Distinguish between Soli and Tapoli

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The International Transport Forum (ITF) is offering to cover travel

costs and accommodation for a limited number of journalists from

non-European countries ( http://www.eltis.org

/discover/news/travel-grant- journalists-attend-transport-

ministers-summit- 0#sthash.VXhNrOxJ.dpuf). In our local parlance, the

ITF can be said to be offering "soli" to the journalists.

Is this offer of soli to journalists from less wealthy nations an

unethical practice, designed to corrupt them? Or is it a subsidy that

enhances information flow?

This is the essence of the debate that has engaged the minds of many

commentators in the last few days. It is fair to say that the

preponderance of the comments have taken a negative view of soli,

consistent with the position taken by the British High Commissioner in

his speech delivered at the IMANI event. Notwithstanding the avalanche

of criticisms, I am afraid that the case against 'soli' has not been

made. Soli, as used here and in the debate, refers to travel and

transport paid by an event organizer to journalists who cover the

event. It has three distinctive attributes: (i) it is a voluntary

payment by the event organizer; (ii) it is not conditional on type of

coverage; (iii) it is paid to all journalists.

Two mutually exclusive propositions have emerged from the debate: (1)

soli is inherently/incurably bad and unethical. As such, it must be

banned; (2) Soli is not inherently or incurably bad. In fact, it can

improve information flow. However, the soli process should be

improved. The first proposition appears to be the majority view.

The propositions are mutually exclusive because one cannot embrace

both, as some have done or attempted to do. For instance, one cannot

hold the view that soli is bad and must be banned at the same time

that one advocates that the soli process must be made more


Transparency cannot cure a practice that is inherently bad or

unethical. Consider the payment of a contingent fee to the media

(i.e., I will pay you if you report a news item a certain way). That

is not just inherently unethical and unlawful but more important it

cannot be cured by being made transparent.

An inherently unethical practice cannot be clothed with propriety by

making it transparent. No amount of transparency or issuing receipts

will make bribing a policeman acceptable. According to Samson Lardy,

"soli is soli is soli." This is apposite and carries with it the

implication that soli cannot sometimes be a corrupt practice and

sometimes a best practice. As such, making soli payments transparent

or advertising its availability, as done by ITF, does not cure its


According to the majority proposition, the defect is fatal!

In contrast, I take the minority view that soli is not inherently a

corrupt practice. In fact, it is used everywhere in the world. In a

country like Ghana, where the media houses are poor, an anti soli

policy will actually worsen, not improve, corruption by shutting down

critical avenues to information.

While the condemnation of soli has been widespread, I find that nobody

has made a persuasive case that it is per se unethical or unlawful for

an organizer of an event to cover a journalist's travel and transport

expenses, especially where such coverage is publicly announced, is

directed to strengthening most, if not all, of our impoverished media

houses and is not conditional upon the nature of the coverage.

Still, I believe that the soli process can be improved. For instance,

the soli giver must preannounce the soli policy and identify all those

who are eligible for its enjoyment.

Moreover, the soli giver must advise the media houses of any soli

payments made to journalists to avoid double dipping (i.e., where the

journalist collects soli from both the event organizer and the

employer). Capping the amount that is paid for soli or indexing it to

the number of miles that the journalist must travel to cover the event

or even to the financial muscle of the media house are other ways to

improve the process.

In my opinion, the soli debate masks an important corrupt practice,

which I refer to as "tapoli." Tapoli is the bribing of a journalist to

procure a favorable coverage of a story or to disseminate misleading


Tapoli is both unethical and criminal and serves no useful social

purposes. Tapoli corrupts journalists, poisons the information as

well, has no place in our society and those who practice it must be

pursued and punished. But tapoli is not to be confused with soli.

Soli differs from tapoli in several important respects. First, soli is

typically paid by NGOs (or other event organizers) who seek to draw

attention of the general public to topics that they address in

workshops or other capacity building activities. Second, soli payers

have little interest in influencing the content of the story to be

carried by the journalists as long as the event is publicized.

Frequently, sponsors of the NGO have stipulated such media coverage as

a condition precedent to funding the workshop. Third, soli is paid to

all attending journalists and is not conditioned on the content of

their coverage.

Hence, soli is not a contingent payment. Fourth, soli seeks to enhance

information flow and to improve the information environment. Fifth,

soli is small in magnitude and is normally put in a white envelope.

Au contraire, tapoli is typically paid by a "big man," or criminal who

seeks to make up or kill a story.

The story could involve the fabrication of negative news about a

political opponent, masking a fraud, a corrupt business/ political

practice, or covering up a criminal act. It follows that the main

rational for tapoli payments is to influence the content of the story.

By their very nature, tapoli involves covert operations, as such an

open to all payment will undermine the operation. Thus, tapoli is not

paid to all journalists. Given the sophistry required to execute the

fabrication or killing of a story, only seasoned journalists are

tapped for such missions. Thus, tapoli is a contingent payment and is

per se illegal. Clearly, tapoli seeks to poison the information well

by providing false information or suppressing truthful information.

Tapoli tends to be large in magnitude and is put in a brown envelope.

The current emphasis on soli is misplaced and can lead to policies

that reduce information flow, which can worsen the media landscape.

The proper emphasis should be put on identifying, prosecuting,

punishing and eliminating tapoli payments to journalists. Focusing on

soli, rather than tapoli, trivializes the real problem in our media


Credit: S. Kwaku Asare

First published on Myjoyonline.com

Kofi Oppong Kyekyeku

I am a Ghanaian Broadcast Journalist/Writer who has an interest in General News, Sports, Entertainment, Health, Lifestyle and many more.

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