By Umar Cheema
In a 2011 Transparency International survey, more than 3,000 business executives from around the world were asked to assess the effectiveness of various approaches to weeding out corruption.
The result: nearly half (49 percent) indicated that investigative journalism played a critical role. Respondents from Pakistan (73 percent) and Brazil (79 percent), countries where the press reports fiercely on suspected acts of corruption, placed particular faith in the media’s ability to uncover wrongdoing.
Why did the participants feel so strongly that journalists can help? To answer this question, it is important to remember that rampant corruption in less-developed regions of the world is largely due to a lack of transparency and accountability.
Power is concentrated in just a few hands, and statutes promoting the work of watchdog institutions are often toothless. The elite consider themselves above the law—which otherwise exists to empower common citizens—and oppressed classes come to accept this evil as a societal norm.
This alarming situation calls for journalists to play an extraordinary role in highlighting corrupt practices. To be sure, this task is a challenging one, particularly in developing countries, where Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation may be non-existent or highly ineffective. Moreover, in many cases, those who work to expose wrongdoing may put their lives at risk.
But where there is a will there is a way. Indeed, there are various tools that journalists can use to help stamp out corruption.
Despite efforts by those involved to cover their tracks, corruption “speaks” whenever and wherever it is committed. Journalists need to be aware of this language. If a contract is awarded in undue haste or with significant delay, there is something wrong. If a license is issued without due procedure, money must have changed hands. When someone gets rich overnight, there has to be a reason. If development work is accelerated, there are likely some big businesses trying to invest in decision-makers in order to win favor. Journalists should read the signs and dig for answers.
There are several techniques journalists can use to spot potential wrongdoing; these include checking budget books and official documents, collecting court records, analyzing paper trails, and conducting investigative interviews. However, for journalists in the developing world, making use of these tools is sometimes difficult, given resource constraints, and pressing deadlines imposed by understaffed editors who often demand that reporters produce copy on a frequent basis. Nevertheless, there are ways to overcome most challenges.
Initially, journalists must learn the art of cultivating good sources. By looking around carefully, such individuals can be found within the bureaucracy, and often the best sources are government officials who witness every step of corrupt acts. Some officials, in fact, may have even tried in vain to intervene, and once they are won over, these officials can aid in the struggle to bring the truth to light.
Reporters need to know the right people in the right places, so it is important to form working relationships with lawmakers and get acquainted with organisations promoting transparency and accountability in different sectors. By making the right connections, getting official documents quickly is much easier. And a journalist with a good reputation will have whistleblowers running to him or her, rather than the other way around.
To read the full post on the Global Investigative Journalism Network site, click here.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Nik_Doof.
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