NABJ Rejects Free Air Travel to Morocco

The organization’s board of directors decided Friday against the travel after potential ethical issues came to light.

Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, with officers Corey Dade and Dedrick A. Russell
Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, with officers Corey Dade and Dedrick A. Russell Lee Ivory

Board Decides Against Trip Because of Ethical Issues

The board of directors of the National Association of Black Journalists decided Friday to turn down $25,000 in free travel from the state airline of Morocco after the trade association of black-newspaper publishers was criticized for accepting an expense-paid visit to the North African country last week.

NABJ had struck a deal with Morocco for $35,000 in sponsorships for the black journalists’ Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, held at the Newseum in Washington on Thursday. Of that, $10,000 was to be in cash and $25,000 in travel vouchers good for any of 26 cities where Royal Air Maroc flies.

However, that agreement took place before the expense-paid trip by the National Newspaper Publishers Association came to light. Leading mainstream news organizations forbid employees from accepting free travel from news sources or governments, but NNPA does not subscribe to those rules.

Most NABJ members work in the mainstream news media. “The way I kind of see NABJ, we would be the role models . . . the policy enforcers for black people in this business,” Lee Ivory, who spent 24 years at USA Today, including as publisher of its sports weekly, told fellow board members. “We should be beyond reproach.”

Keith Reed, the organization’s treasurer and senior editor at ESPN, questioned whether NABJ should make such decisions for its members, many of whom work for organizations that have their own ethics policies. “We are the governors of NABJ. We are not the ethical stewards of the members of the organization,” Reed said.

Herbert Lowe, a former NABJ president who now teaches at Marquette University, told the group, “If you have to spend that much time on whether this is an ethical question, it is an ethical question. Ten thousand dollars is not worth the negative publicity.”

Lowe said that the most significant story for black journalists in recent days was the promotion of Rob King to head news operations at ESPN, but it was subordinated in Journal-isms to news that the U.N. envoy from Western Sahara, a colony of Morocco, accused the country of using its expenses-paid trip for the black press as a political weapon against those in Western Sahara.

Some board members cautioned against such foreign entanglements, especially without doing “due diligence.” “We are American citizens,” Cindy George, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and NABJ parliamentarian, said. “We live here. We have dealings with American companies. If this were North Korea, if this were China, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The NNPA trip raised some concerns about human rights issues.”