Gifts, favours and editorial independence
Integrity and earnings on the side
You are invited to make a public speaking appearance at a political event where the organisers want you to explain the role of journalism in covering elections. Your hosts offer you accommodation overnight, and, as you leave for your room, you are handed a small package and an envelope. The envelope contains your fee in cash; the package contains an expensive watch. Also in the envelope is a note asking whether you would mind doing some private coaching for some of the political organisation's leading politicians. They offer you a rate that is five times the daily rate you get from the media organisation you work for. What do you do? Do you:
a) accept the gift (as a payment in cash and kind for your services)
b) hand the gift and the money back and explain that you were mistaken to take the work on in the first place and tell your editor what a fool you have been
c) hand the money and gift back but agree to do the media training in your own time
d) avoid such situations at all cost.
Suggested answer: both b) and d) apply. b) hand the gift and the money back and explain that you were mistaken to take the work on in the first place and tell your editor what a fool you have been and d) avoid such situations at all cost.
Why b) and d) are the right answers
There are two sections of the Integrity for journalists module that deal with this. They are cases where you are offered free material and gifts and cases where there is a conflict of interests.
Free material and gifts
It is extremely dangerous for a journalist to take gifts. They will never be free. There will always be a bill to pay at some future date. The best advice is to say no. A journalist should always pay for their own travel and accommodation costs. There may be some situations where a producer of a lifestyle programme is offered facilities to sample so that they can report on them, in such cases the following rules should apply:
- keep accurate departmental records of what has been accepted
- never guarantee any product or service will be featured
- always inform suppliers that they cannot refer to your news organisation in selling their products
- only give on air, online or in print credits if clearly editorially justified
- never offer suppliers any editorial influence in the programme
- do not give a preview of the item/programme.
Conflicts of interest
There must never be any suggestion that personal, commercial, business, financial or other interests have influenced your news organisation's editorial decisions. Presenters, reporters, producers, editors, researchers and managers are all affected. The higher someone's level of editorial responsibility, the greater the need to avoid any possible conflicts of interest.
Typical conflicts of interest for journalists include:
- writing for another news organisation
- public speaking/public appearances
- media public relations training
- connections to charities and campaigning organisations
- political activities
- hospitality and personal benefits
- financial and business interests.
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide via Media Ideas. He also runs a media mentoring service.
This site has been given permission to use and adapt elements of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines in these short editorial ethics modules. They have been updated to reflect changing international, regional and cultural variations.
Image courtesy of Judson Dunn and released under Creative Commons