May 26, 2008

The Daily Star’s Lowest Point: Error-ridden, Dishonest Op-Ed Piece Takes Pot-shots at New Age

April was a bad month for the Daily Star as far as I was concerned. (Read about that here and here). I honestly thought that was the lowest point they had reached and would bounce back.

Turns out I was wrong. They sunk even lower. The other day, as I scanned the Op-Ed page, I came across this gem of a piece on the state of press freedom in Bangladesh written by one Abdul Hannan, a freelance contributor. I do not know what Mr. Abdul Hannan’s line of work is, but researching press freedom is hopefully not it, because he is liable to be fired. Someone writing about press freedom in Bangladesh, in one of its highest circulated newspapers, is expected to know the fundamentals of the subject.

Moreover, the editors who let this go to print should ensure that there are no factual errors in the piece. There is one glaring error that underpins this entire write-up. In the fourth paragraph, the writer says:

“However, it is remarkable that now there is no curb on press freedom in Bangladesh, although the country has been under emergency rule since the present caretaker government assumed power in January last year. It is important to note that it is for the first time in Bangladesh that there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment of journalists. It is unprecedented in a country under emergency rule.”

Mr. Hannan most likely reads the Daily Star. Which is why he seems particularly unaware of what Mr. Tasneem Khalil of the same newspaper went through last May. Which is why he does not know about Mr. Jahangir Alam Akash and his broken legs.

But surely the editors at this newspaper know what happened to their own colleague last May if not about Jahangir Alam Akash! That they let this falsehood go to print reflects very badly on them as people, but that is not my judgement to make.

Then there is the pot shot at the New Age. For those who missed it, Rahnuma Ahmed’s courageous piece on press censorship came out on Wednesday right after the editors’ meeting, led by Nurul Kabir earlier in the week.

What does Mr. Hannan have to say about all this? I draw your attention to the 7th paragraph:

“A section of the press, particularly a mainstream English daily in its editorial comments and columns has consistently engaged itself in scurrilous and vituperative attacks on every action and statement of the government in order to hold it up for ridicule, hatred and disrepute to deliberately create disaffection among the public against the government. In this context, the mild government reaction, by way of phone calls and press advice, is considered government intereference. If this is true, as alleged by editors and representatives of journalist associations recently, it can be better appreciated when viewed against the background of the generally continuing liberal attitude (sic) of the government towards the media.”

“Deliberately create disaffection among the public against the government”? Is this a Daily Star editorial or Matiur Rahman Nizami’s spokesman?

Phone calls are not government interference? I used to remember a certain editor who once held a stunningly different view about phone calls. Wonder what happened to him and his newspaper…

In any case, one cannot object to a change in a man’s heart or his newspaper’s editorial stance. What one can object to is the deliberate peddling of lies as the truth. This op-ed piece’s asserts “that there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment” of journalists under the State of Emergency.

That is a falsehood.

We should correct them, and perhaps remind them of their erstwhile colleague. Below is a sample letter that I urge my readers to take two minutes out of their busy schedules to email to editor@thedailystar.net . I wish I had the knowhow to make an email form on my blog, but copy-paste will have to do for now.

---------------------------------
Dear Editor,

In your May 25th, 2008 issue, the opinion piece titled “Freedom of the press” states that: “there has not been a single instance of victimization, persecution or harassment” since the current government came to power. This is factually incorrect.

There have been a number of cases of persecution and harassment of journalists. Two of the better known cases are those involving Mr. Jahangir Alam Akash of Rajshahi and Mr. Tasneem Khalil, a journalist affiliated with your newspaper. I find it surprising that I have to remind you of Mr. Khalil’s case. During the riots of last August, a number of journalists were arrested despite the government pledge that their press cards would work as curfew passes. Hardly the rosy picture painted by the columnist.

It is unfortunate that you decided to publish this piece without checking it for glaring errors such as those. We urge that you actually read newspapers other than yours – I would suggest the New Age – to remind yourself that what happens on the ground in reality is not restricted to what the Daily Star decides to acknowledge through its reporting.

Sincerely,
……….
------------------------------------

There. Let’s see if the Daily Star publishes that. I was almost tempted to add: “and if you’re being held hostage by a bunch of people giving “press advice”, nod twice.” Somehow, I feel that would have given them too much credit.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

DS,

it is unlikely that the star would publish the letter in the form you have written it. no newspaper would. if, however, you are interested in correcting the record, rather than solely expressing outrage, please do consider sending in a marginally more temperate letter, pointing out the error of fact, which i am sure would be printed.

you are correct that there was an error of fact in the piece, to say nothing of very outlandish opinion. however:

1) the piece was written by a freelance contributor and should not be interpreted as the star's position. in fact, we try to provide a range of positions on the issues, to the extent possible, even those we might vehemently disagree with.

2) the piece was an op-ed piece, not a news item. the ds tries to ensure that op-eds are fully fact-checked, but due to time pressure and lack of resources, we do make mistakes. this was one of them. we do not relish printing op-eds that are factually incorrect, and try our best to ensure that we do not; nevertheless, we also do expect our readers to understand that op-eds are not news items and that factual information in an op-ed may reflect the author's bias, and to keep this possibility in mind when reading.

