At an event sponsored by Malawi’s president Peter Mutharika, journalists were given cash, according to Voice of America.
Journalists perceived the cash as a bribe, although anonymous “government authorities” claimed that the money was reimbursement for gas to get to the event. Some journalists got more than $125, “depending on their status,” the Nyasa Times reported.
“More than 80 media people at a dinner he [Mutharika] hosted last month” were given the money without any explanation. Some journalists returned or donated the loot and others said they didn’t know what to do with it, Voice of America reported.
The cash was given to the journalists in envelopes. The journalists were told the envelopes were documents for reporting.
Raphael Thenthani, who freelances for the BBC, called the cash “the most stupid way to bribe people,” and said he and others donated the cash they received to a journalist’s medical bills.
iMediaEthics asked the BBC what its policies are toward handling gifts or cash payments from sources.
A BBC spokesperson, who confirmed Thenthani is a freelancer, told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “Impartiality is central to the BBC’s news output and therefore we have clear guidelines on the acceptance of gifts or benefits by staff members to avoid any conflict of interest. The BBC’s editorial guidelines are available online.”
Those guidelines state in part:
“Under no circumstances should anyone working for the BBC receive personal benefits from suppliers or accept goods or services as inducements.
“Any acceptance of hospitality from outside bodies or companies must be considered carefully to ensure it does not constitute a conflict of interest or otherwise undermine the BBC’s integrity or impartiality.
“Individuals must not accept personal benefits, or benefits for their family or close personal relations, from organisations or people with whom they might have dealings on the BBC’s behalf. Unacceptable personal benefits include goods, discounts, services, cash, loans, gratuities, or entertainment outside the normal scope of business hospitality.
“Any exception to this must be referred to the relevant head of department, who should normally consult Editorial Policy, to establish whether accepting the offer constitutes a conflict of interest.
“Even where there is no commercial contract and the recipient is not dealing with the outside organisation on behalf of the BBC and has not been paid to advertise or promote the goods or services, the use in BBC programmes of products of free or significantly reduced cost goods without prior approval could risk bringing the BBC and its programmes into serious disrepute.”
The spokesperson told iMediaEthics “the editorial guidelines also apply to freelance contributors.” iMediaEthics has reached out to Thenthani over Twitter for comment.
Malawi online news site The Nyasa Times reported that four editors frm the Times Media Group donated the cash to charity. The four editors, Times TV news head Gracian Tukula, Malawi News editor Innocent Chitosi, Sunday Times editor MacDonald Bamusi, and Times Group managing editor Brian Ligomeka bought things for the orphanage, the Times said.
As evidence, the Times published a photo of the men “presenting the donated items” to the charity’s Bishop. They donated “sugar, salt, soap, notebooks and other writing materials to the orphanage that has close to 300 orphans,” the Times reported.
However, editor Ligomeka indicated they donated the cash to help others because journalists shouldn’t accept money from others.
“We wholeheartedly commend the State President for recognising and appreciating the role which the media play in society, including informing, educating and entertaining our audiences and views, besides playing the crucial watchdog role of being the monitor of those in authority in both public and even private sector,” Ligomeka said.
One of his fellow editors at the Times Media Group, Tukula, told the Voice of America he planned to give the money back but didn’t so he wouldn’t be “creating a scene.” iMediaEthics is writing to the Times Media Group to ask why they didn’t return the money later.
Nation Publications editor George Kasakula “was the only journalist who returned the money to the presidential press officer,” according to the Nyasa Times. Kasakul told Voice of America
“I just felt it was not right for me to receive the money, so I returned it. My understanding is that if someone invites me to a workshop, it’s their duty to ensure that they feed me, they accommodate me and they transport me. But in this case, I didn’t see why I should get that allowance because I didn’t spend anything to go to Sanjika [Palace].”
“Many journalists who received the money have used it without complaining,” according to the Times.
iMediaEthics has written to the Malawi government for comment.