World Press Freedom Day
Reporting on corruption is a vital sign of press freedom.
“I am ready to die for this country if this will help it."
Georgiy Gongadze, Ukrainian journalist
A free and independent media is essential for making citizens aware of corruption. By investigating and reporting on corruption, the media provides an important tool in the fight against the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, shedding light on the wrongdoings of public officials, law enforcement agents and the judiciary, health professionals and corporate executives alike. As such, it significantly contributes to the knowledge base with which citizens can hold both public and private institutions to account.
Established as a basic human right, the right to access information held by public bodies has been recognized not only in human rights conventions but is also mentioned in all three of the major anti-corruption conventions.
The media is, however, vulnerable to attempts to curb its effectiveness in exposing corruption. In fact, journalists’ freedom to report on this issue is restricted when such reporting is at odds with powerful political and business interests or with organised crime.
At the same time, some journalists accept cash for editorial content and engage in other unethical media practices. This is the case particularly in South-East and Eastern Europe and Latin America, according to a 2004 survey conducted in 54 countries by the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). Throughout the world, it is not uncommon for journalists and editors to accept bribes in exchange for editorial content or the influencing of content, or simply for not publishing a story at all.
Two years ago Transparency International joined the IPRA to establish a set of principles designed to end bribes for media coverage and foster greater transparency in the dealings between public relations professionals and the media. Since then, The Media Transparency Charter has been adopted by media organisations worldwide representing at least half a million editors, media executives and journalists.
THE LINK TO CORRUPTION IS CLEAR
The publication of investigative articles exposing petty and grand corruption, bribery, the misappropriation of public funds, the abuse of power and influence, illicit gain and fraud, often serve as eye-openers for the general public. They play a vital role in uncovering the roots of failed social programs, inefficient public services, collapsed buildings, natural disasters, organised crime, humanitarian and financial aid that fails to reach its intended recipients, lawlessness and unmerited contracts and diplomas. Corruption is identified time and again by journalists seeking to find the sources of such problems. And it is not uncommon for those same journalists to be punished for daring to cross the line and expose corruption.
SOME CASES OF JOURNALISTS ATTACKED • ASSASSINATED • SILENCED
Transparency International’s Integrity Awards is a programme that honours courageous individuals who have made a significant contribution to the fight against corruption. Since the programme’s inception five years ago, six journalists have been honoured, five of them posthumously.
One of them, Georgiy Gongadze, an online journalist investigating the role of Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma in a corruption scandal, was brutally beaten, shot in the head, doused in acid, decapitated and left in a forest. A second, Carlos Alberto Cardoso, was in the midst of investigating the largest banking fraud in Mozambique’s history when he was assassinated in 2000.
"Journalists covering conflict, unrest, corruption, and human rights abuses face a growing risk of incarceration in many countries, where governments seek to disguise their repressive acts as legitimate legal processes," Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director, Ann Cooper said in a statement on the organisation’s website.
From a total of 58 journalists killed in 2005, 14 deaths are directly linked to covering, denouncing or criticising corruption, according to an analysis of a yearly report published by CPJ. So far this year, four out of 12 journalists killed were covering corruption. News articles and awareness efforts by journalism organisations worldwide reflect the reality of reporters facing criminal defamation laws, attacks and prison, often for exposing corruption.
In Mexico, the case of Lydia Cacho, a columnist and human rights activist arrested in December and charged with defaming a Mexican businessman made international headlines. Leaked tapes of telephone conversations in the case pointed to a conspiracy between state officials and local businessmen to jail and assault Cacho. Attacks on Mexican journalists working along the US-Mexico border have proven to be so common that they are going silent rather than risk being at the receiving end of a gun. Mexico recently decriminalised defamation but it is too soon to tell if this will undo the chilling effect of physical intimidation on journalists who investigate corruption.
In Colombia, two leading newsmagazines broke a story on alleged acts of corruption by the country’s ex-intelligence chief. President Alvaro Uribe has reacted by charging the news media with being dishonest and malicious, and with harming Colombian democratic institutions. The ex-intelligence chief has publicly warned that he will take legal action against both magazines. The focus is shifted from the alleged corrupt official to the messenger of those allegations.
Meanwhile, a Peruvian journalist reporting on the influence of drug traffickers in politics was driven out of the country after threats to her and her family.
“Journalists’ Risk Map”, a book from the Inter-American Press Association that focuses on Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, states that “the greatest source generating violence (in these countries) is organised crime and corruption at various levels of government.” In light of the threat of silence, the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) has begun compiling cases of self-censorship through its website.
In Asia, there is a strong link between following the trail of corruption and attacks on the press in the Philippines. In 2005, four journalists were killed there according to CPJ statistics. All four were reporting on corruption. Some journalists there are even arming themselves in order to carry out their work. In April, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) reported that a presentation entitled "Knowing the Enemy" prepared by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) listed the NUJP and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) among two dozen groups of supposed communist sympathisers and "enemies of the state."