3) you should know that the entire op-ed section of the daily star employs four people, total. two editorial assistants to put the page together and do admin work, one op-ed editor and ONE sub-editor, all of whom have considerable other duties. no researchers. no fact checkers. the sub-editor needs to edit and fact check roughly 10,000 words every day. sometimes he does make mistakes. frankly, given what he has to go through on a daily basis, he does an astounding job, and i am amazed that he does not make more. for comparison's sake, the new york times editorial pages employ 1,100 people.

zafar

Incidental Blogger said...

@ Zafar (assuming you work for the Daily Star):

This is bizarre. On one hand you argue Daily Star's detachment from Op-Ed views denying any responsibility of what is being published. On the other hand, you impliedly advise Dhaka Shohor to write "marginally more temperately" to be publishable. For us the unassuming, please could you explain what really is your criteria? Do you really have any these days? [you may "wink/cough" twice if you want - re:DS]

You probably will need to come up with better excuses than "workload" or "manpower." These factual errors directly involve one of your own (ie, a former tortured colleague), so it is irrelevant whether or not you had any research assistance. If you cannot monitor such facts right, who else will? Also, the piece is on "Press Freedom" - a much talked about issue since the milibiz-caretaker take over. What more do you need to be cautious or to stay on top of things, particularly when it involves such an important issue related to your own existence as a newspaperman?

You said, the Op-Eds do not reflect Daily Star's own position. Fair enough. But do you really have to publish every sub-standard rubbish you can get your hands on? Surely, you did have the option to bin the piece, right? [again, you are allowed to "wink/cough" here, if you want]

By the way, is this Abdul Hannan by any chance THE ex-Bureaucrat Jamaat Ideologue ? [again I assume it is not the other Hannan, ie, the infamous "Pichchi" one]

Anonymous said...

Zafar’s argument does not hold the water.
If the facts were related to some scientific advancement or some complicated economic formula I would have understood the lack of time for appropriate research.
In case of the op-ed in questions – the theme was blatant denials, and any person involved in journalism in Bd has to be extremely incompetent to not have got that.
This kind of op-ed is damaging for the reputation of a daily whose editor is already rumored to have made compromise with a dangerous government in place.

Anonymous said...

incidental blogger:

1. re the letter, i am merely suggesting that newspapers tend to print letters that are not quite so caustic in their criticism of said paper. this is a pretty simple point and has nothing whatsoever to do with our detachment from op-ed views, so i don't understand your confusion.

2. as i said, you may think that the ds is some kind of deathstar employing untold thousands, but it is in actuality a modest organization operating on slim resources and manpower. should we have better internal checks in place to ensure that things of this nature don't slip through? it would be a nice idea, but given our current manpower, not possible. given the current set up, we will make mistakes occasionally.

3. no, it's a different guy.

4. yes, we could have binned the piece. but it slipped through. ultimately, the blame is mine. i am the op-ed editor. should i personally review every single op-ed piece? ideally, i should. but, in practicality, this is not possible. so the ds will make mistakes. it is not just the sub-editor, sometimes a piece i have reviewed that probably shouldn't be published is still published. i make mistakes, too.

anonymous:

i can only reiterate the reasons i have already given. i think if you are being fair you will see that one person editing 10,000 words a day, every day, is quite a feat, and that this one he clearly did not read closely enough which is what allowed it on to the page. given the workload and time pressure, i think mistakes such as these, while regrettable in the extreme, are, also occasionally inevitable (and it is very occasionally; there are very few mistakes on the op-ed page).


but, as a reader i can understand if your response is: not good enough. you have every right to be disappointed and to expect better. we continue to try our best with, as i have said, slim resources. i agree that publishing the op-ed has not done the ds any good.

in conclusion, what i have been trying to do here is to explain to you how the mistake was made. that is all i can offer: an explanation. none of this is meant by way of excuse.

zafar

Fariha said...

hmmm..

We all get paid to do the work we do. Be it checking 10,000 words daily, or writing reports that may be read by international donors or issuing work orders worth crores. Where there is money involved, we all know that there really is no room for 'mistakes' due to 'work pressure' or 'time-crunch'.

Daily Star is by no means a small charitable organization that deals with a small group of stakeholders. It's a newspaper in the world's lingua franca read by thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands. Given the context of our 'State Of Emergency', where all eyes are on all, we all know the grave consequences of 'mistakes'. Also, I am aware of the 'brand' value of the newspaper (here i quote the newspapers Business Development person) and the price of ads in the newspaper (money value of every column inch printed)

However, I am willing to cut Zafar Sobhan some slack. May be him and his 3 other colleagues were under such 'pressure' and 'time-crunch' they 'missed' the 'lie' that at least 1/2 of this article is.

But what surprises me is that despite all the words exchanged, I have yet to notice a hint of remorse or even (dare-I-say) any indication of an apology, from the modest Asst Editor of this modest newspaper. For me, that was the biggest disappointment. Not the hare-brained ideas of Mr.Hannan or the 'Mistake'.

Anonymous said...

fariha:

you never make mistakes? the sub-editor is 59 years old and gets paid under tk 20,000 a month. if you think you can do a better job and are willing to work for that, come on over tomorrow, and i'll give you a job!

i would also like to correct one misapprehension: only one person reviewed the piece, not four. understanding this is key to understanding how the piece got into print.

finally, sorry to disappoint you with my insufficient contrition, but the tone of the original post plus the comments thread -- that suggests that this was a deliberate smear and not a simple mistake, that we deliberately printed the hannan piece to advance the notion that there are no restrictions on press freedom, and that 'time pressure' and 'workload' are insufficient, nay, ludicrous and evidently unbelievable (if not utterly mendacious) explanations for what happened -- together with the disdain and contempt you all obviously have for the daily star -- somehow doesn't really incline me to tender a groveling apology in this particular forum. funny, huh?

zafar

Anonymous said...

