A newly published report has highlighted the growing vice of brown envelope journalism across the world, showing how the act continues to stain journalism even in the most developed countries.
The report, released by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) examines the key issues surrounding corruption of journalists—including its effect on the credibility of news media.
It also explores the factors that create media environments where journalists are willing to accept cash for news coverage.
The report was compiled by Bill Ristow, renowned journalist and international journalism trainer based in Seattle, Washington. Between 2007 and 2008, he spent months working with journalists in East Africa, including Uganda.
Ristow says that the act of journalists receiving money from news sources is widespread and ever growing. “From the “red envelopes” of China to the “brown envelopes” of Africa; from “extortion journalism” to a “sitting allowance;” from a few dollars for “facilitation” to a few million to put a news outlet on retainer, the phenomenon of cash for news coverage can seem as much a part of the craft as the who-what-when-where-why lead paragraph,” He notes.
The report documents different cases of journalists being paid for stories in many countries, from the developed countries like Russia, China, South Africa and UK to third world countries like Uganda, Ghana and Zambia.
In Uganda, the debate on brown enveloped has been resurrected after journalists openly demanded for money while covering primaries for the ruling NRM party recently. Various critics have come out to condemn the journalists, asking media managers to rein them in.
In Europe, well-paid, highly professional Western reporters accepted transportation, meals, and swank lodging from the European Union to cover its parliament.
“One broadcaster quoted in an International Herald Tribune article–only on condition of anonymity–admitted that “perks such as these had prompted journalists to refuse requests by editors to write stories on members’ privileges and travel expenses at the Parliament, a topic of growing interest in Europe. ‘How can I expose such perks when I myself am benefiting from them?’ the journalist asked.”
The practice, Ristow says is deeply rooted and involves different players like Public Relations firms, media houses, editors, journalists, governments, private companies and Non Governmental Organisations.
Ristow says that according to interviews with various journalists, the vice has been exacerbated by poor pay.
“If low pay is one explanation for incidents of cash for news coverage, perhaps the most obvious explanation is also very simple: Governments, corporations, and private individuals often want to control what is said about them. The easiest way to do that is, effectively, to “own” the journalists,” he says.
He calls upon media managers to stick to “a firm policy of zero tolerance for any form of cash for news coverage–from simple “facilitation” payments to reporters to paid ads masquerading as objective news.”
He also encourages journalists to take the lead in documenting–and publicizing–the pay levels of journalists around the world, to increase pressure on media owners to increase their salaries.
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