I have been a regular Newsnight watcher for many years and have always trusted that the news is presented with the degree of integrity I have come to expect from the BBC. I write to complain about the highly biased item on Auroville last night, as a result of which I feel I can no longer trust the integrity of the programme editor or the presenter, Jeremy Paxman.
I write to you from an objective position as someone who has acted as a professional consultant to Auroville International UK (as well as to many other UK NGOs) and as such have had considerable opportunity to observe - from the outside - many aspects of this remarkable community over a period of some years.
The whole coast from Chennai down to Puducherry is known for child sex tourism, so I'm sure tourists go to Auroville too with evil intent, but it's hard to know what Auroville can do other than to be vigilant and to ask any suspects to leave - which I understand they have done in the past. The big question is, what is the Indian Government and/or the local police doing about the allegations and indeed the wider child abuse problem related to popular tourist destinations?
What checks did Newsnight do on the reporter, the interviewee and the witnesses to check their motives and their credibility? Why was so much time given to them to put their case, while so little opportunity was given to Auroville to respond? I am an independent international development consultant to a number of large and small UK-based NGOs. I have for the past 10+ years worked with various Auroville schools on education projects run specifically for the benefit for the local village children in the surrounding district. These projects have been co-financed by both DFID and the European Commission and as such have come under the scrutiny of a wide range of people during project evaluations, as well as the Education Department of the Govt. of Tamil Nadu and the Ministry of Human Resources of the Govt. of India. The latter as it subsidises Auroville's educational outreach programmes. If child abuse were endemic in these schools then I am sure I would have been aware of it and indeed I am sure the various Govt. departments would have investigated, given that the ethical and operational expectations they hold of Auroville are very high. Apart from innovative education initiatives, Auroville has done an amazing amount of work to bring a range of livelihood opportunities to the region and has developed cutting edge environmental regeneration and appropriate technology methods for which they have won many national and international awards. Their response to the Tsunami was instant and effective because they knew those that were affected locally. Auroville is so much more than was presented last night. Did anyone ever stop to think of the damage this biased coverage would cause to all the excellent work that Auroville has done over a period of some 40 years?
I am also a UKCP registered psychotherapist with masters in psychotherapy. In this capacity I have worked with a number of clients who were victims of serious sexual abuse as children. I am therefore very sensitive to the need to be vigilant in all situations that involve close adult-child interface. The allegations made against Auroville in Ms Wright's report are therefore deeply disturbing to me and indeed I have often discussed this matter with teachers of the Auroville outreach schools (i.e. those that serve the children of the surrounding villages) that were the beneficiaries of the EC co-financing to the education project that I was involved with, but felt reassured that monitoring systems were in place to prevent such abuse - indeed one of the components of this project was a very impressive training centre where young women from the villages, who had been the victims of abuse, were taught life skills within a nurturing therapeutic environment. The work of this centre has provided a much admired model for visiting staff from many European and US NGOs.
And finally I must ask the question, would you deal with accusations of child abuse that occur in the UK in the same way? Coverage of the recent Jersey child abuse case has been very different because, quite rightly, allegations have to be substantiated with hard facts. Why should journalistic standards drop when dealing with a developing country?
I URGE THE BBC TO INVESTIGATE THE WAY THAT THIS APPALLING PIECE OF JOURNALISM WAS PUT TOGETHER AND THE POOR LEVEL OF SCRUTINY THAT BORDERS ON THE NEGLIGENT. I ALSO URGE THE BBC TO CONTACT SIR MARK TULLY IN DELHI , WHO I UNDERSTAND IS VERY FAMILIAR WITH AUROVILLE, AND GIVE HIM AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRESENT A BALANCED VIEW. HE IS ONE BBC CORRESPONDENT WHOSE INTEGRITY, I BELIEVE, IS NOT IN QUESTION. Yours sincerely, Greta Jensen
International Development Consultant
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