Johann Hari

Independent columnist Johann Hari, who is accused of plagiarism but denies the charge. Photo: Image by internets_dairy on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The Media Standards Trust has told the Orwell Prize Council that it expects it to undertake an immediate inquiry into 2008 prizewinner Johann Hari, who has today admitted using unattributed quotes in his work.

Hari, a columnist and interviewer for the Independent, was accused of plagiarism by a number of bloggers over the past week after quotes from several of his interviews were shown to have been taken from other books and interviews by other journalists.

Hari denied plagiarising the material, which was not attributed, but admitted that he had used the comments and presented it in such a way as to suggest he obtained the quotes directly.

The trust, which funds and is a partner of the prize, said in a statement today that it expects the prize's council to "take immediate action to examine the allegations and make clear what it is going to do about them".

It addressed three specific questions to the council regarding its inquiry:

"Does the Orwell Prize have full confidence in the articles submitted by Johann Hari for which the prize was awarded?

"Should Johann Hari continue to be allowed to be known as a winner of the prize?

"What more can the prize do to ensure that its winners now and in the future uphold the highest possible standards?"

The trust said that there have been no complaints about articles submitted by Hari to the prize, but acknowledged that the issue had the potential to damage its reputation.

The statement also indicated that the trust will review its funding and support of the prize in the wake of the revelations.

Speaking to this afternoon, Martin Moore, director of the trust, stressed that it had no direct role in judging the prize or investigating previous winners. He did acknowledge however that Hari's actions put the body, which campaigns for transparency and against "churnalism", in a difficult position.

"The trust has always been clear that we are trying to talk about transparency and accountability and attribution.

"It has been difficult at times, these are some quite complex issues. But personally I don't think that this has been a complex issue, it is not so much about plagiarism as giving the wrong impression."

Moore added that the controversy surrounding Hari was about "the difference between fair representation and accurate representation".

Editor of the Independent Simon Kelner said on Twitter today: "Johann Hari has worked for the Independent for 10 years. In that time, we have not had a single complaint about his misrepresenting anyone".

The controversy follows a post on the DSG blog which drew attention to similarities between quotes in Hari's 2004 interview with Tony Negri and Negri's own book, Negri on Negri.

Brian Whelan, and editor with Yahoo, picked up on the DSG post and looked closely at another of Hari's interviews, with Gideon Levy, which showed a remarkable similarities to Levy's own writing and an interview he had given to another journalist.

It is understood that Hari will publish an article in tomorrow's Independent which will respond to the allegations made online over the past week.

The Media Standards Trust is a partner of the Orwell Prize, along with Political Quarterly and the Orwell Trust, and administrates it on behalf of the prize's council. It takes no part in the judging process however.

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