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All Facts, No Conjecture

Did journalist Samar Halarnkar plagiarise from Frances Lappé’s article for his Hindustan Times column? We bring you the facts.

By NL Team

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Newslaundry received an alert from a blogger Akhilesh Mishra alleging plagiarism by journalist Samar Halarnkar. Newslaundry got in touch with Halarnkar and fully assessed both sides of the story, taking into account the allegations and Halarnkar’s defence. This is what we discovered.

The allegation by the blogger was that an article written by Halarnkar, Editor At Large, Hindustan Times, titled ‘Not Much On The Plate’, (April 11, 2012) which appeared in HT http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/Samar/Not-much-on-the-plate/Article1-839106.aspx is plagiarised from an article written by Frances Moore Lappé  http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/food-for-everyone/the-city-that-ended-hunger  published on February 13, 2009 in YES! Magazine. Samar’s article appeared as part of the “Tracking Hunger” series and was a comment on the lessons India can learn from the manner in which hunger and poverty have been dealt with in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

In Samar’s article, he does mention Frances Moore Lappé and her book in the paragraph – “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy,” writes Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet (a 1971 bestseller on meat production and global food scarcity). She recently visited Belo and noted how the hunger programme benefited a fourth of the city’s inhabitants and cut the infant death rate by more than half in a decade. Its cost: about Rs. 5,000 crore, no more than 2% of the city’s budget.”

There is NO reference to Lappé’s article – The City that Ended Hunger, which has similar information to that which has appeared in Samar’s article.

After requesting a response from Samar – to the allegation of plagiarism – he has named three sources which he says he has referred to while writing his article. The brochure, press release and article named as reference sources by Samar in his response to us, were published before Samar wrote his article in HT.

1)    Brochure by the World Future Council, Celebrating the Belo Horizonte Food Security Programme, Future Policy Award 2009: Solutions for the Food Crisis.

(Important to note: Frances Lappé became a founding member of the World Future Council in 2007, based in Hamburg, Germany. The specific brochure was printed after November 2009. Frances’ article was published in February 2009.) 

2) Article in www.marketplace.org – ‘Brazil Delivers On Hunger Promise’ http://www.marketplace.org/topics/sustainability/food-9-billion/brazil-delivers-hunger-promise published on April 4, 2012.

None of these sources were mentioned in the original article which appeared in Hindustan Times under Samar’s byline.

Given below is the extract from Mishra’s blog citing examples of plagiarism. The facts as the Newslaundry Team has found them to be are mentioned in bold after each example cited.

Akhilesh Mishra’s Blog: Samar Halarnkar and Ethics?

Posted September 9, 2012 by Akhilesh Mishra in My Take.

Let us presume there are two people named Samar and Frances.

Below I am going to reproduce, verbatim, some extracts from an article each wrote at different times and in different publications.  The extracts from article by Samar will be followed by extracts from article of Frances.

At present, just compare the two extracts in each exhibit, one by Samar and the other by Frances.

Exhibit 01:

Samar: “In 1993, when 11% of its 2.5 million people lived in absolute poverty and a fifth of Belo’s children went hungry, a newly-elected government declared that food was a fundamental right of every citizen”

Frances: “Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship”

The source:

The newly elected mayor of Belo Horizonte, Patrus Ananias, acknowledged his 2.5 million citizens’ right to food and the duty of the government to guarantee this right.

(NEITHER the statistic mentioned by Samar of 11% of the population being in absolutely poverty NOR that of a fifth of Belo’s children being hungry – are mentioned in the brochure. They are ONLY mentioned in Frances Lappé’s article.)

Exhibit 02:

Samar: “These did not remain words. Patrus Ananais, then Belo’s new mayor, created a council of businessmen, church leaders, labour representatives and other citizens to launch the battle against hunger.”

Frances: “The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system.”

“The newly elected mayor of Belo Horizonte, Patrus Ananias, acknowledged his 2.5 million citizens’ right to food and the duty of the government to guarantee this right. He created a Secretariat for Food Policy and Supply that included a 20 member council of citizens, workers and business leaders from all sectors involved with food, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system.”

Exhibit 03:

Samar: “Local farmers were, and are, given prime public spots to sell their produce to consumers, thus eliminating retail commissions that reached 100%, a situation not unfamiliar to India. The poor got access to cheap food, and farmers, themselves poor, prospered at a time when farm incomes were declining across Brazil.”

Frances: “It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.”

This quote is only present in Lappé’s article. It is not present in any of the three sources mentioned by Samar.

Exhibit 04:

Samar: “In addition, Belo grants entrepreneurs rights to run, on public land, 34 local retail markets, where the government fixes the price, usually about two-thirds of the market price, for about 20 healthy foods. Other food can be sold at market price.”

Frances: “In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.”

“a. Food Outlets: In key regions of the city food outlets are licenced to private operators under the agreement that a selection of 25 quality-controlled products are sold at set prices, about 20–50 % below market price. Also, in exchange for the profitable selling spot, vendors are required to serve low-income periphery areas on the weekends, where they can also sell additional produce at their own prices.

b. Straight from the Country and Country Store: This part of the programme facilitates direct interaction between rural producers and urban consumers. Rural producers selected through a public process are assigned fixed sale points throughout the city.  The price and quality of their produce are regulated. In 2008, 34 producers from 8 rural municipalities participated in the scheme.”

Exhibit 05

Samar: “Perhaps the biggest direct cushion against hunger is Belo’s series of government-run cafeterias. Each offers people — not just to those officially declared poor — hot meals (rice, beans, salad, ground beef and an apple) for about Rs. 50.”

