Ranjona Banerji: When everyone in India thinks they know how the media works…

30 Aug,2016

By Ranjona Banerji

 

I feel strongly about plagiarism by journalists. You might argue that if an inexperienced journalist does it, it’s a mistake. And if a seasoned journalist does it, it’s laziness. But frankly, whatever the excuse, it’s stealing. But more than the perpetrator, plagiarism affects the news organisation where it happens. It affects their credibility and tells its reading public how much or little it cares for principles and ethics.

 

Some take the high road and suspend or sack the thief, no matter how highly regarded they may be. Some think a little tap on the knuckles is enough. Some decide that to apologise is okay. Some decide to apologise with the rider that the robbery was “inadvertent” should make everyone happy. However any writer knows that there is no such thing as inadvertent stealing. When you pick up whole paragraphs from someone else without attribution, you are passing someone else’s work as your own. How far can that be allowed?

 

Indian news organisations need to take a closer look at this if they want to hold their heads high.

 

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What makes a news site and what doesn’t? At the very least, it should contain journalists. I am repeatedly directed to Opindia.com by supporters of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a news source. However, although Opindia may call itself a news and analysis site, with “Journalism free from journalists’ bias and incompetence”, by what reckoning does it provide “journalism” when its ardent and passionate creators appear to have day jobs which are not in any news organisations?

 

Opindia.com has every right to support the BJP, to take on journalists it does not like, to list mistakes and prejudice by the media as they see it, and even for its various founders to troll whoever they want.

 

But it has no right to claim that it is a news site or that it provides any journalism to its readers unless all the people who work on it are full-time journalists. How many reporters does it hire? How far are they spread across India and the world? How many sub-editors does it have? How many news and photo agencies does it subscribe to? Who is its editor? Does it have an ombudsman? And why are there so few bylines?

 

Thanks to television bringing journalism up close and personal, everyone in India thinks that they know how the media operates. And everyone who has a friend or a relative who is a journalist is also an expert, without having ever spent even one day in a newsroom.

 

One current little squabble on Twitter is over a journalist – who Opindia does not like — discovering and making public that a founder of Opindia.com works for a pharmaceutical company. Many have disapproved of the journalist tagging the employer in these tweets. Certainly, attacking someone’s livelihood is dangerous.

 

But there are some problems here. If you attack people on social media, are you representing your employer or yourself and to what extent are the two separable? Is having an anonymous handle enough leeway? And also, if you yourself have tagged someone else’s employer to complain about them, is it fair to weep for justice when the same thing is done to you?

 

I for instance have been called names by someone who claimed to work for a very well-known hotel chain in India. How do I feel confident about visiting any of the hotels it owns and manages when I know that this man works there?

 

For those out there who are upset with journalists who you feel are unfair to the BJP and overly fair to the Congress and AAP, just as an example, there are websites like Swarajya which are dedicated to rightwing politics with many reputed journalists on their pay roll. DailyO provides you a mix of opinion, including strong right-wing views. News channels like Times Now find it hard to criticise BJP governments. India Today TV has some high profile BJP sympathisers on its employee list. Across all media in India, there is a mix of news and opinion to be found, which covers all viewpoints. It is worth a little application of mind to not fall for excitable party sympathisers pretending to be journalists. Read this or that website by all means and with full excitement and agreement. Just know it for what it is.

 

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And here’s an eye-opening report on how journalists who investigate corruption in India often pay with their lives: http://www.indiaspend.com/making-sense-of-breaking-news/27-indian-journalists-investigating-corruption-murdered-over-24-years-77424

 

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