Broadcasting truth: investigative journalism in Latin America

Translations: ES  

On 3 September Transparency International and the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute, IPYS) named four Brazilian journalists as the winners of this year’s Latin American Investigative Journalism Award for their exposé on the diversion of public funds. The ceremony took place in Ecuador at the Latin American Investigative Journalism Conference (COLPIN), which brought together journalists from across the region to discuss how to best investigate corruption and bring it to light. In a year when the role of the media is being scrutinised, the discussions were timely.

Shortly after the UK phone hacking scandal erupted in July, David Schlesinger, Chairman for Thomson Reuters China and Committee to Protect Journalists board member, gave an address on Media, Murdoch and Social Responsibility at a conference organised by Caixin.

There was plenty to say about the ugly events of the preceding days, but instead Schlesinger reminded his audience of the real reason they were there: “the best journalism gives power to the people.”

He elaborated on the impact that the best political, financial, and social journalism has in empowering citizens, adding that “the best muckraking journalism exposes scandal and corruption, giving comfort that wrongdoers will be called to account.”

Over two years, Brazilian journalists James Alberti, Katia Brembatti, Karlos Kohlbach and Gabriel Tabatcheik undertook an investigation that did just that: it inspired citizens to speak out against wrongdoing and led to the perpetrators being brought to justice.

The journalists exposed the alleged misuse of public funds by the Brazilian state of Parana’s Legislative Assembly. Their reports were published in Gazeta do Povo and broadcast on RPC-TV and revealed not only that the assembly was diverting millions of dollars, but that the assembly’s public records were not systematically documented. As a result, accessing information that was meant to be publicly available was almost impossible.

Following the release of the reports, named Serie Diarios Secretos (Secret Diaries Series), at least 30,000 people across Parana took to the streets to call for something to be done. Since then, the Public Ministry opened investigations and directors implicated in the scandal have lost their posts at the assembly. The assembly also introduced greater oversight on hirings and improved its processes for accessing public information.

Serie Diarios Secretos serves as a reminder that the media is a vital check on the abuse of power. But journalism is only one pillar in a social and legal infrastructure to ensure the people’s right to know. Strong, evenly enforced access to information laws , legal guarantees of freedom of expression, fair and independent judges, courageous public prosecutors, and professional and honest police and public officials all facilitate the media’s role as an effective public watchdog, helping to keep a check on corruption.

During the Latin American Investigative Journalism Conference this year, IPYS and the International Anti-Corruption Conference Council announced a new initiative 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 next year. During the conference, the journalists will gain valuable insights into how to conduct investigations on themes of great complexity like climate governance, the global financial system, and illicit trafficking, to name a few. By working together, leaders from both fields will in turn 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.

Resources

Serie Diarios Secretos

COLPIN Conference

Gazeta do Povo e RPC-TV levam prêmio de jornalismo investigativo
Agence France-Presse

IPYS premió a Brasil por investigación periodística
(IPYS awards investigative journalism prize to Brazil)
El Universo

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