Plagiarism mounts in journalism as copyright law does not protect media content

By Elias Hakizimana

Plagiarism has become a rampant issue in Rwandan media industry, threatening the nascent profession according to media professionals and regulators.Yet, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) does not register media content to stop the users who do not attribute the sources.

This infringement of copyright, where a person takes someone else’s work or ideas and pass them off as their own, has again been reported by some media practitioners and owners this month, as an issue that needs urgent consideration and attention to redress.

Copyright laws protect writers’ works against stealing by unauthorised users.

Yvette Tumukunde Registration and Promotion Officer at Intellectual Property Division in RDB said that they do not deal with media content registration.

The Law on protection of Intellectual Property (IP) N° 31/2009 of 26/10/2009 and the Intellectual Property Policy of November 2009 in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda were set to ensure that the government protects Intellectual Property rights.

However, in its article 195, Copyright is only reserved to literary, artistic, and musical works that can include computer programs, music, films, photographs, arts, sculptures, and national folklore among others.

It states in its article 198 relating to the works not protected in (IP) protection law that the protection provided under this Law shall not extend to any official texts of a legislative, administrative or judiciary nature, as well as any official translation, published daily news or news communicated to the public; any idea, procedure, system, methods of operation, concepts, principles, discovery or mere data, even if expressed, described, explained, illustrated or embodied in a work.

Media contents are included among intellectual properties but were not considered in this law.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) states that an intellectual property refers to a product of the mind, of creativity and innovation, in many areas, and which needs to be registered somewhere, licensed and protected.

According to Emmanuel Mugisha, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) noted that this unethical issue is among some threats that can hamper media industy, but pointed out that it could seem quite impossible scenario for journalists to reach at RDB for news registration minute by minute as they publish stories day and night.

“It is very difficult to register stories in RDB, I do not even think it is possible,” Mugisha noted.

Complains

RMC’s Mugisha said “ Yes we have heard some complains, some media houses are complaining about how some others took their stories and publish them as if they were theirs, so, we have such complains.”

According to Michael Wakabi, the Bureau Chief and News Editor at The East African, it could be quite less understandable for only social media users to practice plagiarism because social media has opened up journalism to the wider public, and most of users are not bound by the professional ethics of journalism, but not for mainstream media.

“But at the level of established media houses, I think we have internal policies. For us, (The East African), we have tools to actually check copy in plagiarism, and if anyone tried to plagiarize online we are able to catch that. I think media houses should develop internal policies and controls and have penalties for these offences. It boils down to the individual media houses to fight this,” Wakabi says.

He says that Plagiarism is serious, and advises media practitioners to take a developmental approach to try bringing journalists into the loop of professional conducts other than being taken to courts.

Underlying reasons

“In our reports and in our workshops that we conduct, most of people raised a concern of resources, because when people do not have resources to go and be there to cover the story, they wait for someone else to do the story and they publish it as if it was their story,” Mugisha notes, adding that the other thing is the problem with ignorance where some people do not know that it is a prohibited thing and commit that offence innocently. “So, I believe those are two major causes of this existence,” he said.

Writing quality, thoroughly researched and informative article requires efforts that should be protected (Photo gotten from internet)

Plagiarism is against media professionalism

Mugisha contends with journalists that plagiarism affects people who are creative and who have invested their efforts and it also has the effects of increasing and promoting the unprofessionalism.

Journalists say that writing a news story requires too much efforts, commitments, diligence, courage, money and time to get comprehensive and thorough reports.

Emmanuel Ntirenganya, a professional journalist at The New Times says that given the efforts required to come up with a worthwhile report, there is a need to ensure copyright for media content which can help address plagiarism issue in the media.
“Writing a significant article that is accurate and evidence-based is like investing in cooking a balanced, delicious, and nutritious meal with quality spices that the beneficiaries will enjoy,” Ntirenganya says.
“A journalist needs to reach out to the people at the grassroots level, listen to the problems of concerns in the community, carryout enough research and talk to all relevant sources in a bid to produce an article that will help policy makers to make informed decisions,” Ntirenganya says, stressing that this kind of spirit can help avoid plagiarism.

Daddy Sadiki Rubangura, a journalist for umuseke.rw, a local online newsoutlet said that a good news story must inform, educate and entertain [the public]. He says that a journalist needs facilitation on all required equipment including financial facilitation to reach to the get first-hand infirmation in order to avoid plagiarism.

“Journalists should visit fields and make their own clarifications as most of the times you can get wrong quote of sources’ names or figures used by several media houses,” he said.

Daddy Sadiki Rubangura, a journalist for umuseke.rw said that a journalist needs facilitation on all required equipment including financial facilitation to reach to the get-first-hand information in order to avoid plagiarism.

Thacien Biziyaremye, a news reporter at Clouds TV says that first of all for a journalist to write a good article, bearing enough professional skills and recognizing the human interests are very crucial.

Most of the journalists said, in interview, that they can’t mind if second users attribute the media content in question to them because it can foster co-operation between media houses through recognizing the source of information.

However, as Jules Ntahobatuye, the chief editor at TV10, says plagiarism is not frequent in TV broadcast news as for online and print.

“It is easy to steal texts than images because [content] checkup can reveal the source of pictures. The most thing journalists can do is to try seeking for professionalism spirit. The government and journalists’ organs must set up tangible measures to punish such offences. Media houses in particular should do whatever [they can] to look for funds, and if possible, get support from the government to be able to ensure professionalism,” Ntahobatuye said.

Proposed solutions

Mugisha said that one of the means to tackling plagiarism in journalism is informing the media that is not the right thing to do, but the best way is that people who were offended by plagiarism, claiming their rights.

As per article 15 of the media Code of ethics, “A journalist shall refrain from plagiarism and instead strive to respect intellectual property. If the need arises, it is imperative that the source be mentioned even when it comes from one’s colleagues.”

The RMC report on broadcast media content monitoring of January 2016 findings show a breach of plagiarism at the rate of 13%.

Balance and the use of partial language were also indicated by the findings of the report but at lower frequency in all 1241 news items monitored.

RMC legal desk said that it has received six formal (written) complaints between 2014 and 2016, adding that many others say their works have been plagiarized, but without writing and filing complaints.

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