The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Squaw-men at Minneapolis Star-Tribune give Indian name ban the tomahawk chop - kinda

A happy reminder in these Jayson-obsessed days that media manipulation comes in many more forms that making stuff up or pinching someone else's.

The primrose path to self-censorship is all too easily followed. And, in many cases, the result will be in rather less risk of being challenged than either falsification or plagiarism. Corporations drop hints about their advertising spend (or - more likely - don't even need to go that far), pressure groups go in for the shakedown (no less pernicious that it doesn't involve actual transfers of cash).

As with the question of Indian names of sports teams. The latest (June 8) is an Oprah-ised, garment-rending piece of whining from the editor of the above-mentioned rag, one Anders Gyllenhaal, describing the tortuous process whereby he and his hacks went into the wilderness for the statutory forty days and nights to debate this issue, and emerged with a compromise policy (too tediously convoluted to reproduce here).

In summary,
Instead of a ban, which newspapers rarely apply to any words, editors and reporters will use judgment and care to produce respectful coverage.

Surely, the last adjective that a newspaper should covet is respectful! In Zimbabwe or Cuba, hacks have an excuse - they're respectful or they die, or are locked up. But in the Land of the Free [1]?

And don't suppose the nonsense is confined to the area of sports, and is thus harmless.

The Tampa Tribune published a piece on
Michael Yon, a Winter Haven native and former Green Beret, who has traveled to India extensively to study the Aghoris, a tiny Hindu sect, and their practices, ultimately planning to write a book.

Yon heard rumors of an American Aghori, who went by the name Kapal Nath. He eventually met Nath, who claimed to have killed people in San Francisco in the 1970s and in Hawaii in the 1990s.

The response, according to a distinctly uncombative followup from the paper's editors (June 9), was a bunch of emails, including one from a Nainan Desai who said
he was representing some 20 Indian-American and Hindu organizations...,
complaining that their religion had been traduced.

As I understand it, they weren't complaining about factual inaccuracies in the original piece, but that it had not highlighted the small number of Aghoris (200-300, it says) relative to the entire Hindu population of India.

The vigour with which the paper defended their story can be judged by their response to the assertion of Desai that Hinduism is
well over 5,000 years old ... known for nonviolence, vegetarianism, love, compassion and peace.

It's the Big Lie of Hindutva (the Moslems have a similar Big Lie of their own, of course): the Gujarat Riots of 2002 only the most notable recent contradiction of this tourist guide fantasy [3].

Instead of examining the violent record of Hinduism (relative to Islam and Christianity, of course!), the paper allowed the Lie to stand, by omission.

It seems to take a Singaporean view of freedom of speech: that it must give way to the needs of preserving order and racial harmony:
The Tribune is very aware of cultural and religious sensitivities...

The Tampa Bay area is dynamic, vibrant, diverse and changing, and the Tribune does its best to reflect that in its coverage.

The Tribune meant no disrespect of the Hindu religion or of the Tampa Bay Indian community.

There was one paragraph getting behind the story:
We felt it was a compelling story about a specific person and a small, virtually unknown sect
The rest was cringe.

Now, I've no idea what other pressures might have been put on the editors and publishers of the paper to kow-tow on this issue. But, if this is the support that an (apparently) eminently defensible story gets when they're put on the spot, who knows what stories they've just spiked, rather than deal with gagging special interests of all kinds.

[Links via Romanesko]

  1. I believe there are other US papers who've had a similar policy.

  2. From a cursory look at search results, this seems to be the plural of Aghori - the word is neither Latin nor Italian!

  3. Which exactly were the organisations Desai was representing? BJP? RSS? VHP?

UPDATE (June 12)

By pure coincidence, rumours of the long-awaited result of the archaeological excavations of the site of the Babri Masjid (mosque) at Ayodhya are apparently rife (BBC June 11): they suggest that the dig revealed not a sign of the temple on which, Hindu extremists had alleged, the mosque had been built. The VHP say that, either way, the Ram Temple will be built on the site; Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani (not noted, I believe, as a trimmer where Hindutva is concerned) is urging compromise on the issue. It's a whole big thing.

At one stage, I did try to get some handle on the case. Its legal complexities, if I remember aright, make Jarndyce v Jarndyce look like Judge Judy. From memory, there is one (perhaps several) key decisions of the Indian Supreme Court, the texts of none of which are available to the plebs online, the reading of which is a necessary, but certainly very far from sufficient, condition of understanding it. My search for these texts having failed, I gave up!

I have no intention of renewing the quest - but any wishing to go beyond the facile, happy-clappy, multi-culti bromides which commonly pass (in default of actual knowledge of the matters in question) in the West for discussion of subcontinental Hindu-Moslem relations might find this stage in proceedings a convenient time at which to get stuck in.

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