Monday, June 9, 2008

The film has already severely damaged the BBC's reputation for fair and balanced journalism

Home > Response to BBC broadcast - Auroville International Advisory Council - Brussels , June 2, 2008
Object: protest against the content of Newsnight of May 21st 2008 on Auroville, Tamil Nadu , India.

Dear Mr. Barron,
We are the members of the International Advisory Council of Auroville, which is empowered under the Auroville Foundation Act to advise the Governing Board. At the same time we also advise Aurovilians and in particular the Working Committee of the Residents' Assembly. We also help Auroville with its international relations and help the separate organization Auroville International to promote knowledge of the township and what it stands for. To do this we meet twice a year in Auroville and we usually spend considerable time there. In this way we have come to know, Auroville, its institutions, the way it works, and its activities well. We have developed a particular admiration for Auroville's educational activities. Hence we feel compelled to protest to you about the film you showed on May 21ST in NewsNight and consequently on BBC World.

We know that Dr Karan Singh, the Chairman of Auroville's Governing Board, and one of India's longest serving and respected politicians, has written to the Director General about this film and that. Auroville will be filing a formal complaint. We also know that you and the reporter, Rachel Wright, were made well aware of Auroville's views on the draft script and the version of the film before the final one. We will not therefore go into a detailed rebuttal of the film, but just make some salient points.

  • The description of Auroville contained many errors, and when the script was eventually sent to the Auroville Working Committee for their comments, they were pointed out, but by no means all of them were corrected.
  • The description of Auroville in the film nowhere near does justice to the philosophy, which led to its foundation, the philosophy of one of the most revered Indian thinkers of the 20th century Sri Aurobindo.
  • The Mother, his spiritual collaborator, was highly regarded by statesmen such as J. Nehru and Indira Gandhi. She is dismissed as “a French Woman”. Sri Aurobindo is not mentioned.
  • The magnificent meditation centre, known as the Matrimandir, which the Aurovilians built themselves, and which is widely acclaimed as an outstanding and original architectural achievement, is dismissed as “a giant gold sphere.”
  • The reporter talks of induction taking one year when it was pointed out to her that the year was a probationary period and there was no induction or initiation whatsoever.
  • The impression purposefully given and left with the viewer is, that Auroville is some peculiar sect, which is quite contrary to all it stands for.
  • The film also indicates that Auroville is anarchic. There is, as we have said, a Governing Body and an International Advisory Council. A senior Officer of the Indian Administrative Service of Joint Secretary level manages the office of the Auroville Foundation in Auroville. The Aurovilians themselves have a Resident's Assembly, a Working Committee, and several other bodies. The vigour with which the Auroville Working Committee has defended Auroville against your reporter's allegations is proof that Auroville's own institutions function effectively.
  • The film contains allegations against Auroville, which are not challenged in any way by the reporter. She simply accepts them as true. Her most important witness claims that he left Auroville, and that claim is not challenged. The Auroville records show that he was told to leave and had the reporter checked any of her facts with Auroville Outreach, the organization responsible for the township's relations with the press, she would have found details of the misdemeanours he committed. This was pointed out by the Working Committee when they read the script but still not reflected in the film transmitted.
  • In the film only one Aurovilian, Mr. Gilles Guigan, is given a chance to say something. He seems to have been a last minute inclusion after the lack of any Aurovilian interview in the film had been pointed out to the reporter by the Working Committee. Mr. Guigan's words have been crudely edited to make him appear to support the film, although the statement is so brief as to be almost meaningless. As we know Mr. Guigan well through his dedicated work in the construction of the unique meditation centre, we can't believe he intended to endorse the film. This was confirmed when we received a copy of his objection to the BBC stating that he felt betrayed by Mrs. Wright to whom he talked for over 45 minutes.
  • Several of the allegations were beyond belief. One, which was removed when Auroville pointed out its absurdity, stated that one in five children in an Auroville School were being abused. This allegation was made by an anonymous villager who didn't explain his connection with the school or how he had obtained this information. The villager was still allowed to say that men came into the school and asked children to stay and have sex with them after school. This seems extraordinarily unlikely in a school most of whose staff are women and which has been approved by international donors who fund it. It is also inspected by the government of the State of Tamil Nadu. Another of your reporter's witnesses is a social worker. He is unidentified except by his name. Viewers are not told which organization he works for or what his experience is. His allegations are generalisations contain nothing specific. One victim does testify to having been abused by one Aurovilian but he does not appear to be a recent case although it is impossible to be sure about that because the journalism is so sloppy that no indication is given about when this occurred. .

There is a deliberate attempt to imply that Auroville is in some way responsible for the unfortunate fact that the increasing popularity of the nearby town of Pondicherry as a tourist destination has attracted foreign pedophiles. In a piece to camera the reporter says she saw three men with boys on beach. The innuendo implied is that all three men were pedophiles and all from Auroville. But there is nothing to back this up and none of the men are shown on film. To strengthen the innuendo the reporter speaks of Auroville or Auro beaches. But all beaches in India are public.

The original script sent to Auroville concluded with the statement by the reporter, “Auroville does not seem to be operating in the spirit in which it was founded.” In a last ditch attempt to make the film more balanced the conclusion was altered to include praise of Auroville but it is so obviously inconsistent with the whole trend of the film as to serve no purpose.

The film will inevitably create damaging and unwarranted suspicion about Auroville. It has already severely damaged the BBC's reputation for fair and balanced journalism among all those who know and admire Auroville. We believe it is only fitting that the BBC finds some way of acknowledging that the film does not live up to those standards, and ensuring that it is not shown again.
Yours sincerely,
Sir Mark TULLY, Chairman, New Delhi ,
Ms Vishakha DESAI , New York , USA
Dr Michael MURPHY, San Francisco , USA
Dr Doudou DIENE, Paris
Dr Marc LUYCKX GHISI, Vice Chairman, Brussels , Belgium
See also:
Dr. Karan Singh Working Committee Detailed information Home

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