My case against al-Araby al-Jadeed’s plagiarism of my work on Hezbollah deaths in Syria

On 12 April 2014, the London based newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed (العربي الجديد) published an article, for their reporter Thaer Ghandour (ثائر غندور), on Hezbollah deaths in Syria. Their article is a plagiarism of my work on the funerals of Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria, that i published on my blog on 31 March 2014, and was republished by al-Akhbar English on the same day.

On 13 April, and after i raised the issue of plagiarism, Mr. Ghandour denied this fact, he even denied his knowledge of my work. On the same day al-Araby al-Jadeed contacted me and asked for more details on this issue, and for my email address. I provided them with all what they ask.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed never get back to me, and never replied to any of my questions. On 15 April 2014, al-Araby al-Jadeed amended their article to say that my work is a main source for their research.

By doing so, al-Araby al-Jadeed became accomplice in the plagiarism of their reporter. Not to mention that they are setting a precedent on how to deal with plagiarism: to lie and to mislead their public in clear attempt to cover the plagiarism issue.

What follows is my case, backed with evidence, against al-Araby al-Jadeed and Thaer Ghandour’s plagiarism of my work.

First i will write on my work, then on the plagiarism, then on the cover-up attempt, then on the cost of plagiarism, and finally on ethical journalism and responsibilities.

My Work

The death toll of Hezbollah fighters in Syria is a very debatable issue. The Party of God never provides any information on this subject, and its opponents claim that Hezbollah lost more than 1,000 fighters in Syria. Only, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) provides figures periodically, but without supporting them with any list of names or other details (its count on 13 March 2014 was 332, and on 1 April 2014 it was 364)

I tried to address this issue by tracking what is visible: the funerals.

I spent around two weeks, working ten to twelve hours per day, collecting information from various Hezbollah official sources and pro-Hezbollah websites. I started with a list of more than 600 name, and after verification and cross-referencing i ended up with a documented 322 deaths and 313 funerals, as of 29 March 2014. The end result of my research was an infographic and a text, that i published on my blog on 31 March 2014. To back my work with references, i made my data publicly available. Note that my work is listed under under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 licence.

On the same day i published my research, the English website of the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar contacted me, and get my permission to republish my work (although they didn’t need to get my permission to republish it, they just have to give the appropriate credit and to provide a link.)

Couple of days later, Thaer Ghandour, a reporter for the london based al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper, and a former reporter for al-Akhbar, downloaded my data, and presented it to his editor as his own work.[1]

The Plagiarism

Thaer Ghandour reworked my text and my data visualizations. While I was following the funerals, he counted the dead. Mr. Ghandour reached the number of 325 killed fighter, while in my research there is 322 deaths (Note that SOHR figures on 1 April were 364 deaths.) While I broke the number of funerals per week, he sorted the number of deaths by month. And while I showed the number of funerals per locality, he gave numbers of deaths per Caza (province.) As for his remodeling of the text, for example, he rewrote the last sentence in my article, and made it the first in his. But mainly, and what is also the most revealing, he wrote:

Al-Araby al-Jadeed conducted a research, in the various websites that are directly or indirectly linked to Hezbollah, on the names of dead that are mourned on daily basis, since the participation of Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria.

While I wrote:

The official Hezbollah news agencies and sites are the primary source of this research. However, they do not cover all funerals, and their information are not categorized, thus making it hard to find all the required data. To complement this research, I looked also into Pro-Hezbollah websites, and cross-referenced the information.

And it is the theft and appropriation of my data that what i will focus on.

There are two evidence that clearly unmask Mr. Ghandour plagiarism of my data, and which i addressed in two previous Facebook posts:

The first evidence (posted on Facebook on 14 April 2014):

Mr.Ghandour wrote that 35 killed Hezbollah fighters are from Baabda Caza. In my article, there is 36 Hezbollah fighters buried in Baabda Caza (29 in Ghobeiri – to be more precise in Rawdat al-Shahidayn graveyard – 1 in Haret Hreik, 2 in Burj Brajneh, 4 in Ouzai.)

However, most fighters who were buried in Ghobeiri (i.e. in Rawdat al-Shahidayn, which is Hezbollah communal graveyard) are not from Ghobeiri. In fact, only 4 of them are from Baabda Caza.

If indeed Mr. Ghandour did his own research, he should know that the number of killed Hezbollah fighters from Baabda Caza should not exceed 15, and not as he claims 35 which is closer to my number of funerals 36.

