The Orwell Prize and Johann Hari

September 29, 2011

UPDATED Johann Hari has contacted the Prize and offered to repay the Prize money. Political Quarterly, one of the partners in running the Prize and the partner responsible for paying the prize money that year, has decided not to pursue the prize money, but has instead invited Hari to make an appropriate donation to English PEN, of which George Orwell was a member.

The Council of the Orwell Prize now considers the matter to be at an end.

27 September 2011, 14:00 The Council of the Orwell Prize would like to clarify a few points about the Orwell Prize for Journalism awarded to Johann Hari in 2008 and subsequently returned. The Council can confirm that, subject to any further representations by Hari, the Orwell Prize for Journalism 2008 would have been vacated in any case.

On 30 June 2011 the Council said that it would be investigating the basis for allegations made about Hari’s work. This included writing to Johann Hari and to the (then) editor of The Independent, with a number of questions. Hari responded; the editor did not, either to this or a subsequent set of queries.

The Orwell Prize has no independent capacity to research the work that is submitted. It relies on the integrity of authors and of their publisher’s editorial practices.

On the 21 July (as stated on 15 July) an emergency meeting of the Council met ‘to consider our review of Johann Hari’s material and material submitted by the public before that time’.

The Council considered one article submitted by Hari in 2008, ‘How multiculturalism is betraying women’ (The Independent, 30 April 2007), on the basis of the evidence which had been received.  The Council concluded that the article contained inaccuracies and conflated different parts of someone else’s story (specifically, a report in Der Spiegel). The Council ruled that the substantial use of unattributed and unacknowledged material did not meet the standards expected of Orwell Prize-winning journalism.

The Council drafted a decision, saying that subject to a deadline, it would announce that the Prize was vacated, but that Hari would be given an opportunity to make any further representations in his defence and an opportunity to ‘apologise to the judges, the other applicants, the Prize and the public, and to resign the Prize before the announcement’.

However, the Council found that The Independent had prohibited Hari from responding to any communication while the paper’s own investigation, conducted by Andreas Whittam Smith, was in progress. (This also appears to have prevented Hari from answering a second email sent to him before the Council meeting.) As a result, the Council decided that it was impossible to announce the decision as it could not communicate with Hari, nor give him the opportunity to reply (as stated on 25 July).

On the afternoon of 14 September, a courier returned the plaque which had been awarded to Johann Hari on winning the Orwell Prize for Journalism 2008. There was no note of explanation. The prize money (£2000) has also not been returned. The director of the Prize telephoned the editor of The Independent who confirmed that Hari had returned the Prize, which was also confirmed later by Hari’s ‘A personal apology’, published online by The Independent.

The Council of the Orwell Prize accepted Hari’s return of the Prize.

Annalena McAfee, Albert Scardino and Sir John Tusa – the Journalism Prize judges from 2008 – have decided not to re-award the 2008 Prize, despite the high quality journalism on that year’s shortlist.

The Council would like to apologise to those who entered the Journalism Prize 2008. We also apologise to the judges, for not being able to conduct a fair assessment at the time. It is also grateful to those who persisted in examining Hari’s articles and brought the discrepancies to the Council’s attention.

Bill Hamilton, the acting chair of the Council of the Orwell Prize, said: ‘The Council is delighted to be able to put this difficult episode behind it finally, and get on with the important business of running the Prizes and promoting the values of George Orwell into the future.’

Jean Seaton, director of the Prize, said: ‘We now look forward to the Orwell Prize 2012, igniting further public discussion around politics, political writing and journalism, and celebrating the work which comes closest to Orwell’s ambition, “to make political writing into an art”.’

ENDS

Johann Hari has contacted the Prize and offered to repay the Prize money. Political Quarterly, one of the partners in running the Prize and the partner responsible for paying the prize money that year, has decided not to pursue the prize money, but has instead invited Hari to make an appropriate donation to English PEN, of which George Orwell was a member.

The Council of the Orwell Prize now considers the matter to be at an end.