Like the DS junior editors, I too am a bit too short of time nowadays. Nevertheless, after seeing the comments from Zafar bhai, in between things I absolutely HAD to do, I wrote up a response to it. Then I saw his last comment abt the suppose "tone" of this post and decided to tear that one up.

So here it goes. And you've been warned about the tone of THIS one.

The nature of the post: This post was not meant to suggest that it was deliberate and not a mistake on the Daily Star's part. That mistake - called a "factual error" in the post for those synonymically challenged - is however far from SIMPLE. It is very complex and involves not just one of their erstwhile colleagues, but the Daily Star's own profession and what it and PA has stood for for the last 6-7 years.

This was not aimed at Zafar Sobhan bhai. The intention is not to humiliate anyone. Say, by referring to the brand of underwear they own {see Nikita post). So please refrain from personal attacks against him. Neither is this to play "gotcha" games (See Rumi Ahmed's blog). So I would request all commenters from playing "gotcha" games with him. The mistake was honest (no sarcasm) and I appreciate the lack of manpower at his disposal and accept that as the reason. With some caveats at the end, of course.

So what is he going to do abt it? Argue with us on a blog that all of 15 people read? I was hoping for something more substantial. Which brings us to:

The nature of the letter: The letter may sound intemperate to you Zafar bhai, but it manages to convey about only 10% of the outrage I felt at reading the editorial. It is not meant for publication (others will tell you about my allergy to the limelight). It is meant simply as a reminder to the editors that people actually read their stuff and take it seriously.

So, when newspapers usually make an error - even in their op-eds - they usually print a retraction. I don't want my intemperate, immoderate, clearly seditious letter printed. I want a clarification and a recognition of your mistakes on your editorial paper.

This won't be unprecedented for your op-ed page (correct me if I'm wrong). I don't know if you publish "corrections" in your online edition, but I am told that recently you an apology was printed in response to the following article: http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=20425

Apparently it maligned some eminent family in the land (hmmm, wonder who?). Well, when they spoke up, you apologised. Now I'm urging the little people to speak up. Surely a pro-people newspaper such as the Daily Star will rush to the presses with the correction.

Not holding my breath.

Caveats to accepting your "mistake" explanation: you are NOT an equal opportunity opinion publisher, nor should you be. Some things I have never witnessed in the Daily Star, nor wish to are listed below. They are all valid points of view, just not represented in your paper:

1. Nizami or Amini writing about the status of women's rights.

2. Falu writing about reforming the tax code inherited from the British.

3. Ershad writing about a Truth Commission (oops, too late!)

4. Tarek Zia's theory of insitution-building

These are things I do NOT wish to see in your newspapers as errors nor have they made an appearance even once. That is because they are GLARING. So should be the claim that "no journalists were harrassed in 2007".

Lastly, you are not the Death Star despite the cute little pun. Many people are now seeing your esteemed newspaper and PA as the Trade Federation led by Nute Gunray. Ten points for guessing who Darth Sidious is. I'm stumped frankly.But whoever he is, he sure likes potatoes a LOT.

My offer to blink/wink(h/t IB) twice is still open.

Regards,
DhakaShohor

Anonymous said...

Zafar bhaijan,

Don't mean to pile it on here. But you are digging yourself into a hole. But note that you are not the target. Rather, its DS' incompetent role on promoting press freedom is. Over the last year and a half, as the leader of the industry, DS' role in terms of hr abuse or more specifically journalist abuse cases, has been ...errr....less than adequate. Let's look at this collective anger as an accumulation of months of built up emotion.

But first let’s look at the regret published for another op-ed piece three months ago.


We regret

Recently an article was published in these columns, without mentioning names that talked about a particular family in Bangladesh each of whose members are successful professionals in their own right. The article was malicious, sweeping, full of innuendos but contained no facts. Such a piece should never have been published in our paper, which has tried to uphold a standard of taste and value that this article did not remotely represent.

Today we write for three purposes. First, to apologise to that renowned family whose reputation and dignity have been unfairly and undeservedly maligned. Second, to apologise to the readers who have been so badly served by such a tasteless piece of writing. Thirdly to raise a core ethical question as to whether a columnist has the right to malign individuals, families or groups without any proof. Just the fact that no names were mentioned cannot be a licence or a justification to write irresponsibly, especially when individual reputations were at stake. Journalism will lose its moral high ground if such personal attacks, however camouflaged, find their way into our publications.

This paper also failed in its responsibility. For the sake of ethical journalism and for greater public respect for our profession such pieces should never be published in the form that we did. The fact that we have chosen the occasion our anniversary to write this 'note' is only to emphasise that ethics of journalism was, is and will always remain our highest priority.

Mahfuz Anam
Editor-Publisher




That apology from the editor on the article that supposedly maligned a prestigious family set a precedent that apologies are expressed for Op-ed pieces. So I, Asif Saleh, a regular reader and often contributor, want an apology/regret from Daily Star, for publishing such a factually incorrect piece. Also on behalf of the family of Jahangir Alam Akash, that undermined the sufferings Akash had to go through. Of course, I left out Tasneem Khalil because no one more than you deserve to ask for that for having gone through what you went through during the time of his capture and torture. Its been 3 months since the HRW report on Tasneem was produced. So far DS has had no comment on it let alone reporting on the HRW report. Perhaps it is time to remove that tagline "Journalism without fear or favour"? If DS really mean
that “ethics of journalism was, is and will always remain (their) highest priority.”, then they will issue this regret, just as they issued a regret for another elite family for similar breaches.

