By BO Staff Writer
The Press Ombudsman has ordered the online publication, The Daily Vox, to publicly retract and apologise to two academics who the publication falsely accused of plagiarism.
On January 10, the Daily Vox published an article which claimed that University of KwaZulu Natal’s Deputy Vice Chancellor and head of Humanities, Professor Cheryl Potgieter and a former colleague, Gregory Kamwendo, had plagiarised a paper. Journalist, Oliver Meth, wrongly wrote that “[p]lagiarism checking website TurnItIn, which identifies the percentage of similarity to other articles based on a web algorithm, indicated that Potgieter and Kamwendo had plagiarised the introduction to a collection, which had the work of at least 12 contributors.”
The Ombudsman, Johan Retief, ruled that The Daily Vox must “apologise to Potgieter and Kamwendo, without any reservation, for consistently stating as fact the unsubstantiated and unfair allegation that they have committed plagiarism in their “damning” report, and for the serious and unnecessary damage that this had done to their reputations.”
Retief, who referred to the story as “poor reporting”, noted that “[i]n a news report, such as the one in question, a publication cannot be the carrier of news and simultaneously be the judge and the jury. Which is exactly what Meth has done.”
The detailed report by the Ombudsman, which basically rubbishes Meth’s story, outlines how the program, TurnItIn, used to convict Potgieter as a plagiarist “was not suitable to establish whether this specific work was plagiarized or not.” He further explains that the program would obviously find close similarities between the introductory editorial by Potgieter and Kamwendo, and the rest of the compiled work in the series because “that was the intention of the authors (namely, to introduce other authors’ work), which was carried out with consistent attribution to the original authors.”
Retief called Meth a journalist who “put petrol in a car that runs on diesel.”
The Ombudsman further correctly noted that The Daily Vox and Meth were relentlessly and unapologetically out to tarnish Potgieter and Kamwendo’s reputations.
“In the total absence of any evidence to this effect, and having used “petrol” instead of “diesel”, I find Meth’s reportage not only unsubstantiated but also recklessly irresponsible,” said Retief. “Few issues will erode an academic’s credibility and professional reputation more than an allegation of plagiarism – which is exactly what Meth has succeeded in doing.”
Retief found that the offence was a Tier 3 offence, which, under the Hierarchy of sanctions, Section 8 of the Complaints Procedures, is considered “serious misconduct”.
“Having repeatedly stated plagiarism as fact without any credible evidence, and with regard to the serious, unnecessary harm this has done to Potgieter’s and Kamwendo’s professional reputations, I have no option but to decide that this is a Tier 3 offence,” he said.
The Ombudsman’s ruling brings into sharp focus the question of what has been deemed as #FakeNews by white media. Meth seems to be linked to academics at UKZN who are opposed to decolonisation and are supporters of the current white male Vice Chancellor there. In a desperate attempt to discredit Potgieter, who has been fighting the highly capitalistic and racialised way that UKZN is run, pure lies were written about the academic, flouting all forms of journalistic standards – which publications like the Daily Vox swear by. So, why is the white media not up-in-arms about this instance of #FakeNews?
Read the Ombudsman’s full report below: