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British Columnist Challenges Definition of Plagiarism

Posted by Jessica Gopalakrishnan on Jul 6, 2011 12:22:00 PM

guilty of plagiarism or notJohann Hari has certainly set off a media frenzy the past two weeks challenging the definition of plagiarism. Last week it was discovered that Hari, columnist for the British newspaper the Independent and winner of the Orwell Prize, has a habit of taking statements or quotes from other reporters' interviews and inserting them into his own interview article as if the person had said it to him instead of the original reporter. Of course, without credit to the original reporter.

In one of the breaking stories by the Washington Post Hari denied and was “bemused” by accusations of the term ‘plagiarism’. Hari wrote: “Plagiarism is presenting somebody else's intellectual work as your own – whereas I have always accurately attributed the ideas of (say) Gideon Levy to Gideon Levy."

The Telegraph pointed out that what Hari has done is a common practice among British journalists: “In America, if a journalist lifts a quote from elsewhere, the custom is to provide a source ... but in Britain there’s no hard and fast rule.” People on Twitter did not accept this as a reason to excuse his behavior (see the explosion of Twitter tweets under the hashtag  #interviewbyhari, mocking Hari’s journalism practices).

As more of Hari’s work was reviewed and more evidence was exposed of his practices being used in hundreds of interviews, Hari continued to deny that he’s committed any act of plagiarism or ‘churnalism’, however, he did say that he would refrain from doing it again, which seems to have satisfied the Independent.

A few interesting points came out of this case. The different ways that journalism is practiced and what is acceptable between cultures and countries. And a new way of looking at plagiarism, and whether Hari’s journalism practices truly fall under the definition of plagiarism.

As the Guardian points out, “plagiarism is passing someone else's words off as your own; Hari was passing off the words of another person as their own.” He was, however, using someone else’s work as his own. Perhaps this a case that is better defined as a moral or ethical breach, and extends more into the area of copyright infringement rather than plagiarism.

What’s your opinion?


Flock, Elizabeth. “Johann Hari denies he plagiarized, sparking #interviewbyhari mockery campaign.” The WashingtonPost. June 28, 2011.

Young, Toby. “Busted! Johann Hari is guilty of shoddy journalism.” The Telegraph. June 28, 2011.

Lawson, Mark. “Speech is a messy business, as Johann Hari, um, knows.” July 2, 2011.