Tabu Butagira, Managing Editor Content at Monitor Publications, says the only way Brown Envelope or transactional journalism can thrive is because of complicity on both sides of the bargain (journalists and PR practitioners).
He was Friday speaking at the first “PR Masterclass” on ‘Media Relations – Case of the Brown Envelope’, organised by PRAU and held at Makerere University College of Engineering, Design, Art & Technology (CEDAT).
“You both foster this decadence,” Tabu noted, citing two cases in which he was bribed by the Office of the Prime Minister and an individual who promised to buy him a house in Muyenga in order to cover up or ignore scandals that shook the country.
“If you are to seek justice, come with your hands clean. I act on evidence. Do not blackmail,” he said while responding to complaints that some journalists from Monitor demand for brown envelopes to do stories.
There are people with competence and skills in this country but are more than willing to do anything that can get them some money,” he pointed out.
Butagira is a 2014/15 Fulbright fellow at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University, USA.
He has worked with BBC, Washington DC Bureau covering the Pentagon, The Times of London, UK’s Guardian newspaper and the Mail&Guardian of South Africa.
The only Ugandan journalist involved in the globally-acclaimed reporting on the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers, Butagira advised PR practitioners to instead build and sustain relationships with media practitioners, from journalists to the editors instead of resorting to bribery.
Blaming both sides for transactional journalism, he said it has since changed from cash to mobile money and inter-banking, romantic encounters, expensive gifts and luxury trips.
He said PR people don’t know roles in the newsroom; they only give money inducements to save their jobs.
“This begins at home. We give kids money in schools to bribe friends. It starts at the family level and infests at work place because an individual’s values don’t start outside the home environment,” Butagira noted.
“You may pay for stories but there is a time you will not have money to pay and you have nowhere to run.”
He said usually the problem comes when one party defaults but if there is an agreement between two parties, “usually you don’t hear these problems”.
He said building relationships with newsrooms is a huge investment and the question of lack of facilitation should be discussed with media owners.
“Journalists should not put their welfare concerns on third parties. Don’t offer bribes. Do small things that matter in human relationships,” he advised.
Puritanism versus decadence
The first speaker of the day, Barbara Among, said journalists have never agreed whether it’s ethical to receive brown envelopes or not.
Among has worked as a journalist for 15 years focusing on conflict in the Great Lakes Region, among others. She is a media trainer and has worked for Uganda Radio Network, Daily Monitor, The East African and New Vision.
Among describes Brown Envelope journalism as a practice whereby monetary inducement is given to journalists to for them to write a positive story or ‘kill’ a negative one.
“How do you as a PR practitioner navigate this? There are journalists who go with a published article to an event organiser and ask for a reward. Some media houses will ask a PR practitioner to provide a journalist with transport or accommodation, especially upcountry,” she noted.
She advised PR practitioners to develop a relationship with a reporter beyond the money so they can give information that is in public’s interest.
Dr Patricia Litho, on the other hand, agrees realities on the ground have changed and refusing transport facilitation can be more theoretical than practical.
“People rationalise it saying it is for economic reasons or the givers say it is a cultural practice to give gifts. Perhaps better remuneration for journalists is a good starting point but not an end in itself. Personal moral standards always a first,” she noted.
“You have to create a relationship with a journalist and the editor. Some media houses only care about the story and not the journalist’s problems.
Dr Litho who worked with the Confidential and UBC Radio, says at the time, media houses only wanted the story no matter how the journalist gets it.
The chairperson of Uganda Media Women’s Association with over 22 years in media, she has worked with UN agencies and has a PhD in ICTs4D on top of teaching at Ugandan and UK universities.
Dr Litho says advertisers are the ones who give the biggest brown envelope and it’s neither just about survival or poor facilitation nor is it just about accepting or rejecting the envelope.
To solve their dilemma, she urged, PR practitioners must know how to write a good story to compete for limited story.
“A good story will always catch the eye of the editor. You should know the angles and dynamics of a good story. How to make the story newsworthy.”
This, she noted, will check the habit of giving brown envelopes to journalists to do positive stories.