Plagiarism_TableGh

Table showing the place of origin of the 29 Hezbollah fighters buried in Ghobeiri (according to my data)

The second evidence (posted on Facebook on 15 April 2014):

As i mentioned earlier, Mr. Ghandour showed the number of deaths per month, while I showed the number of funerals per week. I broke down my data on monthly basis. And to no surprise, the deaths/month of Thaer Ghandour, matched exactly the funerals/month of my article, except for the last three months.

However, and as I wrote in my article, there’s a difference between the time of death and of funeral. For example, 3 fighters (Husein Diab, Zein al-Abidine Moustafa, Ali Nassif) were killed on 30/9/2012 (i.e September) and they were buried on 1/10/2012 (i.e. October.) Moreover, some funerals take place months after the death, pending the retrieval of the body. This is the case of Hamza Ghamloush killed on 7/4/2013 and buried on 29/5/2013, or of Husein Habib, killed on 14/4/2013, declared dead on 25/4/2013, and buried on 1/1/2014.

I revisited my data and added the date of death, plus links for the first eleven months, in a new document, they are highlighted in yellow. And the result is different than the identical numbers of my work and of Mr. Ghandour’s article. (Please see the graph below.)

Please note that I had to make gaps in al-Araby al-Jadeed graph to show the months they omitted. Apparently they considered that if a month lacks causalities, the month can cease to exist and there is no need to show it on the graph!

Thaer_Ghandour_Plagiarism_2

Comparison between al-Araby al-Jadeed deaths/month and my work’s funerals/month and deaths/month. Sources: on/off … but mostly off; al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Mr. Ghandour copied and used my data in a sloppy way. If indeed he did his own research, his number of deaths per month should be closer to the yellow numbers in the graph, and not an exact match to the number of funerals per month. Not to mention, that we are dealing with a highly debatable figures, and with no official source on these numbers.

*        *        *

During the day of 12 April 2014, a friend notified me of the plagiarism. Later at night, i raised this issue on both Twitter and Facebook.

The Attempt to Cover-up Plagiarism

On 13 April, Mr. Ghandour’s denied, on Twitter and on Facebook, that he plagiarized my work, and argued that these data exist on several websites and “You just need to collect them.” After 15 April, Mr. Ghandour deleted all these tweets. However, he forgot to delete one tweet and a Facebook post.

(Note that if Mr. Ghandour will delete these embedded tweet and post, I will replace them by their screen captures.)

English translation of Thaer Ghandour Facebook post:

A new fashion. Monopolizing data found on the internet is something strange. Names of Hezbollah deaths are found on several regional websites close to Hezbollah. It suffice to look for them. If someone did this job, it doesn’t mean that others cannot do it. What was published on al-Araby al-Jadeed was a compilation from these websites, as the article mentioned.

Also on 13 April, al-Araby al-Jadeed contacted me via their Facebook page, and asked me to provide them with further details in a private message, which i gladly did.

Araby_Jadeed_asking_for_details

Al-Araby al-Jadeed’s comment on my Facebook post asking for more details.

All the materials and evidence, that i’m using in this article, were sent to al-Araby al-Jadeed between the 13th and the 15th of April 2014.

On 15 April, al-Araby al-Jadeed also asked for my email address, since: “the management is discussing your issue and we will contact you when they are done.”

email_request

I never received any email from the management concerning their decision, nor did they answer any of my questions, such as when they are planning to take a decision, or to provide me with the name of the contact in their newspaper. They prefered to keep everything abstract, and through their Facebook page.

All that i received from their Facebook page are confirmations that they are forwarding to the management, what i’m supplying them with details and evidence. In the last correspondence they added that the management “will contact [me] directly if there is any need to do so.” It seems that they didn’t find the need to do so.

araby-jadeed-FB-answers

What happened is that al-Araby al-Jadeed, and in the words of one of their senior editors, “solved this issue.”[2] And how did they solve it?

On 14 April, they amended Ghandour’s article to say that my work is the main source for his research!

In fact, Ghandour’s article was amended three times:

The first amendment to Ghandour’s article: It was made late in the night of 14 April, and several hours after i published the First evidence on Facebook. My saved offline copy of this amendment, is dated 00:14 CEST, 15 April 2014. In this amendment, al-Araby al-Jadeed added a sentence to the body of the text, to mention that my work is the main source of their research (the added phrase is in red):

Al-Araby al-Jadeed conducted a research, in the various websites that are directly or indirectly linked to Hezbollah, mainly based on a research conducted by the blog “MOSTLY OFF,” on the names of dead that are mourned on daily basis, since the participation of Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria.

