Plagarism on Media Watch

I like watching the ABC’s Media Watch. It’s comforting knowing there’s a watchdog out there, revealing the details of misleading broadcasts.

It seems apt that the process is a public and transparent one, but I admit I’d never stopped to consider the effect on those named and shamed. That is, until I watched, transfixed, as Dr Tanveer Ahmed was exposed for serial plagiarism.

I immediately wondered how he felt, watching the show. How his family and friends would react … his colleagues … his patients. Would this be the end of his expanding career in public life or would he bounce back from scandal, with a profile even bigger than before, as do the likes of Alan Jones? Would this have implications for his clinical career? I really felt for him.

I’m not sure why it seemed so personal; I’ve only met Dr Ahmed once, briefly. Perhaps it was my getting to know him through reading his memoir, The Exotic Rissole. Maybe it was because I felt a certain kinship, being a fellow doctor-writer, although, unlike him, I am not even a speck in the public eye — thank goodness.

Kinship doesn’t guarantee loyalty, as was patently obvious in the media aftermath of Dr Ahmed’s outing. His harshest critics seemed to be fellow medicos, particularly his psychiatrist colleagues, several of whom displayed considerable schadenfreude in their Media Watch website postings. It seems not even psychiatrists are above a metaphorical “na-na-nee-na-na”.

Not that I’m defending Dr Ahmed’s actions. His is a clear-cut case of plagiarism on a grand scale, and it is right and proper that it was revealed the way it was. What astounds me is how he got away with it for so long. Even before the Google age, when I was at school plagiarism was promptly noticed and punished, although I do recall two notable exceptions.

The first was of an unremarkable Year 10 student who submitted a remarkable short story that earnt him top marks in his English assignment and first place in the school’s writing competition. Within hours of its publication in the school newsletter, the headmaster received several calls revealing the story to be a well-known Jeffrey Archer piece meticulously copied word-for-word. Unfortunately, the embarrassment didn’t end there. It had been entered into a statewide competition, and the plagiarism was discovered before the submitting teacher had facilitated its withdrawal. “At least,” it was noted, “the teacher recognised and rewarded good writing.”

Which segues into my second exception. My younger brother constantly complained about going through school in my academic shadow. He is not without brains — in fact he’s far smarter than I am — but, like many bright schoolboys, he was not overly interested in applying himself. Two years behind me, he felt unfairly compared with his ultra-nerdy goody-goody sister. He even had “proof” of reverse favouritism, in the form of an English book review assignment.

Facing the deadline and having not even read the book, my brother decided to print out my two-year-old review, which was conveniently stored on our home computer, and submit it with only the name and date changed. On the return of “his” assignment, he felt both outraged and vindicated that his received an A-, while my identical one had earned an A+. His self-righteous indignation remained private, for obvious reasons.

Dr Ahmed’s transgressions are no longer a private affair, but at least he didn’t respond with indignation. I thought his Australian Doctor-published response was frank, apologetic and most importantly, in his own words.

I wish him well.


Written in October, 2012

First published in Australian Doctor on 24th October, 2012: On plagiarism