Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't be so hard on yourself.

I remember in June when this story broke and how Johann Hari explained his reasons for reporting an interview by using content from other sources. Johann gave a full explanation of why he filed his copy in the way that he did. I accepted Johann's explanation and felt that his apology should satisfy everyone.

Well it did not satisfy everyone and Johann Hari has faced some severe disciplinary actionWhittam Smith recommended that Hari should be allowed to return to working for The Independent subject to certain conditions. The writer, who has apologised for his actions, is to take four months' unpaid leave to undertake a programme of journalism training at his own expense. He will also return the Orwell Prize which was awarded to him in 2008.


Johann has again apologised and I think he is being a little hard on himself. Okay, so his article included bits that were not from his interview but he explains exactly why he reported his piece in that fashion. I understand his reasoning for this departure from established and professional journalism. Johann may have made an error of judgement in the reporting of the interview but I believe he did it with the best of intentions and not to rip off the work of other journalists. A strong word from his editor, a slap on the wrist, a black mark on his record and the original apology he published should have been enough to please everyone. But to be ordered to take four months' unpaid leave to undertake a programme of journalism training at his own expense is a huge punishment for this slip up. As regards his fiddling about on wikipedia, this should not come into the equation as he did it in his own free time. What people do in their private lives, including free speech and freedom of expression and association should not be judged in the workplace.


I do feel that Johann has been a little hard on himself with his latest apology. It may have been worth the gamble for Johann to tell the Independent where to stick their job for being so out of proportion with their disciplinary action. 


Comments:
As regards his fiddling about on wikipedia, this should not come into the equation as he did it in his own free time. What people do in their private lives, including free speech and freedom of expression and association should not be judged in the workplace.

Two problems with that argument:

1. It's been proved beyond any doubt that Hari used workplace computers to make some of his Wikipedia edits. Indeed, that was how "David Rose" was rumbled in the first place, when one of his IP addresses matched that of the Independent newspaper.

2. You are of course correct in abstract terms that what one says or does in one's own time should have no bearing on your professional reputation. However, if a judge or politician was found to have been conducting a hate campaign against fellow lawyers and politicians, would this really be irrelevant tittle-tattle, even if they did it in their own time? Of course it wouldn't - and the mere fact that they did it pseudonymously would speak volumes about their judgement.

If Hari wanted to smear Cristina Odone as an anti-Semite or Nick Cohen as an alcoholic, why didn't he do it in his column? Because he knew full well that the paper's lawyers would have demanded hard evidence - and since none existed, he decided to do it anyway, in a way that was not merely underhand and cowardly but also staggeringly unprofessional. Not to mention potentially illegal, given that some of the things he posted appear to be flat-out libellous.

Your use of the phrase "fiddling about on Wikipedia" doesn't quite convey the magnitude of the fact that this was a professional journalist attempting to smear colleagues with the clear aim of damaging their reputations and possibly careers. And since that undoubtedly is the case, isn't it disingenuous in the extreme to claim that it doesn't really matter because he did it in his own time?
 
Thank you for putting me right on this one. I wondered how "David Rose" had been discovered and I did not know that he made the wikipedia edits at the Independent offices.

I stand corrected and take my hat off to you.
 
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