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How Foreign Aid Fuels African Media’s Payola Problem

In many African countries, a dirty secret of journalism is that reporters earn most of their income from payments by their sources. And the dirtiest secret of all is that the international aid community is among the most prolific payers.

NEW YORK – At a recent press conference, a small group of Liberian journalists made a courageous admission: they confessed they were all “on the take.” To supplement salaries as low as $40 a month, the journalists said they often rely on payments from the very people they write about.

The revelation confirmed a dirty secret of African journalism: reporters earn most of their income from payments by their sources. And the dirtiest secret of all is that the international aid community is among the most prolific payers.

Development agencies fork out vast sums to sway African journalists. While outright bribery is rare, insidious payment is rampant. Many schemes – from “transport” refunds that far exceed reporters’ travel costs to exorbitant per diems – come with a tacit understanding that coverage will be positive. Aid groups insist that payments are not inducements; in reality, poorly remunerated journalists cannot easily tell the difference.

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