This article seems like an episode of an alternate universe. First and foremost, I have never been censored before. And even now, more than a day after the fact, I cannot get my head around the fact that this happened. Or why.
So, first the what. I was invited by the Canadian Mint [yes, the people who actually manufacture the coins] to speak to the 26th annual Mint Directors Conference, that is running right now in Canberra, Australia. I have a formal, signed invitation letter from the Canadian Mint, dated November 6, 2009, inviting me to speak at the opening session chaired by the CEO and President of the Canadian Mint, Ian Bennett. They wanted me to "represent the mobile payments industry" and the reason they wanted me was "given your expertise".
The Mint Directors Conference was held in Canberra, Australia, while I was invited by the Canadian Mint. What a wonderful honor, and given my books on mobile related topics, including the world’s first book on mobile money; and my countless lectures, articles, analysis, blogs and presentation on the developments in mobile money, this seemed like an ideal opportunity to talk about what is truly relevant to the coins-oriented minting industry – their future.
Of course I agreed – we made our arrangements and the Mint Directors Conference would use my name as part of the advertised speakers scheduled to speak on the opening day [September 27] of the Conference that runs to October 3, 2010. I found of course now in September that there would have been many paying customers asking to have my Monday 27th of September, but I was of course committed to Australia and the Mint Directors. Meanwhile as the date of the event neared, I started to mention this upcoming speaking engagement on my Twitter feed, and in my public speaking engagements.
As the Canadian Mint had invited me, and was my host at the Conference, I wanted to be very open and generous in thanking them, so when I presented in Toronto on Sept 15, at the Mobile Media event [and my topic happened to be mobile commerce] – I clearly thanked the Canadian Mint for inviting me to speak to the upcoming Mint Directors Conference. I also showed a small preview of some of the slides that I had prepared to show in Canberra.
I flew in from Africa on Sunday afternoon, arrived in Canberra ahead of schedule, and checked into my hotel. As I collected my delegate package, I found the printed official program to include my presentation topic same as it was online. My speaking slot was listed very precisely to start at 08:32AM in the opening session entitled Imaginative Payment Developments. My topic was "The future of money and payments: Mobile Payment Industry Perspectives."
We were setting up my microphone and other speaking arrangements, when about 15 minutes before the morning session was about to start, the conference producers informed me that I "would not be seated". This [apparently] means that I would not be allowed to approach the podium and deliver my presentation.
The room was filling already with about 500 very senior national banking directors, the national mint directors of the USA, UK, China, Japan, France, Switzerland, Finland etc. and national bank directors etc and I am very visibly in the front of the room, and the organizers now were clearly indicating me to move ‘back’ away from the stage? What could I do? I couldn’t ‘insist’ that I should be allowed up on the stage. I tried to behave as professionally as I could, and I was shown where the delegates could sit, and I took a seat at the side of the room. I was not so much surprised as flabbergastered. They did… what? Did they now ‘censor’ me? Was I just being stifled? What happened? No explanations, other than that I was ‘not to be seated’… No reason given.
I was not ejected from the room, I had not done anything, not said anything. They allowed me to sit in the room as a normal delegate so clearly I was ok. But for some bizarre reason, I was not being allowed to present. This has never happened to me before and I could not see why.
Well you’d think you’ve seen it all, but it really gets more bizarre still. The chairman of that session was no other than Ian Bennett, the CEO and President of yes, the Canadian Mint – my hosts! So he has censored me? First he invites me to speak, and then he says I cannot speak. How incredibly weird is this?
IS LIKE A BIZARRE BAD DREAM
So, the online program on the morning of 27 September, 2010, for the Mint Directors Conference listed Tomi Ahonen still as speaking at 08:32AM. At about 07:45AM, I am told I will not be speaking. And yes, the printed conference program also listed me as speaking at 08:32. And of course, on the big screen, the delegates even see my name as one of the speakers for that session. All other speakers of the morning are allowed to speak.
