"A classification system used to categorise humans into distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”
Racism can be defined as:
“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
When a group of people are labeled according to a certain religious belief or affiliation and their access to public services, jobs, livelihoods and social freedoms are denied or restricted on the basis of this belief or affiliation this is racism.
Huffington Post - Independent or Biased?
An interesting aspect of covering this subject is observing how the different media outlets choose to cover both sides of the argument.
As anyone familiar with this website knows, I try to focus on the issues faced by Dorje Shugden Buddhists within the Tibetan exile community. I am only really interested in the protests from the point of view of raising the issues of discrimination and segregation that exist within this community.
Ideally within free and democratic societies the method of peaceful protest is designed to raise areas of concern so that they can be debated in public and hopefully an amicable compromise can be found. This depends on the media remaining as independent and free from bias in its reporting as possible.
Bearing that in mind I find it fascinating to see how different outlets approach reporting the protests and the issues they raise. You can often see common themes in the coverage and anomalies tend to stand out prominently.
In general the coverage of the issues by the media during the US 2014 fall tour by the Dalai Lama has been overwhelmingly balanced and positive. Reporters have taken the time to consider both sides of the arguments and only very rarely has there been an article that is biased to just one side.
One such bias occurred recently with the Huffington Post's coverage of the protests and the discrimination against Dorje Shugden Buddhists. It was such an extreme and blatant bias that I felt compelled to look a little closer at it.
Three journalists, two articles, one song-sheet
On Tuesday 4th November 2014 the Huffington Post Religion page was dominated by 2 stories, an article examining the Dalai Lama's teaching event and protests and an article by Robert Thurman. Thurman's piece is an op-ed, but HuffPost have a seeming inability to clearly label op-eds, instead leaving the reader to assume they are credible journalists writing independently. One thing I've learnt from my research is that Robert Thurman is never independent on the subject of the Dalai Lama.
I'll leave to one side Thurman's piece as he is currently embroiled in the ongoing #LamaGate saga, so I don't think for a moment he has anything unbiased to say on the subject. What's interesting is the article that covers the Dalai Lama's teaching and protests authored by Carol Kuruvilla and Antonia Blumberg.
Normally an article is authored by 2 journalists when the subject area is vast and requires additional examination to draw out the nuances of the subject matter accurately. It usually also aids the impartiality of the article. So when you see a piece written by 2 co-authors you expect a high degree of accuracy, fact checking and background information.
Sadly that wasn't the case.
About halfway through the article Kuruvilla and Blumberg turn their attention to the protests and define them in accordance with the definition given by Tibet House. It is interesting to note here that the president of Tibet House is Robert Thurman, who has had several run-ins with the protesters in the past and is very derogatory and openly hostile towards them.
So here we have an article authored by 2 journalists who take Robert Thurman's definition of the protesters at face value. All 3 of these journalists write for the Huffington Post, and all 3 are the authors of the only 2 articles that talk of the protests in the Huffington Post.
What is quite revealing about the level of bias in this situation is that they don't mention at this critical point anything about Robert Thurman's connection to Tibet House. In terms of journalists best practice and full disclosure they should, but they choose not to. Instead they wait until the very end of article to mention, in passing, Thurman's connection.
Using Thurman's definition they state that the protesters are the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), choosing to ignore the fact that the protests are organised by the International Shugden Community.
The reason for this is quite clear - the Dalai Lama's camp have been unable to refute the claims of discrimination and segregation within the Tibetan exile community, so try to distract the narrative away from this.
To compound their basic failure to report the protests accurately they go on to create the impression that the discrimination is against NKT members, which is absurd. The NKT are a western Buddhist group, the discrimination and segregation exists within the Tibetan exile community, none of whom are members of the NKT.
The authors then go on to introduce Suzanne Newcombe from Inform in the UK. Inform specialise in trying to provide independent information about new religious movements, and she has researched some of the negative experiences of people within the NKT.
Here we see the actual reason the article has defined the protesters as the NKT, it is so that they can now introduce a critique of the NKT. The intention seems to be that if you agree the NKT are bad, you will forget or dismiss the claims of the protesters.
Whether the NKT is good or bad, whether people have fantastic or terrible experiences with them has no bearing on this issue. This is a blatant attempt to undermine any claims of human rights issues by diverting the readers attention away from discrimination and segregation and instead focusing on the NKT's faults.
A catalogue of failures and mis-reporting
Failure to disclose Robert Thurman's relationship with Tibet House at the critical point in the article, failure to fact check and accurately report the correct organisation behind the protests, and a failure to accurately report who experiences discrimination and segregation are more than basic errors - they point to an intentional and co-ordinated bias of coverage.
It appears that this bias was decided at the very outset of gathering the information for the article. Rather than trying to remain open minded about the situation it seems that the authors wished to portray a narrative which presented the protests in as negative a way as possible, whilst trying to maintain an illusion of journalistic integrity.
Antonia Blumberg knew very well that the protest group was not the NKT, she was told this not just by the International Shugden Community, but also by Suzanne Newcombe at Inform.
Antonia asked Suzanne how the protests were related to the NKT, so she clearly knew that they were not organised by the NKT, but that NKT members participated in them. Antonia however decided not to tell the readers this fact, but instead to present Robert Thurman's definition of the protesters as if it were factual.
I reached out to Suzanne at Inform to ask for her comments on the article in relation to this view of bias in its portrayal. She said:
"I had a phone conversation with Antonia Blumberg in which she asked me to explain the context around the protests against the Dalai Lama and how they related to the New Kadampa Tradition. It was in this context - of explaining the reasons NKT-affiliated protesters have provided for their protests, and the public statements that the Dalai Lama has made about Shugden - that I made the comments.
"The quote used in the article puts together several parts of our conversation that were not originally linked and does not reflect the nuances of the situation as seen from different perspectives - as I explained it to the journalist."
Adding, "A key aspect of Inform providing accurate information about new, alternative and minority religious groups is placing these groups in a greater religious and cultural context in order to make their beliefs and practices more understandable. In a situation of disagreement, Inform's position is to explain and contextualise the beliefs and perspectives of both sides.
"The full explanation and contextualisation given to the journalist was not reflected in the final, very short article."
When you take into account the fact that Robert Thurman holds such a hatred for the protesters he is prepared to break the law to try and silence them, along with Suzanne's comments about how Antonia has mis-represented the interview she conducted with her it draws into question the credibility of the article.
When you also consider the inaccuracies, lack of disclosure at the correct point, and the similarity between the CTA's view and the authors view of the protests it leaves very little room for doubt about the claimed independence of the Huffington Post when covering this issue.
It seems as far as the Huffington Post is concerned they will distort and mis-represent the facts to protect the Dalai Lama from any possible criticism. Quite why they are prepared to go to such lengths is anyone's guess.