Ranjona Banerji: Denyer’s unfair and ‘lovely’ act

07 Sep,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The right of the Washington Post and its journalist Simon Denyer to say what they want about Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is undeniable. And equally undeniably, the government is wrong in trying to either demand an apology or even get publicly petulant about criticism.

 

However, it now turns out that Denyer had used quotes by Ramachandra Guha and Sanjay Baru which had been given and appeared in Caravan magazine. Denyer was asked by firstpost.com about this lack of clarity over where the quotes came from. Denyer said he had an email exchange with Baru about his quotes in Caravan and later spoke to him: “Then I raised the Caravan quotes which I thought were lovely and asked him if he could freshen them up.

 

He said I could use the quotes but gave me his mobile number in case I wanted to talk.

 

From the Washington Post
“Correction:

An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.” While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks.”

 

I called him up. We chatted about the PM’s record. He said the first half of the PM’s second term was a “disaster” and “completely wasted.” He also said PM “could have made use of the opportunity he got in 2009. He chose not to.”

 

It is hard to understand why, having already “chatted” with Baru, Denyer needed to use the Caravan quotes at all. He could have asked Baru for fresh quotes, which he already seems to have. Even if he thought that the Caravan quotes were “lovely”, that’s to Caravan’s credit.

 

All possible explanations do not do Denyer much credit. Caravan is a small Indian magazine – maybe he thought no one really reads it and certainly not in the US. Or that Baru and Guha were unwilling to provide similar “lovely” and juicy quotes to him – although it is hard to understand why. The Caravan interviews were in 2011. The UPA’s plight has significantly worsened in 2012.

 

A simple act of courtesy would have been to credit Caravan for the quotes. A correction (at the end of this article) has since been appended to the story on the Washington Post website.

 

It is interesting to compare this case with the Fareed Zakaria one. Zakaria was suspended for a month when it was revealed that he used data from an article in his blog, passing it off as his own or without crediting the writer. Zakaria picked up a few facts and did not change the language or order in which they appeared, which is what gave him away.

 

His transgression was far less serious than Denyer’s and yet he had to face suspension from Time magazine and CNN. He made an immediate apology.

 

The Government of India appears to be more than happy to try and curb and curtail the media in any way possible. Instances like this will only make their resolve stronger, even though the Washington Post’s transgressions are to do with media ethics and courtesy and do not take away from the media’s right to freedom of expression.

 

There is a lesson here for all journalists, young and old, who like to take shortcuts in the way they do their stories or get their information.

 

 

 

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