Paid for journalism

“Paid for journalism: Exploring a thorny ethical issue”

Cosmopolitan Hotel, Cairo, Egypt

May 27, 2013

In partnership with GEN (Global Editors Network) and EJN (Ethical Journalism  Network), EMDP (Egypt Media Development Program) organised a seminar “Paid for journalism: Exploring a thorny ethical issue”

The full day roundtable style event discussed ethical journalism and the challenges journalists face in this regard.

“Paid journalism includes the problem of internal corruption of the editorial process, through unethical practices –commercial, advertising and marketing information posing as news reporting; gifts, inducements and bribes paid to journalists and media for editorial coverage; lack of transparency in political and financial arrangements between media and special interest groups, both political and commercial, in society”.

The event was attending by 25 working journalists who worked across print, online, radio and TV platforms. Speakers and member of the organising team brought the total attendance up to 40.

EMDP produced a 10 minute video surveying the general public’s opinions on  media and paid journalism. The video was shot on the streets of Cairo and included  10 VOXPOPs from varied age groups, backgrounds, education and professions.

The Event started with an introduction from Aidan White, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, who  talked about “Paid For Journalism: A Global Ethical Dilemma”. White discussed the issue of journalists accepting gifts and personal benefits from sources and stressed that journalists should make sure their work is not compromised by  their own commercial, business or financial interests. He also announced that the EJN is planning a global survey about paid for journalism, spearheaded by Egypt as  one of 15 countries.

Corruption and Conflict of Interest Stalk the Newsroom

An Egyptian Editors Association

White’s presentation was followed by EMDP CEO Tarek Atia’s speech on “The Need  for an Egyptian Editors Association”. This proposed body would be an independent  association to represent editors and media executives across all platforms of media. Atia discussed the initiative to establish such an association, which began in mid-2011, as well as the obstacles faced and the need to exert effort for the association to become a reality.

Why TV crews pay sources

The first session started with a presentation from Dr. Naila Hamdy, mass communication professor at the American University in Cairo, about “Why TV crews  have grown accustomed to paying their sources.” The core point of Hamdy’s speech  was that some TV crews actually pay their sources for information, which she said could lead to some serious credibility issues. She called for greater transparency in  discussing this issue within and between newsrooms.

Envelopes and The Art of the Unsaid

Dr. Hamdy was followed by Yasser El Zayat, editor in chief of an investigative  reporting program on ONTV, who talked about “Everyday Reporting: Envelopes and The Art of the Unsaid”. El Zayat drew from examples from his life as a reporter and an editor in various Middle Eastern contexts, acknowledging that the problem of  paid for journalism was one that needed to be seriously addressed in order to  improve the quality of journalism in the region.

Crime reporting: Trading Favours with the Police

The second session was also divided between two presentations. The first was given  by Nasry Esmat, a former Al Ahram crime reporter, who discussed the issue of “Crime reporting: Trading Favours with the Police”. Esmat discussed the relationship between journalists and police sources and how sometimes journalists completely depend on police reports, and thus forgo performing a more comprehensive job in investigating and reporting the crime itself.

Local Politics: Favours and Media for Power

Esmat’s speech was followed by a presentation from Fatemah Farag, director of Welad Al Balad Media Services, who spoke about “Local Politics: Favours and Media for Power”. This revolved around the serious and ongoing challenges facing local journalists in a key media domain (local news) that has a legacy of unethical practices.

Outcomes of the event

Overall, the discussions inspired by the seminar introduced – possibly for the first  time in a public meeting – sensitive topics being openly discussed as a key first step towards finding solutions for the ethical issues journalists and editors face on a daily  basis in the course of their work. The seminar also resulted in a follow-up meeting for creating and developing an “Egyptian Editors Association”. The day after the seminar, a meeting was held at EMDP including several attendees and speakers from the seminar. These included  Naila Hamdy (Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the American  University in Cairo (AUC), Hani Shukrallah (former Ahram Online editor), Fatemah Farag (Executive Director of Welad Al Balad Media Services), and Tarek Saied (Desk  Editor at Youm newspaper). The meeting discussed the idea of establishing the “Egyptian Editors Association” and the building of a plan to initiate it. A follow up meeting was also held later to further develop the steps towards establishing the association.