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Plagiarism oversight prompts press code concerns

The amended press code does not properly define or address plagiarism, Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi said at the Press Freedom Commission (PFC) hearings on Monday.

“We need to define what we mean by plagiarism because it is actually quite a serious and vexing topic,” he said in Braamfontein.

It did not happen often and was usually a fireable offence, but when it did happen it posed a huge threat to the media’s credibility.

“It obviously involves somebody taking something that doesn’t belong to him or her [and] that in a sense is theft and theft is a criminal offence,” he said.

Although Mthombothi said his instinct would be to phone the police, he did not think using statutory enforcement was the solution for things that should be kept in the confines of the media.

“Statutory enforcement will make it no longer free or independent.”

He hoped the commission’s final report would provide guidance on this matter.

Editors usually only found out about plagiarism when informed by the author of the original piece.

Collateral damage
“It’s a very traumatic thing.”

The individual could lose their job but there was collateral damage in terms of the publication’s credibility.

He suggested more depth and definition in what plagiarism meant, and that institutions, such as technikons and universities, should make it part of their studies.

“Lifts” were different because the source was credited, he explained.

Trust in a reporter was essential because they were the ones who went out, covered something, then came back and briefed the editor.

“In our days we didn’t even have ticky [pay phones] boxes in the townships. You had to go out to the township. Nowadays you don’t even have to go out of the office so it has become much more difficult these days.

“That is why trust is so important.”

No interest
The Pan Africanist Congress said, through Mudini Maivha, that smaller parties such as theirs received very little press coverage.

They felt that the media was also not interested in individuals involved in corruption, outside of government.

They learned this when one of their top officials was investigated for over R1-million worth of fraud.

Monday marks the start of the latest and final round of hearings on how best to regulate the print media. Possible models include independent regulation, co-regulation, self-regulation, and statutory regulation.

The PFC is an independent body of nine commissioners from diverse sectors of society created to investigate the best possible print regulatory system suitable for South Africa, and which will conform with the Constitution.

Hearings have already been held in Cape Town and Durban. — Sapa

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