My recent column in Gulf News discusses the issue of bribing journalists for coverage in the UAE and Arab world.
PR professionals will offer cash or gifts in exchange for favorable articles or broadcast reports. I’ve also heard that advertising salespeople will sell editorial coverage as part of a package to clients — a clear violation of independence for newsrooms. Most observers say these practices are rampant in the region.
Here’s the last bit of my column:
In order for codes of ethics to work, organisations need to enforce them. Last month, a US newspaper fired its photographer because he electronically altered a picture to make it look better. His actions violated the US journalistic code of ethics that states clearly that journalists should “never distort the content of news photos”.
By punishing those violating rules of ethics, organisations help create a culture that respects high standards of behaviour.
I’ve never seen a report of a journalist in the UAE being fired for an ethical violation. (A representative from a local daily at the event said that the newspaper had indeed quietly fired two business reporters for ethical violations. I remarked that such actions should probably be more public).
MEPRA has publicly reprimanded one of its members for an ethics lapse — an important step towards helping to create a culture that respects proper professional standards.
The second solution is to promote personal integrity. The concept of integrity is universal — my Emirati ethics students tell me the Arabic word is nazahah. In any culture, the word means doing the right thing regardless of others or even if acting in such a manner carries a personal cost.
Personal integrity is important because research shows that group norms can be a powerful influencer of behaviour. Often-times, people ‘go along’ with unethical behaviour because they see others doing the same. But if one person stands up and objects, then others may find the courage to voice their own concerns.
Perhaps the culture would change if more practitioners — both in public relations and journalism — would simply voice their uneasiness with the status quo.
Attempting to change an ingrained culture may appear to be too daunting a task to tackle.
However, with enforcement of ethics codes and a commitment to personal integrity, the journalism and public relations professions in the UAE can work together to raise their level of professional standards.
Every solution starts with an admission that there’s a problem.