Mystery of the missing Sydney Morning Herald column: Plagiarist Apologizes

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(Credit: The Australian, screenshot, highlight added)

The Sydney Morning Herald suspended columnist Dr. Tanveer Ahmed earlier this year amidst plagiarism accusations, as iMediaEthics wrote in September.

But, three months later, the Herald hasn’t told readers “how the paper plans to stop it happening again,” Australian media program Media Watch says.  And, even though Ahmed apologized in a column, that column was published by another newspaper the Australian. Sydney Morning Herald parent company’s editor-in-chief Sean Aylmer told Media Watch the newspaper didn’t publish Ahmed’s apology because “it wasn’t considered appropriate.”

iMediaEthics asked Sydney Morning Herald assistant editor Steve Jacobs why the Herald didn’t find Ahmed’s apology column “appropriate to publish,” when Ahmed and the newspaper ended their relationship, if Herald readers have been given any information about Ahmed’s plagiarism or apparent firing, and any changes at the Herald, but Jacobs told iMediaEthics by email “we have no comment.”

In Ahmed’s Oct. 15 apology, which noted that the Herald “ended [Ahmed’s] tenure,” he admits that “I’ve been a plagiarist for the past couple of years.”

“I feel somewhere between a criminal and a cheat,” he wrote, noting he committed “the journalistic equivalent” of “malpractice.” According to Ahmed’s explanation, his plagiarism began when he started dropping “minor attributions” during “cut and paste” researching.  Further, Ahmed described his reaction to being exposed as a plagiarist:

“I was like an addict forced to look in the mirror and survey the wreckage, measured in reputational damage and a rising media career cut short prematurally…This, the first question I had ever experienced surrounding my professional integrity, felt initially like a mortal wound.”

Ahmed’s column advocated for ethics being taught to journalists, with frequent brushings-up on training and standards.

“If I was in medicine, I might have been deregistered, such was the gravity of my mistake. The outcome is similar in journalism, but informally. The rules are unwritten and more like a tribal code in which I had lost membership. You live and die on reputation.”

Ahmed added to iMediaEthics by email this week that he does plan to “start writing again – with obviously a whole lot more care” in 2013.  He explained:

“My plagiarism had much more to do with complacency than fraud….as well as just becoming distant from the day to day of journalism. It is important to keep in touch with the norms of any social or professional group and this requires regular contact, mentorship, peer review, etc. This is something I have always had as a doctor, but journalism being a loose, unregulated trade, I will be more careful to make sure I have these things in place when I involve myself in the media in the future.”

In a follow-up email, Ahmed offered more information about his firing and future:

“The editor was perfectly reasonable and said plagiarism was the worst offence in journalism and he couldn’t be seen to be publishing me. He was cordial, professional and supportive and wished me well for the future, suggesting people in the media have short memories and I could resume writing in a few months.”

iMediaEthics has asked the Australian why it ran Ahmed’s column and will update with any response.

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Mystery of the missing Sydney Morning Herald column: Plagiarist Apologizes

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