17% believe the government resorts to giving financial incentives to win journalists’ support, while 7% said giving information to particular journalists is a means the government uses to obtain their support…In addition, 49% of opinion leaders in the media sector were subjected to soft containment methods, the study showed…Of the polled journalists, 43% said they were personally offered such incentives and privileges, noting that the majority of these offers were from the government, followed by businesspeople, civil society institutions and political parties, the study indicated. [source]
Nothing new or shocking here. Those working in the media sector know this to be “fact”. They also tend to know who’s on the “payroll”.
What I enjoyed most about this survey is the government’s response.
Nabil Sharif, who is Nasser Judeh’s replacement and now speaks on behalf of the government, issued a very predictable reply. Sharif was the former minister of information – a ministry that was shut down several years ago largely due to recommendations that it was the physical manifestation of a free-media roadblock – as well as his most recent gig as the editor-in-chief of Ad Dustour, which while “semi-independent” (compared to Al-Rai) it is still a major daily newspaper that is pretty much government-controlled.
Sharif had this to say:
“I assert that the current government has not extended any privileges or financial incentives to shut journalists up or buy their allegiance. The government believes in positive criticism and is keen on allowing the freedom of expression…I dare anyone to bring proof that this government has followed any of these methods.”
The minister, former chief editor of Ad Dustour daily, also defended journalists.
“Journalists are highly professionalâ€¦ I am a journalist and I have never heard of such claims,” said the minister, stressing that when a former journalist is appointed to a public post, it is done in a transparent manner. [source
The problems evident in these statements are many. It is standard for the government to demand “proof” of any malpractice, a task it knows full well that no one can logically provide. Secondly, the emphasis on “this” government is fairly interesting as it is generally believed that it isn’t the government (in the ministerial sense of the word) that is doing all the paying.
Third, another interesting notation that has been emulated in the past but is more dangerous in the media context, is the appointing of former journalists to public posts and using them as a defense mechanism. In other words, there is the assumption being pushed on the masses that if a former journalist becomes a minister it is somehow equivalent of appointing a member of the opposition party to join the cabinet, lending his words greater credibility.
Lastly, these appointments, be it with this particular position or that of the entire cabinet, are NOT done in a transparent manner. New ministers are handpicked, the government is sworn in and their resumes are posted in the daily newspapers – that’s when everyone else in the country finds out they have a new government governing them.
Anyways, back to the topic.
My opinions above are based on perceptions – perceptions that the public as well as employees of this particular industry believe. At the end of the day, politics is based on perceptions and the Jordanian public is fairly perceptive to the signals the state sends.
If a series of anti-Islamist columns written by big-named columnists from popular tribes suddenly appear in all the “government” papers weeks before an important election, it’s a signal.
The media sector is very reactionary to all these signals. People read these papers with a fine-tooth comb some times, and there is the constant realization that what you read is what you get. In other words, if there are few criticisms of the government or its leadership being published, then it’s a signal. If 70% of the front pages of most dailies is occupied with news about the King or the Queen, then it’s a signal. And these signals are what form public perceptions.
Meanwhile, Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists Director Nidal Mansour says its normal for a government to pay off journalists and therefore blames the journalists for accepting the bribes.
While you ponder the irony of this statement I should note that I personally feel some sympathy for these journalists. Most are not really trained to be journalists, so there is no history, tradition or legacy of professionalism let alone ethics that come with this territory. And in the absence of all that, journalism comes down to writing a bunch of words and getting paid for them, no matter what sentences or statements those words end up forming; be they pro or anti-government. And adding to that the fact that most of them get paid fairly little in an environment that has been deliberetly created to oppose the natural evolution of free speech – impediment-free – then, at the end of the day, these guys might as well accept bribes. I mean, if your job is to write press releases for the state, then the government might as well be paying you for the work.
The government already has a respectable amount of control (by shares) of some of the country’s daily newspapers, so it might as well fully-subsdize the market. Then at least we’d be calling a spade a spade and everyone ends up happier: journalists get paid, the government gets favorable reviews, and the masses continue to care less about all of this.
The Day After Press Freedom: A Call To Action on 7iber