Our Policy For Dealing With Plagiarism

Swarajya Policy for dealing with plagiarism

We define “plagiarism” as taking someone else’s work and intentionally presenting it as if it is your own. This is theft. At Swarajya, it’s an unforgivable offence.

  1. If we detect, before publication, that material in an article has been taken from published material, we send the article back to the writer, pointing this out. But following that, we follow different procedures depending on whether the writer is a staffer/ contracted writer/ columnist, or whether he/she is a one-off/ once-in-a-while contributor with whom we have more than an arm’s length relationship.
    (1A) The writer is a staffer/ contracted writer/ columnist: We do a plagiarism check on a random but statistically significant sample of his/ her articles. If the result is negative (that is, clean), we tell him/ her that we detected this in this article of yours, this is not acceptable, and ask for an explanation. If the explanation is not satisfactory enough to Swarajya Editorial Advisory Board (EAB), a stern warning is issued. If the result is positive (that is, we find a history of such acts), we point this out and ask for a defence argument. Then Swarajya Board deliberates and decides: what action need to be taken, based on EAB’s advise. This can range from re-writing the piece with attributions, docking one month’s salary to a quick goodbye. (Decisions of Swarajya Board are final)
    (1B) The writer is a one-off/ once-in-a-while contributor: Blacklist that person after informing him/ her. We don’t waste our time checking past pieces. We don’t assume guilt. Therefore, depending on the extent of the plagiarism (eg couple of quotes/sentences versus an entire paragraph/article), Swarajya Board will take action that will certainly include being blacklisted, again based on EAB’s recommendations. If it is a matter of a couple of quotes, a re-write could be asked for. In any case, Decisions of Swarajya Board are final
  2. If the article is published by Swarajya, and then if plagiarism is suspected or alleged either by the Swarajya team or by an external person who makes a plagiarism accusation:
    (2A) First, we take a call on whether the accusation is worth spending time over. For instance, an accusation that “Aurangzeb passed away in 1707” is an unattributed lift from Wikipedia is something we don’t need to bother about. In such cases, we issue a statement saying that we have looked into the matter and it’s fine. If it is not frivolous, we immediately issue a public statement on social media and on our website that we are taking this very seriously, we are taking down the piece, and will investigate and let the public know. In 99% of the cases, we will be able to find out in five minutes if the accusation is worth investigating.
    (2B) If the accusation carries some weight, and the writer is a staffer/ contracted writer/ columnist: We take down the article, issue the statement, and proceed with an inquiry, as in 1a. If he/ she is found guilty, as in 1a, Swarajya Board decides what action needs to be taken, based on EAB’s recommendations. Swarajya shall keep key stakeholders posted in the action taken. We will issue a statement saying that we have done a through investigation and taken the necessary actions.
    If we find that the writer is not guilty (Please refer to What we must keep in mind below Point 2c), we issue a statement and reinstate the piece and life goes on as usual.
    (2C) If the accusation carries some weight, and the writer is a one-off/ once-in-a-while contributor: We take down the article, issue the statement, and check. If he/ she is found guilty, blacklist that person, and let him/ her know it. We issue a statement saying that we have done a thorough investigation and taken the necessary actions. If we find that the writer is not guilty (Please refer to Point 3 below), we issue a statement and reinstate the piece and life goes on as usual.

What we must keep in mind

We must note that “plagiarism”, quite like “libel”, is a very nuanced issue. “Intentionally” is the key word, and “intent’ is difficult to establish (or, for the accused, difficult to disprove). As a growing organisation, at this point of time, we know one another at—whatever little—personal level, decisions can be taken based on personal judgement.

However, we recognise that as we grow bigger we will need a set of ironclad guidelines for the writers we publish.

The attribution/ plagiarism policy we have cited above needs to be read in the light of what comes next here: the Guidelines for Swarajya writers.


Firstly, Attribution for this document: While formulating these guidelines, we have relied to a great extent on the lecture material used by American journalism teacher Steve Buttry for a series of journalistic ethics seminars he conducted for the American Press Institute; and from the ethics guidelines of NPR (National Public Radio). Much of the language from these sources has been kept unchanged. However, whenever necessary, we have adapted, deleted, added material to suit the Indian scenario, and Swarajya’s ethos.

Attribution is the difference between research and plagiarism.

Please note that attribution gives stories credibility and perspective. It tells readers how we know what we know. Effective use of attribution is a matter both of journalism ethics and of strong writing.

