02 July 2008

Journalists Taking Government Money

Here’s a question: if a journalist for another news organization appears on VOA and accepts a token payment for his or her time and trouble, is the journalist’s credibility irreparably damaged because it is ultimately US government money? Is there a risk audiences might believe the journalist’s opinion has been “bought”?

There is a debate under way on this topic right now.

It started after a privately-financed investigative journalism organization called ProPublica reported on the appearance fees paid to some guests by Alhurra, the Arabic-language television service funded by the US government through the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG), the same board that oversees the operations of the Voice of America.

ProPublica published a report stating that Alhurra paid “high-profile Washington journalists” and some former officials and lobbyists “tens of thousands of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money to appear on the network as commentators, according to interviews and a review of company records.”

The ProPublica report quoted Kelly McBride, a specialist on media ethics at the Poynter Institute, a professional journalism center in St. Petersburg, Fla., as saying reporters damage their ability to be objective when they accept government money.

But one journalist who took Alhurra money disagreed.

David Corn of Mother Jones magazine noted the payment of appearance fees is not unusual, whether by commercial media in the US or by foreign media that are state-supported.

He went on to say: “If the Voice of America (or Alhurra) is producing radio and television programs watched and heard (by whatever the number of people) in foreign countries, don't we want it to represent a full range of views? I noted that as long as I was granted complete editorial freedom to say what I thought, I saw nothing wrong in accepting a modest fee for what was in essence freelance work…And I even believe there is something positive about a government-underwritten network using a journalist who has been rather critical of the current administration.”

Letitia King, a spokeswoman for the BBG, had the following statement: “Following common practice among international broadcasters, Alhurra has paid for expert guest appearances since its inception. This ensures that Alhurra has the richest possible pool of high caliber guests to facilitate broader discussions on America and American foreign policy. Like most networks, Alhurra provides transportation by car to and from their broadcast studios. Alhurra follows firmly controlled guidelines concerning fees for expert commentary.”

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I struggle to find a reason why this is even a problem. What am I missing? Who are those who think paying experts is a bad idea?


An expert deserves good payment if he is genuinely an expert and not a pseudo kind. I fear most of so called experts on media are worthless lobbyists.