Explain plagiarism

WILL somebody please write a backgrounder on plagiarism?

The issue regarding the absolution of Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo from charges of plagiarism has been burning for days now, but it seems that newspapers are still yet to make a special feature on the crime. It would be good to have a simple way in which ordinary people learn the philosophy and history of laws against plagiarism and the nature of plagiarism itself.

Besides, this issue is now beyond the realms of academe. This isn’t just an issue on intellectual property rights violation, but about personal and institutional integrity. If in universities “unintended plagiarism” is plagiarism nonetheless and results in the expulsion of the plagiarist, how much more vigilance and sense of justice should we expect from the highest court in the land? Everyone who depends on a state institution that supposedly dispenses justice has a stake in this issue.

A footnote on technology and journalism

I’VE read somewhere that digital advances in journalism will lead us to greater transparency, contributing — as academics would say — to a more truthful discourse in society; and that we have to thank social media tools for that.

For example, look at how some news stories first came out as Facebook updates or as tweets. Recently, when Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago accidentally fell off the stage in a speaking engagement in Turkey (was it ala MIRIAM Quiambao? I’m unsure), her tweet about the sad fall became the primary source. The news unfolded in real time on my Twitter timeline. And Miriam’s tweet was publicly accessible, so news about the event already came as nearly insignificant.

Now gone, somehow, is the instance when it is impossible for readers immediately to verify the supposed truth of some reports. If the news is about a public person — preferably tech-savvy — you can now go straight to that person’s Twitter account to check his or her recent whereabouts (e.g. “Eating Buffalo wings. Yum!”). Instant primary source! No need for mediators.

And as regards online reading experience, Google Labs’ new guinea pig, Google Fast Flip, also has promise. With it, one no longer has to wait for 10 seconds or more (because of slow loading) in order to scan a news webpage…

Now all this is very, very commendable.

But it is good to remember that the value of media as an industry is not so much the media it uses as it is the integrity of the content it produces. We can each have iPads (or its likes) in the privacy of the john, reading the day’s “papers.” But if the papers’ contents are still not ethical or truthful, still we would rather flip through newsprint broadsheets that are.

Thus, amidst all these technological progress, going back to the basics of truth-telling and pursuing the good of each person should still possess supreme value in the practice of journalism. As a media consumer, I deserve nothing less than the true and the good, which are beautiful and the same.

Watching the watchdog: CMFR’s analysis of media coverage of RH bill debate

IT aimed to be fair and rational in its analysis of media coverage of the Reproductive Health bill debate. But media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility fell short of its noble objective.

Indeed, CMFR’s article “RH Discussion: Derailed by ‘Damaso’ episode” (October 19, 2010), written by Rupert Francis Mangilit and Ruby Shaira Panela, is a welcome insight into the hullaballoo surrounding the RH bill.

The most salient observation raised in the article is media’s lack of focus on the essential: the RH bill discussion, not the person of protester Carlos Celdran.

The article points out that the media has not even explained that there are actually several RH bills with their own worthy histories (some of them “quietly” filed in Congress away from media glare). It also highlights the lack of correction among some publications regarding the misreported CBCP “threat” to excommunicate President Noynoy Aquino. CMFR says:

Only the Inquirer reported the error; the other reports focused on the CBCP’s ”backtracking,” but not on the omission of the word “not” in the transcript. As a result, the reports were out of context, with some of the media still soliciting reactions to the excommunication that apparently never was.

What is disappointing, however, is that the 1,520-word CMFR article (that is, not counting its title and two-page matrix of RH bills filed in Congress) does not hint at any injustice done by media to the pro-life block and to the good-willed undecided citizen who wants to know the two sides of the issue.

CMFR cries for elaboration of the RH bills, their contexts, and arguments; I cry for elaboration of the pro-life stance as well. For an article that advocates access to information, it is uncanny that it does not advocate clarifying the other side of the RH bill issue. Throughout the long article, the focus is only on the shortcomings of media to delve deeper into the pro-choice stand (cf. paragraphs 1 to 10).

CMFR also cites a few of the many editorials and columns which favor the RH bill, but not the pro-life ones. It’s as if the only write-ups worthy of consideration are those that are pro-choice, even if they are merely “focused on making a hero out of Celdran.”

What CMFR missed

A letter to the editor by a UP political science student published by the Inquirer yesterday could perhaps help CMFR  learn what else the media missed. Below is a summary of Mark Robert Baldo’s commentary, which I interpret to pertain mostly to media’s faulty coverage of the RH bill issue:

  1. “[The RH bill debate] has been framed as a sordid battle between the Church and the State,” which is a mistake for two reasons: “(1) the Church is not the sole opponent of the bill and (2) the State obviously has no [definitive] position on the issue yet.”
  2. “Such a framing,” according to Baldo, “has led many scholars and excellent writers to attack not the arguments against the RH bill but against one of its opponents: the Church….This is a mistake because no longer do we hear mention of arguments by both parties.” He asks: “[D]oes anyone really know the doctrine of the Church regarding contraception?”
  3. Baldo also remarks that “[w]e have been led to assume that the only reason keeping the bill from enactment into law is anchored on religious arguments that have no meaning in the practical, daily realities. There are many perfectly legal, scientific, economic, political and demographic arguments presented against the bill. Thus, I am puzzled why none of this reaches the media….Media inevitably shape the public debate.”

While I am optimistic that CMFR will shape up its criteria and become fairer in its analyses, I also hope more people could have thinking as incisive as Baldo’s.