“A journalism of integrity”: Mwananchi and The Citizen take a stand

Favourable press coverage in return for money? That sounds like corruption to me.

According to an announcement published in Mwananchi newspaper last month, it sounds like corruption to them as well:

“Ours is a journalism of integrity. … Our staff are expressly barred from accepting money or any form of payment or inducement for publication of news, opinion, or feature in any of our platforms. Such content … is published purely on merit.”

How many Tanzanian newspapers can say this? 

How many newsworthy organisations and individuals – politicians, businesses, NGOs, etc. – operating in Tanzania can say they’re not part of the problem as well? (For every transaction there is a giver and a receiver.)

Here’s the full published announcement:

"A journalism of integrity", from Mwananchi, 15/08/2013

“A journalism of integrity”, from Mwananchi, 15/08/2013

It’s a bold statement, and frankly it comes from the only Tanzanian media house where it would not immediately be laughed at. Tido Mhando’s name at the bottom on gives it added credibility. But even from Mwananchi it’s a statement that’s much easier to say than to follow through in practice.

I’m not usually a fan of the argument that to prevent corruption you have to increase people’s salaries. It’s dangerous to suggest that corruption is legitimate if its done by someone who’s not paid enough, since most people would argue that they’re not paid enough.

But in this case, the economics of being a journalist in Tanzania are well established. You get paid a little, if you’re lucky, by the media house that prints your article – maybe $5-10. And you get paid a lot more by the organisers of the event you’re reporting on, who may well also cover your transport costs to get there, etc. – maybe $30-50. Iringa Press Club held a protest last year over the principle when the regional authorities seemed to be breaking with established practice.

Unless the economics change, payment for coverage – which is only the slimmest of margins away from payment for favourable coverage – will continue.

Mwananchi and The Citizen do pay their journalists more than some other Tanzanian papers, though not nearly enough to take their journalists out of the economic reality described above. But at the very least, they deserve credit for taking a public stand on this.

Can the rest of the media follow suit? Will they put their money where their mouth is and pay journalists more? And will those who have (or would like to have) a public profile refrain from what amounts to bribery?

I, for one, will continue to read the papers with a questioning eye. A news article about a company’s new product – who paid for that? A piece praising (or slamming) a leading politician – who wanted that to be written? Front page coverage for an NGO’s new report – do the findings and credibility of the report mean it deserves it’s prominence?

But well done to Mwananchi for a step in the right direction.

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Further reading: An interesting study (pdf) by the Media Council of Tanzania on the related issue of freelance journalism in Tanzania

H/t, Rakesh Rajani