The organisers of the Orwell Prize for Journalism have confirmed that shamed Independent columnist and writer Johann Hari would been have been stripped of the award if he hadn’t chosen to hand it back.
Hari won the award in 2008 but returned it via courier on 14 September earlier this month – although today it emerged there was no note of explanation and that the £2,000 prize money has yet to be given back.
The Council of the Orwell Prize announced it was investigating allegations into Hari’s work on 30 June, shortly after he was first accused of plagiarism.
In a statement the council said the investigation involved writing to both Hari and then editor Simon Kelner, but it added: ‘Hari responded; the editor did not, either to this or a subsequent set of queries.”
The council held an emergency meeting on 21 July to discuss Hari’s case, in particular his story “How multiculturalism is betraying women”, which appeared in The Independent on 30 April, 2007.
It concluded that the article ‘contained inaccuracies and conflated different parts of someone else’s story (specifically, a report in Der Spiegel)”.
The Council concluded that Hari’s use of ‘unattributed and unacknowledged material did not meet the standards expected of Orwell Prize-winning journalism”.
It then drafted a statement ‘subject to a deadline’in which it would announce Hari had been stripped of the prize, but later found that The Independent had ‘prohibited Hari from responding to any communication’while the paper’s own internal investigation (led by former editor Andreas Whittam Smith) was in progress.
The council said that as a result of this decision it was ‘impossible to announce the decision as it could not communicate with Hari, nor give him the opportunity to reply”.
Today’s statement said: “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.”
The 2008 judges – Annalena McAfee, Albert Scardino and Sir John Tusa – have decided not to re-award the 2008 Prize.
The acting chair of the Council of the Orwell Prize, Bill Hamilton, 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.”
Prize director Jean Seaton added: ‘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’.”