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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
21 May 1969 – November 2000

   

Introduction

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:

The Philippines

Russia

 
 

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


Selected articles

Opinion

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

Integrity Awards

Investigating corruption in the Ukraine, A Case Study of Internet Journalist Georgiy Gongadze

News coverage in english

News coverage in spanish

Selected links

Official website:
www.worldpressfreedomday.org

Conventions and legal rights:

Journalism organisations:

Media resources:

Media Contacts

Sarah Tyler
Gypsy Guillén Kaiser

Tel: +49-30-3438 20-19/45
Fax: +49-30-3470 3912
press@transparency.org


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