Jane Abongdia vs. Daily Dispatch


Thu, Jul 12, 2018

Ruling by the Press Ombud

12 July 2018

PARTICULARS

 

Complainant

 

 

Dr Jane Abongdia

 

 

Lodged by

 

 

Alex Fotoh, of Schrueder Attorneys

 

Date of article

 

 

30 November 2017

 

Headline

 

 

R3m demand for plagiarised publication: masters supervisor admits to cribbing

 

 

Author of article

 

 

Malibongwe Dayimani

 

Respondent

 

 

Kariem Hassan, internal ombud

 

Complaint                                            

Abongdia complains that the:

·         statement that a university’s tribunal has found her guilty of plagiarism after she had admitted to it was untrue and unfair;

·         story omitted to state that the university (of Fort Hare) has exonerated her; and

·         journalist was biased, as the article did not contain her side of the story.

Court case pending

Even though a court case is pending on this issue, I have decided to entertain the complaint – but not to establish whether the student’s work was plagiarised, of course, as that is a matter for the court. I hone this adjudication in on the statements in the article that the university has found her guilty of plagiarism, and that Abongdia had admitted to cribbing.

I shall limit my finding to these issues. I do not believe that Section 1.7 of the Complaints Procedures prohibits me from doing so as this is a journalistic issue and is not before the court – and is therefore not likely to influence proceedings.

I asked both parties if they had any objection to this decision; I have received none.

The text

The article said that a former masters student at the University of Fort Hare (UFH) had demanded R3-million in damages for alleged plagiarism by Dr Jane Abongdia and her husband Dr John Wankha Foncha.

The student, Ms Nomalizo Mazwayi, claimed that they (especially Abongdia, her supervisor) had presented her knowledge as their own in an edition of the Journal of Social Science, published in 2014.

UFH spokesman Kgotso Moabi reportedly confirmed the university had been sued by Mazwayi. He also said in a statement that a tribunal found Abongdia (and not her husband) guilty of plagiarism after she had admitted to it.

The arguments

Abongdia refers me to point 6.12 of the summons, in which Mazwayi has admitted that the university’s committee had concluded that she did not plagiarise her work and that it was “just a matter of literature overlap”.

She complains that the story did not reflect this fact. She says the proceedings of the plagiarism committee was recorded and that it will be made available to prove that she never admitted to cribbing – and that the committee had exonerated her on a charge of plagiarism.

Regarding a right of reply, Abongdia says Dayimani contacted her for comment on the letter of demand issued by Mazwayi’s attorneys. She told the journalist that she was unable to comment and that she needed to obtain legal advice in this regard. However, she says, the reporter proceeded to publish the story without her comment, and without proper verification.

She says her lawyers had since requested Dayimani to remove the publication – but she has either failed or refused to do so.

Hassan says the reporter obtained her information from the university (through Moabi, the Acting Director: Institutional Advancement & Manager:  Marketing & Communications at the university).

He says that the latter has responded to the journalist as follows to this matter (unedited): “Yes, it is true that a Dr Abongdia was found guilty of plagiarism at a tribunal of the university as she admitted to the act of plagiarism and wrote a letter of apology to Ms Mazwayi and was deeply remorseful and had apologised verbally and in writing. Ms Mazwayi’s accepted the apology.”

Hassan says Foncha was not aware that some sections of the article had been plagiarised because as joint authors, he was solely responsible for the collection of data and made no contributions to the plagiarised sections. Although the tribunal felt that his action was not beyond reproach, it was constrained to impose any sanction on him as he was completely unaware of the act of the main author. The tribunal was convinced that he was an innocent participant.

He also says Moabi stated, “I would really like to stress to you that we strongly believe that the university addressed this matter adequately and diligently and that liability in cases of plagiarism is not with the university but the individual transgressors”.

 Hassan argues that, on the basis of the above, the newspaper has no reason to remove the article as it has garnered its information from the university itself. He adds that a reporter cannot decide what should be published and what not – such decisions are up to the editor.

He says this decision will stand until Abongdia disproves this information.

Analysis

I have obtained the relevant documentation from the university, on condition that I keep the contents thereof confidential.

I am at liberty, though, to state that I am entirely satisfied that the reportage was justified. The content of these documents render all other statements irrelevant, including what was stated in the summons.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

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

Johan Retief

Press Ombud