He described it a “daily regimen.” Every night, at around 10 p.m., his cursor starts to open links, drag scrollbars up and down and play videos, all with a few mouse movements and button clicks. He is ahead of tomorrow’s newspapers, reading their stories as they are uploaded in local news sites also around that time.

It was a Saturday, the 31st of May, 2008, when he stumbled on the online version of the “Journal of Democracy,” a website containing essays that discussed the theory, practice and challenges of democracy worldwide. He scrolled down the page and a familiar name caught his attention near the bottom. He moved his cursor over the red link and clicked it open.

A new window popped up containing an essay by Paul Hutchcroft of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Entitled, “The Arroyo imbroglio in the Philippines,” it discussed the corruption and scandals of Pres. Gloria Arroyo’s administration. This report was Antonio Ian Cruz’s source in an article he wrote for the local paper, Malaya.

Cruz, who is now a full-time professional blogger, sifted through the 16-page paper to write his story, “Influential US journal says GMA sank RP into morass of corruption.”  It landed on page one of Malaya, generating reactions from Malacañang Palace.

Another local newspaper, The Daily Tribune (Tribune), ran the response in the story of Sherwin Olaes, “Palace downplays US journal’s charges vs GMA.” Cruz saw it on Tribune’s site the next day, and he initially thought, “Wow! They’re quick. They followed up my story.”

 Olaes’ article, however, was not a follow up in the strictest sense. When Cruz read it, he felt “eerily familiar” with the writing style. He compared the two stories and confirmed that he was plagiarized both in Tribune’s paper and website. From paragraph five, down, Olaes copied Cruz’s story in toto without attribution.

 Cruz immediately informed his news editor and Malaya’s desk of the plagiarism. The desk initially felt “pleased” because they saw the plagiarism case as “complement,” Cruz said. Even his news editor only managed to say, “Okay. Noted.” Cruz himself did not even call Tribune or Olaes to complain about the plagiarized article.

 To date, Tribune has not yet issued an apology or a statement online or on paper. Even Cruz, however, admitted that Malaya never updated him on the case. “I do not know. I do not know if they (Malaya) contacted them (Tribune). I think I already fulfilled my duty when I informed the editor,” he said. Olaes is also unavailable for comment because his contact number at the Tribune is not updated.

 Inside her office at the Tribune, Ninez Cacho-Olivares, the paper’s editor-in-chief and publisher, sat behind her wooden desk, an ashtray on her left and a flat screen monitor on her right. She was scanning the early morning stories in local news sites, her wrinkled hand maneuvering the mouse slowly with age. She puffed a ball of smoke before leaving her cigarette stick lighted on the ashtray.

 “Who says it’s a plagiarism case?” Olivares asked, her tone a bit defensive.

 “Malaya never bothered to call us up… and all of a sudden I hear these things on television saying that this was a case of plagiarism,” she said, her voice sounded annoyed.

 For Tribune’s publisher, Olaes’ story is not plagiarism because it is “not a copy” of Cruz’s. It is simply Malacañang’s reaction to Cruz’s story. Olivares believes that plagiarism happens only when a person copies the “whole story in itself” and takes authorship for that.

 Her definition of plagiarism is correct but incomplete. According to, an online anti-plagiarism resource, there are at least 11 kinds of plagiarism, and Olivares’ definition is only one of them. What is clear, however, is that plagiarism can be committed not only by copying an entire work as it is and passing it off as one’s own. In fact, even if a writer paraphrases other works and fuses them together, as long as no original idea is added and attribution is missing, the product is still considered plagiarized.

 “Sherwin Olaes came up with that reaction…it was the first two paragraphs I think. And then apparently what he did was he picked up the [Malaya] report and copied it as background. His mistake there was he did not put out that this was reported in another newspaper,” Olivares explained.

 For the publisher of Tribune, this was a case of missing attribution, not plagiarism. However, the lack of attribution is plagiarism.

 Olaes clearly plagiarized Cruz. Even if he added seven original paragraphs, his failure to attribute the remaining parts of the story which are lifted verbatim, makes it a clear case of plagiarism. Also worthy of analysis, however, is Malaya’s response on the plagiarism case, reflecting the industry’s attitude towards the ethical dilemma.

   Cruz and Malaya admitted that they never contacted Olaes or Tribune regarding the plagiarized article. Cruz said there are “more important things to do” than to waste his time personally going after the case. He added that he had already done his part when he informed his editors on what happened. Cruz believes that it is Malaya’s responsibility to “assert” its rights and “protect” its content, not his.

 “After all, it’s not the Tonyo Cruz newspaper, it’s Malaya. It is Malaya that should be offended,” he said.

 For Enrique Romualdez, Malaya’s executive editor, on the other hand, their paper has “zero tolerance” on plagiarism committed by their reporters. They can do the extreme and ask the reporter to resign or retire from work. However, if they are plagiarized—as in this case with Tribune—Malaya lacks the necessary mechanisms and guidelines to address the issue.

Romualdez can only go as far as saying, “That’s their problem. Go ahead; plagiarize, as long as you take responsibility for your actions.” When it comes to plagiarism, he believes the solution and action rest only on the perpetrator, not the victim.

 Cruz added that the pressure in covering news and beating deadlines can sometimes overshadow ethical concerns inside the newsroom. “We have to understand that Malaya has different priorities. The editors have plenty of work to do. Do you expect them to drop all stories for the day just to storm in the Tribune’s office?” he said.

 Olivares agreed with Cruz that plagiarism is not the priority and added that it cannot be prioritized. “How the heck can you prioritize plagiarism? It's impossible because you're doing it on a fast-paced literature,” she said.

 This one-way attitude towards plagiarism and the precedence of “more important work” over ethical breaches are reflected in other newsrooms as well.

 Romy Tangbawan, editor of, said they do not have mechanisms to address plagiarism. He explained that the desk does not take any action unless a reporter personally complains and pursues a plagiarism case. “We really don't care about it. Or we are so busy looking for stories to watch for plagiarized stories of ours,” he said.

 Robert Basilio, a desk person at, added that it is easier to catch plagiarism in the academe. For the media and online industry, however, he said, “How do you deal with such? We don’t do anything about that.”

 Tangbawan had accepted the reality of plagiarism online and the difficulty of addressing it, thus, he said, “It’s okay to steal from us as long as we don’t end up in bad light… as long as we don’t do the stealing.”

 Erwin Oliva of the said they have mechanism against plagiarism but these are focused more on preventing “wholesale copying of articles.” They even have links on their website explaining company policies on the use of their content, but he said people still copy their videos and articles without proper attribution.

 Clearly, plagiarism is not a priority in some newsrooms. Because of the fast-paced and technology-driven culture of the online medium, ethics is often subordinated to competition and the pressure to beat deadlines.

 This is not surprising because ethics, after all, is not mandatory. In Tribune’s case, Olivares even questioned the authority of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), refusing to be under its jurisdiction on matters of plagiarism and journalism ethics.

 “This is my newspaper, I make my own code of ethics…Who are they to tell me what to do and what not to do? And what is ethical and what is not?” Olivares said.

The sixth principle of the PPI-National Press Club (NPC) Code of Ethics states plainly, “I shall not commit any act of plagiarism.” All local newspapers who are members of PPI adhere to this standard in their conduct of journalism.

 However, Tribune’s lapses cannot be assessed using this code because the paper is not a member of PPI. This would not have been a problem if Tribune had an in-house code. For Olivares, however, “everyone knows” what ethics is so there is no need to produce a written code.

 “I have my own values and I impose that in my newspaper and among my desk people,” Olivares said. What these values are, however, she failed to specify.

 Olivares may be right about their non-membership in PPI and their exemption from its code of ethics, but journalists’ responsibility against plagiarism transcends local and even organizational codes.

 In his book, “Committed Journalism,” Edmund Lambeth said Journalists must seek and tell the truth including how they acquired their information. They need to properly acknowledge ideas that are not their own. These tenets are also reflected in the Society of Professional Journalists’ (SPJ) Code of ethics that demands honesty and fairness in gathering and reporting data.

