A junior staffer at CNBC Africa is facing disciplinary action after “stealing” tweets from Business Day Television this week. TheMediaOnline spoke to the parties involved.
The debate started on Thursday morning with an email to media houses from a clearly upset Business Day TV head’s Vernon Matzopoulus. The subject line said it all: “Twits stole our Tweets – South Africa’s first case of Twitter plagiarism?”
The “twits” turned out to be CNBC Africa, who took Tweets by Business Day TV during Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s medium term budget speech and published it as its own on the social networking site, removing the Business Day TV logo and replacing it with the CNBC Africa logo.
“Far as I know, publishing someone’s content as your own is plagiarism. Or does the Twittersphere have a different set of rules?,” asked Matzopolous in the email.
He told TheMediaOnline he counted at least ten such Tweets going out (see screen grabs below).
“It was outrageous. We were just gobsmacked that this happened…It was word for word, comma for comma, full stop for full stop.”
He said the worst part was half-way when CNBC Africa forgot to remove the Business Day TV logo – and then, realising their “mistake”, quickly took the logo off and retweeted it again under the CNBC Africa logo. “Their explanation is that it was a junior employee, but surely they should know better?”
CNBC Africa’s group head of marketing, Alexander Leibner, sent TheMediaOnline a statement in which the broadcaster apologised and said disciplinary action would be taken against the journalist.
“CNBC Africa has a team of people managing the channel’s social media accounts. One of the members was a junior intern who made an error in judgment durimg the mid-term budget by copying and pasting Business Day Television tweets,” said the statement.
“The channel does not condone plagiarism and extends an apology to Business Day Television. Strict disciplinary action will be taken against the staff member in question.”
Matzopoulos said he accepted the apology. “They’ve been quite contrite about it and I accept the apology. I think they have embarrassed themselves.”
He said lawyers told Business Day TV that it had a strong case if it wanted to pursue the matter. “You can take them to the cleaners.”
Matzopolous said the incident called into question what checks and balances CNBC Africa had in place. “This wasn’t just one or two little mistakes.”
The difference between what CNBC Africa had done here and retweeting was attribution, he added.
When one retweets, the author is still attributed. He said it was a similar principal to that of lifting from a newspaper. “You can lift, as long as you attribute.”
Media consultant, trainer and freelance journalist Ray Joseph described the action by the CNBC Africa journalist as “a blatant case of plagiarism”.
“This is actually disgraceful. Not only are they bringing themselves into discredit, they are bringing journalism into discredit.”
He said it often happened that civilians would “steal” another person’s tweet by retweeting it without attribution. “But they (civilians) don’t know any better. The person who did this, knew what they were doing.”
He said he would have invoiced CNBC Africa. “If it was me, I would send them an invoce. Big enough to make them wobble, but not big enough for them to try and fight it.”
Joseph said it was no defence for CNBC Africa to say that a junior was to blame.
“They have done their brand and reputation huge harm. The politically correct word for this plagiarism. The correct term is theft,” said Joseph.