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Who do you pay to be in the news here?

Rick once spent a vexing half-hour detained in Kinshasa's airport security so a greedy functionary could rail at him about the media. Then, smiling sweetly, the functionary demanded $20 to let him leave the building.

Bribes are not an uncommon request for some journalists. What's new is the number more accustomed to receiving them.

In Peru, it's called "mermelada". In China, they like it in red envelopes. And in Madagascar, they just call it a "tip," given to ensure the reporting of a story a certain way.

It's all documented in a startling new report called Cash For Coverage, commissioned by the Centre for International Media Assistance, and the National Endowment for Democracy in the U.S.

The report calls bribery "a single problem with many faces."

Here's an excerpt from the report's short glossary of bribery, called "What colour is your envelope":

Brown envelopes: This is the common term in much of sub-Saharan Africa and refers to the color of the envelopes found in every supermarket or stationery store. Conveniently, it's hard to see through them to the money inside.

Red envelopes: That's the variation in China, based on the more innocent tradition of giving holiday gifts in such envelopes.

Soli: That's what journalists call it in Ghana--a short form of the word "solidarity," which is how they feel as a group in expecting these small payments.

Jeansa: That's the term in Ukraine, where politicians and businessmen often pay reporters to write stories favorable to them. The term comes from the blue jeans that reporters commonly wear.

Ndalama yamatako: The Zambian term apparently translates literally as "money of the buttocks"-- but journalists use it to mean "sitting allowance," something to sweeten the experience of sitting in all those press conferences.

Tips: in Madagascar reporters typically earn about $40 a month and routinely receive envelopes with money from th organizers of press conferences to cover transportation costs. The envelopes frequently include extra money, or "tips," ranging from $10 to $50, to encourage favorable coverage. Sometimes their editors receive tips three times larger.

Zakazukha: This Russian slang phrase has, in the context of journalism, come to generically mean "pay for publicity," originating in the idea of "order for the story"-- as in ordering a dish in a restaurant.                                 

                                    (source: Cash For Coverage,Center for International Media Assistance) 

According to the report, a recent survey of Cambodian journalists found a quarter of them know somebody who's taken a bribe to write a favorable story. And thirty-five per cent know someone who's taken money to stop them filing a bad one.

It's all familiar to Kay Kimsong, the editor-in-chief of the Phnom Penh Post's Khmer-language edition.

Here's his View from Cambodia...

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Share your stories of kickbacks and bribery in the places you've been, at our email address.  

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