When should we attribute? Attribute any time that attribution strengthens the credibility of a story. Attribute any time you are using someone else’s words. Attribute when you are reporting information gathered by other journalists. Attribute when you are not certain of facts. Attribute statements of opinion. When you wonder whether you should attribute, attribute.

When shouldn’t we attribute? You don’t need to attribute every fact in a story. Don’t attribute facts that you observed first-hand: It was a sunny day. Don’t worry about attributing facts where the source is obvious and not particularly important and the fact is not in dispute: that Sachin Tendulkar’s Test average is 53.78. If multiple sources tell you something and it is not in dispute, you can state it as a fact. However, if you are using a source’s choice of words to state an undisputed fact, you should credit that source (“Tendulkar has a Test average of 53.78, which is puny compared to Bradman’s 99.94, but the conditions were different, the game was different, the rules were different.”).

For articles written for the web, don’t just attribute; link. Linking is an essential part of attribution in online journalism. Linking lets people see the full context of the information you are citing. Even when readers don’t click links, the fact that you are linking tells them that you are backing up what you have written.

Some information is in the public domain. If you’re writing a story about yoga, you don’t need attribution for the fact that Baba Ramdev has a huge following as a yoga guru. You don’t need to attribute commonly known and established facts about the Commonwealth Games scam today, but if you were writing about it just after a newspaper broke the story in 2010, you needed to cite that newspaper.

Attributing to unnamed sources. When you grant confidentiality to a source, describe this person as clearly as you can without identifying him/ her. Misleading attribution is not an acceptable way to refer to an unnamed source (for example, when your source is a former UPA minister, and you describe him as a “political insider”).

Get the attribution right. You must note the full connections of your sources. Quoting Chandan Mitra and referring to him as the editor of The Pioneer is not enough. You must also mention that he is a BJP Rajya Sabha MP, so he may not be a neutral observer on many issues.

Recycled quotes. If you didn’t hear the person say something, you should probably attribute the quote not only to the speaker but to the medium that reported it. Oblique references to competitors as “reporters” or “news media” or “a blogger” aren’t adequate attribution. If you got your quote from a televised interview or another newspaper or a blog, cite the outlet. However, if a politician is making a televised speech or holding a televised news conference, that is not the same as an exclusive interview. That speech is public domain and you can use a quote without attribution to another medium.

Attributing ideas. Do not copy ideas from already published material. However, if you see a good story in another newspaper and do wholly original research to do a story that is similar in content but different in writing approach, you don’t need to attribute the story idea. For example, you read a story about the superb CGI (computer generated imagery) in Baahubali, and do an interview with the person who was in charge of CGI for the film, there is no reason to attribute. If you read an opinion piece and borrow the basic idea/ conclusion and take it far forward, much beyond what the original columnist said, you may choose not to attribute. But, whenever in doubt, attribute. At the very least, consult your editor.

Attributing news agencies. Do not repeat PTI or Reuters stories word-for-word, or nearly so. Please say, “According to a Reuters report”. However, if the news agency story is about a public event —a press conference, a speech by a public official in a public setting, an official statement of a government agency, etc, you do not need to attribute.

Attributing Wikipedia. Every journalist/ commentator in the world uses/ has used Wikipedia as the first port of call, if only because when you do a Google search for anything, from “rasgulla” to “Socrates”, the first result that pops up is a Wiki. If it is pure information—“Vinod Mehta was editorial chairman of the Outlook Group”, you can use that line, though do check first that the information is correct. But if it is “Mehta became one of India’s most influential editors by launching a number of successful publications such as the Sunday Observer in 1981, The Indian Post in 1987, The Independent in 1989, The Pioneer (Delhi edition) in 1990 and, finally, Outlook in 1995”, attribute. The moment a comment, usually an adjective or an adverb—“most influential”—appears, attribute. But do not attribute Wikipedia—“according to Wikipedia” is a joke, from academia to media all over the world. Check the source, if any is cited. If no source is cited, just avoid. Do your own reporting. If the source is saying what Wikipedia has carried, cite the source.

In this particular case of “Vinod Mehta most influential”, the source cited is an article in The Hindu, but that article nowhere says that Vinod was “one of the most influential editors”! This is an “inference” or “opinion” of whoever wrote that Wiki. If you want to quote from the Hindu article, do so, but quote what that article has said, precisely. Do not rely on Wikipedia.

Do not quote excessively from one source. Do not quote or paraphrase another organization’s material so much that you effectively make reading, watching or listening to their reports unnecessary. Excessive quotation is effectively plagiarism.