Left-liberal journalists and ethics

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10 Sep 2012

http://www.niticentral.com/emailshare/emailshare.php?pid=7257&url=http://www.niticentral.com/2012/09/10/left-liberal-journalists-and-ethics-7257.html&title=Left-liberal journalists and ethics&id=nc

Let us presume there are two people named Samar and Frances.

The following is a verbatim reproduction of and some extracts from an article each wrote at different times and in different publications.  The extracts from the article by Samar will be followed by extracts from article of Frances.

At present, just compare the two extracts in each exhibit, one by Samar and the other by Frances.

Exhibit 01:

Samar : “In 1993, when 11% of its 2.5 million people lived in absolute poverty and a fifth of Belo’s children went hungry, a newly-elected Government declared that food was a fundamental right of every citizen.”

Frances : “Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship.”

Exhibit 02:

Samar : “These did not remain words. Patrus Ananais, then Belo’s new mayor, created a council of businessmen, church leaders, labour representatives and other citizens to launch the battle against hunger.”

Frances : “The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system.”

Exhibit 03:

Samar : “Local farmers were, and are, given prime public spots to sell their produce to consumers, thus eliminating retail commissions that reached 100%, a situation not unfamiliar to India. The poor got access to cheap food, and farmers, themselves poor, prospered at a time when farm incomes were declining across Brazil.”

Frances : “It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.”

Exhibit 04:

Samar : “In addition, Belo grants entrepreneurs rights to run, on public land, 34 local retail markets, where the Government fixes the price, usually about two-thirds of the market price, for about 20 healthy foods. Other food can be sold at market price.”

Frances : “In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.”

Exhibit 05

Samar : “Perhaps the biggest direct cushion against hunger is Belo’s series of Government-run cafeterias. Each offers people — not just to those officially declared poor — hot meals (rice, beans, salad, ground beef and an apple) for about Rs. 50.”

Frances : “People’s Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal.

Exhibit 06

Samar : “The local university is deeply involved in keeping the system honest and functioning. Students survey the prices of more than 40 basic foods, supply these to local media outlets and paste them on walls and bus stands.”

Frances : “For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops.”

Now I do not want to bore you with further exhibits (although there are a few more), so let me summarise this in a few points:

1. Who is Samar ?

Samar is Samar Halarnkar. As per last available public information, he is Editor-at-large (whatever that means) of Hindustan Times, a very prominent English national daily of  India.

2. Who is Frances?

Frances is Frances Moore Lappé. Who is she? Frances has done a life time work on hunger, poverty and environment and has authored 18 books, among them the best selling, “Diet for a Small Planet.

3. What is this all about?

Samar wrote a piece titled “Not Much on the Plate” in Hindustan Times on April 11, 2012. He was writing on India’s abysmal failure in controlling poverty and hunger and the impending arrival of Food Security Bill as a means to solve it. Apparently Samar wanted to educate the readers as to how the problem has been solved elsewhere in the world. By his own admission Samar has never been to Brazil (at least not till the time of publication of this piece) but he has been merely “following” the success story of Belo Horizonte and wanted the readers to benefit from his knowledge.

Frances, the world-renowned expert on the field, also wrote on the Belo Horizonte experiment on February 13, 2009 for Yes Magazine.  That’s right, more than 3 years before Samar.

Now read the extracts again. Exhibit by Exhibit. And compare. If you deduce that Samar, writing on his self-proclaimed area of interest three years later, offers absolutely nothing new, as compared to what Frances wrote in 2009, then you conclude the same as me and many others.  If you deduce that in fact most of the words used are also the same, then you conclude the same as me. If you deduce that every information in Samar’s article about Belo is the same as that in the article of Frances, then you deduce the same as me. If you deduce that this is a straight lift off, without attribution, then you might not be far off the mark.

Here is a small test to measure Samar’s original research, if any. Frances, who went to Belo for her original research in 2009, writes that one of the innovations in Belo was “food at low prices” markets (ABC markets).  Till 2009, they had been able to establish 34 such markets. How many did Samar find in 2012? If you thought Belo would continue its good work and would have added some more markets, hell no! Samar found the exact same number – 34 ! ( Exhibit 04)

Incidentally, Frances went to Belo before she wrote her research piece. Samar, by his own admission has been only “following” the story without ever going to Brazil. The difference is telling. In the three years between the two articles (not a short period), Belo would have done something additional, considering it is such a vibrant and innovative city. You would have thought that Samar would educate us about some of these if his work was original. But nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything that Samar “finds” in 2012 is exactly what Frances found in 2009.

Finally, this is how Frances begins her Yes Magazine piece: “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy”.

This is how Samar credits Frances in the middle of his article : ‘”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 a fourth of the city’s inhabitants and cut the infant death rate by more than half in a decade.”

That is all. Nothing else. Nothing more. No mention of any article Frances wrote for in 2009, which is the relevant information here and not what she did in 1971.  Of course, Yes Magazine, where Frances wrote her Belo experience, and from where every piece of information in Samar’s article appears sourced from, is not mentioned at all.

Twisting of the knife, did you say?


