By Anna Ferrari, Samia Fitouri, Julie Mahlerová, Niels Timmermans, Patricija Elžbieta Zarankaitė
Is giving gifts to journalists a form of corruption? Should a journalist accept some signs of appreciation or simply refuse?
We asked this question to a group of young journalists on a special occasion. "Let's go public!" was a project that gathered young media makers in Vilnius, Lithuania, from 3 to 7 July 2017. This training was the third activity of the project "Detecting, Deterring and Reporting Corruption", implemented by the European Youth Press with the financial support of the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.
In this video, young journalists from France, Italy, Lithuania, Ukraine and Hungary shared their opinions and experience. Drawing the line between an innocent gift and a gift with an agenda might not be as easy as it sounds, especially when considering different cultural contexts. Watch the video to know what they answered.
Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, in a definition by Transparency International. However, in specific cases, it can be tricky to classify something as corruption. A common situation relates to gifts. A gift in some cultures is a sign of politeness or appreciation, a way to strengthen a relationship. In other contexts, gifts might be less expected and accepted. The same goes in the field of journalism, where the subtle and unclear lines of gift giving and gift receiving remain a challenge. Some factors to identify corruption in journalism are cultural customs and traditions, transparency, a media outlet's ethical guidelines, limits in the gifts' value, pr and advertising limits.
"I don't think that a journalist should accept gifts. I think that a journalist has to be neutral." Veronica, Italy
Social psychologists nowadays state that in our societies corruption can be perceived either as an exception or as a norm and this process involves decisions at psychological level. They call them 'social norms of corruption', which involve two variables: the 'acceptability' and the 'frequency'. They do not always go in the same directions. For example, some types of corruption are not accepted by the society and yet they happen very often.
"Most interviewees come with small calendars, stickers or whatever, I don't take them as a gift". PATRICIA, LITHUANIA
The problem lies then in the journalists' independence and integrity. If they accept a gift, would they compromise their independence in front of the readers? As any issue that involves ethics, there is an open debate and answers vary. Some Journalists' Unions sometimes provide indications, but they can still be vague. Some media outlets have ethical guidelines available online, such as The Guardian's Editorial Code, but some grey areas still remain, such as in bribery cases, where they anyway suggest a consultation of the staff with the managing editor. Another strong ethical question is whether is acceptable for journalists to pay their sources. Answers vary according to different situations, as it turned out also in our video.
"I don't understand why I have to give a gift to an interviewee". Safouane, France
" I would pay a source in special cases such as revealing a big corruption incident ". Anton, Ukraine
There are some differences also if the gift offered and accepted is material or not material. PR is becoming very creative and it might happen that journalists are offered, by some Internet or social media giant, a free workshop to gain new skills about one of their latest tools. Is this corruption? Would they accept or should they refuse?
Faced with this question, each interviewee seemed to agree on the assumption that, even when accepted, a gift such as a free workshop should not come with an expectation or a burden of reciprocity.