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Investigative journalism honoured

The media plays a crucial role in providing citizens with information that enables them to stand up to the corrupt. This takes courage and determination, but it is a cornerstone of the anti-corruption fight. This year the One World Media Awards introduced a new Corruption Reporting Award, with which Transparency International is proud to be associated.

The award seeks to honour journalists who bring the abuses of entrusted power to light – because only when corruption is uncovered, can it be tackled.

People everywhere believe corruption is one of the most pressing social issues of our time. The media play an indispensable role in helping to stop it. That’s why we want to encourage journalists to keep reporting on corruption: we can only tackle this problem together,”

– Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director, Transparency International

The Corruption Reporting Award shortlist included three hard-hitting reports: an investigation into corruption in development aid, a sting operation that showed how money can be easily laundered in India, and the unmasking of a fraudulent orphanage in Nepal.

The winner of the first Corruption Reporting Award is Panorama: Where’s our aid money gone?

Panorama – where’s our aid money gone?

Development aid works: it saves lives, reduces poverty and improves livelihoods. That’s why it is so tragic when corruption diverts funds. In Where’s our aid money gone? BBC Panorama’s investigation confronted one of the world’s biggest, most successful development organisations: the Global Fund. It is a story of misdirected money and an alleged internal cover-up.

The programme focuses on aid initiatives in Cambodia where Panorama investigators found that contracts for malaria nets, worth millions of dollars, were won through kickbacks and bribes. The Global Fund’s own investigation into corruption was then allegedly softened before it was published; and left out some of the key findings on corruption.

What Panorama highlights is the necessity for corruption to be confronted head-on. People die when aid is not delivered and aid agencies, like the Global Fund, have a responsibility to ensure that corruption is not part of the aid delivery system.

If organisations like the Global Fund are willing to water down evidence of corruption when they find it, you can hardly be surprised if transparency isn't taken seriously in the countries that receive the aid. Despite the evidence of serious corruption, it looks like the Cambodian authorities have decided not to prosecute anyone.”

– James Oliver, Producer, BBC Panorama

Following the broadcast, Transparency International Cambodia released a statement calling on the government to investigate the misuse of aid funds. Media in Cambodia are reporting that the company highlighted by Panorama, which is at the centre of an internal Global Fund report, has lost the aid agency’s support.

Cobrapost: Money laundering made easy

In an investigation called Operation Red Spider, a reporter from Cobrapost – an online magazine based in New Delhi – posed as an official working on behalf of a politician needing to launder a substantial sum of money. It was no problem: reporter Syed Masroor Hasan found that staff from virtually all of the more than 100 bank branches he visited (barring five individuals) were willing to help meet his needs, from young front-office executives to top-level management.

Some of the techniques offered to launder money included using the accounts of other customers at the banks to channel the “black” money into the system for a fee; and transferring the money abroad and hiding “cash in lockers … so they can slowly route the cash to investments”.

The general perception is that many [politicians] have a lot of unaccounted cash [black money]. So posing as a front man for a politician was just a convenient strategy to get an entry into the intricate money laundering system of the banks.”

– Satyashree Gandham, Producer, Cobrapost

Since the investigation was published, the Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central bank, has conducted an internal audit of money-laundering regulations and generated a discussion on tightening due diligence and know-your-customer procedures. Many of the bankers caught on camera were suspended. The five bankers who refused to launder the money were acknowledged by the Finance Ministry for their professionalism.

Unreported World – The orphan business

Unreported World, a critically acclaimed series by the UK’s Channel 4, took a closer look at the multimillion-dollar business of orphanages in Nepal and reveals how children are being used as a commodity to bring in funds from foreign donors and “voluntourists”, people who go to poor countries to help while on holiday and subsequently raise funds for orphanages.

Lower caste families are persuaded to give up their children, sign over their birth certificates and then, in some cases, the children are mistreated and refused the education and better life their parents thought they would get. They are kept by the orphanages to encourage donations from visitors.

Reporter Evan Williams and director Laura Warner focussed on one particular orphanage in Kathmandu called Happy Home. They were helped by a UK non-governmental organisation, Freedom Matters, which works to stop child trafficking.

Millions of pounds go into Kathmandu through the orphanage business. We wanted well-meaning people to be aware that some orphanages are using orphanages as a business and because of this, possibly thousands of children are enslaved against their wishes. This is essentially human trafficking.”

– Evan Williams, reporter

Following the broadcast, the owner of Happy Home was arrested for alleged trafficking, the first time this charge has been used in relation to orphanages. He professes his innocence.

One World Media Awards are now in their 26th year. They reward “the most outstanding coverage of the developing world and recognise the unique role of journalists and filmmakers in increasing cultural understanding and promoting fairness and justice worldwide”. The new category of Corruption Reporting received more than 25 entries, of which three were shortlisted. The jury for the award was independent and selected and managed by One World Media. The award was presented on 6 May in London.

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