The following exchange took place in January of 1993. We received a message from Avadhuta Dasa, from the city of Ljublijana in Slovina (part of former Yugoslavia). He found himself in a situation many devotees will identify with. The media were responding to ISKCON without reference to established facts but to outlandish speculations. In the mind of a young, inexperienced devotee the implications were frightening. We have included this case study for two reasons. Firstly to show that we can respond to the common phenomena of media misrepresentation, if we follow simple guidelines and use it as a further opportunity to preach. Secondly, Anuttama Prabhu's response is very well considered, containing all the principles of response necessary to deal with this case and others like it, confidently and effectively.
Dear Saunaka Rsi prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Here in Slovenia our movement is relatively young. Until now, the coverage in newspapers about our movement was very good. Practically all the articles were favourable or at least neutral. But last year our movement grew considerably and what is most important, we were shown on TV six times in very short time. All the TV shows were also nice.
But just recently the main Christian newspaper wrote an article completely disqualifying our movement, saying that we are a sect, that we are encouraging laziness, that women have less rights, that we are brainwashing, that we had to do with drugs in the past, and so on. So what to do in such a case? So far we didn't have any formal contacts with Christians (Catholics). They sometimes also say to their believers not to buy our books from SKP devotees. But some priests are also nice.
Another thing was an article in a main Slovene political magazine which is anarchically inclined but many people are reading it, especially young. So they made one page depicting a recipe for some kind of pie with marihuana. But the guy who was shown on the pictures making this pie was wearing a tee-shirt with big Hare Krsna maha-mantra on it. In fact it is our tee-shirt which we are selling to the guests on our programmes. In the article there is no mention of Hare Krsna but it is very bad propaganda since anyway we are often being accused of taking drugs etc. The guy on the pictures wore a mask on his face so it is not possible to identify him.
My question is what to do in these two cases? I would very much appreciate your valuable advice.
Dear Avaduta Prabhu,
Please accept my humble obeisances.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Saunaka Rsi Prabhu asked me to contact you in response to your fax dated 13 January. He is presently involved in the Communications Seminar and is unable to respond himself. I am the Communications Director for the US and am here to teach a seminar. Saunaka and I discussed the proper strategy for you as follows. I hope it will be helpful. Sorry we took so long to get back to you, but if you act on this as soon as possible, you will be okay.
First, don't worry. We find these situations are opportunities to meet important people as well as to educate people who are misinformed about us.
Regarding the Christian paper:
1.Write a letter as President or official from the temple to the section of the paper where they publish letters from readers.
a)Be very polite yet firm. Don`t attack them.
b)Start out with something like, 'In regard to your article "Krsna Sect" 5 January 1993. As a very reputable newspaper (or magazine, or whatever they are) I know it is important to you to inform your readers with accurate information. Therefore, as President of the local temple, I beg to point out some major inaccuracies in your article. First, . . .'
c) Then very factually point out three or four main mistakes of the article. List your points very clearly: First . Second ... Third ... Put each point in a new paragraph to emphasise it.
d) Often it's best not to restate their bogus attacks against us - just state the positive. In other words, don't just say, 'We are not brainwashed', say, 'Scholars recognise that ISKCON is a five thousand year old monotheistic religion. Many millions of people in India and around the world worship Krsna as the Supreme Lord, just as we do. Say, 'Contrary to your article, it is documented that Hare Krsna devotees are of the highest moral behaviour. Krsna devotees do not use any drugs whatsoever, including even cigarettes, coffee or tea.'
e) Make the letter as brief as possible. Look in the paper and see how long they recommend letters to be, and how long they usually are. If yours is too long they may edit it, and have an excuse not to print it at all.
f) Write a 'cover letter' to the editor which accompanies yours just to introduce yourself and asking them to print the enclosed letter to clear up some inaccuracies in their stories. Be firm, yet polite.
2.Get friends to write letters to the editor, especially important respected people; not temple devotees, you have spoken for them, but lawyers, scholars, members of the Hindu community (if you have one), favourable parents, etc. A letter from a friendly priest would be great. Give them suggestions as to what to say. They can be a little stronger, more direct, more angry than you in criticising the nonsense in the article. Personal testimonies are the best. 'Regarding your article, as professor of Indian studies at the University, I have known the Hare Krsna devotees for years and I am shocked to read the false accusations you make about them. They are upright, moral people, they are offering solutions and teaching love of God . '
3.Another thing to try, if it's possible, is to have a meeting with the reporter or the editor of the paper. Phone them, if possible, and tell them you want to explain the real story behind the Hare Krsnas. You feel that you have done a poor job (not them - remember you're trying to be humble and not attack them) of not informing people of the good things the Hare Krsnas have to offer and therefore there were some serious errors in the article.
4.In general, we have seen time and time again that these bad reports are a chance to get to know reporters, to develop relationships with them, etc. Not to convert them, but to have a working relationship with them.
5. It may be with this Christian paper that they are just fanatics and you can't make any progress with them at all. Little papers are sometimes like that. But, if they are more professional, they have to print some letters, and give the balanced story.
6.Another tactic, refer in your letter to recent TV shows and what they said. 'Joe Smith of Slovenian Television reported on Slovenia Today, 13 December 1992, that "Hare Krsnas are very moral people, and they . "' Quoting authorities they respect is always a good tactic. Note: if two papers or TV stations are direct competitors don't quote the other. That's not good. Quote TV to the paper, the paper to the TV. You can quote an important paper to a little one, but equals competing with each other don't like to be compared to each other and will resent it.
Regarding the photo, use the same techniques, but adjust them to that paper. Use more appropriate language for them. Get people they would respect to write other letters. I would probably not want to meet those guys now. Sometimes what they call 'underground papers' in the West, like this one, don't play by the rules. If you go to see them they may write a worse article than before.
I hope this will be of help to you. Krsna will give you intelligence how to work out the specifics. I have included a copy of a letter I had printed in a big US paper a few years ago when an ex-devotee was caught in criminal acts and they said that's what Hare Krsna is all about. It's not perfect, and it is much longer than you want to write - I met with the editor and she asked me to write a longer one because she agreed that the reporter was nonsense - but it is a sample for you.
Again, don't attack them. State the positive points and contributions we are making; you just want to help them get the facts right. Be brief, but make your points strongly, and document them with quotes as much as possible. Try to put in it words and ideas they will appreciate, avoid ISKCON words they might misunderstand. Thank you for your service to Srila Prabhupada. I am honoured to assist you.