Frances: “People’s Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal.

“This is Popular Restaurant No. 2. It’s one of five government-run cafeterias in the city where you can get a heaping plate full of hot food for only two reais, about $1.10. When the doors open at 11, people start streaming in. This used to be only for the poor. Now college students sit next to senior citizens, and construction workers next to homeless people; there are nurses from the hospital across the street having lunch here, and cops in uniforms. On the menu today: rice, beans, ground beef, salad and an apple. In an hour and a half, more than 4,000 people get lunch. This happens three times a day, five days a week.”

Exhibit 06

Samar: ‘The local university is deeply involved in keeping the system honest and functioning. Students survey the prices of more than 40 basic foods, supply these to local media outlets and paste them on walls and bus stands.”

Frances: “For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops”

d. Basic Basket Research: The city compiles weekly price lists for 45 basic household consumption items (mostly food) found in 60 supermarkets around the city. The lists are posted at bus stops and printed in newspapers and also accessible by phone and internet. Consumers are thus informed on lowest prices, which encourages competition among bigger commercial establishments.”

End Of Blog Extract. The complete blog post can be read here – amishra77.com/2012/09/09/sam

Samar Halarnkar’s Response to Newslaundry

Let me begin with the mocking skepticism the blog (in reference to Akhilesh Mishra) has for my claims to having tracked Brazil and Belo Horizonte’s poverty programme. I have indeed followed Brazil’s poverty programme for some time, as personal interest and because it is particularly relevant to a two-year long effort I headed to track poverty in India (website, “Tracking Hunger” at www.hindustantimes.com). One previous column with references to the Brazilian programme is: http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/Samar/The-invisible-hand/Article1-668717.aspx.

I have been to Brazil once, in 2007. Obviously, for this particular column, I did not travel to Brazil, and I did not claim I did.

Now, as to your specific questions:

Question 1: Your article seems to be very similar – to the point of being identical in places – to Frances Moore Leppe’s piece for YES!. Is there any particular reason that you did not give her article credit in your piece for HT?

First, the credit to Ms Lappé is very much in my column!

As for the similarities:

This is the Brazilian government press release (http://www.brasil.gov.br/para/press/press-releases/february/brazil-keeps-inequality-reduction-trend-while-coping-with-the-crisis) that first got me to interested in on Belo Horizonte, which I chose because it was not a big city and so an area where anti-poverty programmes could be implemented relatively easily. (I even recall trawling Portuguese-language websites and doing google translations initially before I chanced on this reference to Belo).

As I recall (and I may not recall them all because it is an old column), I used these other sources, apart from Lappé.

This was one: http://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Future_Policy_Award_brochure.pdf. Please see pages 4 and 5. It is from here I got most of the details for what the blogger calls “Exhibit 1” and “Exhibit 2”.

Another was this story (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/sustainability/food-9-billion/brazil-delivers-hunger-promise) that refers to specifics of what the peoples’ restaurants consume: beans, salad, beef, rice and an apple. The blog (exhibit 5) says I took it from Ms Lappé’s story. It doesn’t feature in her story at all.

As you can see, some of the data from her story is merged with other information in the public domain, as I listed above.

So, it is very easy to do a rough reading of motivated writing and come to wholly misleading conclusions.

There is indeed similarity because the article that Ms Lappé wrote was one of my prime sources! I admire her work greatly, quote from that article and directly attribute some statistics.

It isn’t coincidence that her story and mine focus on similar highlights; we are writing about the exact same topic, poverty in Belo Horizonte. As I said, her story was one of my prime sources, duly credited.

Question 2: Would you agree that this qualifies as plagiarism?

No, I certainly do not.

Apart from responding to your two questions, I think it is relevant to point out that this blogger belongs to a twitter handle that I blocked some time ago because of many vicious attacks against my views, which he considers to be pro-Congress, anti-Hindu and the like. Please note that the other two twitter handles mentioned in the blog post are among those who routinely attack me. The entire blog has also been posted on a website called niticentral.com, which did not bother to seek for a response from me. Their motivations are entirely personal and not remotely journalistic.

One would hardly attribute everything (population, formation of a city council etc) that is in the public domain. 

End Of Response

Contrary to Samar’s response to question 1, he does NOT credit Lappé’s article in his column. He does mention her book. Also, NONE of the sources which have now been mentioned by Samar Halarnkar were credited or referred to in his article titled ‘Not Much On the Plate’.

Samar Halarnkar’s response on September 12, 2012

“If a blogger with an agenda — and I do not see how you cannot see this, considering he has emailed everyone possible and demanded my suspension, from the BBC to Berkeley where I taught — rambles on, wrongly, about plagiarism and that is not established, what then is the point of this piece except to muddy a reputation for honesty built over 22 years?

In what newspaper column have you seen the title of an article quoted? 
A direct quote from the article couldn’t be more plain. Morever, you say I did not mention my other sources when I clearly mention I used them for information in the public domain. Do you credit information in the public domain? I have not seen that in any newslaundry article. 
If you had just presented his accusation and my defence that too would have been fine. You have editorialised, critiqued my comments but avoided doing the same for a clearly motivated right-wing blogger, whom is part of the media and whom you do not hold to the same standards. Please note that his entire blog is lifted from someone else, who he has credited with a footnote mention and who has appeared on your comments section meekly claiming credit. 

I am sorry, but I am sorely dissappointed.” 

NL Team Response 

We are not unaware of agendas at play, and have not editorialised or critiqued any comments in this piece. We are only laying out facts. 

Newslaundry
www.newslaundry.com