“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”
– Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Every year on 3 May, people around the world get together to mark World Press Freedom Day. The commemorations raise awareness of the basic principles of press freedom, honour those who died in the pursuit of truth and serve as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. So what does this day mean for the anti-corruption fight?
The media puts corruption in the spotlight
The media is crucial for illustrating the devastating effects of corruption around the world and providing citizens with information that enables them to stand up to corruption. An independent and free media is a cornerstone of democracy and a vital pillar of national integrity and good governance. It is a public watchdog on the abuse of power.
Corruption is a crime that prefers to remain covert and concealed but the media, and especially investigative journalists, can shine a light on those who use their entrusted power for personal gain. Journalists uncover corrupt acts and expose bribery schemes. In Latin America, for example, the work of investigative journalists played a central role in the ousting of several presidents including Fernando Collor de Mello of Brazil, Abdalá Bucarám Ortíz of Ecuador and Alberto Fujimori of Peru due to their involvement in corruption scandals.
The media not only acts as a check on politicians, but also on large businesses. Last month, for instance, investigations by the New York Times revealed Wal-Mart de Mexico’s alleged bribery campaign to win market dominance in Mexico. Among the report’s discoveries is an alleged paper trail that includes hundreds of suspect payments totalling more than US$ 24 million.
The price of reporting on corruption
At the best of times, good journalism gives comfort that wrongdoers will be called to account. However, the story is not always so straight-forward and rosy. Many journalists around the world operate in difficult, and at times dangerous, environments.
In some parts of the world, journalists who seek to expose economic and political corruption do so at great personal risk. As research by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows, crime and corruption are extremely dangerous beats. Thirty-five per cent of journalists killed in the past 20 years covered these two topics.
Local reporters often pay the highest price. Nearly nine out of ten journalists killed around the world report on issues in their own communities. And sadly, impunity prevails – almost nine out of ten journalist murders go unpunished. Because of these terrible statistics, self-censorship is common in many countries. It takes bravery and commitment to report on corruption.
Writing about the truth
Latin America is currently suffering an epidemic of journalist killings. One of the most hard-hit countries is Mexico, where more than 40 journalists have been killed or disappeared since 2006. Only last weekend the body of another Mexican journalist was found beaten and strangled.
Regina Martínez Pérez was known for her reporting on the links between government officials and organised crime. One of her colleagues remarked, “Regina would always write about one-third more of the real truth than I dared to do in any story we covered. And I write more than most reporters”.
It is essential that crimes against the press are fully investigated in order to end impunity and allow justice to take hold in the country.
Working with journalists
Transparency International supports and promotes a free and responsible press to seek accountability, to stop perpetrators from acting with impunity and to promote the transparency that empowers citizens to make informed decisions.
Together with our chapters around the world we encourage, train and collaborate with journalists working on anti-corruption issues. We also seek to recognise journalistic excellence.
The annual Transparency International and Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute) Journalism Award, worth US$ 30,000, recognises outstanding investigative journalism in Latin American or Caribbean media. Last year’s first prize was awarded to four Brazilian journalists for their exposé on the diversion of public funds.
During the Latin American Investigative Journalism Conference last year, a new initiative was launched to support investigative journalists’ work against corruption by offering up to 20 scholarships for journalists to travel to the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Brazil this year. During the conference, the journalists will gain valuable insights into how to conduct investigations on themes of great complexity ranging from climate governance and the global financial system to illicit trafficking.
A strong alliance between the media and civil society organisations boosts the watchdog functions of both for the public good, and keeps accountability and transparency high on the world’s agenda. By working together, leaders in both fields provide in-depth knowledge to people around the world about ways in which corruption is affecting them directly and how to join the fight against it.
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