Tuesday, 2 November, 2010

Indian print barons: Conspirators in theft and in silence

Plagiarism, a pathetic apology, a conspiracy of silence in print — old journalism vs the new

Some of you may have come to know that Aroon Purie the owner and editor of the Living Media Group and Thomson Press India was caught this month for publishing a publisher’s letter in the Southern edition of India Today in his own name, which contained a blatant and sustained piece of plagiarism — theft of content — word for word from an article by Grady Hendrix about Rajnikanth, published by the online publication Slate. While this happens quite often in publishing (and it is one of the main tasks of editors to check if the stuff they are putting out is original or attributable), it is in itself reprehensible.

In this case, Aroon Purie’s apology to the author of the two long paragraphs copied verbatim was pathetic. To some extent we do not know how to say sorry in any meaningful way. And unfortunately, we are equally bad at accepting apologies. We suspect that the person saying sorry doesn’t really mean it. He does not take it too seriously and will definitely commit the same error again, planning and hoping not to be caught.

The second issue is that many of you have not heard about this incident which took up a good deal of our emailing space in October. The reason is that many, if not all, of our great print editors and publishers declined to print stories about the incident — including stories that contained reactions obtained from Hendrix and Purie. If the Indian publishing barons turn themselves into a conspiratorial mafia they will only increasingly damage their credibility and abdicate the discourse and narrative of everyday life to the internet. It’s bad enough that they steal, but by maintaining a conspiratorial silence for one of their own, they make it more clear that the ordinary journos out there who speak up may be left to hang out and dry. Only the ordinary people’s heads will roll. While Purie will go on as the chairman of the management board of the Federation of the Periodical Press till the 38th FIPP World Magazine Congress to be held in New Delhi from 10 to 12 October 2011.

Excerpted from Grady Hendrix’s comment on Purie’s apology:

“Plagiarism is the hobgoblin of journalism, and the Internet has been both a blessing and a curse: so many sources to steal from, but also so many people to catch you doing it. Back in 1999, VN Narayanan, the editor of the Hindustan Times resigned after being caught lifting entire columns from other journalists and publishing them under his own name, and India Today has been accused of plagiarism in the past. But one look at a photo of Aroon Purie and his sober suits and Serious Media Mogul haircut and you know that this is not a man who would want to write copy that reads: ‘If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.’

“Whether it’s intricate power politics — or intricate super-stupidity — that led to the plagiarism, how it’s played out has been a classic case of old journalism vs. new. The story was first broken by online blogs, including the media watchdog group, the Hoot, and when the cultural blog MumbaiBoss posted the story, India Today chose their comments section to issue their first public statement on what had happened. The apology was later printed in the Southern India edition of India Today.”

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