Truth Bandits T. SHER SINGH
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Continued from yesterday ...
Like in all professions and vocations, in journalism too there are good ones and there are bad ones.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some of the best journalists in the world, and would give an arm and a leg to be able to emulate them.
And then, I have also come across a whole lot of bad ones, many who plague our community specifically while being a blight on the profession itself.
Warren W. Unna was but one example, even though he encapsuled many of the wrongs we see in the larger group of bad apples.
He allowed himself to be used by vested interests by becoming their proxy, while knowing full well that his employers were up to no good.
He told untruths, by not only regurgitating them but actually concocting them.
He wilfully turned a blind eye to facts which he knew would not fit into, or support the stories he was weaving.
He took instructions from the very people who he should’ve been questioning, if he was to do a fair story, and swallowed their skewed positions, hook, line and sinker, and made them part of his own, as if they were his own findings.
He demonized the innocent parties, knowing full well that it would facilitate letting the real culprits off the hook as a result.
And, to do it all, he accepted money, benefits, privileges and junkets from the very people he should have been investigating, and became their servant.
All of us know of news reporters and media columnists who are guilty of one or more of these very trangressions. And we know that any one of these, if the institutions and professions did their job properly, would be grounds for instant dismissal and permanent exclusion.
But it doesn’t happen, and will not happen, as long as we labour under the burden of being a minority, and not equip ourselves with the tools we need to counter the might and mischief of detractors who appear to have unlimited resources.
It is no comfort that Warren Unna plied his nefarious skills a couple of decades ago and is now well on his way to face his Maker.
Because we continue to be hounded by reporters who publish stories which to this day spew lies and half-truths, distortions and obfuscations, and we wonder what makes the authors of the badly-written pieces lower themselves to such depths.
A recent story has caused a lot of distress: a poorly researched, badly written diatribe by Jonathan Kay, a journalist with Toronto’s National Post, on events in, or relating to, Sikhs in Punjab.
Before we explore why and how a journalist gets away with such shoddy work, one needs to look at the larger picture.
It is no coincidence that such a story would appear in the National Post. It is not the first time such an openly biased and poorly-researched anti-Sikh piece has appeared in its pages. The newspaper is well-known as a Jewish mouth-piece which blindly supports Israel.
Ever since Israel became part of the evil India-Israel axis wherein the two scratch each other’s backs on international forums, unabashedly expecting support from each other for their respective fields of ignominy as a quid pro quo, its apologists have noticeably come out of the woodwork in open support for Indian positions and in blatant opposition to those that India opposes.
Jonathan Kay is but a cog in this machine.
Journalists like him who have otherwise failed to shine in their fields of endeavour become easy recruits for such enterprises.
The biggest crime, I believe, a journalist can commit is of intellectual laziness and dishonesty.
Journalism is a tough profession, and it is not for the lazy, not for the timid, not for the coward, not for the chicken-hearted, and certainly not for the crooked. It requires one to burn a lot of midnight oil.
Therefore, if you are lazy and incompetent, it is an easy short-cut to take a story from one who is willing to pay the piper, and merely regurgitate it as your own research, your own opinion, your own findings, your own conclusions.
You are safe if you’re attacking a minority that has limited power or voice in the public forum. You’re safe if your employers turns a blind eye to your indiscretions, or if you have no one above you, say a senior editor, who whets your work honestly and professionally.
It also becomes easier to do your job if you accept invitations to parties and cocktail receptions hosted by your ’benefactors’, who then pump you with ready-made pablum of information.
And then reward you with junkets if you dutifully take the ‘goodies’ and reproduce them as your own creations at regular intervals.
Does Jonathan Kay do any of these things? I do not know and cannot claim that he does.
But I have read his article on 1984 and the issues around it, and I can tell you that it does not hold water. I would’ve thrown it in the waste-paper basket if a grade 10 student had offered it to me as a school assignment.
It points to only one fact -- that Kay has no idea what he is talking about. It is clear that he has no clue as to what happened in India, and what is happening now. That what appears in his story may (or may not) be his words, but they are certainly not products of any homework.
It is callously written. It is obvious Kay doesn’t care if what he writes harms any innocent bystanders.
Sad, but this is what is passed off as journalism today. What makes it sad is that it’s not that he necessarily believes in what he writes, but because -- at the very least -- he is intellectually lazy. And therefore dishonest.
Again, Jonathan Kay is not the only such poseur who mauls truth in the news media today. We as a community have been, and continue to be hounded by more than our fair share of them.
Why? Because there is no dearth of people who want the respect and status that journalism brings, but do not want to work for it.
Here in Canada, we have the likes of Kim Bolan and Robert Matas and Terry Milewski.