Daily Star’s credibility has been very very seriously tarnished over the last 16 months. It will be a sort of a miracle if they overcome this. Perhaps you will cite the subscriber numbers to show that DS is doing just fine. However, the legacy of the paper is damaged. The moral authority of the paper is now gone. So a front page commentary by the editor that once upon a time used to be forwarded to people in droves, are now passed on with a smile as another gimmicky exercise on positioning his paper. Daily Star was a good newspaper and in the time of emergency it could have achieved greatness. It could have maintained its integrity by taking an editorial stand for the new government but without compromising its news reporting. But DS failed to achieve the greatness. It is now just another partisan newspaper with the highest circulation but without much moral authority. Don’t tell us that we didn’t warn you.

http://www.himalmag.com/2007/june/cover_feature_bangladesh_media.htm

Asif

Fariha said...

Dear ZS,

I am really sorry if my tone seemed contemptuous or disdainful. I am also sorry, if I had, unwittingly, insulted you or the 59 year old sub-editor (i am going to go out on a leap here and guess that it's "imam bhai"). before you jump to conclusions again, let me tell you that i had made my earlier comment as a reader venting outrage at a very widely read newspaper. It's nothing personal against you, as the op-ed editor, but rather the newpaper and it's management as a whole. And just to make it even more clear that i don't feel contempt or disdain for the Op-ed page or other pages printed in the newspaper: members of my family contribute articles to your paper, including my paper.

anyhow, coming back to my earlier, clearly-misunderstood-point. you were the first one of us to comment on this post. clearly you realized that there was an error in the article. therefore, i would naturally assume that you as the editor of the page would take responsibility for the error and at least tell your readers that since it was a mistake 'you're sorry'. I am sorry, but i don't think that was expecting too much. the content of the article is offensive to many, particularly to people like Akash, Tasneem, the Naya Digonto, CBS, Jugantor and other journalists. It took a cheap shot at the New Age. Now, I would be outraged if Dinkaal took the contents of this page and printed a translation thereby violating all written and unwritten code of ethics.

i just feel that as the editors of the one of the largest newspapers you have let us down by printing Mr.Hannan's article. I'm sorry if my saying this, or my having said other things at other blog posts makes you think that I'm being disdainful or insulting. I am just outraged and I believe I have every right to be.


P.S. I know about the "Wage Board" that the newspapers have to follow as per their subsciptions rates. A quick phonecall revealed that the 23-24 year old sub-editors of your newspaper earn more than 20 thousand. May be your 59 year old needs to come to me for a job (post some training on 'current affairs')

Anonymous said...

1. will we print a correction?

ultimately, it is up to the editor, but, i doubt it.

typically we do not print corrections of pieces on the op-ed page. that is what the letters page is for and also we welcome pieces taking issue with earlier ones. that is how we typically deal with issues on the page, and we have had a number of good exchanges over the years from people who question each others' facts (e.g. on coal, budget, biman, privatization, tax policy, etc).

we did print an apology the one occasion you mentioned (over my objections) because:

--the editor deemed that it was defamatory, and that defamation merited a correction.
--the writer was a regular paid DS columnist and so the editor's feeling was that our responsibility was greater.
--the editor's personal relationship with the persons being defamed also doubtless had an impact.

while i regret that we printed the hannan piece, i honestly do not see that much purpose would be served by writing a correction now along the lines of "the author says that there has been no persecution of journalists under this government. actually, this statement is incorrect."

indeed, the falsehood may even have the benefit of exposing the writer's bias, thus serving to discredit him, signaling to readers how much weight to give his opinion.

please feel free to write a rebuttal, pointing out how wrong the piece was. that's why the page is called point-counterpoint. i will do everything in my power to print it.

2. there are many opinions we will not print (though not all the ones you suggest fall into that category). once again: yes, the offending statement is not an equal opportunity opinion that we should give space to. but, as said before, i can only assume that that particular line escaped the eyes of the reviewer, it can happen. we also have a policy against defamation, but the piece you mention above also somehow slipped through.

3. i wish i could lay the blame for the piece on a phone call or outside pressure. sorry, no, it was a screw up. simple as that.

4. i shan't get into the issue of culpability and collaboration (that's a whole other debate), but will say that much of what looks to you like nefarious plotting, planning, scheming, intrigue, machination, fiendish calculation, etc on the part of the ds, is often simply bad luck, sloppiness, or happenstance. i know that this is disappointing stuff for the conspiracy-minded.

zafar

Anonymous said...

asif,

there isn't much that you have written that i disagree with, as you know.

but the outrage is, i think, a function of, as you point out, the role the ds has played vis a vis press freedom these past 16 months.

however, the current mistake actually has nothing to do with the past ones! it sounds ridiculous, i know (what are the chances?).

but your fury at mahfuz anam's stance over the past 16 months should not effect how you look at this mistake which was not his, but mine (as op-ed editor) and the sub-editor's.

you are conflating your outrage with the ds with your outrage with me.

you can be mad at the ds, but not for this piece.

and you can be mad at me and the sub-editor, but then this anger should have nothing to do with the ds's previous stance.

does that make any sense?

fariha:

you have every right to be outraged and i apologize that this piece was printed in the daily star.

p.s. your friends are bullshitting you -- no 24 year old at the ds makes over 20K, i can guarantee you that! :)

zafar

Anonymous said...

