A disturbing trend I've noticed among American newswires is the instinct to take a foreign newswire report, copy the news of the story and spin it as a circus or side/freakshow for Americans to laugh at those loonies. The articles often involve religion, and that's especially disturbing because of the cultural intricacies and details that are often lost in translation. The laws surrounding copyright are fairly clear. News and information cannot be copyrighted by anyone as long as the source is given credit. Only a headline is deemed exclusive (creative?) content. So while no laws are being broken, I believe the practice is a disservice to the public discourse.
Such is the case regarding this Reuters report on the apparent fact that a Muslim couple must split because the husband muttered the word for divorce, "talaq," three times in his sleep. The story is, at the time of this post, fourth on CNN.com's most popular rankings. I'm sure it's now subject to the inane humor in American office cubicles, but also has drawn some clever headlines.
The story cites the Press Trust of India -- the country's largest news agency of 450 subscribing newspapers and others around the world -- as its primary source (I was unable to find a link to the original article). There's barely of scent of original reporting by the news agency:
The religious leaders ruled that if the couple wanted to remarry they would have to wait at least 100 days. Sohela [Ansari] would also have to spend a night with another man and be divorced by him in turn.
The couple, who live in the eastern state of West Bengal, have refused to obey the order and the issue has been referred to a local family counseling center.
India's minority Muslim population is governed by Islamic personal laws on issues such as marriage, divorce and property inheritance.
Great story, until the end, when we find out that Zafarul-Islam Khan, the editor of a popular Indian Muslim newspaper, believes the ruling was bogus:
"This is a totally unnecessary controversy and the local 'community leaders' or whosoever has said it are totally ignorant of Islamic law," said Zafarul-Islam Khan, an Islamic scholar and editor of The Milli Gazette, a popular Muslim newspaper.
"The law clearly says any action under compulsion or in a state of intoxication has no effect. The case of someone uttering something while asleep falls under this category and will have no impact whatsoever," Khan told Reuters.
So according to Khan, what one does while drunk has no merit? At least under Muslim law? Why weren't the local Islamic leaders involved in this story interviewed? How about an outside expert on Islamic law? Is there an inside local issue or scandal of which we are left unaware?
This story has spread to more than 50 news outlets, but I have yet to find one that tells much more than the Reuters report. Such is the power of the American newswires, whose stories are republished over and over again without regard for their lack of original reporting and research.