Ok. This is now an episode of an alternate universe, yes? So get this – When 08:32AM comes, and the previous speaker has ended his presentation, Mr. Ian Bennett says that the next speaking slot is Mr. Tomi Ahonen, but that Mr. Ahonen will not be speaking. He mentions that that I am in the audience and points me out [I wave] and Mr. Bennett says he will be publishing my paper with the conference proceedings. He says the reason for why I am not speaking is that I arrived so late last night, from my long journey from Africa. He seemed to suggest that I was apparently too jetlagged to speak, that I somehow arrived past midnight like in the early hours of the morning.
Ok. Number 1. If I arrived late from Africa [I did arrive from Africa] but I was here, at the event, ready to speak, then isn’t that a bizarre reason why I am not allowed to speak? That I arrived late?
ARRIVAL TO CANBERRA
Secondly, if I was severely jetlagged and delirious, but still willing to speak – isn’t it MY decision of am I "in the condition to speak" and not his?
The truth is that the official registration form that I had submitted for the 26th Annual Mint Directors Conference had a requirement of specifying what airline and when the delegate would arrive. [Yes, they were quite… ‘Detailed’ … in the specifics on their conference registration]. And trust me; these money guys can be pedantic. So yeah, on the form that I submitted to the conference on the 13th of August, 2010, I listed that my arrival flight was Qantas QF 1483 from Sydney, which lands at 17:10. I added the detail that my connecting flight was QF 064 from Johannesburg to Sydney, just in c
ase there was some flight connection problem and I might be forced to take a later flight.
The official expected arrival time for Mr. Ahonen was 17:10 [5:10PM], on Sunday 26th September. And the organizers of the Conference had known this for more than a month before. And they were totally satisfied with this; they issued my delegate pass etc. What happened? I arrived so early in Sydney, that Qantas kindly put me on an EARLIER flight to Canberra. I flew QF 1485 [and yes, obviously, I have the airline ticket stub!]. I arrived more than an hour BEFORE my expected arrival time.
Yet Mr. Bennett says that I arrived too late to the conference and suggests my jetlag prevents me from speaking?
I AM NOT A HAPPY PUPPY
Now, I think it’s pretty rotten of my hosts to be so rude to me, that they – the Canadian Mint – forbid me from speaking. I mean, Canadians for heaven’s sake. They are known as some of the most kind and generous and friendly and polite people on the planet.
But here’s the kicker. I did not fly into Canberra on Canada’s dime. I flew there on my own dime, and my own time. I arranged for my own flight into Canberra – they did not pay for it, they are not reimbursing me for it! And I was not charging for this presentation.
So, the Canadian Mint invites me to speak, the event uses my name to promote the event. They publish my speaking slot in the printed brochure and even on the morning of the event, my slot is there and even on the big screen they audience of 500 bankers sees my name and topic. I have been promised the chance to give an opening address to the big global mint directors’ annual event on the future of money. I was led to believe that I would get the chance to speak to the event, which is why I came there. It’s not a trivial trip from Hong Kong to Canberra, there are no direct flights. I volunteered not just a full day of my time in Canberra for this one speaking slot, I also sacrificed two further days of travel into Canberra and back to Hong Kong. Yet 15 minutes before the event starts, I am told that I am not to speak.
The person forbidding me from speaking is none other than Ian Bennett himself who invited me, and he then points me out from the audience, recognizes that I was in attendance, and that says he’ll publish my paper. But because I was late in arriving from Africa, somehow Tomi is now unable to speak [as if I was somehow jetlagged perhaps?]
WHAT WAS HE AFRAID OF
I have now talked about this with several of my trusted friends in the industry, to try to figure out what happened. Mr. Ian Bennett, CEO and President of the Canadian Mint, has clearly been spooked by my presentation that he has had for over a month.
Now, first of all, that presentation has NOTHING that is particularly new to anyone who follows our industry! I have written extensively about mobile entering the small payments space [i.e. coins, i.e. Mint Directors’ domain]. I have reported and spoken widely about how coin-operated parking was terminated in Estonia, and today parking can only be paid by mobile. And I have been recently adding the story from Sweden where public transportation payments are no longer accepting cash and the most prevalent use to pay is mobile.
