Magazine article Communication World

Is Paying for Media Coverage Ever Ethical?

Magazine article Communication World

Is Paying for Media Coverage Ever Ethical?

Article excerpt

In some countries, it is acceptable for PR practitioners to pay a journalist to write positively about a client. For this issue, we asked our readers whether they think paying for media coverage is unethical, and whether the culture of a particular country factors into their opinion.


Paying for editorial coverage is always undesirable. But it's right to acknowledge that local cultures and customs can sometimes make this position problematic. If you are operating in a location where it's considered acceptable--or even necessary--to pay for coverage, you should at least seek to ensure that the payment is openly acknowledged in the article or program. Over time, I think responsible professionals should also try to influence local publishers and broadcasters to move away from such practices, not just because of any cultural or moral qualms (important as these may be), but also for the very practical reason that these practices ultimately undermine the credibility of both the giver and receiver in the eyes of audiences. These audiences always work out what's happening sooner or later--resulting in media coverage that achieves far less than optimal impact.

Graeme Domm

PR program coordinator, RMIT University Melbourne, Australia


There are ways to take a stand on issues that everyone finds repugnant. Local people may accept the practice, but that doesn't mean they admire it. Any PR company would have to follow suit not to jeopardize business or profits. But it can be transparent about its actions and take a stand by soliciting supporters for an ethical cause--for example, by hosting business seminars on the topic, sponsoring school essay competitions, lecturing about it at business schools and referring to it in company advertising. Effecting cultural change requires the sheer weight of numbers and momentum over the long term. By acting as a catalyst, the company is in a win-win situation, positioning itself as ethical (with a unique selling proposition) and making a positive contribution to its community.

Joanna Moss

Head of promotions and publicity, Qatar Petroleum Doha, Qatar


The final judges of whether paid media coverage that is not identified as advertising but that appears as an authentic journalist opinion is ethical are the local users of the media. If they think that paying a journalist to write positively about a client is an unethical and corrupt practice, then it is an unethical and corrupt practice. My experience working in countries where it's common to pay journalists for coverage is that the general population dearly sees this as unethical and corrupt. Only journalists and paying clients find excuses for their behavior. The problem to be addressed is not a matter of cultural sensibility; the problem is corruption, plain and simple.

Dejan Vercic, Ph.D.

Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana; Partner, Pristop Ljubljana, Slovenia


PR is universal in its philosophy and fundamentals and is governed by a code of ethics. Thus, the culture of any country should not be the benchmark to qualify a PR practice as ethical or not.

PR is about third-party endorsement and unbiased reporting. The PR practitioner's job is, among others, to strategize the approach, pitch the story well and present messages accurately to influence a positive report. …

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