Brown envelop journalism — the darkest face of the noble profession
During inauguration of a cloth shop, journalists clumped together around the shop, drew a clumsy picture of the death of newsworthy instincts gained after learning journalism. Announcer drew the attention of some journalists and requested them to give proper coverage to the inauguration. And then the journalists were seated along ‘chief guest’ and their eyes stuck at the announcer to make the much-awaited offer — probably the local journalists were there for it — to drop the green flag for them (journalists) to be part of sweet taking competition.
Inaccurate, fake news and the role of ‘press cards’
Surprisingly, the scenario drawn above leads many ending in a daze about what news has become in modern media practices. With the hiring of unprofessional correspondents and reporters, mainstream media in Pakistan attempts to reach the areas which are insurmountable. The concept of hiring unprofessional correspondents and untrained reporters hired by local media, mostly in rural and far-flung areas of provinces, has put the accuracy and impartial journalism in question. Interestingly, most of the correspondents and reporters hired by local media, mostly print, are not given salaries, for they are provided ‘press cards’, a ticket to loot and plunder through blackmailing, to make another way around to livelihood.
How BEJ evolved over the years
Inexplicably, with the press cards resting in the hands of unprofessional correspondents and local media reporters, news sense has breathed its last. Thus, the noble profession has turned into a practice which is widely known as ‘brown envelope journalism’ (BEJ) — the darkest face of the profession. BEJ is a monetary dealing between the source and journalist. It is often given to a journalist by the source while seeking favour to either report positive or even kill some news.
Moreover, the origin of the term BEJ is uncertain. Some scholars, however, believe that the term first emerged in West African counties. According to Edmund O Bamiro, a Nigerian professor at Redeemer’s University, ‘brown envelop’ was an euphemism which originated from practice among Ghanaians to enclose bribe money in envelopes. Interestingly, the BEJ practice is reflected in different terms around the world. For instance, in Pakistan, ‘lifafa sahafat’ is the local term used to refer to the practice. Similarly, innumerable local phrases are used to refer to the BEJ around the world. In Nigeria, the local term ‘keske’ is widely used for BEJ. On the other hand, in China, the journalistic corruption is termed as ‘red envelope journalism’ and in Russia it is termed as ‘zakazukha’ which means ‘pay for publicity’.
With BEJ, journalism has turned into a Hydra
Notwithstanding the terms used in journalistic lexicon to refer BEJ, truly, the practice trounces the true spirit of impartial and committed journalism. Therefore, in Pakistan, journalism has lost its grip over impartiality and accuracy. Despite its true role of informing masses about ground realities, the profession of journalism keeps drawing a wedge between rulers and the ruled. In the context of BEJ, today journalism has turned into a hydra — a monster with many heads in Greek mythology.
Fact that there is lack of professionals across the country cannot be brushed under the carpet
With the practice ‘brown envelope journalism’ embedded in the journalistic profession, the media houses, on the other hand, seem to rest in oblivion. Unfortunately, most of the media houses (electronic media) are settled in urbanised parts of the country. The competition of covering the whole country has put the objectivity of the profession at stake with hiring unprofessional reporters across the interior of the country. Indubitably, the fact that there is lack of professionals across the country cannot be brushed under the carpet, yet it is also obligatory upon media houses to train the local reporters in order to distinguish between a newsworthy event and an ordinary development.
Modern journalism in subcontinent originated from a discord between a trader and the East Indian Company
In the historical context of the subcontinent, James Augustus Hicky brought a revolutionary taste in journalistic practices with bringing out his weekly journal, Bengal Gazette, the errant Hicky had actually been thrown out of East India Company. To avenge this, he exposed nabobs of company and their clandestine activities. In America, on the other hand, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst added a new term in the course of journalism which is wildly known as ‘yellow journalism’.
Press as a fourth pillar of the state is working as poorly as the other three
Subsequently, inclusion of press as fourth pillar of a state has put a certain onus on the shoulders of media practitioners. Nevertheless, the newly emerged phenomenon BEJ and ‘freebies’ are cutting down the roots of journalism. Freebies is simply a practice where a journalist receives a ‘small’ gift from the source, yet the freebies is a portentous shift which, in the next stage, entangles the journalist in the cobweb of brown envelop journalism, while in return the objectivity and impartiality in profession is endangered with news turning into event covering for few bucks.
The author is an Assistant Editor at Balochistan Voices.