Bank Offers Local Journalists Money in Exchange for Press

With a red carpet rolled out at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Pho­keethra Hotel, women in traditional Khmer dress Monday greeted those interested in the launch of new banking services available at the local commercial bank, Singapore Banking Corporation, Ltd. (SBC Bank).

But in an effort to have their event publicized, SBC Bank sent an email to the media prior to the event promising reporters $30 each in exchange for their coverage of the bank’s acceptance of cards issued by JCB International Co. Ltd., a credit card brand from Japan.

“Requirement: Publish the event on newspaper,” SBC Bank marketing officer Bich Sothy wrote in an email to re­porters. “Remark: 30$ will be provided to a reporter,” the email continues, adding that “Dinner is excluded” and that “Water will be served.”

Companies and NGOs offering money and gifts to media in exchange for favorable coverage is common in Cambodia. Though some say it is a practice that is fueled by low pay in the sector, others believe that such acts are a direct conflict of interest that ultimately leads to bias.

A cameraman for a local television station attending Monday’s event said that he would readily accept the money from SBC as “it is their generosity.”

“With this money, we can spend it on gas,” said the cameramen, who declined to be named for fear of professional repercussions. He said he is paid about 200,000 riel a month, or $50, and would stop taking the money if he received a pay raise.

“If I get more, I will not take the money from these people,” he said.

“We are aware that we are wrong because it affects our professionalism, but what can we do especially since we get low pay?” said a reporter working for a local newspaper, who also declined to be named.

However, the reporter said he would not allow the money to dictate what he writes about the event. “I will focus on the business angle, but I’m not sure what will happen. It depends,” he said.

Moeun Chhean Narridh, director for the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, remained firm Monday that journalists should not accept any payments in the form of gifts or money, no matter how low their salaries may be.

“This is considered a form of bribery,” Mr. Chhean Narridh said. “For the media’s part, we need to educate [the companies] by refusing to accept the money.”

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