Welcome Khumalo vs The Herald (Middelburg)

Complainant: Welcome Khumalo

Lodged by: Welcome Khumalo

Article: ‘All will be revealed in court’

Date: 19 April 2013

Respondent: The Herald (Middelburg)

Complaint

The owner of the Nkangala Informer, Welcome Khumalo, complains about a story in The Herald (Middelburg) on 15 March 2012, headlined ‘All will be revealed in court’.

He complains that the latter newspaper took over one of his publication’s story and merely restructured it.

Analysis

The story was about Dr Prince Mnisi, a local dentist and pastor, who was reportedly to appear in the Middelburg magistrate’s court on 22 counts of rape.

Plagiarised

Khumalo complains that the latter newspaper took over one of his publication’s stories (written by Nombuso Nkosi, headlined Skeletons out to haunt pastor) and merely restructured it. He argues that proof of this was that The Herald’s story contained the same spelling mistakes (for example, the wrong name of the Middelburg Golf Estate – both stories had it as Middelburg “Gold” Estate).

Let me say from the outset that there is nothing wrong in taking over information from another newspaper and use it in one’s own story – the issue is not if, but how this should be done. To put it differently: There is more to this complaint than meets the eye. It is, in fact, about plagiarism.

Here are some considerations regarding plagiarism:

·         One cannot plagiarise an idea (eg. “love is blind”);

·         A researcher (or journalist) often uses other people’s work to come to his/her own conclusions – there is nothing wrong with that;

·         When somebody else’s work is copied or transcribed, that should be attributed; and

·         When one takes over another writer’s text, it is not enough to merely change some words here or there – in that case, the information should still be attributed.

The Herald’s story is similar to that of the Nkangala Informer in many ways. That, in itself, is in order. However, I have also noticed that The Herald did quote Mnisi a few times, but without stating that that source spoke to its journalist. That is unusual. Moreover, these quotes are similar to those that Mnisi reportedly made to the journalist of the Nkangala Informer.

Consider the following:

Nkangala Informer                                       The Herald

“ ‘All is going to be revealed in the trial, he told the Nkangala Informer’.” “ ‘All will be revealed by the court,’ said Mnisi.”
“ ‘I’m a man of God and I live by the holy book’.” “ ‘I am a man of God and I live according to the holy book’.”
“ ‘I’ve been supporting all the children and giving them shelter’.” “ ‘I have been supporting these girls and giving them shelter’.”
“ ‘I have never done all these things they… are accusing me of’…” “ ‘The things that they are accusing me of I didn’t do’…”

I suppose it is possible that Mnisi said the same things to The Herald’s journalist, but in that case I would have expected the story to say so (read: to acknowledge that the quotes by Mnisi had been made to its own reporter).

I noted that the newspaper, in its response to the complaint, said that it could provide this office with the notes of its journalist. So, I asked for the notes. The editor then sent me a document and started off by saying: “As you can see, the journalist did do homework on this case and did not take the info from the Nkangala Informer as they accused. We believe that they have been talking to the same sources so the mistake could have probably come from there as my journalist mentioned.”

However, the notes that the editor provided me with do not correspond with the sentences quoted above.

In these circumstances, I have no other conclusion to come to than to accept that The Herald merely took over Mnisi’s comments as if he spoke to that newspaper.

That is called plagiarism.

If only The Herald’s story said that Mnisi “reportedly said”, that would have been in order. Unfortunately, the newspaper chose to (misleadingly) portray the message that it had spoken directly to Mnisi.

Finding

The Herald is in breach of Art. 2.8 of the Press Code that states: “Journalists shall not plagiarise.”

Sanction

The Herald is:

·         severely reprimanded for plagiarizing a story in the Nkangala Informer;

·         directed to apologise to that newspaper for doing so; and

·         directed to publish the text that follows below.

Beginning of text

The Press Ombudsman has “severely reprimanded” us for plagiarizing a story from the Nkangala Informer and has accordingly directed us to apologise to that newspaper.

Welcome Khulalo from the Nkangala Informer lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about a story that we published on 15 March 2013, headlined ‘All will be revealed in court’ – an article that was similar to one published by that newspaper.

The story was about Dr Prince Mnisi, a local dentist and pastor, who was reportedly to appear in the Middelburg magistrate’s court on 22 counts of rape.

After comparing the two stories, and looking at our journalist’s notes, Ombudsman Johan Retief said: “I have no other conclusion to come to than to accept that The Herald merely took over Mnisi’s comments as if he spoke to that newspaper. That is called plagiarism. If only The Herald’s story said that Mnisi ‘reportedly said’, that would have been in order. Unfortunately, the newspaper chose to (misleadingly) portray the message that it had spoken directly to Mnisi.”

We apologise to the Nkangala Informer for plagiarizing its story.

Visit www.presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

End of text

Appeal

Please note that our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Adjudication Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman

 

 

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