You probably read about the editor of India Today plagiarising from a Slate article on an independent media site, or a blog, or via social networking; the silence from the people who should have been the first to speak up, namely, the mainstream Indian media, has been deafening. The ethical free fall continues, as witnessed by the latest episode in this saga. Business Standard columnist Mitali Saran’s piece on Aroon Purie’s plagiarism was withdrawn without her knowledge or consent; Saran subsequently terminated her column with the publication. Here is an excerpt from the piece, which she posted on her blog.
The total lack of surprise or shock about all this in the journalist community is the best indicator that Indian media is in crisis as far as integrity is concerned. Amongst other crimes such as those listed in the Press Council of India report which nobody in the media wants to talk about, is rampant plagiarism. Nobody in the media wants to talk about that either. It’s not as if ours is the only media in the world with big problems. But when ours is confronted with its own scandals, you can hear the clang of a fraternity closing ranks, followed by the weird sound of thousands of furious back-scratchings, followed by the thunderous silence of stones not being thrown in glass houses.
Everyone is human, so screwups are going to happen. Nobody is infallible, nor is anyone expected to be infallible. There are genuine cases of faulty memory and communication gaps and plain sloppiness. Unequivocal apologies can and should be made. But we’re at the point where it has become so commonplace to plagiarise in small and big ways that to many journalists it’s no big deal, and that’s the point at which we’re in trouble. Getting caught is not embarrassing enough yet—the media still mostly chooses to tiptoe around the doo-doo on the carpet, trying to be polite to whoever put it there. When we become a profession that respects itself enough to hang plagiarists out to dry, we will be a profession we can be proud of.
Business Standard is considered India’s leading business daily. That such a thing could happen to a well-known columnist makes me realize that any expectation of justice in my own case was ridiculously naive.
For reactions from India, check out The Spaniard in the Works.