Snapshot: investigating corruption stories in:
TI's Key Recommendations
Over 60 countries have passed legislation that recognises and protects a citizen's right to access information held by public bodies. This is an important component in any efforts to fight corruption, but the mere existence of legal instruments is not enough. Habits and cultures on both sides of the information demand and supply relationship must be changed. While public bodies change their attitudes of secrecy to a climate of openness to prevent potentially corrupt situations, citizens also need to echo the media and capture the spirit of demanding information.
- An enabling legal framework is required that provides strong guarantees of freedom of expression and access to information. Separate legislation should be considered for specific media sectors to avoid inappropriate generalisations.
- New or revised legislation, relating in particular to national security and personal/corporate privacy, should be carefully reviewed for its implications for media freedom.
- National laws should not interfere with matters that are the proper responsibility of media professionals: namely, the gathering, preparation, selection and transmission of information.
- Media pluralism should be strengthened by encouraging a wide diversity of private media ownership enforced through specific media ownership laws.
- The independence of public service broadcasters should be strengthened via specific public media laws.
- Safeguards to maintain the independence of broadcasting authorities should be introduced, including public and civil society monitoring of their activities.
- Where appropriate, independent press monitoring groups should be established to ensure self-regulation of the media.
- The role of independent journalist associations and unions, independent media organisations, media foundations, consumer groups and civil society organisations should be strengthened by involving them in the development of national media frameworks.
- Appropriate and home-grown journalist codes of conduct should be developed in partnership between media professionals and the general public.
- Accessible and affordable journalist training programmes should be developed at national and local level.
For a complete overview of the media in countering corruption, please see TI’s Anti-Corruption Handbook, available online at: www.transparency.org/ach
Transparency International's work on access to information
- Global Priority – The role of information in fighting corruption is a priority area for TI
- Global Corruption Report 2003 – Access to Information
- TI-Corruption Fighters’ Tool Kit 2002 – Access to Information (in English / in Spanish)
- Working Paper – Strengthening the global media to build democracy – a proposal, Frank Vogl
- Transparency International and the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS) award annual Latin American Investigative Journalism Prize for reporting on corruption.
Uruguay Transparente focuses on access to informationBOLETIN_abri_ 2006_uruguay.pdf 72.51 kB
Dead silence: when journalists are muzzled, corruption goes unchecked
World Press Freedom Day reminds us of courage and sacrifice in the fight against corruption
By David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, Transparency International
- Corruption: Crusading African journalist receives Integrity Award -- IPS 14 November 2005
- Kuchma accused of covering up murder -- Financial Times 2 March 2005
- Mozambique tries again to tell story of reporter's killing -- Guardian 9 February 05
Investigating corruption in the Ukraine, A Case Study of Internet Journalist Georgiy Gongadze
News coverage in english
- Sri Lanka: House of Norwegian journalist who exposed corruption of the strong LTTE supporter in Norway attacked -- Colombo Page, 08 July 2006
- China: China may fine news media to limit coverage -- New York TImes, 27 June 2006
- Journalists must fight corruption, says IFJ President at UNESCO celebrations in Sri Lanka
- Arrest of Journalist threatens press freedom
- Kazakhstan: Journalist violently attacked -- Eurasiantransition, 25 April 2006
- Tanzania: Media owners, editors join anti-corruption drive -- Guardian (Tanzania), 24 April 2006
- Kenya: There are no plans to gag the media, assert ministers -- The Nation, 24 April 2006
- Africa: Hard days for the media in Africa; Press freedom declining even in supposedly more democratic nations -- Chicago Tribune, 23 April 2006
- Press and Broadcasting: The most important story in China -- The Observer (England), 23 April 2006
- Tanzania: This Day journalists receive threats -- Guardian (Tanzania), 14 April 2006
- Bulgaria: Bomb demolishes home of Bulgarian crime reporter -- Reuters, 6 April 2006
- India: Villagers use RTI to expose corruption -- NDTV, 4 April 2006
- Philippines: The Philippines wages a campaign of intimidation against journalists -- New York Times, 3 April 2006
- Cameroon: Ministers call for responsible press -- Cameroon Tribune, 3 April 2006
- China: China journalist faces charges for corruption report -- Reuters, 3 April 2006
- Thailand: Thai press frees itself from intimidation -- AP, 27 March 2006
- Thailand: Journalists fighting back after being muzzled -- Taipei Times, 27 March 2006
- US/Africa: American journalist conducts "lively" media workshops in Africa -- The Washington File, 27 March 2006
- Zimbabwe: U.S. envoy speaks out against Mugabe again
News coverage in spanish
- Admiten falta de garantías para prensa , laopinion.com, 4 de mayo 2006
- En 2006, once periodistas han sido asesinados en América Latina , clavedigital.com, 4 de mayo 2006
- Colombia:¿Denuncias periodísticas o fallos judiciales?, Semana.com, 24 de abril 2006
- Argentina: No hables porque es una orden, Infocívia, 20 de abril 2006
- México: Amenazan de muerte a reporteros por notas sobre corrupción policiaca, La Crónica, 2 de abril 2006
- Colombia: Decenas periodistas con escoltas
Conventions and legal rights:
- TI Anti-Corruption Handbook: international standards in access to information
Gypsy Guillén Kaiser
Tel: +49-30-3438 20-19/45
Fax: +49-30-3470 3912