An Unhealthy, Unwealthy and Unwise Blog

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This is in response to News Laundry's article All Facts, No Conjecture on an apparent case of plagiarism by Samar Halarnkar of the Hindustan Times. I am posting my response here because the News Laundry comments section does not allow the use of bold and italic letters which, I believe, is necessary here.

I have a few points to make about this article by News Laundry.

1) Samar Halarnkar writes: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy,” writes Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet (a 1971 bestseller on meat production and global food scarcity). She recently visited Belo and noted how the hunger programme benefited…” (Bold letters and italicization mine)

Newslaundry’s comment: “There is NO reference to Lappé’s article – The City that Ended Hunger, which has similar information to that which has appeared in Samar’s article.”

Samar Halarnkar has not mentioned a specific article here but clearly credits the writer. Apart from her book, the mention that “She recently visited Belo and noted…” seems to refer pretty much to the very article NewsLaundry claims he did not credit. If this isn’t attribution then what is?

2) There is a problem with the tone of this article by NL. And I quote :

 - “There is NO [Bold letters and capitals by NewsLaundry] reference to Lappé’s article…”
 - “The brochure, press release and article named as reference sources… were published before [italics and bold letters by NL] Samar wrote his article.” [The inordinate stress on ‘before’ seems to suggest some kind of insidiousness on Samar Halarnkar’s part, hinting right at the onset that he could have plagiarised. But seriously, can anyone cite a source that doesn’t already exist ‘before’? Surely no one can time travel to the future to catch hold of a source that doesn’t exist yet.]
 - “None of these sources were mentioned in the original article which appeared in Hindustan Times under Samar’s byline.” [Bold letters in between regular sober text, by NL]
 - “NEITHER the statistic mentioned by Samar of 11% of the population being in absolutely poverty NOR that of a fifth of Belo’s children being hungry – are mentioned in the brochure. They are ONLY mentioned in Frances Lappé’s article.” [Bold letters and capitalization of the words ‘neither’, ‘nor’, ‘only’ by NL]

 All these bold letters and emphases on specific words - loud text, in other words - should have been avoided. These accusatory hints do not constitute journalistic sobriety and an unbiased stating of facts, but seem a preliminary passing of judgment. Moreover, all these over-emphasized, opinionated words and phrases appear before Samar Halarnkar is given a chance to articulate his side of the story in the article, thereby coloring the opinion of the reader before she has even read his defence.

3. At the most one could argue that Samar Halarnkar has attributed generally and not specifically. But is that ‘plagiarism’? Seriously? It seems that News Laundry has somehow played into the hands of right wing apologists, who, having run out of intellectual or moral counters against Samar Halarnkar’s liberal and secular views, will now stoop to attacking his personal integrity. I’m not related to Samar Halarnkar and have never met him, but having followed his work for quite some time, I do know that he is one of our finest and most upright journalists. The Hunger series, of which this article is a part, is powerful and passionate reportage arising out of compassion for the dispossessed of this country, a feeling I doubt possessed by eager supporters of mass murderers.

 4. And lastly (this isn’t related to the content at all and I admit I’m just nitpicking here, but hey, nitpicking seems to be the flavor of the month already, isn’t it?), what kind of reportage refers to its subject almost exclusively by first name? I can expect amateurish wannabe journalists as Akhilesh Mishra and Niticentral to refer to their subjects as only “Samar” and “Frances” as they do, as if they were the writer’s beer buddies, but a better sense of journalistic decorum was expected from a serious professional organization like NL.