By Soroor Ahmed
The suspension of Fareed Zakaria’s column by Time magazine and his television show by CNN on Friday on the charge of plagiarism came as a rude shock for the journalist fraternity as well his admirers for some different reason too.
Not only is Fareed a renowned editor of the Time magazine, he had earlier worked as the editor of Newsweek International too. What is something different about him is that he was born and brought up in the family having journalist mother and writer father. So he did not learned journalism––and how different it is from plagiarism––in any media institute but in the lap of his mother.
Forty-eight year old Fareed’s mother, Fatima Zakaria, was the Editor of the Sunday Times of India. She worked for quite a long time in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, and was a well known journalist of her time.
His father, Rafiq Zakaria, though essentially a politician and a minister in Maharashtra cabinet, was a reputed author, writer and regular contributor to various newspapers and magazines, most prominently, the then Illustrated Weekly of India.
On Friday (Aug 10) Fareed was suspended by Time magazine and CNN after he admitted to plagiarize portions of an article he wrote on gun control for Time (Aug 20 issue), from the New Yorker magazine.
Reports said that he issued an apology saying he had made a “terrible mistake” and his lifting a paragraph from the article by Harvard University professor of American history Jill Lepore was an “ethical lapse“.
“Time accepts Fareed’s apology, but what he did violates our own standards for our columnists, which is that their work must not only be factual but original; their views must not only be their own but their words as well,” Ali Zelenko, a spokeswoman for the Time magazine was quoted in the media as saying.
“As a result, we are suspending Fareed’s column for a month, pending further review.”
Similarly CNN, said it would suspend weekly foreign affairs show ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’, for an indefinite period pending review.
“We have reviewed Fareed Zakaria’s Time column, for which he has apologised. He wrote a shorter blog post on CNN.com on the same issue which included similar unattributed excerpts. That blog post has been removed and CNN has suspended Fareed Zakaria while this matter is under review,” CNN said.
Earlier, Fareed said: “Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column on gun control, which was also a topic of conversation on this blog, bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 23rd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake.”
But Fareed is not the first journalist of repute to indulge in plagiarism in this fast world of internet-era journalism, where there is much more likelihood of being caught than in the past.
Lifting any portion of news report or quote from one story without giving credit is common practice in journalism. But what is causing concern is that some times the whole passage or the main idea or view is lifted word by word from a column or exclusive article or original essay without quoting anyone or giving credit to the author. Fareed did this and paid the price.
In 1999 plagiarism cost the then editor of India’s widely-circulated daily, Hindustan Times, V N Narayanan, his job when a rival newspaper reported that he had plagiarised a column written by the Sunday Times (UK) columnist Bryan Appleyard. After quitting Hindustan Times, Narayanan guided journalism students as head of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Harilal Bhagwati College of Communication and Management in Bangalore. Before this disclosure, Narayanan was a respected journalist and had even served as the Editor of The Tribune, Chandigarh.
Though it is quite easy to catch anyone indulging in plagiarism in this era of internet yet the urge to write fast and more and to appear in different television channels perhaps compel the modern day journalists to indulge in what some of them jokingly call “lift irrigation”.
Sometimes they run out of ideas, but the compulsion to write weekly column or appear in panel discussions on TV force them to indulge in what Fareed himself calls ethical lapse.
But the truth is that media is indulging in much bigger ethical lapses all over the world. They cooked up fantastic stories of Weapon of Mass Destruction, then reported to the drawing rooms all over the world how a country is getting systematically destroyed. Finally, when every thing is over they would finally run stories that there was no such thing as WMD. Yet not a single head rolled.