5 اردیبهشت 1391

Reporters are banned from receiving gifts

Gift that made headlines

24 April 2012

Sara Mohseni

Translated by: Rose Arjmand

Khabarnegaran.info-According to various professional regulations in the world, journalists are banned from receiving any gifts from governments. By the March 2012 – end of the Iranian calendar – the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinjad’s gift to reporter made the headlines.

This loud and noisy story started on 8 August 2011, which is Reporters Day in Iran. The Iranian president Ahmadinejad invited reporters to a building that was previous venue of the parliament. He hosted a meeting to mark the Reporters Day.

Many of the attendees said the boring ceremony ended with the president promising gifts to them. Those, who were present at the ceremony, received a 2GB USB flash drive and an audio Quran.

However, the main promised gift was something else. Ahmadinejad promised $260 to single reporters and $350 to married reporters. The 7 month delay in the pay of the gift made the headline even in the state-run media.

The media announced the new promised date and made all reporters for a gift that is basically against all professional rules and morals across the globe. Independent reporters are strongly urged to not accept such gifts and distance themselves from power and governments.

All reporters were told to register at a website titled Saman. The first announcement revealed 6,000 reporters registered at the gift-website. However, as time passed the number of registered reporters increased to 8,000 and it even reached 13,000.

However, the real drama happened when only 3 days before the Iranian News Year was set as the last chance for reporters to receive their gifts. The announcement read: “reporters must go to the presidential office and can receive their gift after they show their original ID cards, press card, and national identity certificate and they must also provide a copy of all of those documents.”

Reporters lined up to receive gift cards worth $260 or $350. Some even received cards that did not worth a cent.

None of the media in the country wrote about the ethics of journalism. They all mentioned the gift cards that did not have credit. Some even provided more details about the stores that accepted the credited gift cards.

Mehr News Agency, affiliated to conservatives in Iran, wrote a report on this issue: “since early morning, many reporters showed up at the executive department of the presidential office faced an interesting scene.”

The report of Mehr News Agency added: “as the number of reporters in the ground floor of the building was increasing every moment, the staff of the executive department of the presidential office arrived to their office and none of them was aware of their new task of paying such money to reporters. After half an hour the staff led the reporters to the spacious prayers room instead of the lobby of the building. No one gave an explanation what the reason was for waving away the reporters.”

Photojournalists were banned from capturing the moments of the chaos in their photos and no photos describing the problem were published online or on papers. After so much of drama, the gift was paid. However, the story did not end here. Some of the reporters went to banks to have a refund on their cards and left the buildings of banks with disappointment. The cards had zero credit. Some, on the other hand, withdrew full credit to complete the last sequence of the dramatic play.

Heads of “Muslim Journalists Association” – an association that has good ties with government – objected the whole scenario. However, bear in mind, they did not object the nature of the gift given to journalists, they objected the payment conditions and how it was distributed among the journalist.

They mentioned that journalist were humiliated in this condition. The heads of the association released a statement and repeatedly objected the humiliating condition but did not question the body in charge of creating such humiliation in the first place. They did not ask themselves if such a situation is common in other countries or if journalists and their media responsible for such a situation.

They highlighted the humiliation as they were so occupied with the side-line that they could not be bothered correcting the text. They deleted the problem instead of solving it.

They justified the long queues saying: “the long queues at the presidential office are definitely related to the financial problems. It is not an honour to keep many people waiting; on the other hand, it is such a shame and a symbol of failure. It should not have taken the presidential office about 7 months – at the 21st century and at the age of telecommunication – to sort out such small payments in an old fashion way.

At the time of writing the statement, have they even thought about the money and how insufficient it was for reporters’ financial problems? Have they thought that a syndicate could help the reporters’ problems more reasonably than a gift card? Have they thought the presidential office found reporters low brows that are willing to stand in long queues for a small amount of money?

Of course, this association does not ask the government to apologize to the reporters. The association is not aware that they are extending the extent of such a sarcastic situation.

What do professional regulations say?

Across the world journalists are banned from accepting gifts from governments and they encouraged to refuse lunch invitations. However, such simple matters become big troubling issues in Iran.

Students of journalism are taught such basic ethics such as not accepting gifts. The students are told if they accept such gifts or invitations from a special group or an organization, they are basically doing a marketing project and publishing an advertisement for that organization instead of publishing a report about an event.

Various media have various policies to avoid such controversies. An American newspaper, for example, insists that: “reporters are not allowed to accept gifts more expensive than $25. If so, they must inform their editor in chief to either return the gift or send it to a charity institute.”

However, Iranian media are going through tough times with losing their professional journalists being side-lined and professional newspapers being closed down. This is one of the reasons why Iranian media treated disgracefully.

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