Dit essay schreef ik voor het vak Social Impact of Journalism aan de San Francisco State University.
A disgraced journalist
For this essay I have chosen the topic of the disgraced journalist Perdiep Ramesar. My reason for this is that I have experienced Ramesar’s downfall from close by. When word came out about the downfall of Ramesar’s career, it made headlines in Dutch media. I distinctively remember one article on him and his career in a magazine my mother was subscribed to at the time, titled “Perdiep Ramesar: the man of the anonymous sources.” According to Harm Ede Botje in his 2015 article “Perdiep Ramesar: de man van de anonieme bronnen” many call Ramesar’s downfall one of the biggest affairs in the recent history of the Dutch press.
Ramesar is a Dutch journalist with a Hindu background, van Es writes in “De journalist die altijd (te) sterke verhalen schreef” (“The journalist who always wrote (too) tall tales”), published in De Volkskrant in 2014. He was a Journalism major at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Zwolle. In 2007 Ramesar started working for the Christian daily newspaper Trouw.Trouw is one of the most read newspapers in the Netherlands with a circulation of 320.000 as claimed on DPGmedia’s website. According to his employer, Trouw, Ramesar was a journalist who ‘would always come back with a story, no matter where he went’.
Ramesar often reported on jihadism and radicalism. Ramesar is most famous for his articles about the “Schilderswijk,” a working class neighborhood in the city Den Haag. According to Ramesar, there was a ‘Sharia triangle’ in the Schilderswijk as stated in “Trouw praat met bewoners Schilderswijk,” written in 2014 by Sjoske Cornelissen.
A few years later Ramesar was called to speak with his chief. His chief had only one point of criticism: he should use more sources in his articles. He continued working for Trouw, but doubt arose among his co-workers. Ramesar used many anonymous sources in his articles and reports. “Because of suspicions that Ramesar may make up his sources Trouw then started an investigation into Ramesar’s articles. The investigation consisted of verifying the sources Ramesar said he used. The investigation was carried out by an independent commission formed by a professor in Journalism and an ex-judge, Botje claims in the same article mentioned earlier. The investigation concluded that Ramesar did in fact make up sources. At the end of 2014, Ramesar was fired from Trouw. According to Het Parool in “Trouw trekt 126 artikelen in van journalist Ramesar” (“Trouw withdraws 126 articles by journalism Ramesar”) the reason Trouw gave for firing Ramesar was because he used “an inexplicably large number of non-traceable sources.”
Ramesar’s reporting violated multiple core principles of journalism. These principles are the truth and accuracy of the reporting and the accountability of journalism.
What Ramesar did in his reporting goes against the SPJ Code of Ethics. First of all, Ramesar evidently did not take responsibility for the accuracy of his work. He did not verify the information before releasing it. Next, because he repeatedly utilized anonymous sources, he did not identify sources clearly. Finally, Ramesar did not acknowledge his mistakes nor did he correct them promptly and prominently. To this day, Ramesar still refuses to admit that he made up sources, Wassens writes in his article “Perdiep Ramesar: ik heb geen enkel verhaal verzonnen.” “I haven’t made up any of the stories and I spoke to real people for these stories,” Ramesar recently wrote on his LinkedIn page in a post called “Opnieuw!” (“Over again!”).
In the Netherlands there is a guideline set for journalists by the Raad voor de Journalistiek (Netherlands Press Council), which is very similar to the SPJ Code of Ethics. One of the most important ideas in this guideline is as follows:
“Journalists report truthfully, verifiable and as completely as possible.”
Ramesar’s actions (making up sources) went against this idea, as it made his reporting untruthful, non-verifiable (because the sources were anonymous) and incomplete.
Another idea mentioned in the guideline is:
“In principle, sources are stated in publications”
Again, Ramesar anonymized many of his sources and thus completely went against this idea.
A final idea from these guidelines is about rectification following publication:
“When it appears that a publication contains inaccuracies or is culpably incomplete, journalists musts rectify in an appropriate manner and as quickly as possible.”
As mentioned before, Ramesar did not do this.
A similar violation to the one by Ramesar’s is Janet Cooke’s case. In 1981 Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for a story on an 8-year old heroin addict named Jimmy. Jimmy, however, did not exist. She completely made him and his story up, Kurtz writes in 1996 in “Janet Cooke’s Untold Story”. Another well-know violation that is similar to Ramesar’s is that of Stephen Glass. Glass published many made-up stories in New Republic, Harper’s and Rolling Stone, according to Dennis Romero in LA Weekly in 2011. One of Glass’s fabricated stories was called “Hack Heaven”. This article was about a 15-year old computer hacker. The story however, was not true and completely fabricated by Glass, Noer states in “Read The Original Forbes Takedown of Stephen Glass” in 2014. A third violation similar to Ramesar’s is Christopher Newton’s. He was a reporter for the Associated Press. According to Shafer’s article Fib Newton he was fired in 2002 for making up sources for at least 40 of his stories.
Truth and accuracy in journalism are important, just like accountability. The media play an important role in society. Media control authority, organizations, institutions and companies. For this reason, people should be able to have faith in the media. Therefore, reporting should be genuine and accurate.
Botje, H. (2015, October 29). Perdiep Ramesar: de man van de anonieme bronnen. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.vn.nl/de-man-van-de-anonieme-bronnen/
Cornelissen, S. (2014, December 29). Trouw praat met bewoners Schilderswijk. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.villamedia.nl/artikel/trouw-praat-met-bewoners-schilderswijk
DPG Media. (N.d.). Trouw. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.dpgmedia.nl/merk/trouw
Het Parool. (2014, December 20). Trouw trekt 126 artikelen in van journalist Ramesar. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.parool.nl/kunst-media/trouw-trekt-126-artikelen-in-van-journalist-ramesar~b73ee31b/
Kurt, H. (1996, May 9). Janet Cooke’s Untold Story. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1996/05/09/janet-cookes-untold-story/23151d68-3abd-449a-a053-d72793939d85/
Noer, M. (2014, November 12). Read The Original Forbes Takedown of Stephen Glass. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelnoer/2014/11/12/read-the-original-forbes-takedown-of-stephen-glass/#4c01f7bc683a
Pasveer, L. (2014, 12 November). Trouw-journalist weg na verzinsels. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.villamedia.nl/artikel/trouw-journalist-weg-na-verzinsels
Ramesar, P. (2019). Opnieuw! [LinkedIn page]. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/opnieuw-perdiep-ramesar/
Romero, D. (2011, December 27). Stephen Glass, disgraced journalist wants to be lawyer in L.A.). Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.laweekly.com/stephen-glass-disgraced-journalist-wants-to-be-a-lawyer-in-l-a/
RvdJ. (n.d.). Leidraad. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.rvdj.nl/leidraad
Shafer, J. (2002, October 29). Fib Newton. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2002/10/fib-newton.html
SPJ. (n.d.). SPJ Code of Ethics – Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
Van Es, A. (2014, December 22). De journalist die altijd (te) sterke verhalen schreef. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.volkskrant.nl/cultuur-media/de-journalist-die-altijd-te-sterke-verhalen-schreef~b7abed10/
Wassens, R. (2019, February 5). Perdiep Ramesar: ik heb geen enkel verhaal verzonnen. Retrieved October 5, 2019, from https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2019/02/05/perdiep-ramesar-ik-heb-geen-enkel-verhaal-verzonnen-a3653005