 Lambeth added that journalistic freedom needs “principled practice.” Thus, the need for media “to develop and implement their own means of self-regulation.” In the Philippines, this is achieved in the form of ethics codes outlining the standards of journalistic practice.

 Journalists are also called to “respect the rights of others”—sources, subjects and colleagues—in practicing their profession. Before plagiarizing anyone, Olaes should have remembered that journalists are also “human beings… not merely means to journalistic ends.”   

 The SPJ code also encourages journalists to be accountable to one another. They must “admit mistakes and correct them promptly, expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media, and abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.” If Tribune puts this to practice, its best response to the plagiarism case is to issue an apology or a correction the moment it learned of the shortcoming.

 For Malaya, on the other hand, accountability translates to informing immediately and directly the editors of Tribune of the plagiarized article in their website and paper. On the immediacy of action, online expert Oliva says, “The longer you delay, the higher the chance that nothing will happen.”

 Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism” captured these values best when they said, “In the end, journalism is an act of character.”

 Even if journalists set aside all these ethical tenets, however, a law exists punishing plagiarism as violation of intellectual property right. Plagiarism, then, is not only a major ethical breach, but also a violation of the law.

 According to the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines or Republic Act 8293, news articles are considered original intellectual works that are protected from “the moment of their creation, with respect to, among others, their reproduction and communication to the public.”

 The provision on moral rights also compels a writer to attribute the lifted part of his/her article to the original author. Infringement of the copyright law is punishable by one to three years imprisonment, with fines ranging from P50,000 to P150,000 for the first offense.

 Cruz refused to blame Malaya on the plagiarism case. When asked, however, whether or not he was contented with how they handled the issue, he had to pause, seemingly weighing the question on his mind.

 When he answered, his voice sounded heavy. “No.”

 Cruz argued that Malaya should have filed a formal complaint with its counterparts at Tribune or should have at least created mechanisms to address such disputes arising between newspapers.

 Non-compliance with codes of ethics and lack of mechanisms and standard operating procedures to address plagiarism reflect the media industry’s attitude towards the ethical issue—inaction, negligence and indirect consent.

 In committing plagiarism, the violator does not only break the rights of the original author but also deceives the public by publishing articles he or she did not write. When such happens, the journalist stains not only his credibility and integrity but also that of editors, the newspaper where he or she works and the media industry as a whole.

 As gatekeepers, editors should have sharp eyes in detecting borrowed portions in their reporters’ works. After all, the plagiarized article won’t appear in print or online unless the editor gives the “go signal” to run or upload the story.

 In the era of digital technology where information flows freely in and out of the Internet, the online medium is fast becoming the choice platform for many developed countries. News gets delivered to readers quickly, anytime, anywhere, through the Internet, assuring the audience of fresh stories minute by minute.

 With these features, however, the recycling of information also gets more difficult to detect, let alone remedy. Internet users copy and paste articles online, disregarding copyright and claiming illegal ownership, intentionally or out of ignorance.

 Luz Rimban, ethics professor from the Ateneo de Manila University, confirms this, saying, “It’s really difficult to keep track because millions of millions of millions of records are online. I think that's really just one big problem whether it's on the academe or journalism. It's so easy to copy and paste.”

 She added, however, that detection of plagiarism is equally easy with the use of search engines like Google and Yahoo!. Aside from this, several free plagiarism detection sites like and offer quick and easy checks against copied content.

 For Oliva, plagiarism is “lazy work” that should not, in any way, be tolerated in the newsroom. Competition and daily beat assignments, he said, should not be used as excuses in failing to curb ethical breaches.

  Rimban finds flaw in Malaya’s inaction regarding the plagiarism case. Commenting on the paper’s view of plagiarism as complement, Rimban said, “Let's call a spade a spade. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Let’s not add color to that.”

 Tribune, on the other hand, is still liable. Even if Malaya and Cruz did not call their attention, the fact that they have learned of a plagiarized article in their website and newspaper calls for prompt correction. Hiding behind the inaction of Malaya is still unjustifiable.

