Patrice Riemens on Thu, 14 Oct 1999 19:49:21 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Old Media Plagiarism in the Age of the New Media...

----- Forwarded message from goanet-digest -----

goanet-digest       Wednesday, October 13 1999       Volume 01 : Number 2050

Date: Wed, 13 Oct 1999 12:26:27 +0100
From: Edward Fernandes <>
Subject: plagiarism Sunday Times October 3 1999

Sunday Times October 3 1999
                                    NEWS REVIEW

      It's the genuine article, perfect plagiarism

 VN Narayanan, the distinguished editor of the Hindustan
 Times, the leading New Delhi English-language newspaper,
 has just resigned. A column he wrote has been exposed as
 plagiarism by a rival journal, the Pioneer. Indian journalism
 has been traumatised. "One of the most stunning stories in
 the minuscule world of Delhi newspapers," shrieked The
 Indian Express. "Such a sensitive issue. It's a terrible
 experience," groaned Ajit Bhattacharjea, president of the
 Editors' Guild.

 "Er, whoops," muttered Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday
 Times in London. It was all, you see, my fault.

 The column appeared in the Hindustan Times last month
 under the headline "For ever in transit". Of its 1,263 words,
 1,020 were identical to those in an article of mine published
 in The Sunday Times Magazine in February under the
 headline "No time like the present". Of its 83 sentences, 72
 were mine. Mr Narayanan even spoke of a sign he had seen
 while walking through Newark airport in the United States. I
 did the walking; I saw the sign. Apart from a touch of local
 Indian spin in theme, detail and tone, Narayanan had ripped
 me off.

 BN Uniyal, who broke the story in the Pioneer, made quite a
 meal of his scoop. He had plenty of material. A collection of
 Narayanan's columns - which are called Musings - had been
 published under the title I Muse, Therefore I Am. In the
 preface he mocked those who would accuse authors of
 plagiarism and wrote of taking the ideas and words of others
 "to innovate something of your own". Uniyal was having none
 of this. "You have not only lifted entire paragraphs and
 sentences from Appleyard's article," he wrote, "but have
 actually stolen all his experiences, his ideas, his reflections,
 even his person and personality."

 Narayanan was at first too distressed to talk but promised
 that he was "going to choose an appropriate time to explain
 my action to all of you". But he took my call at his Delhi
 home. "Mr Appleyard," he said, "I am being massacred here.
 I have been 38 years in journalism. I'm out of it now."

 Good grief. What can I say? Sorry? Or maybe: serves you
 right, Mr Narayanan. Or maybe even: glad you liked my
 article. Lunch?

 Investigating what had actually happened on the phone and
 the internet turned out to be a startling experience. Indian
 journalism seems to be modelled on Fleet Street circa 1965.
 The switchboards are surly and lunch is serious.

 "He's just gone out to lunch, call back in 3-5 hours," I was
 told when I tried to contact one executive.

 But finally a picture of sorts emerged. Narayanan is a
 somewhat grand figure, given to insisting that he is more than
 "a mere journalist". In addition, elderly editors in Delhi are in
 the habit of bemoaning the low standards of their younger
 colleagues. As a result, old hacks in general and Narayanan
 in particular were, to use an Australianism, cruising for a

 Furthermore, Narayanan had been in trouble before. A 1992
 column was referred to the Indian Press Council on a charge
 of plagiarism. He then said he had a photographic memory,
 causing him unconsciously to repeat the words of others.

 That case was dismissed as "pure harassment". Now, since
 his resignation, rumours have been circulating at the
 Hindustan Times that he has lifted four other articles of mine.

 To me Narayanan said he had been interested in the Hindu
 concept of "eternal transit" - my article was about the
 contemporary sensation of constantly being on the move
 without knowing where one was going. He had lectured
 students on the subject and, in the process, had somehow
 "internalised" my writing. It did not make much sense - had
 he "internalised" my walk through Newark airport? - and he
 did not say sorry, but he was upset and I sympathised.

 But the next day he sent me a long e-mail apologising
 profusely. He was just a hack in trouble. I've been there.

 The first general point about this odd affair is that plagiarism
 - conscious or unconscious - is now both easy and easily
 detectable. Uniyal in his Pioneer story asked: "How could
 you do such a thing in the age of the internet, Mr

 There are hundreds of whole articles or fragments of articles
 written by me all over cyberspace - usually with a credit, but
 sometimes without. I was once sent a column from an Irish
 newspaper - it was, word perfect, one of mine. But it was
 under somebody else's byline. I shrugged, just as I usually
 shrug at the endless internet piracy to which we are all

 But there are crazed internet sites and there are respectable
 publications - of which the Hindustan Times is one.
 Furthermore, there are columns and columns. This article
 was one over which I had sweated blood. It was the last in a
 four-part series, 12,000 words in all, in which I had outlined
 a personal view of the contemporary human condition. It
 was an article that depended as much on the texture of the
 writing as it did on any facts it contained. Ideas may be a
 form of public property but the way they are expressed is
 not. The article was, in short, mine and mine alone. By
 putting about a third of it in a personal column called
 Musings, Narayanan was, in effect, saying: it's mine, all mine.

 So, desperately trying to avoid the pomposity to which
 Indian journalism seems to be prone, I will say that what we
 have here is at least a bad case of humbug. Narayanan
 would have lost nothing by rewriting my article in his own
 words and giving me credit. Why he did not baffles me as
 much as it does Nilanjana S Roy, of the Business Standard,
 who said that such a simple step "would . . . have allowed a
 man in the twilight of his career to leave, halo intact".

 I hope Mr Narayanan's enforced early retirement is long and
 happy. But next time - well, it's Bryan with a "y". Okay?

                                Bryan Appleyard

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