When journalists accept money [Archives:2008/1128/Reportage]

February 11 2008

Amira Al-Sharif
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Some journalists in Yemen are demanding to be paid for their expenses in return for attending and covering press conferences.

Press agents often offer journalists money to draw them to their events, with the underlying expectation of gaining more media coverage. This money usually is offered under the auspices of reimbursing the journalist's transportation costs, as such expenses rarely are covered by the journalist's employer.

In order to serve society, journalism and reporting must remain neutral. When journalists accept money, gifts, trips or favors, it compromises their ability to be neutral. It also damages media credibility in general.

Although this problem is widespread in Yemeni media, there are some journalists who won't accept such money because they feel it demeans and influences their work.

“Not all journalists practice such bad habits, just those who experience difficulty with the deteriorating economy, which obliges them to accept such money,” says Hefez Al-Bukari, a member of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate.

The practice of accepting money for additional costs incurred during reporting began in Yemen in 1980 and is rumored to have begun with the Egyptians, who introduced journalism to Yemen in the 1970s and '80s.

“Yemen is the only country that has this habit, which is due to its difficult and deteriorating economy and the need for money to do their job,” Al-Bukari says, “so [journalists] justify receiving this money as payment for their transportation.”

However, Yemen is not the only country that experiences this problem, as it exists worldwide in nearly every media organization. But the reasons Yemeni journalists accept money from press agents does differ from other countries' media organizations.

“[Yemeni] organizations don't provide sufficient facilities to cover their expenses,” Al-Bukari points out, “The setup of mass media in general also is partially responsible for the problem because many media outlets don't pay their employees enough to live on.”

However, Al-Bukari emphasized that, in the end, the responsibility does lie with the journalist and that he or she should not accept money.

Ghamdan Al-Yosifi, editor-in-chief of Al-Ray newspaper, agrees that even though journalists suffer financially, they shouldn't accept money.

Al-Bukari believes that in order to circumvent this habit, journalists in Yemen need to pressure their organizations to pay their expenses and also develop better company-wide journalism ethics standards.

He notes that syndicate members have suggested issuing an “Honesty Convention” for journalists to follow in cases like these. The convention would outline proper journalism ethics for all Yemeni media, both print and electronic.

Two Yemeni newspapers, Al-Nedaa and Al-Sahwa, already abide by their own ethics codes, but most Yemeni newspapers have no clear rules for ethical conduct.

“The Honesty Convention should include a punishment for those who violate it,” Al-Bukari adds, noting that the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate will discuss the issue of money-for-coverage at its General Summit meeting in June.

Others like Dalyia Ana'am, former executive manager of the Media Women Forum, view the situation from a humanitarian standpoint.

“Journalists suffer due to low salaries in a deteriorating economy, whereas donors are able to budget for their media conferences,” points out Ana'am, who feels this isn't an overwhelming problem. She says she is embarrassed for those journalists who request payouts, particularly when conference organizers haven't budgeted for it.

“I know many journalists don't attend press conferences because they can't afford transportation. How can media outlets ask their journalists to cover such events when their pockets are empty?” Ana'am asked.

However, Yemeni Journalists Syndicate board member Hamdi Al-Bokary, states, “This habit is completely wrong on both sides – both the giver for paying it and the receiver for violating journalistic ethics.”

He continues, “Journalists should receive transportation funds from their employers, which will limit this habit. Journalistic ethics aren't the duty of just the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, but of every mass media institution, which should issue its own journalistic rules.”

Further, the board member mentioned what some editors already know: that issuing a code of ethics, making it readily available and strongly enforcing it is crucial to running a respectable media outlet.

However, Sa'eed Thabit, head secretary of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, points out, “The syndicate has 1,200 journalists, but we haven't received any formal statement [about this problem].”

Thabit says the syndicate will investigate any reported incidents of malfeasance and if a journalist is guilty of breaching ethics, the syndicate will recommend that person be dismissed from his or her job.

“Most of those [journalists] doing this aren't syndicate members,” notes Al-Yosifi, who further proposes the syndicate hold a formal conference to condemn this habit.

He believes the problem also might be solved by a simple message on a publication's masthead: “The biggest favor you can do for our newspaper is to offer our editors information, not money.”