Gifts to Journalists: Media Representatives in Armenia have Different Positions on the Issue

09.12.2011, Newsroom

According to the journalism's code of ethics, journalists have to avoid possible conflicts of interest, refusing gifts and money from any supplier of information. 

The code of ethics for media in the US oblige journalists to courteously refuse gifts from suppliers of information — except for gifts of negligible value, such as books, CDs, videos, pens and so on, and not to accept gifts of higher value such as a bottle of liqueur or wine.

When not accepting a gift might be viewed as improper, accept it and give it away to charity — later letting the gift-giver know about the news agency's policy.

Media agencies in Armenia, however, don't have a united position on journalism ethics. 

Hetq editor Edik Baghdasaryan says they refuse all gifts and do not attend any parties thrown by a political party, office or company.

"This is so widespread that many don't know that it violates ethics. No one tells them. The editor has to make that decision," he says.

Director of News and Political Broadcasts at Yerkir Media TV Gegham Manukyan finds that accepting gifts doesn't make their reporters incapable of providing objective coverage.

"If I see in a piece that that gift will have an effect on the piece, I will tell the reporter to change the piece, but our TV viewers will see that there's no such thing," he says. 

Freedom of Information Center of Armenia President Shushan Doydoyan finds that it's not possible to remain impartial after accepting a gift — the factor of the gift influences not only the journalist, but also the entire news agency's policy. 

"From the viewpoint of journalism ethics, accepting any sort of gift or service is inexcusable and unacceptable. Ethics cannot accept any justification or pardon for a news agency that takes that step," she says.

The president of the Freedom of Information Center finds that each news agency has to decide for itself that it is a news agency that operates ethically and has a code of conduct, and every journalist who goes to work there must sign and follow that code. If she breaks that code, the journalist has to say goodbye to that news agency. 

"Now the situation is going to become exacerbated because two tense elections are coming up in the near future. Those services and favors are going to multiply and whoever and however he can is going to try to influence journalists, through bribes or public events, parties, concerts," she says.

In Shushan Doydoyan's opinion, the act of journalists accepting gifts is also a consequence of low wages. 

"A journalist is paid well to refrain from extraneous influences. But our news agencies pay journalists very little. And the journalist has no other choice than to place her hopes on secondary sources of income and go after gifts," she says. 

In those instances when a journalist or news agency cannot not accept the gift, Doydoyan suggests accepting the gift and "paying off the debt" by sending a gift in return.

"Editorial offices or news agencies should never remain in debt, for that debt to be compensated in content," she says. 

In 2007, 44 news agencies adopted and signed the Code of Conduct of Media Representatives, one of the principles for preserving editorial independence of which is "to refuse payments and gifts promised for publishing or not publishing information that contradict professional independence and result in a loss of trust."

An ethical violation by a signatory of the Code of Conduct is examined by the Media Ethics Observatory comprised of 7 members if there is a complaint. 

After examining the complaint, the observer group provides its conclusion, which the news agency that committed the violation is required to publish or broadcast.  

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