Not only do journalists worldwide accept bribes but often reporters and editors are the instigators, extorting either for publishing favourable stories or for not publishing damaging ones, a new report states.
A report 'Cash for Coverage: Bribery of Journalists Around the World' by the Washington DC-based Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) calls it "a single problem with many faces."
In South Africa, a journalist admitted in an affidavit that he and several others had set up a media relations firm that received cash payments for helping an African National Congress official in his struggles with party rivals. In Cambodia, so-called “blocking” newspapers “use blackmail to extort prominent figures or businessmen not to publish stories, especially when illegal logging, smuggling, corruption or extra marital affairs are involved.”
In Ukraine, the problem most commonly expresses itself as concealed advertising–material that has been paid for and provided to the media without being identified as an ad.
The report (PDF, 638 KB) cites the experience of Alexandra Wrage, the founder and president of TRACE International, a non-profit association that helps multinational corporations deal with bribery and corruption around the world. When she wanted publicity for an event in India and asked for a proposal from a respected local media-relations firm, she was given two proposals, and the higher priced one was to “provide enough money to pay off journalists to get the stories we wanted.”
When a press-relations firm blandly assures the head of an anti-bribery organization that she’ll get better publicity by bribing local reporters, the report says it strongly suggests that the profession of journalism has a big problem on its hands. There are innumerable examples of corruption among journalists worldwide that have been cited in the report, authored by Bill Ristow, a former Knight International Journalism Fellow.
So where's the solution? Patrick Butler, whose job as vice president of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) gives him as good an overview of international journalism as almost anyone, says “Everybody knows how serious it is. But because it is so hard to fix, people don’t treat it as seriously as it really is.”
The report contends that journalists organizations have not done much to campaign for transparency in the media. Yet, it backhandedly admits that it is not entirely fair to say that nothing has been done. Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) talks about the federation's Ethical Journalism Initiative launched in 2008 “which has as its focus the need for media to maintain and enhance professional standards including of transparency both of ownership and political affiliation.”
The IFJ believes, White says, “that an urgent global campaign to support journalism as a public good is needed. This campaign must focus on new funding models for traditional media, but must also address ways of sustaining the values of public interest journalism.”
IFJ's document To Tell You the Truth challenges journalists to encourage the use of peer review or accountability mechanisms such as ombudsmen or press councils to give their own work greater transparency and credibility. But the problem of cash for news coverage, and particularly bribe-taking by journalists did not find much space, the CIMA report says.
There is, however, one major flaw with this report ― it extensively quotes public relations professionals, and overlooks investigative journalism totally. It does not take the version of journalists in a report which lays a lot of emphasis on balanced reporting and transparency.