First this news headine from two days ago:

Grassroots leaders for joining talks

A day after the following headline with a 180 degree u turn.

AL for movement to free Hasina


The first news was purely done to motivate happenings the day after in the AL meetings. But the real news was on day 2.

Then look at the top headline from three days ago:

Wholesale rice prices mark significant fall

Dig down to the news. .5 taka fall per kg which was not even reflected on the retail market.

Is this news reporting? What kind of news treatment is this?

Anonymous said...

Zafar bhai,

Thank you. That was fair.

And i've told my sub-editor friend that he owes you an explanation ;)

Fariha

Anonymous said...

And the hole just gets deeper...

Zafar bhai, you are making it sound as if the op-ed in question is not worthy of a correction because it defamed nobody in particular. Which is true.

It however did deny the pain of at least two (and possibly many more) journalists. Though not in the same degree by any stretch of the imagination, it is very similar to Mujahid's recent "no war crimes" comment. That defamed no one in particular either. It still denied a lot of real pain.

The most GALLING thing about the article is the way we are forgetting two of the foot-soldiers who fought for press freedom with their bodies while the big editors (not necessarily you) sat comfortably in their offices just writing about it. This is not to adopt some sort of anti-intellectualism. I too am writing from a safe distance. Which is why I have a LOT of respect for people on the frontlines.

As for defamation, I think accusing a "mainstream English daily" of near-sedition is pretty defamatory. Perhaps your esteemed editor can bring himself to apologise to another editor, though a few years his junior?

You missed the point of the "equal opportunity" comment. It was meant to convey that some opinions are so beyond the pale that even over-worked employees can catch them. I meant to suggest a few.

The reason this little nugget of an op-ed went through that net might be because of one employee's mistake, and s/he has my sympathies. But it is symptomatic of a much larger malaise, no matter how much you deny it.

To borrow a fellow blogger's phrase, the DS and PA have decided that 1/11 was the greatest thing since sliced bread ("the Fifth Republic" some heralded it as, and what a splendid REPUBLIC it was turned out to be) and after that "eternal peace prevailed in Bangladesh", God was in his high heaven and all was right with the world.

That seems to be the institutional culture at DS these days. All your outrage was directed at a particular political party and not the sins themselves. Now that that party is gone, you've all decided to unbuckle your belts, raise your feet and enjoy a few cigarettes. HR abuses be damned, Falu's in jail. Hallelujah!

Please note that there is no accusation of you being conspiratorial Sith Lords there. More like hapless Lotus Eaters. Excuse the mixed mythologies.

Oh, feel free to browse intemperate (tropical?) reactions to your Ershad op-ed here: http://dhakashohor.blogspot.com/2007/10/daily-star-editors-should-be-replaced.html

Regards,
DhakaShohor

Anonymous said...

ps. May I humbly suggest that one of your regular contributors pen an article on this important issue that impinges on YOUR livelihoods? I, for one, am not paid to write. Try Mr. Shahnoor Wahid, who seems to have come down with a bad case of Lotus-itis.

~DS

Fariha said...

accha wait!

i just talked to another contributor to the point-counter point section who complained that his rather'mundane' article on reforms in public service was edited to the point that left him mad enough to call up the ACTUAL editor of the paper. Now the guy in question is well-versed in current affairs, is 65, and is a former public servant with an IVY league degree( point being it wasn't his facts or english that they had edited, rather his humble opinions about reform). So, when DOES the DS edit? When the 'small people' write?

So, when these 'mistakes' happen, like letting Ershad write about truth commissions, or some unknown Hannan write on press freedom, how come the 'GLARING' paragraphs after paragraph (not just mere words) make it through the net?

If these incidents are indeed just 'mistakes'then perhaps the DS should concentrate more on getting a straight house as opposed to nation-building with roundtables and seminars and boat rides and awards!

ref: Shahnoor Wahid

how old is he? I've heard that he turned down a well paying development agency for a chance to work at the DS. And this is how they repay him? tsk tsk!! The DS's Business Development Manager, who's perhaps a year older than me, makes more than 20K!

I've heard rumors that DS has a financial consultant all the way from Silicon Valley. Hasn't this expensive, but rather pretty, person asked you to better manage your resources by paying the writers more? (Again, these were revealed by DS workers, so pardon me if they're all bull-shiting me)

Fariha said...

oh! and has anyone seen the current polti?

http://www.thedailystar.net/pf_story.php?nid=38440

Anonymous said...

This brings us to an interesting question. The issue of perception.
This article is getting all the flaks because the perception is in general DS is misreporting its news. This particular one may have slipped through. There are others which were intentionally planted and edited as well.

There is a separate perception that the editors like to tout that DS is an institution now. Now if that's the case, and based on its award giving, short film competition, nation building activities which is what it seems, then how come such appalling resourcing and investment is made in Daily Star's core service -- which is providing accurate news.
Is it a case of misplaced priorities or a case of sitting on your laurels?

Anonymous said...