But I do understand that my presentation may have caused Mr. Bennett alarm, as clearly I do show in it the power of mobile. And clearly the facts do now prove beyond any doubt, that mobile will not cannibalize parts of cash, mobile will kill cash in some industries. The facts are in on that. The only questions are, whether that will hit every industry [of course it will] and how long it will take.
But this event is the ‘Mint Directors Conference’ subtitled "Imagination, Inspiring, and Innovation" – and most of the other speakers of the morning session spoke of how safe and secure the mint business is. [Can you believe that? It’s like the music industry a decade ago, or print a few years ago!] Almost all speakers talked of the web based payments [a trivial opportunity compared to mobile] and of credit cards, debit cards and contactless payments. But few mentions of mobile in most of the other presentations on the ‘future of money’ opening session, ha-ha…
Then in that context, Mr. Bennett considered my last slides in my presentation where I show how coins have been eliminated of very significant coin businesses in Sweden and Estonia – perhaps he was spooked and felt, at the very last moment, that he does not want that story out?
I mean, there was clearly a strong delegation of press in attendance. Perhaps driven partly by the expectation to see Mr. Ahonen speak about mobile money? I have a strong following among journalists in Australia. It may have taken Mr. Bennett by surprise? Perhaps the journalists did not know of me from beforehand, but had done their homework as professional journalists; and that their preparation work illustrated, that the biggest threat to coins is – indeed – mobile. And now, the journalists would see a global guru about mobile money to be presenting to the mint conference? It’s like an engineer of airplanes, talking to a conference about Zeppelins and other airships and ballooning.
One of my colleagues suggested the hypothesis that perhaps some journalist had asked Mr. Bennett about Mr. Ahonen specifically, and mobile money and perhaps even knew the Estonia or Sweden example? Easy, if you follow my writing or a good journalist doing a bit of reading about some given speakers? And obviously most of my Australian journalist friends would again know that story. Was one of them covering the Canberra event? Was Mr. Bennett, CEO of Canadian Mint, suddenly frightened that his big opening session would end with ‘the wrong message’ that reporters would be writing about?
That would explain why my name was still showing as a speaker on the online program AFTER my session had ended, on the morning of 27 Sept. That would explain why Mr. Bennett in his prepared written opening remarks, had no mention of the fact that one of his speakers is not to present. That would explain why my name was still showing on the title cards, when my turn was to speak at 08:32AM. That would explain why it wasn’t until then, that Mr. Bennett ‘remembered’ to tell the audience, that oh, Mr. Ahonen won’t be presenting – and that would also explain why he said – Mr. Ahonen is in the audience – and pointed me out – AND it would explain why he was willing to put my slides into the conference proceedings – but not let me show them! It would also explain why he has a total bogus utter pale faced lie about when I arrived in Canberra. That was simply a last-minute excuse.
He knew if I showed my slides, which would be the big story of the press. But if he hid the presentation into the proceedings of the event, it would be long after the event, that the facts would emerge, and no journalist would be focusing on that matter. They could effectively hide the truth.
And rather, they would show those obsolete slides that were given about the significance of mobile today.
HE BETTER NOT EDIT MY SLIDES
Now, Mr. Bennett has promised a live audience of 500, and is caught on video – that he will publish the slides that he has from me, in the conference proceedings. Here is my position – he better not touch my slides in any way. When I talk about Sweden and Estonia, he b
etter have those slides exactly as I sent them. I do have the original slide set, of course, and I will scrutinize every comma and exclamation mark…
That is the story from Canberra. I was censored. Censored by the very man who invited me to come and speak. I would have thought that they had bothered to read what I wrote, BEFORE the Canadian Mint decided to invite me to speak, ha-ha, or perhaps that’s not really worth doing, is it Mr. Bennett?
Obviously I will monitor this space. And I have already tweeted about this and will do more tweets about it. I have also decided that I think this is a story of interest to journalists on my mailing list. I think Mr. Bennett may have bit a bit more than he thought he did, in attempting to ‘control the story’.
…But yeah, your faithful mobilist has been censored. I can tell you it did not feel good.