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Bribe Ban Stirs Up Mexican Journalists

BY presidential decree, on Jan. 1, the Mexican policy of government handouts or bribes to journalists ended. Or did it?

This past week, the relatively independent daily newspaper La Jornada ran a three-part series noting that recent meetings between editors, reporters, and government officials left the new policy in doubt.

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There will be payment-by-payment monthly reports on the expenses of the public-relations departments. But private comments indicated that reporters might receive personal checks instead of cash, checks that somehow could be openly accounted for out of various budgets.

Presidential spokesman Gabriel Guerra insists such interpretations are wrong. "Offhand, I cannot imagine any circumstance in which a payment could be justifiably made to a journalist," he says. But griping about the policy continues among reporters who count on the extra income. (Salaries range from about $300 to $1,750 a month.) One newspaper reports that correspondents on a recent presidential trip received their chayote, or envelope of cash, but that it came from state rather than presidential coffers .

The current policy does not ban journalists from free travel on domestic trips with government officials, but that will change soon, Guerra says.

Meanwhile, "cash payments, free trips to Acapulco, or bringing family members along, that kind of thing is definitely out now," he says.

A La Jornada satirist warned that by banning the chayote, the president could be putting the Mexican envelope industry in jeopardy.

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