DS:

"The reason this little nugget of an op-ed went through that net might be because of one employee's mistake, and s/he has my sympathies. But it is symptomatic of a much larger malaise, no matter how much you deny it."

that's the point. it is not. the two have nothing to do with one another. if you believe it was a genuine mistake then you have to accept that the mistake has nothing to with the "larger malaise."

i understand that this is difficult for you to fit into your grand narrative of daily star evil and it would be more satisfying to think that this appalling op-ed was at one with the daily star's malign editorial policy.

of course, it remains your prerogative to not believe that this was a genuine, honest mistake. but if you accept my explanation, then i am afraid the "larger malaise" argument falls apart.

as for whether it merits a correction, you miss my point. i didn't think the other piece merited a correction either; it got one due to what i thought i made clear were rather arbitrary reasons of the editor. once again: if you wish to correct the record why don't you, you know, write to the daily star instead of ranting here?

fariha:

there you go again. just when i thought we were getting on! i really don't see where you are going with these "gotcha" style questions. or what you are trying to prove re references to shahnoor wahid, the biz dev guy, and a silicon valley consultant. what's your point? that i am lying about how much we pay the op-ed sub-editor? i'm not. that we should pay him more or hire someone else to help him? i couldn't agree more. but i really don't see the relevance to this particular issue.

to answer your initial question: we actually try to review every op-ed we publish very carefully, and, if need be, edit them very closely. once in a blue moon a piece goes through without sufficient review. that's what happened here.

all:

i think diminishing returns has set in as far as the discussion here goes. nothing i say will satisfy you folks that this was an honest mistake, and that publication had nothing to do with its content.

in the meantime, i really don't see any merit to listening to you all tee off on your wide and varied daily star pet peeves, which, as i have tried unsuccessfully to point out, may well be correct, but have absolutely nothing to do with the offending op-ed.

feel free to talk amongst yourselves, but i am done here.

in summary here are the points i would like to make:

1. i agree that the piece was a horror and should not have been published.

2. that it was published was due solely to a genuine, honest mistake as to it not being sufficiently (perhaps even at all) reviewed.

3. due to our limited resources in the op-ed department and a system of insufficient internal checks, we do (very rarely) make mistakes such as this.

4. this was my mistake as op-ed editor and the mistake of the person who actually did the reviewing.

5. sorry to disappoint, but this had nothing to do with the daily star's editorial policy of down-playing the lack of press freedom under the current government.

6. i understand that this is upsetting for those who would like to use the op-ed as another stick to beat the daily star around the head with.

7. you can use it as a stick to beat me around the head with, but i am afraid that any attempts to fit the publication into a "larger malaise" or "grand narrative" of daily star perfidy fails unless you feel that, i, too, am part of this perfidy.

8. it is your prerogative to believe this about me, if you wish.

all the best,

zafar

Fariha said...

aww...Zafar bhai..there YOU go again..misinterpreting...just when we were finally getting along!

Again, I'm sorry if my references seemed to alluded to the 'gotcha' traps. I merely trying to question the management skills and ideas of The Daily Star as an instituition. Since you've told me how much or rather how little the senior journalists make, I have been wondering what the daily star is really doing with their resources.

When I buy the DS, I expect to read the news- factual, correct and unoffensive. That is it's core product. Once they are have succeeded in delivering that, only then would I expect them to take on tasks such as nation-building.

I'm sad that everytime I make a comment about the Daily Star you seem to take it personally. I don't expect you to come and refute every point I make here about the daily star.

I, for one, concede that the offensive op-ed is probably a mistake. Though I think that it merits a retraction or at least a clarification. But then that's another issue and I don't expect you to agree.

So far the comments on the blog have been more about questing how well Daily Star is doing it's job as one of the leading dailies. And so far the consensus is-- not very well! But not of this, as far as I can recall is being directly directed at you.

To answer your question:I think you need more people in your editorial team and I also think that you need to pay them more! I hope to NOT see such 'mistakes' in the paper.

Rumi Ahmed said...

Dear Zafar

I have no intention to whip at you under anonymity, so here I am.

Let me first point at two intentional/unintentional deviations in the above discussion.

First, please don't put yourself at the receiving end of all frustration aimed at the Daily Star. People may object to your personal observations in your own op-eds. In fact I do and we always can agree to disagree. Never I, and I feel, nor most of us, blame you for the general editorial policy of the Daily Star. But please don’t ask us to believe that DS op-eds now are as critical of the government missteps as it has always been.

Second, I feel there is an attempt to undermine a major issue into one single op-ed. It's like making a molehill out of a mountain. Dhaka Shohor blogger, as I read it, has pointed towards the bigger picture by invoking examples of op-eds, news treatments. The issue in discussion is not that Hannan op-ed. It more on the general role Daily star plays in Bangladesh politics in recent years.

Zafar please tell us how many incisive commentary Mr. Mahfuz Anam wrote over the last one and half years? What he wrote about the Supreme Court decisions to ban appeal process? What is actually his take on the current role of election commission? What he thinks about the army chief’s role in current day Bangladesh? We all know what he though about last election commission, we know how he felt about rampant politicization of different government institutions during last democratic rules. Unfortunately we don’t know Mr. Anam’s stand on those issues at current time. Question will definitely come whether it is out of fear or out of favor. [If it is out of fear, then the democratic governments must have done a grave mistake by digging their own grave in letting the press free. Sticks on the journalists would have kept them in good eyes with DS editorial policy! ]


Most worrisome it is Daily Star’s (and its sister concern’s) news making role and selective treatment/promotion of news. It has nothing to do with op-eds. Unsubstantiated news are printed in first page with banner headline only to smear a politician or a party which the DS does not approve of or news are made to influence a move that favors DS editorial philosophy. DS, vocal against torture confessions during last regime, suddenly started publishing sensational news of so called confessions those were clearly made under torture. Even if we decide to ignore the torture part of it, many so called confessions are simply concocted. Yes Jugantor did it also, so did Dinkal or Bhorer Kagoj or most others. But we thought DS is superior to others. It will be responsibility of DS to provide authenticity of those confessions and protest the inaction of the government for not acting on those blood-curdling crimes.


