When money is involved in journalism

Published: January 11, 2011
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What’s even more disgraceful, I feel, is that many among us actually demand it.

One of the many lessons I’ve learnt in the profession of journalism is that there are always strings attached when a flock of top media personalities are in full attendance when, let’s say, a boring yet important issue like maternal healthcare is discussed at a five-star hotel.

I was recently invited to attend one such ‘interactive’ event organised by a leading NGO in Karachi. It was a lively discussion and I was really impressed that many important people not only flew all the way from Islamabad, but also braved through the five-hour long session.

As the event progressed, those belonging to the media were requested to sign a piece of paper. Thinking it was an attendance sheet, I too signed it. It was then that an envelope was placed in front of me, and much to my consternation, I spotted a crisp Rs5,000 note tucked inside it.

For a minute I thought I was the only one singled out. Giving the NGO the benefit of the doubt, I wondered whether, judging by my rather bored expression, they ‘mistakenly’ thought that it was the only way they could get some coverage out of me in my paper for their event. However, I saw others around me smiling approvingly after accepting the offerings.

Before I left the venue after throwing the envelope back at the NGO people’s face, I wondered how exactly one assesses which journalist gets how much.

Similarly, while covering stories on last year’s floods a group of flood victims queuing up outside the local DCO office in Nawabshah, caught my eye. But at a closer look I saw familiar press cards hanging around their necks, leaving me horrified that some journalists were being bought for Rs500 in exchange for a biased coverage.

Truth is there are many among us who accept bribes and have no qualms about it. Some accept money, while others are obliged with a bottle of wine or whisky — depending on how ‘high-up’ that person is in the hierarchy of the media business.

Many are yet to feel any shame about stocking up on freebies.

While it’s unfortunate that this culture exists in our profession, what’s even more disgraceful, I feel, is that many among us actually demand it. It seems as though these journalists hang a price tag, and not a press card, around their necks. Like good moneychangers, they offer competitive rates in exchange for writing one sided reports.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 11, 2011

In an earlier version of this post it was reported that journalists in Nawabshah were being given Rs5,000. The correct figure was Rs500.

salman.siddiqi

Salman Siddiqui

A Karachi-based investigative reporter for The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.