AlArabi_AlJadeed_Original_-and_-first_amendment

After this amendment, i published on Facebook the Second evidence, arguing that my work is not the source of theirs, but rather my work is the research they claimed to conduct. I also pointed that al-Araby al-Jadeed did not add a clarification that their article is now amended. So, they amended it again.

The second amendment to Ghandour’s article: It was made late in the afternoon of 15 April, and also several hours after my Facebook’s Second evidence. My saved offline copy of this amendment, is dated 17:50 CEST, 15 April 2014. In this amendment, al-Araby al-Jadeed added a footnote:

It was omitted by mistake in the first version of the article, to mention that one of the main sources is Hisham Ashkar’s blog “mostly off,” which required this clarification and apology.

The third amendment to Ghandour’s article: It was made on 16 April around noon. My saved offline copy of this amendment, is dated 13:31 CEST, 16 April 2014. In this amendment, al-Araby al-Jadeed added on the data visualisations the name of their graphic designer.

Please find the original version, and the three amendments, attached as .rar files.

Original article published on 12 April 2014

First amendment to the article on 14 April 2014

Second amendment to the article on 15 April 2014

Third amendment to the article on 16 April 2014

(In case there is further amendments in the future, i will add them to this article)

Following the first amendment, Thaer Ghandour posted on his Facebook page this clarification:

I made a mistake by not publishing a primary source for my article on the number of Hezbollah deaths in Syria, and which is the blog “mostly off” to Mr. Hisham Ashkar, and that’s why this source was added to the article. I apologise to the readers and to Mr. Ashkar for this mistake.

I was not tagged in this post, and i only knew of it cause i was monitoring Mr. Ghandour’s activity on Twitter and Facebook.

And this is the cover up attempt made by al-Araby al-Jadeed and their reporter.

I would like to use a metaphor to describe what happened: Someone goes into your apartment and steal your furniture, and then declares in public that this furniture is his, And when you object, he apologizes publicly for forgetting to mention that he borrowed them from you!

There is a difference between stealing and borrowing.

There is a difference between plagiarism and referencing.

Through this cover-up, al-Araby al-Jadeed became accomplice in their reporter plagiarism.

And here i would like to present the conclusive evidence on plagiarism. An evidence that i already sent to al-Araby al-Jadeed on 15 April 2014.

After i first raised the issue of plagiarism, Mr. Ghandour contacted me via Facebook, at 9:03 CEST, on 13 April 2014. (it’s worth to mention that i don’t know Mr. Ghandour personally, and we never had any contact prior to this incident, but we do have 47 Facebook friends in common.)

In the conversation, Mr. Ghandour denied any knowledge of my work, and he even asked for my apology and he tried to intimidate me.

What follows is the entire Facebook conversation with Mr. Ghandour. I added in red the translation of the few Arabic sentences.

FB_chat_with_Thaer_Ghandour_April13

To sum things up:

On 12/4/2014: Mr. Ghandour published his article

On 13/4/2014: Mr. Ghandour declared that he doesn’t know my work

On 14/4/2014: My work became the primary source for Mr. Ghandour research

This shows, and without any doubt, that not referring to my work was not a mistake from their part. It was intentional. Moreover, and as i demonstrated earlier, my work was not a source for their research. My work is their research. Apparently, for al-Araby al-Jadeed, the word research means: the appropriation of other people’s work.

The Cost of Plagiarism

The financial cost of plagiarism

In the financial cost of plagiarism, i’ll only focus on the cost of collecting and verifying the data, and on the potential financial benefits for al-Araby al-Jadeed.

As i already mentioned, it took two weeks, working daily for ten to twelve hours (i.e. in sum around 150 hours of work), in order to collect and cross-reference and verify the data. This work alone amount to at least 2,000 euros. By appropriating my data, al-Araby al-Jadeed stole the work effort i invested in producing it, as well as the cost of my labour. Moreover, al-Araby al-Jadeed can sell this data, now considered as theirs, and that for financial profit.

This plagiarism also contribute to material and immaterial gain to both al-Araby al-Jadeed and its reporter.

It’s needless to say that in journalism, one of the main priorities is to keep on attracting an ever larger audience, and that through new and exclusive materials they published. This can be translated with an increase in paid advertisements, a better reputation to the newspaper and the reporter, etc. And this is more important for a newly launched newspaper such as al-Araby al-Jadeed. (Its first issue was on 30 March 2014. It is still now an online based newspaper. The print version should come very soon.)

