

I can imagine that there are no easy answers to the raised question once one is aware of all the points involved, also that a civilised discussion about this topic does make us “better off as a society”.

But I am also aware of the fact that although EU and US are global partners on many levels and share many common moral, ethical and cultural values, there are some differences, too: health care and education systems, weapon laws, death penalty, energy and environmental policies, to a degree also the government system, and a few other issues – although some of them heavily vary from state to state. And now there is the EU Grand Court’s recent “Right to be Forgotten” ruling which obviously cannot be applied in the US.

Maybe such differences and diversity (should) make us stronger!

This is not about censorship (and I am most certainly not advocating it), it is also not about closing down an access to information, actually Europe is cradle of democracy and many other values it is linked with and which we all sometimes seem to take for granted, such as freedom of speech.

The initial article has obviously been out there for four years now and, although the new EU ruling was introduced in May 2014, I personally haven’t commented nor complained about the defamatory, offensive and mean-spirited nature of this review in f.e. a letter to the editor or in a blog ever since it has been published in 2010. That is until recently when I learned that, when one googled my name this particular review was among the top ten Google searches – something that in my opinion isn’t absolutely necessary, given its content and furthermore, the date of publication.

Ironically, in some countries it is amongst the top three now – but at least together with Caitlin Dewey’s article revealing my objection and my commentary here…!

Therefore, I am not only speaking for myself here but also for many colleagues I dearly respect and/or I have made music and shared same stage with, all of which this particular reviewer criticised on so many occasions so harshly and unfairly, in a manner that is – in comparison with all the other reviews they have ever received (good, tepid, and bad) during their long and highly successful careers (in maestro Placido Domingo’s case: 50 years!) – simply over the top in sheer negativity and toxicity.

That does not comply with the principle of fairness in journalism.

Judging from numerous readers’ comments from the past, I know this is a fact that so many Washington, D.C. area concert goers couldn’t agree with more.

Can it really be that all these internationally highly regarded artists performed so often so poorly in Washington, D.C. and that in the presence of this particular reviewer!?

So, when can an individual, in this case a creative artist, simply say enough is enough, this journalist has crossed the line?

How powerful and successful can an individual actually be in a dispute with mass media or say, a major corporation?

Only after a scandal, or after his or her naked pictures have been shown in the newspapers or on the internet, or is there such a thing as intellectual harassment and bullying?

After how many years would such an article become irrelevant for the society and perceived as simply outdated, perhaps downgraded from the top page on Google searches of person’s name, and when can it be classified as libellous and defamatory?

And what do newspaper editors actually expect from reviewers?

Putting all these issues back into the context, it is evident that this case is not simply about retracting a single “bad review” from the internet for the sake of one’s own ego.

We have to be able to distinguish carefully between this and the bigger, broader picture of the whole issue and raise important questions for our interconnected society: how much can such regular, frequently horrific and highly destructive reviews by one single reviewer that has been given a chance to write for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the US affect entire generation of young, new potential concert goers, loyal longtime subscribers, sponsors, donors, art lovers and supporters in general, not to mention countless artists, orchestras and opera companies?

How much image damaging for the classical music in general can it potentially generate?

Can such common, abundant, frequent “reviews” actually inspire anyone to come and hear for the first time Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra, visit the Washington National Opera, listen to one of the guest artists, or even encourage somebody to learn to play an instrument at any given age and thus become a richer human being and a potential concert and opera goer?

When is such a thing no longer fair journalism rooted in the concept of freedom of speech, and can in the 21st century there still be such a thing as a witch hunt?

Can we like this breed new generation of potential music lovers and subscribers for many already troubled and financially fragile classical music institutions on a global scale?

I most certainly don’t think so.

I think we artists, as well as the media and the society in general should at least be allowed to be concerned about all this!

Dejan Lazić, 2014/2015

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