In India, you have a whole army of them, led by the grandest of them all, Kuldip Nayar.
I am sure each of you has a list of his or her own.
It is easy to recognize them. Not by their glaring errors or their hurtful mistakes -- because we all make them, the good ones and the bad -- but by the spectacle they create when they are proved wrong. Being cowards and lacking conviction, they know no other way but to dig in their heels and insist they were, and still are, right … even though the facts proclaim otherwise. And so they continue with their venom, as if their only mission in life is to avoid accountability.
Another symptom: they are married to their biases and their lies. They can never let go of their obsession with their “agenda”. As if, if they keep at it, one day the facts will somehow magically transform and they will be proved right.
How do we, as community, deal with such people who contaminate the newsprint and the airwaves and the cyberspace with their sub-standard work?
Not by whining, I’m afraid.
What we need is a united and powerful Media Watch which meticulously monitors the media every where, identifies the rotten apples and, if I may mix my metaphors, hold their feet to the fire. Bring their shoddy work to the attention of their editors and publishers. Or shame them by reporting them to Press Councils.
And, if none of that works, shame them by exposing them to the world.
And take them to court.
In a timely fashion.
Not like me, who waited two decades to be able to talk about Warren W. Unna. The task needs to handled by those who are on the ball, off and running within a hour after the erroneous story is seen in the public domain.
That is why we need an institution to fight this battle. Where individuals may feel too weak or unmotivated to pursue their personal grievances, the community, collectively, will have the wherewithal to go all the way.
It will be good for each one of us ... and for the community … and for society at large … if we help weed out those who poison the waters.
Conversation about this article
1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 27, 2012, 11:50 AM.
Sher, you captivate and hold your readers to ransom. The coming of Part IV reminded me of Charles Dickens' "The Curiosity Shop", when, in pre-internet days, a large crowd would wait at the pier for the ship bringing the next instalment that took at least a month to arrive from England. You didn't tell whatever happened to Warren Unna when he suddenly developed a queasy stomach and stopped the bus. Did he jump off the bridge? Thanks for the forensic dissection. On a lighter note, one of our daughter's friends in Auckland had such a nose for gossip and kept prodding, "Tell some more!". In exasperation, our daughter replied: "Auntie, I have already told you more than I knew!". Sher, waiting for you to open another front soon.
2: N. Singh (Canada), October 27, 2012, 12:15 PM.
T. Sher Singh ji: Thank you for this piece and for drawing light to this issue. I have been raising the urgency on this issue for sometime and it has been falling on deaf ears. What we need is a Canadian organization because this sort of journalism is more prevalent in Canada than in the US and UK, although it would be wrong to suggest that it doesn't happen there. However the Canadian press seems to have a carte blanche when it comes to anti-Sikh reporting. A few moons ago, I brought up this issue with the Canadian Chapter of the Sikh Research Institute who paid lip service to the idea but offered no support. Although I have high regard for the work of Harinder Singh I found that their Canadian representative was only interested in furthering their own political agenda by networking and raising their own profile. The Canadian chapter seems to revolve around a few elite professionals and ignores the larger diaspora, yet again creating a 'them' and 'us' mentality and further dividing the community. Their Board of Directors needs to take a long hard look at themselves and how they have been handling the community issues in Canada, and particularly in British Columbia.
3: Harmeet Singh (USA), October 27, 2012, 1:12 PM.
Jonathan is not a journalist. He is editor of a comment section of the Post. Writing opinions is not considered as journalism. I doubt he understands what journalism is. Jonathan is a mouth-piece of war criminals who use vicious lies to justify massacres of civilians and other crimes against humanity.
4: G C Singh (USA), October 27, 2012, 3:38 PM.
Thank you for writing this very interesting series which has exposed the low life minions who masquerade as journalists and are willing to offer their services to the highest bidder. The Indian government has been extensively using such surrogates to defame Sikhs, but is frustrated now because internet and web sites like sikhchic.com have begun to monitor the situation more closely and expose the mischief.
5: Mahanjot Sodhi (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), October 28, 2012, 12:43 AM.
