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MSNBC has been caught doctoring copy originating from the Wall Street Journal to make it more favourable to the news channel's co-owner Microsoft. The changes introduced by MSNBC also had the effect of removing references to Microsoft competitors.

Amongst many fairly harmless edits, designed to improve readability, were some more ominous changes.

The original WSJ report gave a harsh analysis of Microsoft' offensive against open source software and the GNU General Public License, initiated six weeks ago by Craig Mundie. The WSJ cited Microsoft's own dependence on open source software, and cited lawyers who were critical of its interpretation of the General Public License.

"Microsoft said that since last summer, Hotmail has been running on both Windows 2000 and the Solaris operating system from Sun Microsystems Inc.," noted the original copy from the WSJ.

MSNBC amended this to:-

"Microsoft said Hotmail has been running on Windows since last summer."

By Friday, the original version of the story that appeared in the WSJ had been restored to MSNBC.

Although it ruins a good conspiracy theory, not all of the changes introduced by MSNBC were as pejorative as the Hotmail example above. MSNBC corrected the phrase "freely available programs" - a radical misinterpretation of the word 'free' .

Nevertheless, it's likely to raise questions about the editorial independence of the Microsoft co-owned channel. The London Independent newspaper reports that Microsoft is helping to underwrite Rupert Murdoch's bid for satellite broadcaster DirecTV. Such creative editing is going to be essential if Microsoft provides content, as well as software, for News Corporation. ®

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