Were my article and Mr. Ghandour’s plagiarism widely read?

The article i posted on my blog, and was republished by al-Akhbar English, had a combined pageviews of nearly 10,000. Unfortunately, i don’t have access to al-Araby al-Jadeed statistics. However, a comparison of the shares on social medias can give an idea of the popularity of the article.

The table below shows that Ghandour’s article received more shares than my blog’s and al-Akhbar English’s combined. So it is safe to say that it also attracted a larger audience:

comp_FF_AAE_AJ

Moreover, Mr. Ghandour’s article was widely republished and/or quoted by news media, or websites, or other. Just to mention few: an-Nahar; al-Anbaa; Only Lebanon; al-Rai al-Am; Zaman al-Wasel; al-Masiada; Akhbar lel-Nasher; Nablus TV; al-Bosala; Methaq 48; Daraya News; Souqour al-Arab; etc.

(I would like to thank the Lebanese newspaper an-Nahar for immediately adding a clarification and a link to my blog, after i notified them of the plagiarism)

For sure, i do not pretend that the article Ghandour stole from me, is the most read article in al-Araby al-Jadeed. But, with no doubt, it is the most read article that Ghandour wrote for his newspaper.

I checked all the other articles that Mr. Ghandour wrote for al-Araby al-Jadeed, since it was officially launched on 30 March, and compared the Facebook and Twitter shares. For every article, i assigned a number, and provided a link. The articles are: G01G02G03G04G05G06G07G08G09G10. (Articles and figures are as of 13:36 CEST, 26 April 2014)

comp_TG_in_AJ

As the comparison shows, the most read article written by Mr. Ghandour to al-Araby al-Jadeed, and by far, is the article he plagiarized from me.

The moral cost of plagiarism

There is no doubt that the moral cost of plagiarism is much more important and critical, than the financial cost.

I would like to focus, only, on the grave precedent that al-Araby al-Jadeed is setting.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed, instead of dealing with the plagiarism case in an ethical and transparent way, decided to ignore me and to cover up the plagiarism.

This cover up attempt is worse and more dangerous than the plagiarism, since it encourage journalists to plagiarize, and it provide them with the adequate protection in case this plagiarism is discovered:

Reporters are allowed to plagiarise. And if the author of the original work objected, the issue can be solved by adding some shady reference, and a fake/misleading apology.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed’s cover-up is an attempt to legitimize plagiarism.

Ethical Journalism and Responsibilities

Al-Araby al-Jadeed and their reporter, Thaer Ghandour, plagiarized my work.

In the case of plagiarism, a newspaper publish a clarification and a public apology, and on several instances, a financial compensation is paid.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed, not only it did not do any of these, but it also attempted to cover up the plagiarism.

I hold al-Araby al-Jadeed’s editor-in-chief and their managing editor, respectively Wael Qandil and Amjad Nasser, the direct responsibility for the plagiarism and for the attempt to cover up plagiarism.

According to the Intellectual Property Office in the United Kingdom, Al-Araby al-Jadeed is owned by Fadaat Media Limited, whose address is:

28 Lings Coppice
London
United Kingdom

As owner of al-Araby al-Jadeed, Fadaat Media Limited is responsible for the actions of their newspaper.

On the same time that this document/blog post was published, it was also emailed to Fadaat Media Limited. To be more precise, to their Press Officer, Sumaya Mustafa, at sumaya.mustafa@fadaatmedia.com.

I do consider that both, the plagiarism of my work, and the ensuing cover-up attempt, are serious offence to my rights, and i will not hesitate to use any and all legal means possible to protect my rights.

Finally, we are all responsible, since tolerating plagiarism will encourage more and more people to plagiarize.

 

Hisham Ashkar

(Architect, Urban Planner, and PhD candidate in Urban Planning at HafenCity Universität Hamburg)

Berlin, 28 April 2014

هشام الأشقر

(مهندس معماري، منظم مديني، طالب دكتوراه في التنظيم المديني في جامعة هافن سيتي هامبورغ)

برلين، 28 نيسان 2014

________________

1. I got this information from an inside source in al-Araby al-Jadeed.

2. ibid.

*        *        *

Follow me on Twitter: @hisham_ashkar

Like on/off … but mostly off page on Facebook.

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