The Role of Media in the Fight Against Corruption

Investigative Reporting Roundtable - 2011.  East Timor
Senior Media Opinion Leaders, Gil Guterrez (speaking) and Carlos de Jesus (to Mr. Guterrez’ left) speak with young journalists during one of the USAID sponsored Investigative Reporting Roundtables in East Timor – 2011.  Brian Pinkowski

In modern society, the media is part of the solution to the problem of “How to Fight Corruption.”

There is no justice if people cannot see what is happening.  Media fulfills the first act of justice in any society – they help us see what is happening.

Media, as a tool for social justice, is not bound by academic or policy definitions of corruption.  Like the “man on the street,” we find that media uses a much more general understanding of corruption that may be more useful for corruption fighters – a definition that addresses the weakening of society. (See Below.)

When we look beyond academic or international donor definitions, we find that the older use of the term still applies.  People consider corruption to include anything that contributes to the decay of society.   Regardless of the formal criminality of the act, someone is doing what they should not be doing.

Media can provide awareness of the negative impact on society and is one of the most fundamental parts of an anticorruption strategy for society.

But sometimes journalists, editors and publishers lose their way and fall away from their role as a voice to inspire positive change.  They lose sight of the idea that positive change is possible, and fall into the lowest level of journalism whereby they merely try to create any emotional reaction in the readers.

Building Media as a Voice for Positive Change

In We Can’t Fix Corruption – It’s Part of our Culture, over 150 comments were posted in the discussion about observable change in the ethical behavior of societies.  While the discussion unveiled no “silver bullet” to change corrupt practices, most agreed that they had seen cultural change within their lifetimes, and that media had played a role in confronting people with both the unacceptable and desirable conditions in society.  Naturally, where people can see positive and desirable conditions, they change their behavior in the direction of obtaining those desirable conditions.

Change is possible in the media, and in society.  Sometimes, especially when the media can be rejuvenated, the change can be quite rapid.

In 2011 the media in East Timor was openly mocked by government officials and the man on the street.  While there were older heroic stories of journalism to help tell the Timorese struggle for independence, that struggle was over, and a nationalism had risen that created some pressure on journalists to avoid criticism of government leaders who had been freedom fighters.

In February 2011, there were approximately 2 stories addressing the topic of corruption each month, and the stories were little more than an opportunity to speak to the community without critical analysis.

A colleague and I worked with young journalists once each month over a two year period to simply discuss the basic tools of identifying differences between the laws that the freedom fighters had struggled to create, and the behavior of government officials.

The goal of the USAID sponsored “Investigative Reporting Roundtables” was not to provide training on “how to catch corrupt officials.”  Instead, the roundtables were opportunities for young journalists to talk with more experienced journalists about a variety of topics, ranging from techniques to obtain information that “should be” public, to story telling methods.  The result was a new generation of journalists excited about their role in inspiring positive change in society and a reinvigorated generation of experienced journalists.

At the end of two years, journalists in East Timor are now producing approximately 40 corruption related news stories each week, and no one is mocking them any longer.  They have become a resource for the entire country and an effective voice for change.

Media can have a vitally important role in the efforts to fight corruption – reduce or eliminate those things that create the decay of society. East Timor provides an example of how to go beyond standard “journalism training” to inspiring journalists and publishers to be the voice to inspire change.

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Note: In South Sudan, the 2007 Corruption Perception Survey revealed that Sudanese believe that rape and incest are included in the ideas of corruption.  In 2012, a corruption survey by a major NGO revealed that people in East Timor believe that ordinary procurement fraud is encompassed within the definition of corruption.



4 Replies to “The Role of Media in the Fight Against Corruption”

  1. This is such a relevant topic. I recently attended a media seminar run by Lisa Essex from the Thomson Reuters Foundation who came to the Turks & Caicos Islands to give advice and guidance on how the local media can assist in exposing wrong doing in the public sector. I am actively encouraging UK investigative journalists to venture forth to the Turks & Caicos Islands this summer to report on the up coming trials of former Ministers to highlight what has been, but more importantly what is here and happening in the light of Sir Robin Auld’s Commission of Enquiry, and the Integrity Commission it spawned, and which I am playing a key role in developing into an effective LEA.

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