Conseil de presse outs TVA for journalistic plagiarism

The Conseil de presse du Québec has denied an appeal of a decision which blames TVA for stealing a story from the biweekly Courrier Laval that studied the condition of water around Montreal.

The story made the Courrier Laval, which then ended up in La Presse, and was picked up by Patrick Lagacé, which is how I found it.

The TVA report repeated the conclusions of the investigation without attributing the source, which royally pissed off the journalist who spent months working on the story. Their argument was that the information from the newspaper was in the “public domain” and that no copyright could be attached to an idea.

Of course, the argument isn’t over copyright, it’s over journalistic integrity. Journalists can’t simply repeat what they’ve heard without saying where they heard it from. Without proper attribution, errors and misinformation can spread quickly. And no journalist should simply trust what another says is correct.

As Lagacé points out, though, this kind of thing happens all the time, especially with morning radio just reading the news out of the newspaper. The evening TV news is less underhanded about it. They’ll spend a day re-interviewing the same people and producing a story of their own, but it’s just as annoying when they won’t say where the idea came from and who reported it first.

Newspapers themselves aren’t completely without fault here either. They’ll re-report stories they found with the competition or what they saw on TV news the night before, sometimes using purposely vague attribution like “a Montreal newspaper” or “reports said.” But it’s not nearly as bad as what you see in broadcasting.

TVA’s transgression was particularly bad, but let’s hope this decision acts as a wakeup call for those journalists who think they can cut corners by re-reporting stories and are too shameless to give credit where it’s due.

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