Hats off to you, once again, T. Sher Singh ji, for this amazing short series that kept me on tenterhooks for the last few days! Have you pondered over perhaps writing a novel on this perturbing yet amazing experience? (seriously!). If not, may be you should. I bet it's going to be amongst the best selling pieces of writings! BTW, every time I myself see pieces of journalism from the likes of Kay, Milewski, Bolan, etc., I am completely aghast at the utter fabrication of lies they tell so blatantly and conveniently without an iota of shame or conscience. Is the Sikh community here in Canada really so weak as to not even be able to confront these rascals and somehow make them accountable and look inwards? On the surface though it seems like we are very politically, socially or economically active but what good does that perception do when the truth bandits like these ones are so easily able to manipulate and distort stories about us? What are the innumerable gurdwara committees and associations (who receive hundreds and thousands of dollars as donations and charrahwa) planning on doing to combat such vicious image attacks against the community or are they just too busy infighting amongst themselves for the control of gurdwaras and taking each other to various courts? In any case, could you shed some light on what happened to Walter Unna after he hurriedly got off the bus?
6: Harpreet Singh (Delhi, India), October 28, 2012, 2:36 AM.
The type of watchdog suggested above is required urgently and also for contents shown on TV programmes and advertisements/films. Though truth always triumphs, we must present the true facts before the world. India's national motto, believe it or not is "satyamev jayate" - Truth Triumphs. How sad that the scarce public money which could have helped so many poor, deserving people of India, is being used for defaming the Sikh people who, I believe, on both individual and community level, are the biggest providers of health, food and security to one and all without any discrimination.
7: Ravinder Singh (Executive Director, SikhRI) (Westerville, Ohio, USA ), October 28, 2012, 12:13 PM.
My note is directed at N. Singh's comment, since it makes reference to the Sikh Research Institute, an organization that I am associated with. N. Singh ji, thanks for sharing your perspective on SikhRI which I find to be a matter of some concern. Please be assured that we take your remarks in all earnest and will certainly work to dispel any such impression. A starting point, perhaps, may be to look at SikhRI's mission, the reason for our existence. You will be gratified to know that we did indeed take a hard look at ourselves. The SikhRI Board convened in New Jersey in September and spent exhaustive - and exhausting - work sessions to review our mission and envisioned future. Our mission is quite simple: "to provide educational resources to Sikhs so that they can lead a Guru-inspired life." I hope that our mission will give you an appreciation of our focus and priorities. This is not to suggest that a media watch-dog is not important or not needed. Absolutely, it is. But our view (which we have expressed) is that Sikh organizations like the Sikh Coalition need to take the lead on this with SikhRI playing a support role in terms of providing educational resources. You will also be happy to note that SikhRI partnered with the national Sikh organizations (Coalition, SALDEF, United Sikhs, etc.) to produce and distribute educational material post-Wisconsin. A first for our organizations. Please do call on us and help us with how SikhRI can enable and accelerate the internal development of the Sikh community (our focus). How can we help in providing K-12 services, workshops, presentation, trainings, and Sikhi content so that we live by the SikhRi slogan: Helping YOU fall in love with Sikhi. In Chardi Kalaa.
8: N. Singh (Canada), October 28, 2012, 6:07 PM.
Ravinder Singh ji: Kudos to you and SikhRi for having the integrity to respond to my comments. I spoke to the Sikh Coalition on this issue when an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" aired earlier this year. In the opening scene a woman is sexually attacked and her attacker is identified as a white male. The Detectives then comment that they can now rule out the "Sikh taxi driver" whom they suspected as being the rapist. I was concerned by this remark on a popular TV show whose target market is not necessarily the most intellectual among us (myself included). Firstly, because I do not see the relevance of the attacker's race to the story line; secondly why and who decided that a Sikh should be mentioned thus and thirdly because I am very conscious of the subliminal messaging which I believe is a subtle form of propaganda and more deadly than an open anti-Sikh article which at least can be challenged. The Sikh Coalition, although sensitive to my concerns, informed me that media-watch was not their mandate either and they had neither the resources or the expertise to deal with this sort of thing. Their mandate is around harassment and discrimination in which they have been very successful. As I said earlier, we need a separate organization to deal with the media and this should be their ONLY mandate. Canada needs this as a matter of urgency although the diaspora in the UK and US need to be alert to this. I have also noticed a trend among Sikh organizations to either 'pass the buck' or 'finger-point' to each other when issues affecting the community come up. I think we all need to work together and respect each other's areas of expertise and contribution if we are to succeed as a community.
9: N. Singh (Canada), October 28, 2012, 7:02 PM.
