Cyberethics, plagiarism and online journalism

N.B. – Two Journalism students from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman emailed some questions about plagiarism and ethics. Please find below my answers.

What is the state of online plagiarism in the country today?

Given the global reach of the Internet and the World Wide Web, plagiarism in the new media is everywhere and the Philippines is no exception. The vast amount of information on the Net and the ease by which these can be retrieved fuel a journalist’s tendency to claim ownership of the work of others, consciously or unconsciously.

There had been several cases of plagiarism done by some journalists in recent years. Aside from the ones mentioned in a May-June 2008 article published by the PJR Reports (re-posted in Eye on Ethics) where I was interviewed, it is necessary to analyze the case of a broadcast journalist recently accused of using the work of a blogger in a TV documentary, passing it off as her own without any attribution.

In another recent case, a print columnist unwittingly used another blogger’s post under the impression that it was merely part of forwarded text messages and tweets whose authorship cannot be traced. Even if an apology has been made for the oversight, it still cannot be denied that the columnist, who happens to be not a professional journalist but a politician, was lax in performing his duties. Perhaps this is what happens when column writing is entrusted to people who, despite their fame and fortune, are not that knowledgeable of the workings of the press and the responsibilities that go with the shaping of public opinion.

How can a journalist protect himself of herself from being plagiarized?

There are many ways a journalist can check if his or her work is plagiarized. I personally use Google Alerts, CopyGator, relevant “keyword searching” and regular “ego-surfing” to know if any of my articles are being plagiarized. There are other free anti-plagiarism tools available on the Net.

What can journalists do if their work has been plagiarized?

A journalist who thinks that his or her work has been plagiarized should bring the issue to the attention of both the supposedly erring person and the latter’s editor. If the complaint is not acted upon, he or she should approach media organizations like the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP). Media monitoring organizations like the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) could help document the issue and expose any wrongdoing. If a journalist has both time and energy, he or she could opt to write about his own experience.

Are there actions done or punishments given to those who plagiarized?

In keeping with promoting self-regulation, plagiarism is better off handled internally within the news media organization. Groups like the PPI, KBP and CMFR enter the picture only when no action is done. Depending on the circumstances behind the act of plagiarism, the penalty could be in the form of a public apology, warning, suspension or dismissal from work.

Why do you think that there hasn’t been many solved cases of plagiarism
(online or otherwise) on the country?

Aside from the lack of firm grasp of the professional and ethical standards of journalism, there is little or no awareness among many editors and reporters of what constitutes plagiarism. One cannot rectify a mistake if there is failure to acknowledge that it is one.

For you, what is the meaning of cyberethics?

The concept of cyberethics goes beyond the practice of online journalism in the sense that it also includes etiquette on the Internet (sometimes referred to as Netiquette). In the case of the blogosphere, there exists A Bloggers’ Code of Ethics which is supposed to guide people in blogging responsibly. Some social networking sites include ethical guidelines in their terms of agreement, and the failure to adhere to such terms could mean the suspension or cancellation of one’s account.

How can online journalists practice ethics?

Online journalists should have strong adherence to the code of ethics. They can only practice something that they are aware of. They should remember that the principles and standards of journalism cut across all forms of media.

One thought on “Cyberethics, plagiarism and online journalism”

  1. Plagiarism is a major offense that everyone should know. There is a vast amount of people who copy someone else’s work, without citing its sources.. most especially in our generation today wherein you are able to read everything here in the cyber space. Plagiarism is a serious offense and should not taken for granted. Anyway thanks for this article.. it would help me a lot in my analysis paper . kudos sir :)

    Reply: Thank you, Gerry. All the best!

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