1. Samar Halarnkar tweets at handle @samar11.

2. Original article by Frances, dated Feb 13, 2009, in full, is here .

3. Full article by Samar, dated April 11, 2012 is here .

4. Hindustan Times, a reputed national daily, puts a disclaimer below Samar’s article : “The views expressed by the author are personal.” Wonder what is their take on this?

Economically Right, Politically BJP.

(c) NiTi Digital. Reproduction and/or reposting of this content is strictly prohibited under copyright laws.

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  • http://twitter.com/shylsmn Shy

    Wow!! and they call themselves Ethical Journalists… they cant even keep away from copying… why would they not sell their soul to the highest bidder?

  • chandra

    Sorry friend, this is Indian media. They will never plagarize and hence will never apolozise…

  • Muthu

    Wow! Amazing takedown of the plagiarism! Life is getting increasingly tougher for mainstream journalists, thanks to conscientious netizens like this author! Kudos! Keep it going!

  • http://psychofancy.wordpress.com Nachiketa

    What has left-liberal got to do with this?

  • YD

    It is sad that a journalist who has taught in Berkeley & has worked for many National & International dailies indulges in plagiarism. It is equally distressing that HT who published the article or other media houses associated with Samar have chosen to not comment on this issue.

    What constitutes as plagiarism and references that need attribution is drilled through classes, teacher enhancement workshops in Universities like Berkeley. Any person even if he teaches for half a semester has to attend teaching orientation programs which give all details including access to plagiarism detection software.

    Every Professor gives a course description, rules & regulations for the course which contain explicit explanation of plagiarism & its consequences. Following is an example of it-


    You have agreed to the University’s Honor Code as part of your enrollment for this course. All quizzes and essay assignments must be your own work.

    Your submissions for the written assignments must be your own work, not copied from another student or an online resource such as Wikipedia. If a substantial portion of a submission is copied without attribution from another source, that is considered plagiarism. Any plagiarized work will be rejected.

    The essence of plagiarism is to claim someone else’s work as your own, including writing assignments from a source with only slight change in grammar. You may include summaries or quote from outside materials on the written assignments, so long as you provide clear attribution of the source.

    Failing to submit original work or attribution will result in action as outlined in the Student Handbook. ”

    In addition to stringent rules, Universities these days use software to detect plagiarism. Some of these softwares are very efficient in detection of plagiarism. http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning/03/plagsoftsumm1.html

    In light of such mandatory programs & Samar’s recent teaching stint at Berkeley, it is difficult to believe that he is unaware of the implication of his actions.

    The silence from editors and twitterati is equally disturbing. By remaining silent there seems to be a tactical agreement to cover up this issue. It only results in loss of credibility for news media. Tangent to the Indian news media’s voice on Samar’s writing is US media’s outrage, investigation and action on plagiarism adopted by Jonah Lehrer, a highly respected neuro science based journalist.

    Jonah Lehrer was initially accused of recycling his own writing. http://jimromenesko.com/2012/06/19/jonah-lehrers-newyorker-com-smart-people-post-look-familiar/
    Yes, you read that right. Accused of recycling his own material. When Jim Romensko brought this to New Yorker’s notice the latter issued a statement regretting the error even prior to taking a statement from Lehrer. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/frontal-cortex

    Subsequent to the June 12, 2012 debacle, scrutiny of Lehrer’s writing increased leading to other news websites such as Dailybeast uncovering more instances of self-plagiarism. http://www.edrants.com/how-jonah-lehrer-recycled-his-own-material-for-imagine/
    Did you notice any difference in comparison to our media reaction? When @amishra77 questioned HT’s editor, his first reaction was to jump in defense of Samar “Journalism first involves mass communication of perspectives. Rest is incidental” (https://twitter.com/yoginisd/status/244451335578206208 )

    He later requested for more time to review the case but 2 days later we are still waiting for a statement. Compare this with the immediate statement issued by NewYorker. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/frontal-cortex

    As pointed by @amishra77 HT prints a disclaimer at end of Samar’s article which is neither here nor there.

    Scrutiny of Lehrer’s writings by various news media & websites continued even after NewYorker issued an apology. Various stories with proof of fabrication & plagiarism of data by Lehrer emerged resulting in non-publication of his latest book on Bob Dylan. In wake of these allegations, Wired.com, Lehrer’s employee prior to NewYorker hired an external investigator, Charles Seife, a Journalism Professor, to analyze his writings. His task “was not to decide whether Lehrer got everything right—every journalist makes mistakes and misinterprets things—but to determine whether he recycled, fabricated, plagiarized, or otherwise breached journalistic ethics.“ http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2012/08/jonah_lehrer_plagiarism_in_wired_com_an_investigation_into_plagiarism_quotes_and_factual_inaccuracies_.html

    Eventually, Wired.com decided to not publish Seife’s findings but Slate stepped in given the importance and prominence of Lehrer case. Can we see a similar investigation by Indian news media? Is it too much to expect our newsmedia to do self-checks and audits of writings of their colleagues? For now, Niticentral.com has published the story but if other newsmedia do pick it up, it would give some creditability to them. I wonder if Samar’s current employer Mint would do any investigation in his past writings or will it be the job of alert readers like @amishra77.