Ravinder Singh ji: Thank you for inviting me to provide you feedback on how SikhRi can fulfill its mandate. Although this is not the right forum, I will take the liberty to respond as based on my past experience with your Canadian Chapter, I doubt whether my contribution would be welcomed. With a population of 30 million or so of us, there is bound to be diversity within us. Not all Sikhs are professionals, well educated or even affluent, for that matter. Alcoholism, domestic violence and sexism is rife in our community and poverty in India, due to Punjab's declining economic climate, is increasing. SikhRi needs to reach out to the different socio-economic sectors of our community to provide its educational services so that Sikhi can help us all better ourselves and our lives. My personal background is vastly different from your usual clique. My parents separated way back in the 80's. My mother, left with 4 children (predominantly female) to raise, did what moany people do in a crisis. She turned to religion. However, having been exposed to gurdwara politics, she rejected Sikhi and found solace in the Radha Soami cult. Most of my religious education was in this and I was initiated into the faith in my early twenties. I don't fault my mother but I lost touch with the religion of my birth, however the words "Guru manyo Granth" continued to haunt me. Dealing with the fall-out of my parents' divorce and struggling as the eldest to provide stability to my siblings, the 80s and 90s passed me by. 1984 came and went. It was not relevant to me. A spiritual crisis came along in the late 2000s and I was finally able to cast off the psychological hold of the Radha Soamis. I sought to get back in touch with my true religion. I found SikhRi, hoping to learn something about Sikhi. What I found was that I was not made welcome and treated as an outsider. Not because of my Radha Soami background but because I was not a medical professional or married to one; not from a well-established family who could help your Canadian representative further their own personal ambitions. I was not even provided with a book-list so I could educate myself. When I mentioned this to others, they were surprised. They had book-lists and personal access to Harinder Singh to discuss their issues. However, long story short, I am a SIKH and with my God-given Sikh spirit, I was able to educate myself. And I found sikhchic.com. But I am a mature woman and able to look after myself, and now I learn that your Sojhi program is being offered in British Columbia, but wait! ... only to the children of your so-called professionals. The same people who refer to uneducated Sikhs as "those people"! Why is this program not being offered to the children that need it the most? When was Sikhi designed for a handful of people? For those detractors of Bhindranwale, he was successful because he managed to appeal to "those people". He spoke their language and reached into their hearts. The only advice I can give your organization is that your Directors need to undertake some sensitivity training and look within themselves for the true meaning of Sikhi. I believe the rest will follow.
10: Jaspreet (Canada), October 29, 2012, 6:47 AM.
A bit of whining perhaps: I find it interesting to see what older institutions have been replaced by more modern ones. One thing which the modern mass media have replaced is the institution of public punishment. Gone are the days when people rented windows to view people being tortured and executed. Instead, the windows have come into our living rooms for the spectacle of shaming. What people have done to Sikhs since the 1980s media-wise is to target them and any who might support them. What I find interesting is, it prolongs the very things Canada and India claim they want to end. It leaves people feeling marginalized and not able to assimilate as quickly. It makes people feel India persecutes Sikhs and causes them to be hated even thousands of miles away, it lends it language for the purpose. It is never a good idea to make any community feel so picked upon. The impact lasts for generations.
11: Ravinder Singh (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), October 29, 2012, 7:44 AM.
N. Singh ji: Thank you for your frank and honest feedback. I am sorry that your interaction with SikhRI has left you disappointed. Please allow us to rectify this. We want you coming away with a positive experience - more in line with SikhRI's philosophy of heeding the Guru's message and embracing everyone with respect and love, unconditionally. May I suggest that we continue this dialogue away from this forum so we don't detract from the central discussion here. If you can suggest a way, that would be welcome. If you wish to call me, you are most welcome. I will be happy to get my phone # out to you. And no, my intent was not to pass the buck on Sikh Coalition. On the media watch-dog front, here is what I can assure you I will personally do: take up this matter at the World Sikh Convention in San Jose in early November. All the Sikh organizations will be there and so will be representatives from 30-40 gurdwaras. This subject has surfaced before - now is the time to give it a collective push.
12: Balbir Kaur (San Jose, California, USA), October 29, 2012, 3:30 PM.
Re your comment (# 11), Ravinder Singh ji: I am familiar with only one "convention" which is being held here in San Jose in early November. As far as I know, it has NOTHING to do with SikhRI. Nor is it a "world" convention, by any stretch of the term. It is a "national" meet of the group that calls itself "World Sikh Council", a local committee of mostly tired old men based in the state where you live, and it does nothing meaningful ... ever. I've been to your meetings: all you do is quibble and squabble over inane resolutions at periodic intervals. Your attempt to obfuscate the concerns raised by N. Singh and brush them off with this bit of non-answer you have given, Ravinder Singh ji, raises new and louder alarm bells. The "World Sikh Council" - paper tigers - are going to fine-tune SikhRI? Something smells to high heaven!
13: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), October 30, 2012, 6:45 AM.
I can personally attest that SikhRI is doing phenomenal work in the community, especially under the leadership of S. Harinder Singh. It is one of the great successes of the community -- one of the several institutions that our community has spawned in recent years which are building and securing our future.