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Swimming with sharks

Corrections of an article written by Sujata Devadas and Diane Miller
Published: 28/12/2006 12:00 AM (UAE) but appearing in
the December 29, 2006 edition of the Gulf News Friday Magazine (People)

This is a reproduction of an article that could be seen online as of January 3, 2007 at this URL and also at this one

The article is about an experience I had diving on June 13, 2003 in which my wife and son Dusty and I swam with a whale shark: (see my logbooks). and my writeup of my dive 486 <-- here (ahh, that's where the figure in the headline comes from ...).

First of all, they got that vital statistic in the headline wrong. I logged my 762nd dive since 1991 on December 16, 2006. I notice that the correct figure is given in the paragraph that follows.

That's minor. Of major concern to anyone contemplating being interviewed for this magazine should be that the article seriously misquoted me in a number of places regarding my reflections on this experience. This is not the first time this has happened to us. It happened to my wife Bobbi a few years back, when an article published in Friday Magazine May 17, 2002 misquoted her on views regarding her profession of teaching kindergarten, although she had stressed contrary points during her interview.

In the present instance, the first mis-quote is the caption to my picture at the top of the article. These words were fabricated by the authors. I never said them, though in the work as published online and in the Friday Magazine itself which was distributed throughout the UAE on Dec. 29, 2006, these words are clearly attributed to me.

Up to this point, apart from the byline under the picture at the top, the authors and editors have pretty much drawn from my logbooks regarding what happened during the dive. In preparing the article, Sujata Devadas was in fact in touch with me regularly regarding wording. She seemed sympathetic about Bobbi's prior bad experience with Friday magazine, and because of that experience, I asked Sujata to show me what she was writing, and she would send me re-written versions as we worked together via email.

She did point out, however, that the editors would have final say in what actually got printed. I also had to sign off on a document giving them permission to alter the article as they saw fit. I assumed that in doing this they would hold to certain journalistic standards of honesty and integrity. According to my conception of these standards, inventing words, ideas, and concepts, and then printing them as if I said them, does not fall in line with those standards.

A week before the article was due to appear, Sujata wrote and said that the editors liked the text, but they wanted a statement expressing the esoteric meaning of the experience to me. She included in that email a suggested wording quite similar to the what eventually got published. I'm not sure who wrote those words, but I presumed that Sujata did. The words were not mine and did not reflect my own inner voice, and I didn't think they matched what I personally felt about the experience. So I wrote back and gave my own statement, as follows:

Divers have a unique ability to observe a part of the world that lies unseen by most people, and only a few among divers are privileged to observe creatures so stunning as a whale shark, or to catch a glimpse of a shark or devil ray. From their perspective, divers tend to be vitally concerned about the environment, and about impacts on the environment that threaten nature below the water. In my 40 years of diving, I find that encounters with remarkable animals have become increasingly rare near places where people encroach. Photos and first-hand reports from beneath the sea should serve to heighten people’s awareness of the beauty of the world all around them, including the parts that they can’t always see, and how tragic it is to damage the unseen world through thoughtless development or waste disposal.

This is the statement that should have appeared at the end of the article. Imagine my surprise and embarrassment when I read in the Friday Magazine on the morning of Dec 29, 2006 that I had "said" ...

The writers invented every word, above. I never said what is printed here. It almost sounds as if I used to throw my weight around and bully others weaker than me, doesn't it? Perhaps the editors of Friday Magazine, or their writers or whoever is responsible, should take their own advice and not misrepresent and misconstrue simply because they think they have the last word in print.

Or do they? One impact of the Internet is that the old power alignments, with dominant publishers as arbiters of what the rest of us read and consume, no longer holds in today's world. It is perhaps ironic that at about the same time that this article appeared, TIME Magazine declared YOU to be man/woman of the year. This is in recognition that WE as content providers on the Internet have the final say in what gets published and consumed by an increasing number of readers of today's media.

In fact I'm including as much header information such as Gulf News Friday Magazine Swimming with whalesharks diving UAE musandam, etc in the text of this article in an attempt to attract Google hits to my version which I have some hope will be more widely read than the 'published' but spurious version.

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Last updated: January 4, 2007