  • http://twitter.com/kaunteya Kaunteya

    @Nachiketa : The left-liberal media never tires of lecturing others on ethics and morality. They are the worst scums when it comes to any going for short-cuts, whether in politics or professionalism…

  • http://twitter.com/geffbeck jbeck

    Samar studied at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Univ of Missouri, the most revered institution for the profession, founded by none less than the great Joseph Pulitzer. But forget all that. When I see the term “journalist” I don’t think of the great votaries of press freedom, not Jefferson or Voltaire or even India’s Adipatrakar the Mahatma. Thinking too much of great people can mislead us into rationalising our own behavior and postponing the pursuit of certain basic necessary principles. When I “journalist” I think of one very very rainy afternoon at the Indian Express, Mumbai, where my friends were all by themselves trying to put together the next day’s edition. As it always happens every monsoon in Bombay, that was the rainiest day of the season when everything typically grinds to a halt. The streets are clogged with people, water, abandoned vehicles, a flag here and there marking open manholes, now invisible under the swirling flood. A building had collapsed somewhere in Central Bomaby earlier that afternoon. And the crime beat reporter Baljeet Parmar (who in those days I though did nothing else than report for IE as he was always on the beat) doubling up as rain reporter had already filed the report on the bridge collapse and was now calling in two more reports from farther north on the peninsula. The desk had everything to finish the first page, but the pictures. Where do you get them from? Those were not the days of camera phones or even digital cameras – over 25 years ago. As the clock ticked and it seemed only a miracle would save the day, in walked Rashid Bahman-Behram, that intrepid photographer, with a Cinemascope chest with a heart bigger than a barn beating inside. Always dressed in a crisp buttondown light patterned shirt, suspenders and dark trousers, with the trademark Parsi topi and his avuncular beard. Rashid was drenched and spoke as he gestured “The water came up to here,” pointing to his beard, “here see it’s wet!” Rashid had taken the pictures and walked most of the way back, till he managed a lift from the police to get to Nariman Point. Every profession is sacred. The professional strives to master his craft and assure whoever needs his help that he will serve them with commitment, care and honesty and requests that the seeker repose his trust in him without fear. Rashid like the journalists I knew then lived and breathed his craft and probably thought his trekking through the floods that day was all in a day’s work. Journalists are entrusted with reporting fact and informing us with opinion that even if not in step with ours at least provides a counterpoint that we may then apply our minds to and disagree. More than those who agree with her, the journalist owes it those who do not, to leave them not feeling like fools but informed dissenters. True professionals follow the tightrope walker’s creed. The balance staff is only for balance, it’s not a crutch, and no, a safety harness will not be used. If the acrobat misses her step, she will take the fall than clutch at the rope. The true professional does not ask for a second chance and is fiercely committed to discharging her duty. No exceptions. Ever. It’s dangerous being a journalist in India. Our Indian language press (derisively termed by those who do not better as the “vernacular press” using an adjective that refers to “homegrown slave”) generates news reports from the deepest corners of the land. It’s a hard life that only now some of the more urban(e) journalists are beginning to discover with their reports from Bastar. Every generation would have you believe that they had it much harder, how they had to walk to school everyday, and uphill twice a day. Maybe that’s exaggeration. But there are still some who work quietly, who will not clutch that tightrope if they miss a step, and there are certain others who will cheat – plagiarise, sell their voice or their pages to the bidder of the day. And they can do it whether they studied at Missouri or taught at Berkeley. Although I favor homegrown stars. Like the little known Gopi who blew the lid of the telecom scam. Or the many regional language reporters who inform us what goes on in front of our eyes but we fail to see. Like CHO Ramaswamy who has been running his Tamizh political fortnightly Thuglaq for over 40 years, who’s endorsed just about every political party, for no other reason but to vote in healthy change. These are but few of the majority of an august profession. I prefer to think the likes of Samar are a rarity

  • Naveen

    Excellent read, but in India Journalism is redefined, it not what journalists do, but WHATEVER journalists do. So forget all other definition you might have referred.

  • Dhairya

    This is shameful! Mr Samar must apologize!Look at how CNN/Time magazine censored Fareed for essentially doing the same thing;lifting “data” from a previously published article;Mr Samar’s defence is that this publicly available information from google; this is not like lifting stats from google; this is lifting specific information from a piece published 3 years ago; and there is no credit given to the author of the original piece; the credit is for another book published years earlier; there is no harm is acknowledging a mistake and moving on; Its the right thing to do.

  • Pingback: Samar Halarnkar and Ethics? « Politically Incorrect

  • Kaushik

    Excellent work.
    Kudos for the exposing research.

  • nitin

    Brilliant piece of writing.Looking at articles like this,i still see some hope in India.
    I am sick of these lefties with their propaganda machine.
    Mr Samar should issue a clarification if he has an iota of respect for his profession.
    Keep it up Akhilesh

  • krishnarao

    MOST of the Journalists ,more so who reached the top are manipulators, fourth rate and acts as fifth (filth) column.

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