I have repeatedly exposed, rather bluntly, what I believe is the deliberate deviation of DS from the journalistic standard it itself has created since its inception. I called this sudden change of standard as double standards. I did not bother writing about the same practices in Ittefaq or Inqilab. Because, although these two newspapers, highest circulating respectively in the previous two decades, never had the standard which DS practiced until recently. Believe me, the most vocal critiques of DS of these days are not inherent enemies of DS, rather they do it because they loved and respected this outlet immensely. It will be a big mistake on DS point of view to shrug off these criticisms merely as a smear campaign.

DS has to read the messages coming out of all these harsh blogs. If it fails to do so, let DS (and its sister concern) be warned of the fate both Inqilab and Ittefaq faced over the years. If we focus solely on the financial side of it; the fact is that, in Bangladesh culture, circulation won’t drop overnight. It will take years for the downfall to begin. Remember that Ittefaq maintained its legendary circulation even during late 70s and through late eighties. During these periods Ittefaq worked basically as a mouthpiece of very unpopular Khondokar Mostaque/ Democratic league and later of Ershad/JP. So DS family should not find a solace in their leading circulation. In my POV, loss of credibility of DS is a much bigger loss for the nation than the free fall of Inqilab or Ittefaq.

And please don’t shoot at the messenger. Please don’t automatically discard the message only because it has been written by me or Dhaka Shohor blogger.

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Anonymous said...

Zafar bhai,
Let me now add the parts of my initial response that I left out yesterday: you have my sympathies and I don’t envy the position you’re in at the moment. From your writings and from our mutual acquaintances, I know you are a decent person who feels horribly about this op-ed. I’d hate to be in your shoes, affiliated with an organization that you probably have some fundamental disagreements with. Thus, my sympathies.
But my outrage has not subsided. So feel free to ignore the rather long comment below, because it is anything but sympathetic. (And please, refrain from insulting other commenters here or implying that they “hate” the Daily Star. It makes you sound a bit whiny.)
You are trying to weave fallacious arguments about how this was a one-off:
“if you believe it was a genuine mistake then you have to accept that the mistake has nothing to with the "larger malaise."
You’re framing the issue as if this can be either an honest mistake or part of a larger malaise. I thought I stated it very clearly that it was both. I even provided an explanation of how it can be both, calling it “institutional culture”. Mistakes too can be transmitted through institutions right? Or have we forgotten that tidbit during our romance with the mantra of “institution-building”?
Perhaps I should give you a more concrete example. Say, I am a subordinate at a bank/tailor shop/roadside tea stall. When the inspector comes for a loan/uniform/tea, my boss shows him extra khatir. When a newspaper editor comes by, my boss is usually rude to them. The day comes when this bank/tailor shop/roadside tea stall expands to provide even more services. I am in charge of the new department. Some police sergeants come by. Guess how I’m going to act with them? Some journalists come by. Guess how I’m going to act with them? Rudeness might be an “honest mistake” on my part. But it is also part of an institutional culture.
THAT is the kind of dynamic I assume you’re living under. That’s how it appears to us out here. And it’s not easy to prove or disprove. Now the sub-editor in question or yourself might be completely at odds with Mr. Anam, but that is not how outsiders are going to see it. That’s the perception you’ve got to remedy. Setting up false dichotomies between honest mistake and larger malaise is simply not going to help you battle that perception. Indeed, it will make you sound a bit like Mr. Hannan himself.
Now you may argue that all this is simply a perception problem, but I do have some supporting evidence from your own comments here. I think this was bad phrasing, but what the hell is up with point number 5:
“sorry to disappoint, but this had nothing to do with the daily star's editorial policy of down-playing the lack of press freedom under the current government”
So wait, you mean there is such an editorial policy? Or was that merely bad phrasing? Anyhow, you’ve admitted that Mr. Anam’s stance under this government has been truly depressing. Why should we believe that the sub-editor or this op-ed is somehow insulated from this policy/his attitude? I think your own words support my malaise theory rather than your one-off theory.
Throughout all this, what I find rather baffling is this: while you have simply accused everyone here of hating your paper (awww, pwooh l’will Daily Shtarrr!) and maligning it unnecessarily, you have also agreed that its stance under this government has been shameful. From the comments your attitude seems to be: “I work for the Daily Star, so I can criticize it. Who are you folks?”
Contrition normally comes with some modesty. Modesty isn’t exactly conveyed through that sort of an attitude. Perhaps that’s where Fariha made her mistake and saw no remorse. (Btw, Fariha, even though Zafar bhai’s attitude might be less than contrite, he has taken full responsibility for this and apologised. Which is more than I can say for journalists from other newspapers I have written about.)
I can’t demand, but would appreciate explanations about the Ershad piece and the barrage of aloo pieces in the last week of April. They are all symptomatic of this larger malaise in my eyes. I am not constructing any grand narrative. If I had the time, I would do an empirical study on column inches devoted to HR abuses under BNP and this current government to back up what I am saying. I might yet.
Oh and my “grand narrative” if there were one would not be about evil or perfidy. It’d be about stupidity. Please re-read/look up the references to Nute Gunray and Lotus Eaters in previous comments.
Since you have decided to finish speaking (only for the time being one hopes, since questions remain unanswered and leaks in your argument unsealed), let us review the solutions you have proposed to me so far:
1. Write a more “temperate” letter: Excuse me? Does your letter section not say “All letter will be subject to editing”? What kind of a suggestion was that anyway (“Oh, I think you have a valid point but write about it more gently if you want to get published”) when you can edit out the harsh stuff anyway? I thought we both agreed that press freedom is a serious issue. Apparently not serious enough to overlook some harsh phrasing!

