The African journalist who interrupted Jen Psaki’s final White House press briefing earlier this month says the financial processing company Stripe is cutting off his publication’s income.
Today News Africa correspondent Simon Ateba provided The Post with copies of messages informing him that his website’s offer of a “lifetime” subscription — for $1,490 — violated Stripe company policies and therefore he’d have to start from scratch with another payment processor.
“Hi Simon, We’re writing to inform you that we have determined your business, todaynewsafrica.com … is in violation of the Stripe Services Agreement. Specifically, we are unable to accept payments for subscriptions over a year or extended warranties, as mentioned on our Restricted Businesses list,” reads a Sunday email signed by “The Stripe Team.”
“We’re applying a notice period of 10 days before taking action on your account. Until June 8, 2022, you can continue processing normally, but after this date, your account will be closed and you will no longer be able to accept payments. We will continue making payouts to your bank account until you receive all of your funds.”
The initial email added that the decision could be appealed. In a subsequent Monday email, however, the company told Ateba, whose Africa-focused outlet also offers $149 yearly subscriptions, that its decision was “final.”
The Cameroon-born Ateba claimed his publication is “being treated almost worse than criminals” due to blowback from Psaki’s final briefing May 13 and added that he finds it “suspicious” that he is being booted from the platform so soon after drawing outrage for interrupting Psaki on her last day in the job.
Stripe’s press team did not respond to requests for comment.
The San Francisco-based financial processing company emerged as a major business over the past decade — with investors that include politically contrarian billionaires Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Marc Andreessen.
Stripe’s decision is a serious blow to Ateba’s seven-year-old publication, which relies on subscriptions rather than ad revenue. Ateba says that while other companies process payments, Stripe’s platform is the “industry standard” and is used by other news sites.
“It’s really sad. It’s heartbreaking. I don’t even know where to start,” he said.
Jos Natalie, chairman of Today News Africa’s board of advisers, said in a statement provided by Ateba, “We may now have no choice but to go out of business, to close shop.”
Ateba, 42, founded Today News Africa in 2015 and burst onto the national stage in the US late last year with his persistent questioning during briefings. He often sits in White House press room seats left vacant by their assigned occupant — often Time magazine. He then loudly shouts questions, which sometimes are answered.
Ateba says he experienced harsh treatment from government officials and criminals while reporting in African nations such as Nigeria and Cameroon, and he stands out for his efforts to get called on in DC.
Most journalists in the rear half of the White House briefing room sit politely without getting called on for weeks or months. And some news outlets with permanent seats haven’t gotten called on by the White House press secretary in the full year since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted last June — a notable contrast with Ateba, whose voice routinely can be heard booming as TV journalists take turns dominating briefings by asking a half-dozen or so questions apiece.
Ateba often raises questions of concern to Africans, such as about US funding to fight malaria or about Temporary Protected Status for citizens of various African nations living in the US. But he also shouts out questions that other journalists may be less inclined to pose. For example, he was the first person in the room to ask Psaki about reports she was looking for a job at CNN or MSNBC.
Psaki’s final briefing, however, earned Ateba the ire of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which threatened to yank his associate membership in response to his unusually disruptive demand that Psaki call on reporters farther back in the room. Many journalists saw the outburst as distasteful because it stole the show from Psaki, who had just emotionally spoken about her looming exit — though others, frustrated about essentially serving as human furniture each briefing, quietly expressed support.
Ateba said he believes there’s no coincidence that he’s suddenly seeing his outlet’s income threatened, which he says also threatens the livelihoods of a network of freelance journalists based mostly in Africa.
“If you’re in my shoes, do you find that to be a bit suspicious?” Ateba said about the timing of Stripe’s action. “I don’t have any evidence to accuse anyone, any particular person — no, no evidence, but the timing is a bit suspicious.”
In its Monday email to Ateba, Stripe reps said: “We’re unable to work with any business that we believe poses elevated financial risk or violates our own policies. In this case, after a thorough review of your account, we have determined that your business falls within these guidelines … This decision is final and in order to protect our processes, we are unable to provide further details regarding the reason for your account’s closure.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.