 Despite the lack of official mechanisms to resolve plagiarism cases in the newsrooms, reporters and editors can still protect themselves from bootlegging by other newspapers or within their ranks. The first and most obvious remedy is simple attribution of all borrowed materials. Attribution is a question of moral integrity, a plain courtesy to your fellow journalists, and obedience to the law.

 Olaes could have at least mentioned in his article that the story was originally published in Malaya. This simple act of attribution could have saved him from the numerous ethical controversies he is in now.

For Basilio of, however, this solution also poses problems in the competitive world of media. He said papers or networks will rarely attribute information they get from one another for fear of “promoting” their rivals and tilting business in their favor.

For him, an alternative that can go away with attribution and plagiarism at the same time is to use existing stories as leads in making one’s own stories. 

“If you’re out scooped, there are ways to catch up. Change your story’s angle be more in-depth,” Basilio said.  

The editors should also screen and filter the content of their reporters’ articles to make sure they are “safe” to publish. Verification and fact-checking are basic disciplines that promote accuracy and honesty, and at the same time prevent plagiarism. 

“Editors should know their reporter’s writing style. They should be able to detect if a line, a sentence, or a phrase, is not the reporter’s anymore,” Rimban said.

She added that editors need to constantly remind their reporters of the journalist’s code of ethics. This is important because Malaya, Tribune, the and even admitted on not having regular refresher courses on ethics and journalism values.

Editors may also consider having in-house codes of ethics. Specialized codes are helpful in dealing with specific dilemmas that are vaguely discussed in general codes. Newspapers, for example, can come up with their own guidelines that tackle plagiarism in detail, from its definition and kinds to its prevention.

If this is not feasible, however, media organizations can simply adopt existing codes like the SPJ or the PPI-NPC or the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas code for television. What is important is media organizations must follow at least one written code and not simply rely on the judgment of a single person in the newsroom as in the case of Tribune.

The media organization may also form a group specifically tasked to monitor ethical lapses among its reporters and to formulate courses of action quickly.

Online plagiarism is a cybercrime that co-exists with technology. Therefore, journalists should fight technology with technology. Newsrooms should use the latest software and programs to keep track of plagiarism. Subscribing to online newsfeeds and Google or Yahoo! alerts may help reporters detect familiar, copy-and-pasted articles in the web.

Contrary to what Tangbawan and Basilio said, website developers can use codes that disable the copy-and-paste and video-download options in websites. A simple web search can yield queries detailing how these can be done. Though these methods are far from perfect, they can at least provide first line of defense against plagiarism.

In the end, prevention still works better than cure. Attribution and rigorous editing and verification of stories are the best ways to ensure that a story is safe, legal, and ethical. The pressure of deadlines inside the newsroom can become overwhelming at times but this is no excuse to becoming unethical and unlawful.

Aside from the editors, if a monitoring body inside the organization exists, the work of checking and rechecking articles against plagiarism and other ethical breaches become more effective.

The media industry must also reach a consensus on how to deal with plagiarism through censures, penalties and several preventive mechanisms like editing and regular ethics refresher courses in newspapers, online and broadcast media.

These solutions are anchored on Immanuel Kant’s Rights Approach, pointing out that “every individual has the fundamental right to be respected and treated as free and equal.” In respecting their colleagues, journalists are warned against unduly gaining credit from others’ hard work through plagiarism.    

While the finger of blame points straight to the reporter who plagiarized, the editors, too, should be held accountable in cases of plagiarism. As gatekeepers, they are expected not only to monitor objectivity or grammatical errors in a story but also ethical lapses that reporters may have overlooked.

At the same time, both victim and offender need to be active agents in correcting plagiarism breaches. Both parties need to reach a compromise guided by the ethical standards of journalism. Tribune and Malaya failed in this aspect in that they blamed each other, never initiating to remedy the case.

At present, Cruz’s original article is no longer in Malaya’s website and can only be accessed through a link in his blog. Olaes’, however, can still be accessed through the old Tribune website. Without any correction or note from Tribune’s editor, any Internet user will not suspect the article to be plagiarized. Instead of debating on whose fault it is and whether or not this is a case of plagiarism, it is about time to remove the article altogether and to issue a long overdue apology.

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