2. Write an op-ed and you’ll do everything in your power to publish it: As I have already responded: amar jeno kheye deye ar kono kaam nai! Your newspaper and its sister daily were the loudest to speak about press freedom under the previous governments (e.g. Tipu Sultan) and suddenly you need some unheard of blogger to pen an op-ed for you on this important topic? I do not earn a living from journalism. You and your columnists do. Let them take some time off from pontificating about how bad Tarek and Koko were or how much potato a man needs to write about this topic that affects their ability to deliver a quality product. Besides, I’ve seen what happens to your journalists when they cross some unspoken red lines. (Low blow, I admit. But you deserve it for that “tone” comment. My initial tone was far more respectful than your newspaper deserved.)

3. Write a letter instead of ranting here: As I’ve already stated, my original letter was not meant for publication. It was intended to get a message across in order to provoke a retraction/rebuttal/some remorse (preferably all three) from the editors. I thank you for expressing that last. If you think that a reader’s letter – that too, a reader such as myself with no name recognition, letters or “(retd.)” after said name – is worth the same to your readers as an op-ed, then you know less about the newspaper business than I do. Now clearly, that can’t be the case. So excuse this cynic while he wonders if you want a letter just so you can claim to have served the cause of press freedom by printing a letter that no one even reads anyway.
On that note, let me end by repeating with a suggestion I’ve made in my most intemperate, horribly rude, unspeakably vulgar and un-Shushil letter: talk to the New Age and Ms. Rahnuma Ahmed. Ask them for the rights to reprint that op-ed piece. Just pre-empting: please don’t give me any grief over how you don’t print already-published material, because if I see Fareed Zakaria’s smiling face one more time at breakfast, I will throw up my aloo bhaji.
Oh, and the offer to blink twice is still open, but fading fast.

Regards,
DhakaShohor

Fariha said...

DS bhai,

Point noted. I actually did see ZS taking responsibility, he did apologise and I did thank him.I think we're ok on that front.

Though I still think that the DS guys owe the New Age guys an apology. But as I said before, I don't expect Zafar bhai to agree.I just hope that barbs at fellow journalists don't go unnoticed again, at least not in the Op-ed.

Oh and Fareed Zakaria isn't so bad! Dekhte to kharap na! And Jon Stewart thinks he's an "intellectual hearthrob".

http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0533,fpress,66881,6.html

Anonymous said...

Accha, I have a question for Fariha, is your last name Sarawat? If yes, when did YOU become so very anti-CTG?

Anonymous said...

Fariha,

I like Fareed Zakaria a lot too. He comes from the Democratic realist tradition of Truman and Kennedy, which is a rarity in these days. I still have my reservations about the usefulness of his worldview in trying to combat non-state actors.

If he manages to make brown guys with poli sci degrees into heartthrobs, he has my blessings!

Anonymous (last one),

There is truly nothing more ironic than trying to ferret out someone else's identity while remaining behind the veil of web anonymity.

Is YOUR last name Anam by any chance? If yes, then when did YOU become so very anti-freedom of the press?

~DS

Fariha said...

Anon:

Sorry, but I forgot to mark the exact date and time. But I reckon it was around the time when I lost faith in them..possibly after Khalishpur, or the riots with students or their general collective incompetence in giving us back our democratic rights.

If by your question you attempted a 'gotcha' shot at my swinging political beliefs, then CONGRATULATIONS! You got me there!

I'm 24 and my beliefs swing. January 2007 was to be my first chance at exercising my defining democratic right. But I was lost. I didn't know who to vote for-- the ones inciting violence on the streets or the ones flaunting their legacy of 'churi-chamari' of the past 5 years

When the Glorious ones marched in on 1/11 i was just glad that the mindless killing had come to an end! I hoped for some order and a chance to vote! But then when they killed even more people,deprived us of even more of our fundamental rights and created a fear of 'speaking up', I lost faith in them too.

I lost faith in The Daily Star in a similar way. And if you're name really is Anam, then sir, if it makes you feel better, the DS was all I read from the time that I was 14 till I was 21.

But I don't really care who you are, because I'll have no faith in you either. That's what growing up in Bangladesh does to you. You pass each day not knowing who to believe, because in some corner of your mind, you know they'll let you down. Our history(the one i've read and the i've lived), is a legacy of disappointments and let downs.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think more focus and money was spent on things such as journalism at a newspaper rather than encouraging new lyrics of music?

http://www.thedailystar.net/story.php?nid=51506

if not, then they should at least stop giving the excuse of them not having resources in their office.

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